University alumnus shares view on starring in winning Super Bowl commercial

By Anna Hecht

Old Man Jim: “Get out of my yard!”

Mr. Smith (stepping out of Doritos’ time machine): “Jimmy? You’re so old. It’s the future!” 

After this final line, the Dorito logo flashes across the screen as millions viewed the Feb. 2 debut of Doritos’ contest-winning Super Bowl commerical, “Time Machine.” Jim Coates, University alumnus and the actor who played “Old Man Jim,” said he was approached to play the role of “Old Man Jim” by the commercial’s director, Ryan Andersen, and the commercial’s producer, Raj Suri. 

“(Suri) and I had previously worked together on a web series pilot,” Coates said. “He said to me, ‘I have the perfect role for you … a cranky old man.’ And, I said, ‘Well, I can do that.’”

Suri said that Coates’ “great visual aesthetic” and “good comedic timing” contributed to his decision to have Coates play the role. 

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    “We needed someone who looked old but not clean cut,” Suri said. “Plus, Doritos commercials typically star interesting actors, and he just fits the bill with his physicality and quirkiness.”

    Stephen Gresser, the commercial’s publicist, promoted “Time Machine” on social media and also helped with production on set. After the cast was assembled, Gresser said that the pieces fell into place, and they knew “Time Machine” was going to be “something special.” 

    “Jim’s experience in acting, his tremendous talent and range, and his professionalism all combine into a creative package like none other,” Gresser said. “He is truly one of a kind, and we are honored to have had him as part of this project.”

    Because the commercial aired on Superbowl Sunday, Coates said he is often recognized on the street, even being approached in the grocery store.

    “I did a little spot commercial for Doritos … for a contest and it ends up being the winning one and now I holler at people in the grocery store,” he said. “People say, ‘Aren’t you that guy?’ and I say, ‘Get out of my yard!’” 

    As an actor, Coates said the best part of his job is “building characters that people don’t know, and taking on strange, quirky little roles.” He said his biggest accomplishments as an actor happened during his childhood. 

    “The best performances I had were in my backyard, using my dad’s army blanket and my mom’s clothesline and some bricks along the bottom so that the wind wouldn’t blow it over,” Coates said. “As a kid, we used to call it ‘make believe.’ I just play. I play ‘as if.’ It’s what (Russian actor) Stanislavski calls ‘the magic if.’” 

    And Coates said he “takes play very seriously” because “play” is when people show their true colors, both as actors and as human beings. To illustrate his point, he referenced a quote by Greek Philosopher Plato: “You can learn more about a man in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”

    “That’s how you learn who the winners are, who the losers are, who the weeny-whiners are, who the cheaters are, who you do want on your team and who you don’t ever want on your team, all within an hour,” Coates said. “You could be talking to someone who is a liar and a cheater and a rotten person for years and not know that. So, play is valuable. I am very serious about my play.”

    Currently, Coates resides in Phoenix, Ariz., where he is finishing up a 40-performance run of “Fiddler on the Roof.” He is also employed by Arizona Curriculum Theater Inc., a non-profit organization that brings classical literature, arts, history, sciences and mathematics to life for students.

    Anna can be reached at [email protected].