January 16, 2005 --
Brad Pitt could probably use a beer right about now. He seems to agree.
The estranged Mr. Aniston is the latest A-lister to take the once-taboo job of U.S. TV pitchman, teaming with "Fight Club" director David Fincher to shoot a spot for brewmeister Heineken.
The ad, which will air Super Bowl Sunday, shows Pitt buying a six-pack of Heineken and being chased through the streets by paparazzi - who are really after the beer.
Heineken confirmed that it had a Fincher-directed spot ready to go in major markets on Super Bowl Sunday. The company wouldn't confirm that Pitt was involved, but ad sources said the "Ocean's Twelve" actor already filmed the spot.
Hollywood heavyweights say they aren't surprised.
Less than 10 years ago, image-conscious movie stars cringed at the thought of shilling for mobile phone services or soft drinks or credit cards - in the U.S. at least. But the stigmas once associated with such gigs are finally fading.
Attracted by big-name directors like Martin Scorsese - plus paychecks that total $1 million to $5 million - even Oscar winners are lining up to hawk everyday stuff on the American small screen:
* "The Pianist" star Adrien Brody and "The Aviator's" Kate Beckinsale have shot Diet Coke commercials with Michel Gondry, director of "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind."
* Salma Hayek has done her own spot for Coke.
* Nicole Kidman and director Baz Luhrmann earned breathless coverage from fashion magazines for a quickie TV love story that sells Chanel No. 5.
* Martin Scorsese captured screen legend Robert DeNiro walking around in New York as part of an American Express credit-card campaign.
* And Catherine Zeta-Jones, largely cited as the first A-lister in recent memory to promote products on U.S. TV, earned a reported $20 million from TMobile for a four-year deal.
"Doing U.S. commercials almost enhances your career today," said Frank Ginsberg, CEO of advertising agency Avrett Free Ginsberg. "It can take two or three years to produce a movie and release it, so someone like Pitt could theoretically be out of the limelight for three years. This preserves an actor's celebrity by maintaining his exposure."
Another major factor bringing big names to the small screen: the Internet. Japan, once a safe haven for American celebrities eager to make a quick commercial buck, has lost its power of image protection.
Thanks to Web sites like Japander.com, U.S. fans have been able to see Sean Connery selling Mazdas or Harrison Ford pitching Kirin beer - which were once for Japanese eyes only.
In a way, American stars are simply giving up and going for the cash, said Oscar-winning film cinematographer
Janusz Kaminski, who also shoots U.S. commercials on the side.
"It's becoming silly for an actor to think, 'If I do a Japanese commercial, the American audience won't be aware of it,' " Kaminsky said. "It's becoming a tiny, tiny world. "Now actors think, 'Why should I do a commercial for a foreign
market and be ashamed to do a commercial for America?' "
"Audience and consumer attitudes have changed," added Jonathan Holiff, whose Los Angeles firm, the Hollywood-
Madison Group, pairs companies with celebrity endorsers.
"We have all become much more jaded and are no longer taken aback to see celebrities from all walks of life
jumping into the advertising game."