When I first watched the cool new VW Golf GTI commercial featuring an updated Gene Kelly poppin’ and lockin’, I guess I wasn’t paying that much attention to it.
Then the other day a friend IMed me and asked, “hey have you seen this Golf GTI commercial with that guy from the crazy Kollaboration video?”
“It’s the same guy? I know that guy!” I watched the video again and sure enough, Gene Kelly was dancing with the unmistakable style of Elsewhere, aka David Bernal. After a quick search, I found a message board post from Elsewhere himself that it was indeed him in the commerical:
yup that was me along with Crumbs and another popper named Jay Walker.
I emailed David to ask him about the experience and he graciously took the time to answer a few questions.
Jason: How did you get the Golf GTI gig? Audition or had someone seen your stuff and specifically wanted you for it?
David: They specifically wanted to use me for it. I had done a Heineken Commercial several months prior and the special effects people for that commercial were going to do the effects for this VW commercial. I got an email asking me if I could dance in the rain with a prosthetic mask on and several weeks later I was in London doing just that.
jkottke: That scene from Singin’ in the Rain is one of the most famous in film, and certainly the most famous dance number in film. What was it like to be a part of an attempt to recreate and update it?
David: It was an honor and a privilege being one of the dancers in this commercial. Gene Kelly was a great dancer, singer and actor which is a lot more than I have to offer. It’s extremely flattering having a commercial that essentially implies that my moves are an updated version of Gene’s dance skills.
jkottke: Some folks have complained about the crassness of using a dead guy’s likeness to sell automobiles. As one of the actors playing the deceased, do you have any thoughts on that?
David: Yeah it’s kind of weird, but imo it kind of comes with the territory when you’re a legend. I don’t know if Gene would be too hot about the whole thing but obviously the Gene Kelly Estate approved it, so it’s apparently not that crass to them.
jkottke: I’ve read that you often freestyle when you dance, making it up as you go along, but that you also have little micro-routines that you rely on as you do. In shooting the commercial, how much of the choreography was scripted and how much did you get to ad lib? How much did you need to change your style much based on specific shots from the original film or Gene’s style?
David:It was different for each shot. For example with the close-ups they would say just do a bunch of wavy stuff, so I would simply freestyle with some waves. Most of the full body shots were more routine based. They would specifically want me to do a list of moves, but to connect everything I would naturally freestyle.
I didn’t have to change my dancing stylistically at all. They wanted me to dance the way that I dance. In fact they had us watch the original Singing in the Rain scene so many times that I started unconsciously moving a bit like Gene Kelly. The director at one point even told me that I was moving too much like Gene and I needed to move more like me.
If anything the parameters and conditions of the shoot inadvertently changed my style. The sound stage was cold and we had to dance under artificial rain for hours. To avoid freezing we wore wet suits under our already thick, tight costumes. This restricted my movement a lot. My shoes were quite uncomfortable and fake flooring we danced on was soft and spongy. I had to keep my head up and smile constantly which was very unnatural for me. Yet the biggest difficulty for me was the rigid time restraints. Since it was a commercial we had to do a lot within a small amount of time. This forced me to speed up my style more than I usually do.
jkottke: Thanks, David.