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Actor Brews Popularity With ‘I Love You, Man’

Jeannine Stein Los Angeles Times

He’s a pitiful, unshaven Everyshlub who uses the same shameless con on anyone he can, just to get a beer. And he’s the hottest thing in commercials.

He’s Johnny, better known as the guy in the current crop of Bud Light spots who pathetically sobs, “I love you, man,” to various people - his father, a girlfriend - trying to make them give up their beer.

So far the wailing hasn’t worked. After four separate scenarios, Johnny has yet to get his brewski.

But the commercial that began airing less than a year ago is an advertising phenom; the line is the new mantra of the TV-watching crowd, like “Where’s the beef?” before it. Signs proclaiming “I love you, man” are all over the stands at sporting events.

No one’s been more surprised at the reaction to Johnny than Rob Fitzgerald, the 40-year-old actor who portrays him.

“People are really cool, they’re so sweet,” he says, still amazed at fans’ reactions. “Everybody’s taken the character and me into their hearts. … I made an appearance at a Kansas City Chiefs game and I was on the field, and it was like I was Mick Jagger. I’ve got the head coach and Marcus Allen shaking my hand and people coming down from the stands just to touch me.”

Why so much identification with a guy who’s basically a loser?

“I don’t think I’m threatening, and I think people identify with my weakness, my vulnerability, even though it’s a mask,” Fitzgerald said. “(Johnny’s) going to do whatever he’s going to do, and they laugh at him because of it.”

Fitzgerald theorizes that a little politically correct backlash may also explain Johnny’s popularity.

“You’ve got a guy who’s unshaven, and he comes across as some kind of alcoholic, pulling on the emotional strings of other people to get what he wants. I think that’s one of the reasons why this guy is funny, because in this day and age everybody’s tired of being told how they should be and how they should react.”

Results from a USA Today/Louis Harris Poll seem to bear out the campaign’s popularity, with 34 percent of 587 adults saying they liked the “I love you, man” ads a lot. The average for other commercials rated was only 23 percent.

Fitzgerald’s ante has definitely been upped. Calls are coming in for bigger roles on bigger projects, both feature films and TV, and no, he says, he will not be pigeonholed into “Johnny” roles.

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