The Spot:A title card identifies three casually dressed men as Cabot Creamery's "Naturally Aged Cheddar Hunks." Cut to a shot of the men sitting around a small table, drinking beer, and eating cheese. Two of the men are unfamiliar, but the third inspires a double-take: It's Luis Guzmán, the Hispanic character actor. One of the men asks Guzmán if he has any exciting new roles. Guzmán replies that he likes this one—"guy eating Cabot cheese." The other man asks Guzmán how he would feel about playing a guy eating some other kind of cheese. "Not Cabot?" Guzmán asks. "What am I, some kind of maniac?"
(Click here to watch other ads in the "Cheddar Hunks" campaign.)
With the notable exception of a certain PSA from the 1980s that I will go to my grave knowing by heart, cheese ads have never been groundbreaking. Your typical cheese spot looks a lot like this one, also from Cabot: black-and-white stills of salt-of-the-earth farmers, a color tracking shot of a mountainous cheddar slab, and a voiceover describing the craftsmanship that goes into each and every wedge. It was thus with some surprise that I first encountered Cabot's "Cheddar Hunks" ads. Was that Luis Guzmán selling Vermont Extra Sharp?
Even people who don't know Guzmán by name probably recognize his face. His television and film credits are prodigious. In the '80s and early '90s, he showed up on all of the big cop shows, usually playing some variation on the Latino tough. Eventually, he earned the attention of a couple of independent-minded directors who began giving him better, if not much bigger, roles. Paul Thomas Anderson cast him in Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and Punch-Drunk Love. Steven Soderbergh, recognizing Guzmán's comedic gift, used him to great effect in Out of Sight, Traffic, and The Limey, in which he played opposite Terrance Stamp's cockney ex-con. Here, the two men order a drink:
Guzmán's ability to do so much with so little has earned him a following of sorts, though he's hardly a household name. It's not as if Cabot had recruited an A-list hunk like Jake Gyllenhaal (a repeat customer at L.A. cheese purveyor Joan's on Third), or, for that matter, a B-list star somehow associated with Vermont—Bob Newhart, say. Why would Cabot turn to Guzmán?
My initial thought was that perhaps Cabot was trying to break into a new market. Vermont may be about as diverse as the '86 Celtics, but that doesn't mean Cabot couldn't try selling its wares to America's growing Hispanic population. Maybe their research showed that Latinos cook with as much cheese as the Chipotle menu suggests they do. Was Guzmán meant to be Cabot's ambassador to Hispanic America?