Just hearing Samuel L Jackson say the word “crumpets” is discombobulating. The man is the second highest grossing actor of all time; he grew up about as far from Bolton as you can get, in Chattanooga, Tennessee; he is a nailed-on Hollywood legend – he got an Oscar nomination for Pulp Fiction, for crying out loud.
Before now, you can’t imagine he’d ever heard of a crumpet, let alone popped one in a toaster and slathered it in butter. But sure enough, Jackson can now add “Jonathan Warburton” to the list of characters he has played in his 51-year career.
Jackson is the latest in a bizarrely long list of Hollywood stars who have taken a job advertising Warburtons bread. Sylvester Stallone did it in 2015, Robert De Niro had a crack in 2019, even ole Gorgeous George himself did a turn in 2021.
“It was a pleasure to meet the man at the helm of Britain’s biggest family bakery,” Jackson said in a press release about his new role. “And what an honour it is to follow in the footsteps of ‘Bolton alumni’, George Clooney and Robert De Niro.”
How has the family-run bakery managed to secure a rolling cast to rival a Tarantino film? As Warburton himself would have it, it’s all a case of charm.
“The trick is being able to speak to him directly so he knows there’s a real person at the other end of it,” Warburton said of his attempts to woo De Niro in 2019. “I thought, if I can get myself to him and have a conversation, and if we meet the financial criteria, then he either buys into that as a proposition or he doesn’t.”
He told the Telegraph he had to call De Niro from his car, because the mobile signal in his house is so poor and, “the worst thing is, you lose your bloody signal halfway through and Robert De Niro has to ring you back. Anyway, I said, ‘I’m going to pay you what I’m going to pay you, but I absolutely need to know from you, that you’ll give it 100 percent.’ And he said to me, ‘If I do this, you have my word, I will nail it for you.’ And that’s all I needed to hear.”
Apparently he then met the actor in a “weird place in Halifax” to hash out the details. “He was very interested in the fact that we’d been going since the same month that General Custer was killed at the Battle of Little Bighorn, June 1876, and he loved that. He went, ‘I’ll be using that.’”
Jackson, De Niro, Stallone and Clooney wouldn’t be the first members of the Hollywood elite to take a fee from a British high-street brand they have probably never heard of. You’ll recall Jeff Goldblum’s performance in the Curry’s ads in 2015.
And if the Oscars gave out lifetime achievement awards for TV ads, one would surely go to Kevin Bacon, who has been propping up EE for over a decade.
And what about Marcia Cross, who did that Albert Bartlett potato ad when she was at the height of her Desperate Housewives fame? Or Ryan Reynolds being, well, Ryan Reynolds in the 2016 BT ad?
Of course, there’s only one reason such big stars are convinced to do these ads - which begs the question, just how big is Warburton’s advertising budget?
“Warburtons must have really buttered him up,” writes one viewer, in a comment under De Niro’s advertisement.
They must have flung Clooney a fair whack for his (admittedly minimal – he appears for barely a few seconds on Zoom) stint during the pandemic.
He is said to have made more than £30m from his Nespresso gig and once turned down $35m for one day’s work because he felt the airline that was trying to book him for their ad was based in a country that was, occasionally, ethically dubious.
Still, given we are forever hearing how British actors have to go across the pond to further their careers, Warburtons might like to look closer to home when teeing up their next Hollywood man of a certain age.
Let Bill Nighy sell us a loaf of white sliced, perhaps. Or better still, one of the Bonds. The man with the golden bun, anyone?