Behind The Scenes

Free agent Claus is center of Christmas Day ad campaign

Santa answers his mail as part of ESPN's Christmas Day NBA campaign.
Santa – actor John Rue – answers his mail as part of ESPN’s Christmas Day NBA campaign.

You might recognize actor John Rue from his role as Lynn Goodnough in Steven Spielberg’s “Bridge Of Spies,” or you might remember him as Chief of Detectives Ed Hines in “Blue Bloods.” But even his friends have trouble recognizing him as Santa Claus in ESPN’s NBA Christmas Day campaign.

John Rue (Photo courtesy IMDB)
John Rue (Photo courtesy IMDB)

In the campaign’s introductory video, the real MVP of Christmas calls a press conference to officially announce he’ll be joining the NBA as a free agent this holiday season. The campaign’s first spot, “Free Agent,” launched last week in anticipation of Christmas Day, when ESPN and ABC will air five star-studded NBA games.

The campaign, now in its second consecutive year, is airing on ESPN until Dec. 25. It was created in collaboration with creative agency Wieden + Kennedy New York and features some of NBA’s brightest stars including: San Antonio Spurs power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, New Orleans Pelicans power forward and center Anthony Davis, Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden, Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love and Golden State Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson.

A Warriors fan, Rue spoke with Front Row about his experience with the campaign and how playing Santa differs from all his other characters.

How does it feel to see yourself on ESPN as Santa?
I really like it, it’s a lot of fun. Every aspect of this campaign was so well-done, the writing is exceptional and everything was done beautifully. I think the director [Stacey Wall] is one of the best in the business.

How have your friends and family reacted to seeing you as Santa?
Last year, a buddy of mine in New Jersey, who is a teacher, was talking to his class; “Aren’t the Santa spots on ESPN great?” He later found out it was me and he was pretty excited.

What was the biggest challenge in filming these spots?
Similar to last year’s campaign, we filmed everything in one day, so it was a lot of work but a lot a fun. The hardest part was putting on the beard. There were three layers of hair so it took an hour and a half to apply it.

Of all the serious movies and series you’ve worked on in the past [“Bridge of Spies,” “The Departed,” “House of Cards,” etc.] – how does the experience compare to playing Santa Claus?
It’s miles apart. Shooting a film is completely different from an ad. . . I love doing comedy though. Because this was so well done, I’m very proud of it.

Storm goes 'Face to Face' with Santa
(Hannah Storm/ESPN)
Hannah Storm poses with “Santa.”
(Hannah Storm/ESPN)

Sitting down with sports’ biggest names for her SportsCenter “Face to Face” series is nothing new for Hannah Storm. Yet, even a wily veteran used to “big gets” throughout her career had to marvel at her good fortune this past week.

“Yes,” Storm said, “it’s pretty much been a career-high week.”

It was mere days ago that Storm sat with one of the most famous elves of all time and now, for a “Face to Face” airing on SportsCenter during Christmas Day, she landed the Big Man himself.

“I never dreamed I would meet Kris Kringle,” Storm said. “I mean, what an icon. And the longevity of his career? Unparalleled.”

The Candy Cane Man – one of Anthony Davis’s nicknames for the most famous NBA free agent since LeBron – surprised Storm in a few ways.

“Well, his attire first. A track suit and slippers,” she said. “But guess you can’t blame him – it’s a long week for him and comfort is key. And he reveals what he gave Odell Beckham Jr. – you can probably guess.”

Storm is rather busy this time of year as well. She has a “Face to Face” with Clemson coach Dabo Swinney airing this weekend on SC and hosts ABC’s Rose Bowl Parade coverage next week (Jan. 1, 11 a.m. ET with SC’s John Anderson).

“Happy Holidays everyone and here’s my advice: Be good in 2016,” she said. “Because this guy’s watching – and I can confirm he’s not considering retirement anytime soon.”

— David Scott

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