Isaiah Mustafa and the Secret to His Old Spice Success

Isaiah Mustafa-QA-wide
Isaiah Mustafa from an Old Spice ad Procter & Gamble Co-AP

Viewers of TBS's Funniest Commercials of the Year will likely be in rapt attention Thursday night. This year's show will be hosted by one Isaiah Mustafa, a.k.a. the Old Spice Guy, who rode—both a horse and a motorcycle—to fame earlier this year with a series of commercials featuring his tongue-in-cheek portrayal of a masculine ideal, that managed to make a stale brand suddenly fresh. And while his actual name isn't nearly as familiar as the character he plays, by next year, odds are we'll know Isaiah Mustafa as more than just the Old Spice Guy. He has a role opposite Jason Bateman and Jason Sudekis in the upcoming Horrible Bosses and will play a lead in Tyler Perry's next likely juggernaut, Big Happy Family. Mustafa spoke to NEWSWEEK's Jesse Ellison about his signature scent, what women want, and the power of positive thinking.

The Old Spice Guy, as a character, is sort of macho in an old-school way, but also somehow very modern.

The character says a lot of things that men would want to say, but also wouldn't want to say. And he says a lot of things that women would want to hear, or what we think women want to hear. But he's very tongue-in-cheek. He knows he's full of, you know, whatever. But he also knows he can get away with it. He's one of those guys in the mold of an Indiana Jones or James Bond, which you don't see much anymore.

One of the ads, "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like," has been viewed more than 25 million times. Did you have any idea it would be this popular?

I had a feeling something good would come out of this because I almost died on set. In that commercial there was a bathroom on set. It was, like, hoisted in the air by a big crane. I was sitting underneath it, and the wires gave way. I didn't hear it or see it, I just randomly stepped out of the way, and the bathroom came down and just missed me.

Everyone must have been terrified. Did you have to get back in the bathroom and keep shooting?

Yeah, for like three more days. I wasn't terrified because I didn't see it happen. Everyone that saw it happen was in shock. We talk about it to this day. I make jokes about it. They say, you didn't see it happen. We saw how close you came to dying.

Do you wear Old Spice?

I do. I wear the gel called After Hours.

Do you get paid every time you say that?

I wish I did.

What does it smell like?

It feels like you just showered and you're ready to go out. It's very fresh. But it's not for daytime. It's a nighttime scent, if that makes sense.

Do people constantly recognize you as the Old Spice Guy?

Yeah, that's pretty much what people know me as…which is fine. I'm OK with being the Old Spice Guy because before I was the Old Spice Guy I was the guy looking for work on his couch.

Old Spice must love you.

I'd say they like me a lot. I just went to Cincinnati to visit the corporate office. I've never been so well received in any place in my life. And they make sure that I'm very well taken care of as far as products are concerned. I'll open the door and I'll have another supply. I have to keep the extra in the linen closet.

If someone had predicted that you'd be starring in a bunch of movies, and hosting a special, and so on, a year ago, would you have believed it?

I do a lot of positive thinking, abundance thinking, you know, the law of attraction. Last year I wrote down a list of goals and I've done every single thing on that list. It really shows the power of positive thinking.

That sounds an awful lot like The Secret.

It's along the same lines.

Wow, so the Old Spice Guy believes in The Secret.

The guy behind it does. The Old Spice Guy himself—he would be the secret.