Peyton Manning’s Commercial Co-Star Has A Personal Connection To The Football Legend

A tongue-in-cheek series of new ads show former Denver Bronco Peyton Manning spending a lot of time in his robe, whether at home, in a city park, or using coupons in a grocery store. The joke is that, since retiring, he’s had a lot of time to watch on television the game that made him famous. The Denver Post noted that all three ads co-star Lionel Richie, who sings an updated lyric to one of his easy listening classics: “Peyton on Sunday mornings.”

In one ad, Manning looks longingly at the number of a grocery store check out line: 18, his number as both a Bronco and an Indianapolis Colt. Meanwhile, he’s chatting with the clerk, fumbling for some crumpled coupons. The man who played that employee told The Tennessean that he and Manning both crushed the coupons in order to make it look real on television. James Austin Johnson also revealed he had a bit of a personal connection to the football star.

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Manning, who was a quarterback at the University of Tennessee, and Johnson, who is from Nashville, had some common acquaintances including family members.

“He was very genial; we had a little bit of a Tennessee connection. We talked about who we knew who went to UT and stuff like that. It turned out that our parents know each other from somewhere way back. He was a fun guy.”

The brief commercial took a full 10 hours to shoot. Johnson’s only line of dialogue is to say, “cool” to Manning, who was obviously playing himself.

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When Ad Age listed the commercial as one of its new releases on July 29, it used the headline “Peyton Manning has officially lost his cool factor in DirecTV spot with Lionel Richie.” The publication was probably referring to Manning’s character in the commercial, who seems less concerned with keeping up television appearances than relaxing at home — or on a park bench, or grocery store — in comfy attire.

Johnson told The Tennessean he did not share a conversation with Richie but confirms that the musician was also on set that day with Manning. In the opening seconds of the commercial, Richie is seen at a piano while a blurry figure in a bathrobe — Manning — walks down the aisle. Johnson said he shared “finger guns” with the R&B music legend.

When your shirt straight up blend into the historic recording studio wall

A photo posted by James Action Bronson (@chamesaustin) on

Apparently, Manning is no slouch when it comes to acting. Johnson is now a stand-up comedian living in Los Angeles, so he’s no stranger to entertainment. He had the appearance casting directors wanted for the commercial and discovered Manning had the ability to bring nuance to a performance — even one that had him playing a parody of himself.

“I just happened to have the right look — skinny and nerdy — for the grocery store clerk they wanted. They were looking for a wiry red-headed man.”

“Peyton’s been around the block a few times with these silly commercials so I was pleased to see how professional he was. He could tweak his performance just the slightest bit, just like George Clooney, and I thought that was pretty cool.”

Johnson has the firsthand knowledge to make the Clooney comparison. According to his IMDB page, he had a role in the Clooney-starring comedy Hail, Ceasar! that came out earlier this year. Although his role in the DirecTV ad hasn’t yet made it to IMDB, he does include his past role as a production intern on one episode of Beavis and Butt-head in 2011.

Johnson’s acting direction was to feign disinterest in what Manning was babbling on about as he scanned his groceries. Nonetheless, he left the shoot with a few more celebrity encounters to add to his resume and perhaps a new appreciation for how retired football players spend their easy Sunday mornings.

[Photo by Craig Bisacre/Getty Images]