Car company Audi is giving Claire Danes a lighthearted break from Homeland. Beginning Sunday, Sept. 15 and culminating Sept. 22 on the 2013 Emmy Awards, the German automaker will unroll a TV ad campaign that puts the actress in a series of comedic situations in which she attempts, after she can't make a flight, to travel by car 700 miles to get to an event. The "Smart Performer" spots depict Danes in two contrasting fork-in-the-road scenarios. One shows her being driven by town car to get to her destination, during which a series of mishaps ensue. In the other, she’s happily behind the wheel of a new clean-diesel Audi A6 TDI and so on cloud nine from the experience that she comes across a field full of puppies and stops to nuzzle one of them.
"I'm playing myself, myself in quotes. It's a version of myself," Danes said in a phone call from the Charlotte, NC set of Homeland. "[In the ad], I'm leaving work and I have to be at an event and very soon and because all the airports are closed, I'm driven in one context by a chauffeur which seems like a terribly luxurious thing but in fact ends up being disastrous. And then in the second scenario, I drive myself and my fuel-efficient smoking-hot Audi car and have a delightful time and it's kind of preposterously positive. And then I arrive at the event with my makeup perfectly done and my hair golden and bouncing."
In the alternate chauffeur-driven scenario, Danes ends up in jail. "In something very orange," said Danes, who had been in Washington, D.C. the night before for the premiere of the third season of Homeland. "I was in a real jail cell too which was kind of wild. I got to take my own fingerprints in the inkpad. I was snooping around and I had a lot of fun." Another highlight for her: a scene in the ads was shot in a bar, Charlotte's The Fat Parrot, where Homeland had also previously shot. "That bar and I had a history. It has a sign that says 'Soup of the day: Vodka' that I rather enjoyed."
"The concept was just really sweet and goofy and I was happy to take a little time out from saving the world to just you know be silly and improvise with some funny people. I forgot what a belly laugh was. I haven't had those very often lately," added Danes, who described the Audi brand as "kind of luxurious without being pretentious. And this particular car is environmentally friendly which was a major up."
The first thirty-second teaser ad will appear during NBC's Sunday Night Football programming on Sunday and an extended director's cut will show on Audi’s YouTube channel that night. A fresh spot will air during the Emmy telecast, along with a straight-up car ad for Audi’s TDI vehicles.
For the campaign, shot in August in Charlotte, Audi hired a Hollywood director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, who's done a number of spots for Funny or Die and is the co-writer of the Comedy Central series Mash Up. His directorial debut, the coming-of-age comedy-drama The Kings of Summer, screened at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and had a limited release from CBS Films in May.
The car maker, which would not comment on Danes' fee for the spot, has aggressively courted and aligned itself with Hollywood in recent years, securing product placement deals in films (most prominently the Iron Man franchise); creating a dedicated fleet of Audis to chauffeur celebrities to and from events ("Absolutely I've been driven by Audi," said Danes); running VIP loan programs; sponsoring events (AFI Fest, the Elton John Oscar Party); and even throwing its own star-studded pre-Emmy and pre-Golden Globes parties.
Audi is a sponsor of the Emmys for the third year in a row, will throw its pre-Emmy part Sept. 15 at Cecconi's restaurant in West Hollywood and is partnering with designer Joseph Altuzarra on designing the telecast’s Audi Green Room. The marketing appears to be paying off. Audi's U.S. sales went from 80,000 in 2008 to 139,000 in 2012. As of May of this year, Audi had sold 5,205 units in Los Angeles, up 20 percent from the year before.
Audi of America director of marketing Loren Angelo said that Danes "was looking for something that could show a little more of a lighthearted side and give her the opportunity to do some different things. She's very natural in the piece. She had fun with it." The company had an earlier celebrity endorser in actor Jason Statham, who’s appeared in Audi Super Bowl ads. Angelo said that the company hopes the consumer take-away from the ads is that its cars are top performers, just like Danes, who is nominated a second time for an Emmy for Homeland after winning last year. "That's ultimately what our TDI clean diesels represent."
The ad is the first for Danes since she appeared in a 2010-2011 campaign for Latisse, an eyelash-lengthening drug. The actress -- who just finished a one-week hiatus during which, in addition to her show’s premiere, she flew to Toronto where husband Hugh Dancy is filming NBC's Hannibal -- has three more episodes of Homeland's third season left to shoot. "I'm not entirely sure what happens. They are still writing," she said. As for what she's planning after wrapping the season, she wouldn’t comment on projects but said she's looking forward to spending quality time right away with her and Dancy's nine-month-old son, Cyrus. "In the past I've gone to an actual spa for a couple of days when I wrapped a season, but I now have a kid so that's not gonna be so possible. But just the idea of being with him more consistently is really great. That will be my decompression, being a full-time mom again and tucking him in every night."