Jake from State Farm is Kevin Miles from Chicago's South Side. A year into the role, he can’t answer your questions about insurance, but he sure can sell it

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Darcel Rockett, Chicago Tribune
·7 min read
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Talking with Kevin Miles, aka “Jake from State Farm,” the connection is immediate.

At the mention of an upcoming vacation, he queries about my ownership of a weighted blanket. Being a person with insomnia, the 2008 graduate of Chicago Academy for the Arts said he got one for the holidays and swears by it. His only precaution?

“Just watch where you have it,” he said laughing. “I was like, I’ll watch this movie with this on and I fell asleep for like six, seven hours.”

Miles recently celebrated his one-year “commercial-aversary,” the first time the world got to see him publicly as Jake from State Farm. Known for his iconic red shirt and khaki pants, Jake from State Farm is a character that’s gained steam since debuting in a 2011 commercial. A real State Farm employee named Jake Stone played the part in the first commercial, which went viral.

In 2020, pre-pandemic, Miles picked up the baton. Since then, we’ve seen him move from the cubicle to donning beekeeping suits and soothing the heartbroken in parodies of “The Bachelorette.” He’s shared the spotlight with athletes and celebrities, such as Alfonso Ribeiro, Chris Paul and, most recently, Aaron Rodgers, Paul Rudd and Drake.

Miles has numerous commercials under his acting belt, but it’s the Jake persona that has made his face and voice a familiar one in households.

“I’ve always wanted to play Jake,” Mills said. “He is as close to me talking to a best friend or family member or someone just close to me, and I feel like because I’m giving that energy, people when they see me, they give that same energy. That’s the energy that I want to have in life in general.”

Miles’ journey began on Chicago's South Side — his stomping grounds were Hyde Park, around Cottage Grove, “over on Drexel.” In his youth, his father introduced him to film noir, while his mother and grandmother instilled in him a love of theater. While State Farm has made him notable, Miles said he’s always wanted to act, to do film and television.

He took the leap to Los Angeles to pursue acting full time eight years ago, but he still sees himself as “Southside Kev.” Humbled when people want to take a picture with him, he says he doesn’t take the attention for granted. He wants to act in film and television works that bring people together to watch.

“The reason I’ve always loved TV and film is the fact that it’s documented forever,” Mills said. “Just think about what Chadwick (Boseman) did. The way that he went about who he was going to be on film for people and what he would represent is still so inspiring, and he did it to the very end. I think that’s so special. That can bring people together. I’ve always wanted to try to leave something like that, do works like that.”

We talked with Miles, a Webster University Conservatory of Theatre Arts graduate, about his workaholic ways, his spirit actors and the mantra he uses to help him get over his fear. The following interview has been condensed and edited.

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Q: Have any new projects lined up, aside from State Farm spots?

A: We’ve been filming a lot of content (for State Farm). I want to keep it rolling and really see how far we can take it. How can we keep serving the people? It is pilot season right now, and I’m trying to put my best foot forward. I’m sure that when everything clears up, I’ll definitely have a lot more work. I’m a workaholic that way. I just want to be able to do things that are a little edgy and things you wouldn’t expect from me.

Q: You’re South Side born and bred; what do you miss most?

A: Technically there’s so much culture, especially on the South Side. The food is what I still miss to this day. When I go back, that’s when I’m like: ‘Look, the nutrition plan is out the window. We’re going to hit Italian Fiesta, Giordano’s, Harold’s Chicken, Maxwell Street polishes. We’re gonna hit that grease and live a Chicago life right now.’

Q: What kind of insurance discount do you get?

A: None. If I’m being honest, it feels right. I would hate it if there were agents or employees of State Farm or anyone didn’t get the real rate of the public.

Q: Who are your spirit actors?

A: Sidney Poitier and Marlon Brando. It’s not just how they started, but their approach, what they represent, their character work and dedication in doing something full out. When you watch “Lilies of the Field,” you watch Sidney Poitier finding these moments of truth — the same with Marlon Brando. As a human being, though, my spirit person is Drake. I definitely speak in Drake verses .... He’s consistent, he keeps working hard, keeps his family close. I have the blueprint.

Q: How did State Farm come up with Drake as your stand-in?

A: (With the pandemic) at first he was just going to do it in front of a green screen, but it was just so beautiful that not only Drake, but Paul Rudd, Adrian Martinez, Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes wanted to do it in person. Drake and I had 20 minutes alone to improv what we would do for the spot. And it ended up being what was shown. I thought it was hilarious that he would be my stand-in too, because if you know me in real life, you know I’m a die-hard fan. Everyone who knows me was like: ‘I knew what that moment was for you.’ So many of his albums were rocked in the happiest moments of my life or the saddest parts of my life. It was such a beautiful moment and it marked my one year as Jake. I couldn’t ask for better.

Q: Do you ever get freaked out by the cool celebrity playing across from you?

A: Of course! It’s Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Drake there and you’re like: I gotta wear a mask, because I’m smiling, but my eyes can look real cool. Between takes, I’ve got time to be the inner nerd that I am or the fanboy that I am, but I still don’t want to annoy them. There were so many times I definitely wanted to say Drake quotes to Drake, and I was like: ‘Don’t do that. Don’t hit that man with his own words.’ So there’s always those nerves there, but I think what always locks me in is the Sidney Poitier and Marlon Brando that I aspire to be.

Q: Will there be Jake and Drake holiday cards that State Farm will send out?

A: I can’t say anything, but everyone does have to wait to see what we have in store (laughs).

Q: Does Jake from State Farm have a family that we get to meet at some point?

A: Jake definitely has a family. I’m sure one day we’ll bring it to light. I think those would be some fun spots, but it’s definitely not official. This is me just shooting off the cuff.

Q: You’ve been with the State Farm family for a year now. Do you feel like you’re savvier when people ask you insurance questions?

A: That is a thing. And I’m like: I can’t. But if you call your agent or if you need something, right now, I can direct you.

Q: Mayhem, Flo, the Gecko: Is there a secret society of insurance spokespeople, the public isn’t aware of?

A: Like a Justice League of spokespeople? I wish there was. I definitely would love to talk with them about their experiences. I know I’m the newcomer, but I know they must have great veteran stuff to talk about. I’ll do my best to get one going.

Q: What thought do you want to leave people with?

A: Before I decided to move to LA, it was so scary to think about leaving family and memories behind to start over. But I do remember telling myself, right before I bought a ticket: The quicker you jump into the pool, the quicker you can enjoy the water. You will adapt, even when things get hard and difficult. That was the phrase that I said to myself a lot and I still do, to this day. If anything, that’s the phrase I hope anyone that is having a difficult time with their dreams, especially in these times, uses.