Today’s inteview is with actor and comedian Matt Griesser. Matt has appeared in featured films such as Almost Famous and sitcoms such as Coach, Grace Under Fire, and Murphy Brown. But you probably know him best as the character “Sign Boy” in the now famous Footjoy ads.
Matt Griesser sat down with us recently and shared his thoughts on keeping PGA Tour golfers “on their toes,” golfing in Iceland, and who he thinks is “two scoops of crazy,” among other topics. We hope you enjoy reading the interview as much as we enjoyed creating it.
The Sand Trap: What or who was the inspiration for the Sign Boy character? Is Sign Boy an extension of your own personality or a combination of yours and others?
Matt Griesser: The “Sign Boy” character was created by two guys – Jamie Graham and Ron Harper with the ad agency, Arnold Worldwide. FootJoy hired Arnold’s office in Boston to create a character that would appeal to a wide age range of golf fans. My understanding is that Graham and Harper designed the concept after a friend of Harper’s wouldn’t stop talking about how brilliant his week had been while being a standard bearer at a PGA Tour event.
My playing the character “Sign Boy” is very much an extension of me as a golf fan. If you could be inside the ropes with your favorite pro golfer, you’d be so giddy and awestruck. That’s “Sign Boy,” a giddy and awestruck golf fan that gets to be around his favorite FootJoy players every week on Tour by being a career standard bearer!
TST: You work with an array of PGA professionals in your commercials. Who are some of favorites and why? Any humorous stories you can share?
Matt: We’ve filmed a lot of wild scenarios with different players. They all have a great outlook on being a part of the FootJoy campaign with “Sign Boy.” I remember a great moment after filming a take last year with Davis Love III. In the spot I’m in the clubhouse with the players during a rain delay. To end the ad, I hit a golf ball out of some flowers in a vase while indoors. (We were spoofing Ernie Els’ shot at Troon during the Open Championship.)
The prop department handed me a brand new 60 degree Vokey wedge. All the items on the table were “breakaway” glass, etc. The glitch was that one item was a lamp with a metal rod straight through the center. I obviously hadn’t inspected everything I was about to “whack!” I cleaned the table “big time” with the club on the first take. The director yells “cut” and we all start laughing. I look down and see that the wedge’s hosel is totally bent. Apparently, the hosel caught this metal rod and totally tweaked the new Vokey! DLIII comes over, still laughing, and takes a look. He taps the club on the carpet and says, “that’s nice, what’s that, like a 72 degree?!” Those are unique moments, as a golf fan, that I feel lucky to be around.
TST: It must be hard for the PGA professionals to keep a straight face during shooting while watching you. How many takes on average does it take to make a Sign Boy Commercial? Do you follow a script or do you improvise?
Matt:The first couple of seasons during the FJ campaign were much easier in terms of getting a huge, natural reaction from the players. As we’ve continued, the players are much more “on their toes” for “SB” to catch them looking the other way. It’s always fun to throw in a new line of dialogue that gets a laugh from the pros. We certainly huddle up after a take or two to see if we can come up with a way to surprise the players.
When we’re filming new ads, we shoot so rapid fire, often we’re onto another set-up before your mind can let go of the last idea. Improvising always helps and I try to change my reactions and looks as much as possible. Some spots we get several takes (like with Vijay hitting the balls I’m placing for him at the driving range), but often we don’t get more than two or three takes before we have to move to the next set-up.
TST: What can we look forward to from Sign Boy the rest of the year
and in 2007?
Matt:We filmed five FootJoy ads in just two days that have been airing throughout the 2006 season. You should have seen “Sign Boy’s” Impala loaded up with Adam Scott, Ernie Els, David Toms, and Chris DiMarco! We were on a camera-car trailer, driving through a neighborhood in Atlanta. The looks we got from the neighbors and onlookers were priceless. We usually film the upcoming season’s spots in two or three days after the Tour Championship. Right now we’re shaping the ideas for the 2007 season. I think we’ve got some new situations for “SB” that’ll be very fun to go film later this year.
TST: You’ve had a role in The Big Break series on The Golf Channel. Describe how that role came about. Also, will we be seeing more of you in The Big Break VI or VII and if so, tease us with a little “inside information” to look forward to.
Matt: I got a chance to be on Big Break when the show’s producer asked me if I’d be interesting in doing a jump-in cameo at Kingsmill, to kick-off Big Break III. We knew each other well from shooting Peter Jacobsen: Plugged In and I think it was a no-brainer to take part in Big Break III.
The funny story about that is the timing it took for me to make the shoot in Virginia. I was already committed to a charity event with Jake in California the day before. I was asked to shoot for BBIII at the last second. I finished the event in California took a hop flight to LAX, then flew on a red eye to South Carolina. (I don’t sleep well on planes and that flight was a bumpy ride through the night.) Then caught a morning flight into Virginia. By the time I got to Kingsmill, I had a couple hours to nap and then we filmed the ladies entering their digs for BBIII. I barely remember filming that footage. Actually, the amped energy of all the ladies being on BBIII was the coolest part of it.
TST: You have been involved in numerous other acting projects including the movies Almost Famous and The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas as well as in television on Murphy Brown, Coach, Grace Under Fire, and The Big Break, yet the majority of people attribute you to only being “Sign Boy.” Does that ever get old after the ten thousandth person has walked up to you and said “Look, its Sign Boy!”?
Matt: I love being known as “Sign Boy!” When an actor makes an attempt to start an acting career, he or she is just hoping to get some solid work. To get a chance to play a signature character for FootJoy and be around the world of professional golf is a blast! I’d be a golf fan, even if the chance to play “Sign Boy” never came about. So now, getting to make the friendships I’ve made with the players and be around professional golf in this way – I wouldn’t trade that for anything!
TST: Having appeared in both movies and on television, which is more fun? Which is more difficult to do from an acting standpoint? Which do you prefer? Are you trying to get more roles on television or movies or do you prefer the advertisements and appearances you are currently doing?
Matt: Filming commercials and feature films are very similar and yet totally different. Think about that! The huge difference is that filming big-budget movies takes much more patience. On a film set, you might sit for eight hours while the crew sets up one or two shots. You’re basically waiting to perform for much of the day. With the FootJoy ads, we’ve only got the players for a day or two at the most. We can’t afford to take any extra time for set-ups or extra takes on-camera. We simply shoot, move on, shoot, move on… it’s quite an amazing plate spinning act to get all the filming done in two or three days!
Now, there’s a big difference between films and sitcom TV. That’s very well structured and rehearsed many, many times up until the time you film in front of an audience. I really enjoy filming movies and the “Sign Boy” campaign. On a film set an actor has so much time to over think his dialogue or movements on camera. The FootJoy shoots are so rapid fire that you get to do more acting in one day than you’d ever do in one week on a film! That’s very tiring but really rewarding at the end of each work day.
TST: You did some advertisements in 2003 for the San Francisco Giants that brought to the world Lifecoach Bill. Who was the inspiration for Bill? What was it like working with Barry Bonds?
Matt: The SF Giants ads came about from a great creative team at Sausage Films in San Francisco. I’d done some other work with them and they wanted to do a San Fran “hippie” type character that tries to motivate the Giants throughout the season. They just called my agent and asked if I was available to shoot these regional baseball spots. It was a great shoot at spring training for the Giants in Arizona.
They glued hair extensions onto my head for the “hippie” look. It took a couple hours to get all the glue and junk out of my hair after we were done. As for the Giants organization and their players… great people. I didn’t shoot any direct dialogue with Barry… he was on the set very little and I was “kinda-sorta” introduced to him. I don’t know how to sum up that meeting… but, my Mom always said, “If you can’t say anything nice…” whoa, excuse me, I think my phone is ringing!
TST: What current projects are you working on? What will we see you next in? Got any good dirt to dish out?
Matt: I’ve been putting together a project with some great people for Turner Comedy Broadband. It’s a fast-paced sketch idea and if we can get it on the internet, it could be a blast to flesh out the concepts. My first performing in LA was all improv shows. I love that genre and getting to write material in sketch form can be really exciting to create and perform.
TST: You’ve done appearances at various charity events such as The Vinny Pro-Celebrity Invitational and the Ellis Hospital Charity Golf Event. Tell us about some of the other charities you have been involved with and how you got involved.
Matt: Getting to play a character that’s connected to professional golf has brought about some very cool charity opportunities for me. Every Monday, literally, all over the US of A, there are great charitable causes being helped by golf outings. I’ve been lucky to be invited to some wonderful events these last few years.
I played four straight years in Fuzzy Zoeller’s home event in Indiana. Fuzzy does some amazing fund raising for children’s causes in his home state! I’ve learned that he was doing golf clinics for inner-city kids since the 80s. Vince Gill and Amy Grant hold a wonderful event in Tennessee for Junior Golf and The First Tee. I’ve been lucky enough to make that event a couple times. This year we auctioned off a personally signed, life size “Sign Boy” cutout for $5,500. It’s pretty cool to know that piece of cardboard raised that kind of money for charitable causes.
TST: What did you do prior to becoming an actor? Why did you decide to become an actor?
Matt: I studied Film and Television production in college. I was thinking about sports broadcasting as a career and interned in college to do just that. By the time I graduated I still wanted to work in Sports TV but I couldn’t find any start-up jobs in LA. I was lucky to get a production assistant job with a CBS sitcom not long after that. I started studying improv thanks to an actor friend in the cast of the show I was working on. I began performing in improv shows and that got me an agent for commercials which then led to an agent for TV and film.
I always enjoy seeing a person react to something with pure, unrestrained laughter. I have great memories of my parents laughing at TV shows like Taxi and Rockford Files when I was a kid. Both my folks have these great uncontrollable laughs when something tags them just the right way. Getting a reaction with improv theater that was anything near those laughs made me very happy… it was very gratifying to see someone in the audience react to your take on something, get it, and laugh out loud.
TST: What inspiration do you take from the people in your life or other actors?
Matt: I take inspiration from people that are determined to do what they’re passionate about in life. That’s a cheese ball way of saying it… but, it’s the truth. Pursuing a career that you are determined to succeed at and that you have daily interest in is so important. Peter Jacobsen is so passionate about golf… perfect example! He loves the sport itself, he loves the challenge of being good at that sport.
Scotty Cameron, another incredibly motivated person because he absolutely loves what he does, day in and day out! As for actors, I admire any performer that can make a living in the crazy world of show business. The odds are so against you being able to perform for people and make a career out of it. That’s why I wouldn’t trade my chance to play “Sign Boy” for anything.
TST: If you weren’t acting, what do you think you would be doing for a living?
Matt: I certainly would have pursued a job in Sports TV if the timing for that kind of job had materialized out of college. I always thought about being a comedic actor, but thankfully I was given the big nudge by working on a TV sitcom instead of getting a job in Sports TV.
TST: Looking at some of the pictures on your website, it seems you’ve been able to play golf all around the world. What are some of your favorite courses and why?
Matt: Playing golf in Iceland was one of the wildest experiences I’ve ever had! Believe it or not, I tied my best round ever while playing there. It was during the Amstel Light Iceland Open… the sun was out 22 hours a day while we were there and we played one night from 9pm to 1am. We finished in the rain and I was enjoying the golf so much that I didn’t realize I was on pace for a personal best until around the 16th hole. I shot a four-over-par 76 and was thinking about going back out for an emergency nine!
TST: Describe your own golf game. Long off the tee or good short game? Current handicap? How far do you think you would get on The Big Break?
Matt: I was about an 18 handicap when I began playing “Sign Boy.” Thanks to some great gear and the chance to play much more golf, I’m now around a 9 or 10 handicap. I don’t pay too close attention to my handicap… I just like to go out and tee it up! I’m not long off the tee… averaging somewhere around 270. Decent iron player if I’m playing well that particular day… short game demands time and I don’t give it the time it demands! I’m a streaky putter… one day I’ll stand over some putts and it’s pretty natural, other days it’s like someone is making me putt with a broom handle attached to an orange!
I’d be out of Big Break in the first round… no question! I’ve seen how tough it is to play in front of eight camera people, 15 crew members, two hosts, producers, a ton of onlookers… never mind the fireworks that would be going off in my own dome!
TST: Besides golf, what other sports do you follow and who are some
of your favorite teams?
Matt: I’m a big Formula One racing fan! I’m in awe of the technology and the natural talent of the drivers to handle those cars at such high speeds! Have you ever seen a Formula One car streak through the Eau Rouge corner at Spa?… Koo Koo! You’ve gotta be two scoops of crazy to keep your foot down through that corner!
I grew up in Denver, CO so I’m naturally a huge Denver Broncos fan! John Elway is still my image of what an NFL quarterback should look like! Kinda limping back to the huddle… next play, he scrambles out of the pocket and makes a brilliant 45 yard throw for a touchdown… that’s Johnny Football! I was fortunate enough to meet him a few years back… always great when one of your sports idols turns out to be as cool as you’ve always hoped he would be.
TST:What activities do you enjoy doing outside of playing golf and acting?
Matt: That’s easy… hammocking! I just bought a hammock a few months back and not much compares with a good hammock session with your iPod! I’m no doctor, not even close…. but I do loves me a good hammock session!
We’d like to thank Matt for taking the time to answer our questions. Matt has a great website with a ton of pictures as well as a monthly update so you can keep track of his adventures (he racks up quite a few frequent flyer miles!).