Character actor John Diehl, 52, is best known for a cross-section of roles that range from goofy to deranged to menacing.
Diehl played Cruiser in the movie Stripes, Detective Larry Zito in Miami Vice, G. Gordon Liddy in Oliver Stone's Nixon, and character roles in Jurassic Park III and Pearl Harbor. He plays Assistant Chief Ben Gilroy on the award-winning FX TV show The Shield.
Between movie roles, he acts on stage and has had many TV show guest spots.
Diehl remains the face of someone with whom you are familiar but do not know.
David Moore, executive creative director at McCann Erickson-Detroit, was not familiar with Diehl. McCann was not looking for a particularly known face in mid-2002 to portray the late GM designer Harley Earl in a Buick commercial.
The agency was embarking on a massive talent search in the United States and London when Diehl walked into an open casting call in New York City last May, while taking a break from acting in an off-Broadway play.
"It was one of those examples of being in the right place at the right time," Diehl says. "I had never acted in a commercial. But I had the right haircut and have always looked good in a fedora. I got a callback to read for (director) Tony Scott and got the job."
The ads were shot in July in Florida and Los Angeles.
To prepare, Diehl discussed Earl with the designer's grandson, Richard; met with people at Buick; pored over articles; and drew upon his early experiences as a sculptor and painter. This helped Diehl understand the creative mind of the man behind tail fins.
Diehl says the exposure of the ads has caused him to be more recognizable than ever as he drives around Southern California in a new Park Avenue Ultra.
"I'm a lot happier doing Harley Earl than Larry Zito," he says. "I guess after all these years, I'm an overnight success."