“Can you hear me now?” – the eternal question from the Verizon Wireless “Test Man” came to represent nearly a decade of television commercials, but Paul Marcarelli, the man behind the glasses, remained anonymous long after his ubiquitous persona emerged on the national stage. Today, though still on contract with the company, Marcarelli talks of his transition from advertising icon to film director at the end of the nine-year ad campaign. WEEKEND sat down with Marcarelli to discuss his Connecticut origins, his experience as an anonymous figure in the national spotlight, and how his personal artistic voice is now being heard.
Q. One of the especially interesting parts of this Master’s Tea lies in the fact you’re not only a national figure, but also a local figure. How did growing up in North Haven influence the trajectory of your career?
A. I don’t know really — I guess access to New York [had an effect] in some ways. You might have to ask me that in 20 years. In some ways, [since] I was raised on a small farm I always knew that if you needed something, you always had to figure out a way to make it yourself. That’s how my career has always gone, the Verizon job notwithstanding, which really is the only job I’ve ever been hired to do. For the most part I’ve always made my own work, and that is what you do on a farm.
Q. As the figurehead of Verizon Wireless, you were a national advertising persona, yet your personal life remained largely unknown to the public. What effect did your role as the “Test Man” have on your own personal identity?
A. Well, early on, I don’t know if it was just self-consciousness — having that kind of scrutiny on you is unnerving — or if it was some sort of healthy remove that I built in, but I always knew it was a great job, and I was grateful to have it. I was going to do everything I could to do it really, really well and with consciousness, but I never was going to attach anything to it in terms of my ego. But I don’t know … I still feel in a lot of ways that I’m very much the same person. The things that were important to me then are important to me now, and I have a little more money and I’m older.
Q. Did you expect to become a part of the pantheon of ad campaign figures when you first started with Verizon Wireless?
A. No, I didn’t expect that at all. When you’re an actor you always think the job is going to end the next day — any kind of recognition you’re getting is your rehearsal for rejection [laughs]. I think I thought right away that it would last for a little while and then it would just disappear. I didn’t know it would have the kind of resonance that it had, and I certainly didn’t know I would be as busy with it as I have been.
Q. This past fall reports surfaced alleging that your relations with Verizon Wireless were somehow strained or that the company was stifling your identity, especially with regard to your sexual orientation. Was there any truth to the controversy?
A. None, actually. I think I was ill-prepared — I’ve never had a public persona outside of this job, and I lived through nine years of this job without ever doing a single interview. Then last year, in the interest of promoting my film, I sat down for my very first interview, and I was ill-prepared for the vagaries of the press and the way that an agenda can manipulate even the most innocuous quotes and statements. I should have known better, but I think there was an agenda accompanying the one piece that became the piece of record. But the answer is no, for the most part. And there was nothing I said specifically that even alluded to that. I think it was just the idea that one would infer — I mean, it’s a New York actor, and instead of having some legitimate theatrical career he’s spending the last 10 years doing a commercial. It’s an easy angle. And frankly, the reality is not as interesting as that.
Q. So now that you’re going into filmmaking, what would you say about your past film, “The Green,” and what do you have in store for the future in terms of whether you’re considering going back into acting?
A. I mean, I just want to keep telling stories and keep making these smaller films. I just want to have enough success that I can keep doing it this way right now — that’s all I really want to be doing. And luckily, we’ve made a film and we’ve delivered on our promise to our investors and are continuing to do so. So hopefully it makes the next one easier and we’ll continue on that path.