Jesse LeBeau couldn't have imagined acting in a TV commercial opposite supermodel Heidi Klum while he religiously honed his basketball skills as a kid in Ketchikan.
But that's the latest twist in his story of streetballer-turned-actor.
LeBeau's latest commercial role is a take-off on the one played by Dustin Hoffman in the 1967 movie "The Graduate." LeBeau portrays the character of Benjamin in a pitch for the latest burger from Carl's Jr. A burger-chomping Klum handles the role of Mrs. Robinson in a scene that makes obvious reference to the classic film.
"I couldn't be more excited," Lebeau said. "It's gonna be a good one for me."
The commercial was released last month and is currently airing on all the major networks. The ad generated a buzz due to Klum's seductive sway and has been discussed on shows like "Good Morning America" and "The O'Reilly Factor."
The job is a big step forward for LeBeau, 26, who is trying to transition from basketball-based entertainment to a serious acting career. Earlier this year, he told his agent to seek opportunities beyond basketball, and that led to an audition for the commercial with Klum.
"This was the first one I went out for that was nonbasketball- related," LeBeau said. "They liked what they saw, I guess. It's a great segue to pushing my career away from basketball."
It was LeBeau's wizardry with a basketball that first got him noticed in Hollywood and earned him the nickname "Spin Cycle." He landed his first gig in a 2011 commercial for Kobe Bryant basketball shoes. That same year, he did basketball stunt work in a Warner Brothers movie called "Thunderstruck," which starred Kevin Durant of the NBA.
An acting career was essentially an accident for the 5-foot-10 Le- Beau, a detour from his dream of making a living on the basketball court. While playing basketball at San Diego Christian College he learned of acting opportunities through a friend and headed for Hollywood in 2010.
"Often you can tweak your dream into something different than you thought it would be," LeBeau said. "Now I'm having way more fun than I ever would have had."
He added acting classes to his schedule the past few years and those paid off in the form of increased confidence during the audition for the Carl's Jr., commercial. After he auditioned, it only took 10 minutes or so for the producers to call and offer LeBeau the part. At that time, he didn't know he would be exchanging lines with a supermodel.
When LeBeau found out Klum was on board to star in the commercial, he had good reason to be excited. Klum's resume includes gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue in 1998, modeling for Victoria's Secret and serving as a host and judge on the reality TV show "Project Runway."
"Heidi was awesome," LeBeau said. "She came in and had great energy, she was funny and she was singing the 'Mrs. Robinson' song all over the place. She went out of her way to make me feel very included."
The main shoot took up a full February day in Beverly Hills. Klum arrived around 5 a.m., and LeBeau got started around 8 a.m. Klum finished her work by midday, leaving LeBeau to perfect his lines in the afternoon and evening.
"That was a lot of pressure, but a lot of fun," LeBeau said. "It was like, 'Man, I gotta nail this or I'll have to stay here all night.' "
There were also a couple of follow-up days used to perfect the audio in a sound booth, where the actors record their voices to create a clean version of the lines.
Having never seen "The Graduate" prior to his audition, LeBeau started researching on YouTube and studying Hoffman's performance. Any pressure Le- Beau felt to live up to Hoffman's persona was removed by the commercial directors prior to the shoot.
"One thing that put me at ease is they were like, 'We want to make sure that you do your own version of it,' " LeBeau said. "That kind of gave me the leeway to be like 'OK, I can do my thing.' "
LeBeau, who lives in Hollywood, is still doing his thing on the basketball court, playing regularly in celebrity charity events and using his skills to network and meet new people. The guard who earned honorable mention all-state honors his senior season at Ketchikan High in 2005 can start working his magic in a random gym and see curious kids flock his way.
He brought his show back home last year when he did a fundraiser game in Ketchikan for the Ketchikan High and Sitka High athletic programs. LeBeau is currently working on a program with the L.A. school district that will put him in front of a different school every week, entertaining with a basketball and using his story as a motivational tool to reach kids.
"All these cool things that are happening for me in Hollywood and the entertainment industry, I can use as a stepping stone and a platform to reach as many kids as I can," he said.
LeBeau is eager to share his story with kids and has even written a soon-to-be published book called "Among the Giants: How One Underdog Pursued His Dream and You Can Too."
"I basically share with kids that you can turn your greatest weakness into your strongest strength," LeBeau said. "Embrace your uniqueness."
Reach Jeremy Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
Jesse LeBeau stars in a new TV commercial with supermodel Heidi Klum for Carl's Jr.
Jesse showing off some of his moves at Mission Beach in San Diego.Watch a hoop video with Jesse LeBeau and his commercial for Carl's Jr. featuring Heidi Klum
By JEREMY PETERS