Video: Unmasked! Meet the boy behind Darth Vader

  1. Closed captioning of: Unmasked! Meet the boy behind Darth Vader

    >>> never mind the mvp on the field. one of the biggest stars of last nigh's super bowl was the boy who played darth vader in a volkswagen commercial. his name is max page . he's 6 years old. he's here along with his mom jennifer. good morning to you.

    >> hey,guys.

    >> first of all, darth vader , show us what you've got.

    >> there you go.

    >> let's see who you are, max. can you take the mask off? hello, young man. nice to see you. this is exciting stuff, isn't it?

    >> yeah.

    >> do you like being darth vader ? it's cool. how did this happen? how did this audition take place and how did he win?

    >> you know, well, it started, i think, december 29th was his first audition. he had a call-back and it got down to 16 kids. we got a call over the weekend that said they booked it. it wasn't until halfway through the first day of filming we knew it was a super bowl commercial . we just thought it was his first national commercial and the deutsch group was like, no, this is a super bowl spot. it was out of this world.

    >> you didn't know much about darth vader , did you?

    >> no.

    >> you went to the internet and saw a picture of him?

    >> sort of.

    >> now, your mom said this is your first national commercial. tell me about some of the other commercials you have done.

    >> well, i have done like other commercials.

    >> yeah.

    >> do you remember who you backed up in two commercials?

    >> a band-aid and a -- i can't remember.

    >> what were the other ones?

    >> he was with clear communications was the first regional commercial and walgreens.

    >> on a soap as well.

    >> yeah.

    >> you think about the number of people who watched this ad online. forget the super bowl . there is another hundred million people. like 10 million people watched it before the game even started.

    >> yeah.

    >> what kind of response have you guys gotten?

    >> oh, i can't even keep up with the messages and the calls. i wish i could. so many people support us in so many things. it's just overwhelming. the first night it was 60,000. i woke up the next morning and it was a million. then my mind couldn't comprehend after that.

    >> what do you think and what do your friends think about it?

    >> they wish they could see it.

    >> people asked for your autograph, too?

    >> because of "the young & the restless ."

    >> i wanted to mention max has a pacemaker. he was born with a congenital heart defect.

    >> right. he had his first surgery at 3 months old at children's hospital los angeles . they saved his life, gave him back to us. a week after the first surgery had had to have a pacemaker, so he has maintenance on that. he's routinely at the hospital. we try to make it fun with blankets and bears and try not to make it scary about appointments and blood draws. but he's a real inspiration. even the press conference in los angeles there was a father and son and they were in the garden. the dad said, just to see him run and play is enough. that was always enough for us, too. just to see the ray of hope of what a couple years ahead looks like. you can do anything.

    >> way to go. congratulations.

    >> thank you.

    >> we're back after this. [ kid ] it was the

TODAY contributor
updated 2/7/2011 10:31:38 AM ET 2011-02-07T15:31:38

The Force was with TODAY Monday when the pint-size Darth Vader who has stolen America’s heart came to Studio 1A and tried to wield the same powers that seemingly brought a Volkswagen Passat to life in this year’s breakout Super Bowl ad.

He had an early success in the makeup room, apparently turning on a hair dryer with a thrust of his hands.

The diminutive Darth’s efforts to channel metaphysical energies were more hit-and-miss when he tried to work them on a coffeemaker in the greenroom or on monitors in the TODAY control room — but 6-year-old Max Page’s star power couldn’t be stifled, even by the bulky helmet he wore.

Video: Use the force, young Vader, in Studio 1A (on this page)

Max’s Super Bowl ad shows him in full Vader regalia, struggling vainly to use the Force to start a washer and dryer, rouse the family dog, and bring a baby doll to life. But when he heads outside to work his magic on his dad’s 2012 Volkswagen Passat, he’s shocked when the engine roars to life — little knowing that his father has started the car by remote control from the kitchen.

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Beneath the helmet
On TODAY Monday, Max doffed his helmet to reveal a towheaded tyke with an impish grin. He was accompanied by his mother, Jennifer Page, who told Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira that it’s still sinking in on her that her boy is an overnight advertising superstar.

Image: little Darth Vader, Max Bloom
The face beneath the Darth Vader helmet belongs to 6-year-old Max Page.

“It actually wasn’t until halfway through the first day of filming that we even knew it was a Super Bowl commercial,” she said. “I was like, ‘Whoa, this is out of this world!’ ”

Max is no stranger to the camera — he’s been performing since he was barely able to walk, and is known to soap fans for his recurring role as Reed Hellstrom on the CBS soap opera “The Young and the Restless.” But 100 million Super Bowl viewers is a new galaxy of stardom.

Video: Unmasked! Meet the boy behind Darth Vader (on this page)

Jennifer said she suspects Max won the gig over hundreds of other hopefuls because he acted naturally. He’s never seen a “Star Wars” movie — too scary, he thinks — and only briefly looked up a picture of Darth Vader so he’d know what the character looked like.

Kid stuff
In an earlier TODAY segment, advertising executive Donny Deutsch — former owner of Donny Deutsch Advertising Inc., which booked the spot for Volkswagen — said that the real Force of the ad was seeing a kid do what kids love to do: make believe.

Related: Rating this year’s Super Bowl ads

“I was watching with a group of people, and there was a 35-year-old guy [who] said, ‘That was me, growing up on Star Wars,’ ” Deutsh said in a segment assessing this year’s Super Bowl ads. “If you have kids, that’s just it; that’s kids.”

Volkswagen and its agency made an unconventional choice with the commercial: Instead of retaining the element of surprise until Super Bowl Sunday, they openly leaked the spot on YouTube a week earlier. The tally of views there grew so fast, it had Jennifer Page seeing stars.

As Darth Vader, Max Page seemingly used the Force to open the Studio 1A window as Matt Lauer, Meredith Vieira and his mom, Jennifer Page, looked on.
As Darth Vader, Max Page seemingly used the Force to open the Studio 1A window as Matt Lauer, Meredith Vieira and his mom, Jennifer Page, looked on.

“The first night it was at 60,000, and I went to bed,” she told Lauer and Vieira. “When I woke up the next morning it was at a million, and then my mind couldn’t comprehend after that.”

That some 8 million people ultimately watched the commercial before it even hit national TV Sunday was a stroke of advertising genius, USA Today business reporter Laura Petrecca told TODAY during the Super Bowl ads segment.

“A crowd at a Super Bowl party — how many people are going to stop and pay attention to a Darth Vader?” she said. “But if people say, ‘Hey, hey, don’t talk now, watch this ad because it’s getting a lot of buzz,’ you’re going to pay attention.”

Video: Baby Vader, Bieber light up Super Bowl ads (on this page)

Little Max told Lauer and Vieira that the buzz also extends to his classmates “a lot,” he said. “Some friends said they can’t see it, they wished they could.”

Surgery at 3 months old
Max’s overnight stardom is all the more remarkable because of his serious health issues. When he was an infant, he was diagnosed with the heart defect Tetralogy of Fallot.

“He had his first surgery when he was 3 months old at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles,” Jennifer Page explained. “They saved his life and gave him back to us about a week after his first surgery. He had to have a pacemaker put in, so he has maintenance on that.

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“He’s still routinely at the hospital, but we try to make it fun; we have blankets and bears and we try to make it not so scary.”

TODAY Moms: Little Darth Vader is a huge hit in Super Bowl ad

Max’s prognosis for a healthy life is good, but his condition puts his acting career in perspective. His mom said that little things mean more than 100 million pairs of eyeballs: She recalled seeing a father watching his son tear around a garden at a press conference for Max, and the dad’s saying, “Just to see him run and play is enough.”

“That was always enough for us, too,” Jennifer Page said. “Just to see that little ray of hope of what a couple of years ahead looks like. He can do anything.”

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