If you watched the Super Bowl on Feb. 13 (and honestly, Cincinnati Bengals Nation, who didn't?), you might have seen a Youth Performing Arts School alum from Louisville during a commercial break.
Emily James, who graduated from the duPont Manual High School performing arts magnet in 2011, appeared in an ad campaign for sports betting company DraftKings as their new mascot, the Goddess of Fortune (also referred to just as “Fortune”), promoting their “Free Million Dollar Bet” campaign for the Super Bowl.
The ad aired during the third commercial break of the game's first quarter (Don’t worry if you missed the “Million Dollar Bet” campaign — it wasn’t open to Kentucky residents, as sports betting is still not legal in the state).
In the ad, “Life’s a Gamble,” Fortune jumps off the DraftKings blimp, balances on a goal post, interviews a young Joe Namath, does a motorcycle stunt with Evel Knievel, tattoos one half of a couple and drives on the Super Bowl field with modern-day Namath.
It’s a high-adrenaline series of events. Fittingly, the commercial’s director is Doug Liman, who also directed “The Bourne Identity” and “Edge of Tomorrow.”
James, who is filming a rom-com at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, said her own excitement has been equally high.
“I’m just really overwhelmed,” she says. “I’ve got so many texts and so many DMs that I feel like I need to respond to, but I think I can take my time,” she joked.
Even though she’d already seen the video multiple times before it aired, watching herself last night “honestly didn’t feel real.”
“It’s just kind of slowly hitting me,” she says. “My brain isn’t comprehending it.”
That’s to be expected, though — her first-ever commercial project just so happened to be a Super Bowl commercial.
James is primarily a stage actress who has appeared at the Geffen Playhouse and other theaters in Southern California. She says that her theater experience was crucial to getting the role of Fortune, and she credits YPAS for her career successes thus far.
“I honestly don’t know where I would be without YPAS,” she says. “The foundation that they gave us was so professional and so college-level.”
James transferred into YPAS as a junior in high school. At her previous high school, Christian Academy, she’d only had a minor role in one play, so she initially felt like she was behind her YPAS classmates. She points out that YPAS students “were training for two hours a day, every day, even when we were 16 and 17.”
But taking an intensive acting class with Georgette Kleier and studying theater legends like Stanislavski motivated James to “play catch-up” and deep-dive into the field by reading plays and doubling down on her theater studies (Disclaimer: James and this reporter were in one of Kleier’s directing classes at YPAS together).
James adds that Kleier’s “incredible teaching changed [her] life and set the foundation for [her] love of the craft.”
“It was my first ever acting class,” she says. “I was just mind blown and instantly caught the acting bug.”
According to a recent AdWeek article, the DraftKings campaign won’t be the last opportunity to see James as Fortune; the character also will make appearances with DraftKings in the future. She also appears frequently throughout the company’s social media.
You can also watch her in a teaser ad, “Fortune Awaits,” that debuted earlier this month.
You win, I pay. Fortune favors those who put it on the line. pic.twitter.com/DRh9ljAUnA— DraftKings Sportsbook (@DKSportsbook) February 14, 2022
“I’m very excited to see where this is gonna lead. I definitely want to transfer it over to cool roles on TV and film,” James says.
In DraftKings' predictions this week for the 2023 Super Bowl, the oddsmaker puts the Cincinnati Bengals +1400 for winning the big game.
A version of this story was originally published by CityBeat sister newspaper LEO Weekly.
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