Ali Raymer has licked corn syrup and powdered sugar off a metal street pole at least 20 times, eaten multiple cups of strawberry yogurt, dressed up like Madonna, and spun herself around until she made herself dizzy.
The 28-year-old former Perrysburg woman has performed these antics in TV commercials under hot lights and the eyes of a crew, with directors shouting “cut!” and “action!” All this for about 30 seconds of fame.
Ms. Raymer, a 1993 graduate of Perrysburg High School, is a budding actress in Hollywood, Calif. The work in commercials gives her exposure in the business and helps to pay the rent.
Her most recent television commercials have been for SBC, formerly Ameritech, and a popular Yoplait commercial, where she was featured eating yogurt and wearing a yellow polka-dot bikini. She also just finished shooting a print campaign for a yet-to-be-released Toyota auto named the Scion, where she and other Generation X-types had to run through a field.
Last year, Ms. Raymer co-starred in her first feature-length film, Tweeked, (Dumpster Films) a drug tale set in Los Angeles and directed by independent film director Beth Dewey.
Her pursuit of an acting career begins some 10 years ago, when a love of the big screen led her and two friends, then 19 years old, to pack up their belongings and head for the West Coast.
“My mom really gave me a love of movies. Her perfect day was us going to a double feature,” she said of her mother, Sharon Raymer, a homemaker who now resides in Houston with Ms. Raymer's father, Randy, a technical consultant and engineer for El Paso Energy. Her older brother, Darrin, lives in Cincinnati with his wife and two children. The Raymers, a former military family, lived in Perrysburg for 12 years, from the time Ms. Raymer was in the seventh grade, around 1988 to the year 2000.
Ms. Raymer's mother, who still returns to this area occasionally to go to a local high-end hair salon to get her hair done, said because her daughter is so grounded and independent she strongly believes in her success in any of her interests.
Still, her daughter's career can occasionally surprise her.
“My husband and I were sitting in our hotel room on a recent business trip to Denver, Colorado, and all of a sudden the itsy bitsy teeny weeny [yellow polka dot bikini Yoplait] commercial came on the television and the realization hit me that, `Oh my gosh, that's my baby!' It was a surreal experience for me,” said Mrs. Raymer.
For the first three years in California, Ms. Raymer said she worked in menial jobs, including a stint in a gift shop in Santa Monica, while she pursued her dream of acting. She had given up an opportunity to attend Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where she had been accepted for admission, a decision she said her father was not pleased about.
“I kind of sprung it on [my parents] that I wanted to leave. I remember it was Feb. 14, Valentine's Day. and the wind chill was 60 below and I couldn't wait to go. I was so excited.
“My dad and I didn't really talk for the first year, but we reconciled after I had gotten some work and he started to see that I was really serious,” said Ms. Raymer, who was matched with her talent agency, Dragon, by a friend.
Despite her father's initial disapproval, Ms. Raymer said she was not about to return home. And almost a decade later, her patience and dedication is finally paying off. She is building a reputation in the business as a smart, talented woman with natural acting ability.
Independent film director and documentarian Beth Dewey, who selected Ms. Raymer to co-star in her film Tweeked, said she believes Ms. Raymer will make it in the acting business.
“In her role, she suffers a complete mental breakdown - that takes a lot of energy and a lot of depth, and she really pulled it off,” said Ms. Dewey, of Raymer's character, Michelle, who makes self-destructive life choices with co-star Darling Narita (Bang), a 1998 Independent Spirit Award nominee for Best Newcomer.
“From the minute she walked in, I knew she was right. She had the right look for the part ... and she really took the character and ran with it. Plus, she showed up on time and wasn't a pain - that's really important in low-budget filmmaking,” added Ms. Dewey, whose $60,000 film was produced by Shepard Stevenson from the band Pigmy Love Circus.
Ms. Raymer, who lived in Venice, Calif., before settling near Melrose Avenue in a Hollywood apartment, said her first commercial was for Oldsmobile in the mid-1990s.
“It was a Christmas story where the premise was doing things that are smart and not so smart, so I had to lick a metal pole and my tongue got frozen. The pole was covered in corn syrup and powdered sugar.
“I was so excited I didn't care that I had to do that over and over again. I had a make-up person, and on many sets after that they just treat you like a queen. You feel like a star,” said Ms. Raymer. “There's always a huge spread with every kind of food on the set, and you're totally pampered, and people there are always asking you what you need.”
The commercials that followed included one for JCPenney and a Citizens Bank ad, her first speaking role where she had to tell her fictional father that she was getting married. Ms. Raymer's other commercials included one for Exxon, where she and another actress appeared in a car approaching their college for the first time; a promotion for the Game Show Network, which still airs today; an MTV promotion for Madonna showing the singer's various looks - Ms. Raymer dressed as the Ray of Light woman.
While she has a policy against doing music videos, which she said underpay and are rarely unionized, she made the exception for producer Vincent Gallo, when she appeared in a video for a Japanese pop group.
A commercial for Polaroid followed where she had to lick an envelope while displaying her tongue ring, and a promotion for Eight Legged Freaks which never ran, before she landed her recent Yoplait, SBC, and Toyota jobs.
Ms. Raymer says that being an actress in the commercial arena is “feast or famine.”
“Almost every time, the commercials come to me in threes. Whenever I go home to visit my parents and get back to my roots, and I'm renewed, I'll get a call,” said Ms. Raymer, who added that she gets union wages for her commercial work because she is a member of SAG, the Screen Actors Guild, an actors' union.
She said a session view pays $500 for eight hours of work, and SAG actors are paid double time for weekend work. Actors are also paid residuals every time the commercial runs. Ms. Raymer added that she receives residuals for her Game Show Network promo.
“There are career commercial actors that can live off their residuals,” said Ms. Raymer, who lives with three roommates, including Mike Smith, a guitarist for the band Limp Bizkit. Ms. Raymer, who is a licensed scuba diver and enjoys hiking, is taking classes at Santa Monica College, where she is a 3.9 GPA student, to eventually transfer credits to UCLA to complete a long-awaited undergraduate degree in advertising.
“I don't know where all of this will lead, basically I'm just biding my time and twiddling my thumbs, but I should have no problem,” said Ms. Raymer.