When the Ragu Pasta Sauce kid accidentally sees his parents involved in a private social activity between consenting adults in the bedroom, the TV audience is naturally fixated on his shocked expression.
Observant Prince George residents will have noticed a family resemblance in that famous grimace. The Ragu kid's actual father has a lifelong, multigenerational connection to the city.
Ten-year-old Ben Harrison is now a television and Internet sensation thanks to the Ragu ad seen around the world, especially during the 2012 London Olympics. His father, Nick Harrison, is a notable actor himself, getting his start in various amateur productions around Prince George, which is still the family hometown despite being based now in the Lower Mainland.
Nick's acting career has included appearances in a long list of shows like Stargate SG1, X Files, Smallville, Dark Angel, Scooby Doo 2, Scary Movie 4, several of the Air Bud films and many others. He also did stunts and the sword fight choreography for scenes in Snow Falling On Cedars, Kill Switch, and the Young Blades television series.
Nick studied acting at the University of Victoria (where he met his wife Rebecca, adding to young Ben's genetic thespianism) and now, with a new Ph.D. at the end of his name, teaches the craft. But explaining show biz to his young son was not part of his thesis.
"I gave him the whole talk, explained the business and how tough it is. Rebecca and I never pushed him that way at all," said the proud papa, who was all too aware that celluloid success is not genetic. "We tell him to expect a lot of rejection and what does he do? - he goes out and nails a commercial almost the first thing he does. What a great start, just throwing his hat in the ring like the rest of them."
"It was mostly my agent getting me an audition," said Ben. Mom and dad at least imparted that getting an agent was essential. "First, I was asked to try out for the commercial, then they called me back again for another tryout. They were doing seven Ragu ads with different kids and they told me I got one of them, but they weren't sure at first which one I should do."
After trying him out in all seven scenarios - all based on the concept that kids go through difficult things so their reward at the end of a hard day should be Ragu pasta sauce at the family dinner table - the production team settled on Ben being the character who comes home from school, runs up the stairs excited to share some news with his parents, throws open the bedroom door then freezes in mock horror as he apparently catches mom and dad in the act.
"A guy demonstrated a face they wanted me to do, so I had to try it," Ben said. "It was 16 or 17 different takes, I tried all kinds of different ones. I didn't really have a favourite one, I didn't know what they looked like. It took three hours to shoot, for a 30-second ad."
It's one pasta sauce clip that boiled over. In addition to the millions who have watched it on regular television, more than two million viewers have clicked on different online clips of the commerical, and it has led to Facebook tribute pages and YouTube parodies.
Ben has been recognized by strangers on the street about 20 years ahead of his father's experiences with celebrity.
Nick has also done commercials. For Mio MasterCard, he plays a black-and-white cowboy in conversation with a cat. For B.C. Salmon Facts, he plays a father who comes home in time to catch his son in the throes of a wild party. Nick joked that together, those two ads total less than 10,000 online views.
Perhaps, said Nick, he should do a parody version himself, where he comes home at his adult age and catches his own parents as a spoofing tribute on his son's success.
Instead, he cast Ben in an ongoing project he has been working on. The online show Fools For Hire is a collaboration between Nick and other B.C. show biz notables like Mike Cavers, Neil Every, Jackson Davies, Eric Breker, Barbara Kozicki, Gary Jones and others. For episode three of the internet comedy program, Ben plays a child star alongside real life mom Rebecca.
Ben was also cast as an elf in the live-action TV movie A Fairly Odd Christmas based on the animated series Fairly Odd Parents.
The Harrison's expect a trip back to Prince George sometime this summer. Ben can't wait to visit Grandma Pearl's house, but he doesn't know if pasta is on the menu or if any of the upstairs doors lock.