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American Idol alum Justin Guarini on how he became Diet Dr. Pepper’s Lil’ Sweet

Fans of American Idol may recognize Lil’ Sweet, the zazzy littlevery littlestar of Diet Dr. Pepper’s new campaign, as season 1 runner-up Justin Guarini. But how did it all happen?

Guarini called up EW to tell the story.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you get involved in this commercial?
JUSTIN GUARINI: I got this call from my agent saying Dr. Pepper was looking for someone to play a character in a commercial. I didn’t have any expectations – there was no real set character. I went in, did some kind of crazy stuff and sung a lot of the lines. They ended up saying, “We want to work with you on this.”

If there was no set character, how did Lil’ Sweet come to life?
Lil’ Sweet is a collaboration between Dr. Pepper and I. The whole thought behind him is that we wanted him to be a rock god. He’s not necessarily one person – I think he personifies an era of rock and glam. His whole thing is that he also personifies the benefits of Diet Dr. Pepper – you have all the sweetness with none of the calories. And that’s why he’s so small.

What did they do to make you that small?
All of the times that you see me were shot in a huge studio in front of a green screen. For the second commercial, because I’m supposed to be three or four feet tall and sliding down a banister, they built a huge, 20-foot – what amounts to a slide – with a platform on it that I slid up and down this “banister,” this huge rig that dwarfed me for hours and hours on end. I have to say, it was so much fun.

How do you channel someone like Lil’ Sweet before filming the commercials?
It’s really funny – it’s like, you get the concept of what he’s about, but once I put the costume on, for me, I become that person. I’m not one of those actors that walks around all day acting like Lil’ Sweet – that’d probably be pretty annoying – but I really feel like once I put the clothes on, then I’m wearing the character and I just let whatever comes out come out.

Did you do any ad-libbing, or was it all scripted?
There was a script, but “Lil’ Sweet defying gravity” was never in the script [for Lil’ Sweet ‘Birthday’]. But that’s the sort of dream job as a creative person in any field – you have your boundaries and you have your opportunities to play inside those, but then you have a wonderful creative team all thinking of funny and interesting things. That’s what really brought Lil’ Sweet to life – all of us were playing and having a great time doing it.

Have your kids seen your commercial? Do they realize it’s you?
The funny thing is, that type of humor and that type of behavior, I do it around the house all day every day. I remember saying during the shoot, “I can’t believe you guys are paying me to do this,”  because that’s the kind of stuff I do for my kids and my wife – make them laugh.

Do you get Diet Dr. Pepper for life now?
[Laughs] Yeah, I’ve got it in my will.

Will we be seeing Lil’ Sweet in any more commercials?
Of course I would love to if they offered, but for right now, I think the two that are out are wonderful, I’m proud of them and people really seem to enjoy them. So, we’ll see what happens.

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