How Dr Pepper Helped Land David Naughton His Role In An American Werewolf In London

John Landis' 1981 classic "An American Werewolf in London" is one of the most revered horror-comedies ever, standing on the shoulders of the goofy "Abbott and Costello Meet..." film series and leaning into the natural absurdities of one of the horror genre's most overt manifestations of man's duality. Casting the lead roles of doomed Americans David Kessler and Jack Goodman was of paramount importance; the movie was conceived as homage to "The Wolf Man," after all. The suits at Universal initially wanted SNL alum and "Blues Brothers" starsĀ Dan Akroyd and John Belushi to lead, but Landis went with unknowns David Naughton and Griffin Dunne instead.

An ordinary casting process might include screen tests and further evaluations of the actor, but the way Naughton told it to journalist Sandy Auden, one meeting with the "Animal House" director was all it took to land the role of the doomed backpacker. He describes an interview set up by his agent, and learning with glee that Landis not only indulged in Dr Pepper drinks now and then, but he was familiar with the soft drink commercials Naughton had done. "We're both Peppers," he quipped. He explained to Auden:

"I had a nice long chat with John Landis in his office. I don't know whether it actually clinched the job for me but I told John Landis how I had lived in England, previously having studied acting in London and had gone across Great Britain on a bicycle. John said, 'Hey, that's really interesting, cause these guys are backpacking!' He asked me to call him in the morning and I thought, this is odd but OK, I'll call you tomorrow. And next day he said, 'D'you want to be a werewolf?' And that was it."

Bad moon rising

The Dr Pepper brand had enjoyed success with several ad campaigns in the decades before David Naughton came along. The soft drink was already associated with slogans like, "Drink a Bit to Eat at 10-2-4 o'clock" and "America's Most Understood Soft Drink," and in 1977, the "Be A Pepper" campaign struck earworm gold. Naughton's song-and-dance sprees would proclaim that "I'm a Pepper" and spread peer pressure like a soda evangelist, gazing into the camera with the maniac zeal of a cult devotee and asking if you're a Pepper, too.

In all seriousness, the "Be A Pepper" commercials were some of the most whimsical ads to burrow into the American consumer mind. Michael Jackson and the Jacksons, Tanya Tucker, and Garth Brooks would all be Peppers. The jingle became as famous as the "fresh-maker" Mentos ads or those showcasing how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop. There must have been something in Naughton's charming grin, an aw-shucks innocence, that Landis found essential for his tragic leading man.

As the scruffy-haired David Kessler, Naughton had quite an arc to fulfill, first living his dream and backpacking through England and then getting attacked by a werewolf which 1) kills his bestie and 2) afflicts him with a nasty lycanthropic curse, with horrible growing pains. Naughton recalls how strange it felt to land the role so smoothly:

"It was a little unusual, but it was probably that straightforward because John had written the script for the movie and was also the director and executive producer. He was the guy for this project."