It probably still happens the old-fashioned way: a beautiful face spotted sipping a milkshake at Schwab's, a screen test and stardom.
But you get the feeling that Beck Bennett's Hollywood story is more typical in the new millennium — you know, 30 years after Schwab's closed.
Since heading from Wilmette and New Trier High School to the University of Southern California to study acting, Bennett has formed a comedy troupe, made scores of YouTube videos, done improv shows, earned important nods from Will Ferrell and Steven Spielberg, and, just recently, won his first big national break via an AT&T ad campaign.
Bennett plays the adult straight man interviewing little kids about whether fast is better than slow, two is better than one, and other benefits that AT&T claims for its cellphone service.
The actors started with scripts, he said, but almost all of the material that has made the final cut has been improvised.
And that loose charm — as the kids demonstrate dubious talents or tell outrageous stories about cheetahs and grandmas, all while Bennett urges them on — has made "It's Not Complicated" one of the ad campaigns most heavily mentioned on social media since debuting in late November. The spots have been so popular that Bennett is scheduled to shoot another handful of them in coming weeks.
"It's the classic straight-man/funny-man dynamic," copywriter Jason Miller and art director Rory Odani, the creative team at BBDO Atlanta that came up with the ads, wrote in a joint email. "It frees Beck up to just react to whatever the kids say. And a big part of the fun comes from Beck's deadpan responses to the kids' ridiculous statements."
At the same time this is going on, Bennett and his partners in the Good Neighbor comedy team have just turned in a first cut of a series pilot to Comedy Central. "The Good Neighbor Show," about a disintegrating local late-night talk show, is being made by Gary Sanchez Productions, the company run by Ferrell and former "Saturday Night Live" head writer Adam McKay.
"He and Beck had great chemistry, which made our jobs much, much easier," said the ad-agency team.
"Lonely Island was what we aimed to be when we were in college," Bennett said.
So naturally, the actor, 28, is luxuriating in his success, confident that the ads are just the start of bigger things. Right?
"At this point, this is amazing. It's like a dream job for an up-and-coming actor," Bennett said by telephone from Los Angeles. "But I am also getting nervous. Sometimes, I'm like, 'Oh, this good thing, is it really a bad thing for me?'"
But, no, his friends and agent tell him: You don't have to worry about overexposure. You needn't fear being typecast as a Leslie Nielsen-anchorman type who is really into what little kids have to say.
"They tell me, 'It's only good,'" he said.
In Winnetka, his parents like it too. Friends keep telling them they've seen Beck, their middle son, on TV, and Beck, who has lived frugally since graduating in 2007, now has a little walking-around money.
"He even took me out to lunch over Christmas," said his mom, Sarah Bennett. "It was very exciting."
Flash back to high school, the summer between sophomore and junior years: Bennett already has the acting bug. He's taken improv classes at Second City; his mom may have even exaggerated his age to get him in early. He's done school theater. He'll be Jean Valjean in the 2003 New Trier production of "Les Miserables."
But he also plays lacrosse and football. And he tells his folks that he's decided to let football go so he can spend more time acting.
"He was a fullback. He was pretty good," said his father, Andy, an options trader. "I tried to bribe him with buying him a very used convertible to keep him on the football team, but he wouldn't have anything to do with it."
They had always said they thought their son would be an actor. Turning down a car was only confirmation.