He’s on-screen for no more than five seconds, but a Vancouver actor says his appearance in a viral television ad for Peloton has changed his life — and not necessarily for the better.
Sean Hunter plays the husband who gifts his wife with the expensive stationary exercise bike in an ad that has generated controversy, with many viewers deeming it sexist.
Others pointed out the actress playing the wife, Monica Ruiz, looked more nervous than excited to use her new gift, which she documents through a series of video blogs shown in a montage.
Ever since the ad went viral, Hunter says he’s received a wave of “hurtful” messages through social media, accusing him of being the “misogynist symbol of the patriarchy” many see his character as representing.
“I (was like), ‘whoa, these are harsh things that are not associated with my character and not associated with me in any way,'” he said, adding some of the messages have been threatening.
“People are blending the lines too much with this character that I’ve been portrayed as, and with my co-actor’s character. And they’re going, ‘this is who these people are now.’ And that’s so wrong. It’s hard to deal with.”
Hunter, who works as a gym teacher at a Vancouver elementary school, says he booked the job after an audition in September and was “happy to shoot it” after he read the script.
His only disappointment when watching the finished product was that some of his lines had been cut. Other than that, he says he got positive feedback from friends, family and his acting coach, and didn’t see anything negative in the ad itself.
“Quick after that, I was watching the YouTube count of the dislikes and the dislikes started going up and up — thousands, tens of thousands,” Hunter said. “And this is where it started to switch.”
While he disagreed with the comments he read — and was able to choose to not read them at all — he says his troubles truly began when people began directly messaging him.
“Just this morning I woke up and I looked at my Instagram direct messages, I get a very hurtful message and I just deleted it right away,” he said. “I just don’t like seeing it because I don’t understand.
“I want to hear why there’s so much attack towards it. Where in the commercial did you see this negativity?”
Peloton — a term that refers to a pack of cyclists in a race — was founded in 2012. The bike starts at $2,950, plus a $39 monthly membership fee to watch classes led by an instructor.
The company acknowledged the mixed response to its ad in a statement to CNBC. A spokesperson said the holiday spot was meant to celebrate the “fitness and wellness journey” that many customers experience after buying the bike.
Hunter agrees with that view.
“We’re promoting fitness,” he said. “We’re promoting personal health. And that’s what I want people to take away from it. It’s not about body shaming.
“I’m a gym teacher. That’s what I promote every day, personal fitness and health. And so to hear this negative backlash, it’s hurtful towards me and it’s hurtful towards my occupation.”
Hunter says he’s hopeful people will eventually move on from the ad, and that those conflating him with his character realize how damaging their attacks can be.
“You think of a lot of movies that we watch where there are villains, there are characters that we watch … and we know those actors aren’t those characters,” he said.
“I don’t know what the difference is here. Is something going on? Are you projecting out? I don’t know.”
Hunter’s co-star Ruiz, meanwhile, is moving on herself thanks to Vancouver actor Ryan Reynolds, who featured the actor in a new ad for his company Aviation Gin.
Reynolds tweeted out a video of the ad on Friday night with the caption, “Exercise bike not included.”
—With files from Kerri Breen