As chief creative officer for Vital Proteins, Jennifer Aniston jumped in head-first to help the brand perfect a new line of protein bars by spending a year consulting on the right formulas to land on Peanut Butter Fudge, Cold Brew Coffee and Dark Chocolate Coconut. And when it came time to direct a commercial, she tapped an auteur on the shoulder, someone she dreamed of working with.
“It was a pinch-me moment: Is this actually happening. Why not aim high?” she told The Hollywood Reporter over Zoom recently of recruiting La La Land‘s Damien Chazelle and composer Justin Hurwitz for the “Every Moment Is Vital” spot. “It all moved so fast and we had so much fun. It was two days and it went like that [snaps fingers]. It was so easy. He’s this young kid, 37 years old, and here he is with this body of work. I’m sitting here lucky enough that he would do my Vital Proteins commercial.”
I read that it took a year to get the formulas right for your three Vital Proteins protein bars. What was the hardest part of the process?
Getting the taste right. Obviously, that’s always the tricky part because there’s always some kind of an aftertaste or, you know, it’s too chewy or it’s too dense. The original bars were a little too big and a little too high in calories. I just thought, there’s got to be a way to make this bar taste fantastic. Like, what if we put the ingredients that I put in my shakes? Why can’t we put in maca powder, cordyceps and lion’s mane? All these wonderful, beautiful nutritional ingredients that give you the added benefits. They said, “Of course, we can. We can do whatever we want.”
Then it was a year of sending different makeups of the bar. We’d have taste tests with my girlfriends. Sometimes, the first round was a little too sweet or a little too sugary or a frosting that was a little too much. I gave notes and we went back and forth and back and forth until we landed on these. I remember when we were shooting the commercial and we had a final taste test of them and it was the first time that I had tasted the Cold Brew which is my personal favorite right now. I was like, ‘This is it.’ It couldn’t be more delicious. I have a friend who is a chef and she does not like protein bars and she said, “I love it so much.” They’re perfect to put in my purse and take it on the go. Usually, when I’m working, I don’t eat all day and then I come home and eat too much so it’s a great little thing to have with you to hold you over. It’s not junk. It’s all really good ingredients.
Do you have them with you all the time?
Yes, in my car in a cooler because it will melt [otherwise]. I have them everywhere. All of my friends are taking them all the time and I’m like, “Guys, you have to order your own off Amazon right now.”
The commercial was directed by Damien Chazelle with Justin Hurwitz as the composer, the team from La La Land. How did that happen? Were you a fan of the film?
My gosh. Well, it was a pinch-me moment: Is this actually happening? Why not aim high? Directors are doing all sorts of things now because it’s fun to veer off and do something that is a smaller commitment. With Damien, I’ve always loved him and we’ve wanted to do something together for a long time. So, I asked him, “Do we do a commercial together? Do you think you could do our commercial?” Instantly, he said, “Yes, I’d love it. I love the idea, I love the concept. It’ll be beautiful and I know how to do it.” He used something like 12 cameras, all of these different awesome cameras, and he shot with his incredible DP. It all moved so fast and we had so much fun. It was two days and it went like that [snaps fingers]. It was so easy. He’s this young kid, 37 years old, and here he is with this body of work. I’m sitting here lucky enough that he would do my Vital Proteins commercial.
How could he say no to Jennifer Aniston? It turned out beautifully and shows these scenes of your life doing through a routine, including journaling. How long have you been using a journal?
Since I was a kid I’ve journaled. I have boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes of journals, and it’s kind of adorable to go back and look through all of them, some with felt or flower patterns and all the different styles, and to notice all the difference in my words and thoughts. I also think it’s good to do free writing where you don’t think about what you’re writing and it’s all stream of consciousness. There are different ways and sometimes it might be a gratitude list for the day. They suggest specific numbers, like 12 minutes of free writing a day. It’s good for your day.
What do you prefer? Gratitude lists or free writing?
It depends. Usually free writing to see what comes out.
Selecting Damien and helping narrow down the formula for the bars speaks to your role as chief creative officer for Vital Proteins. You could have just joined as the face of the brand, why did you decide to also take on that role?
I didn’t say necessarily I want that title. I just wanted to be involved. It’s always more fun to actually be involved in the products as opposed to being the face because then you get to play around and be creative. Same thing with the hair care brand that I have, LolaVie, that I love. It allows me to be a mad scientist and make it perfect by working behind the scenes on all the good stuff. It’s like preparing a movie, you know, putting all the nuts and bolts together, from finding a great script, an amazing crew, a filmmaker and figuring out how the story is told. All of it is fun, from start to finish and then you see the end product and you’re like, ah, that’s satisfying.
Speaking of making movies, you just finished another one with Adam Sandler, the sequel to Murder Mystery. What was the best day on set?
Oh my God. There’s not many days that aren’t fun with Adam. Well, there was one day, but you have to see the movie to understand. It has to do with another couple and it’s a very fun scene with Adam and I and another couple. It’s a really fun movie. I was just saying that it was quite a challenge doing this one because I hadn’t been away at all [during the pandemic]. We were gone three months and I hadn’t left California or been on an airplane since the beginning of the pandemic.
I had filmed The Morning Show and that was also a challenge to shoot during the pandemic because, as a producer, you’re not just showing up and going to work, we had to make sure that everyone is safe and that we were taking the correct precautions and following the proper protocols. [When it comes time to shoot] then, it’s like, “OK, now go be funny.” Oh God, OK, how we have to be funny. It was quite a challenge to get through that routine and get safely to set, and you can’t see the faces of your crew and your fellow actors. [Acting] is a creative process, and we’re very tactile. I love to see faces and have our creative juices just be free, and it felt a little restricted, I have to say. But we did it and somehow didn’t get COVID, thank God.
Have you made it through the whole pandemic and not gotten it?
[Yes.] Knock on wood.
We’re out of time, but let’s talk about your dance card. It’s very full with these businesses and projects — Lolavie, Vital Proteins, The Morning Show, acting and producing. It’s there another creative venture you want to tackle in 2022?
What don’t I want to tackle? I mean, 2022 is pretty much finished; this one is all planned out. We start season three of The Morning Show in August, which I’m excited about. That will probably take us into next year and then there’s another project that is probably happening next summer which we’re going to talk about but I’m very excited about. Then, at some point, it’s time for me to direct. That’s another venture, more on the creative side.
Is there something specific in mind to direct?
It hasn’t hit me yet. I’ve directed a couple of shorts that I’ve had a wonderful time doing and I’m getting ready to take on a full-length project — once I find the time.
This story first appeared in the June 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.