Behind the Scenes of Serena Williams’ Super Bowl Commercial: ‘There Are Always Moments to Aim For’
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Serena Williams may be off the tennis courts these days but she’s taking a turn in front of the camera as the star of a new Super Bowl commercial for Rémy Martin, the centuries-old French Cognac house known for its portfolio of luxury spirits.
Filmed last month at the PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, the inspirational spot finds Williams giving her take on the iconic “Inch by Inch” speech delivered by Al Pacino’s character in the 1999 football film, Any Given Sunday. Williams’ Super Bowl ad finds the 23-time Grand Slam champion hyping up a team — and viewers — to overcome their doubts, and fight (or claw) their way to the top.
The lesson: like the creation of Rémy Martin, great success cannot be accomplished alone, and only as part of a collective team can true excellence be achieved.
For Williams, the chance to work with such a renowned brand was both an honor and a surprise.
“This is one of my favorite things to drink, but when they came to me, I was like, ‘Are you sure this is something you want me to do?'” she tells Rolling Stone. “Then they showed me the treatment and they said, ‘We can’t think of anyone else outside of Serena for this.’ And I was like, ‘Honestly, I have to agree.’”
Though she’s appeared in major campaigns before, Williams says she was inspired by the theme of the Rémy Martin spot, which is all about rising to the occasion — something the tennis legend has done time and time again.
“I’ve only ever had two coaches my entire career — one of them being my dad — but they would both tell me ahead of every match that, ‘Now’s the time to seize the moment,'” Williams says. “This is what you train for, this is what you wake up for, [what] you go to practice for, and it sucks,” she admits, “and it’s awful, but you do it because you want to make it to the finals. And when you get there, you get the moment you’ve been training for and it feels amazing.”
Directed by South African director Terence Neale, known for his work with rap duo Die Antwoord and his commercials for Beats by Dre, the Rémy Martin commercial marks the brand’s Super Bowl debut. The “inch by inch” theme is driven home throughout the minute-long spot, which highlights how little details can add up to make a big difference in everyday moments, whether in a bustling kitchen, on the stage with a dance troupe, with a football team, and yes, with a bottle of Rémy Martin, whether it be the signature Rémy Martin VSOP, 1738 Accord Royal, or the Cellar Master’s blend of Rémy Martin XO.
Though she has teased a possible return to tennis, Williams says she’s focused on the present moment with the release of the Super Bowl commercial and her partnership with Rémy.
“I love winning,” she confesses. “And I always want to perform my best and be my best. And that means there are always moments to aim for. It’s like this moment with Rémy Martin,” she says. “This is the Super Bowl. This is the biggest moment for the brand and for these football players, and we all want to win.”
Williams spoke to Rolling Stone on the set of her Super Bowl commercial for Rémy Martin, to talk about her unique connection to the brand, her pump-up playlist, and why rumors of her un-retirement have been greatly exaggerated.
Serena, you’re probably approached by big brands all the time for different projects. What was it about Rémy Martin that made you want to work with them?
I love how Rémy Martin is very family-influenced, because I’m very family-oriented. The brand has been around for almost 300 years and it’s only been owned by two families since it started, and I love that.
Rémy Martin is also founded and based in France — did the French connection help?
Yes! I’m big into France, and I love French culture. My whole team is French and I speak very good French and my daughter [Olympia] speaks French. So the fact that Rémy is the heart of French cognac and French culture really speaks to me.
The Super Bowl commercial is based on an iconic scene from Any Given Sunday, which is a football movie. We obviously know there’s a lot of teamwork involved on the football field, but how do you relate to the idea of teamwork on the tennis court?
A lot of people think tennis is a singles sport and it absolutely is. When you’re out there, you’re on your own. I do love that. If I lose, it’s because of me. But the second you’re off the court, it’s all about the team. I could not function in tennis without my team. Every single thing was about team off the court. You really become only as strong as the weakest member on your team. So everyone on my team, whether it was my physio, or my trainer, or my coach, we all had to be in sync, and we all had to work together. Everyone played such an important role that if one [person] broke down, then it wouldn’t work.
You mentioned that you love drinking Rémy Martin — do you remember the first time you had it?
One of the first times that I had Rémy Martin was at this family event that we’ve done every year for like 15 years now, and we call it the “Willams Invitational.” And we always have Rémy there and everyone loves it. But it’s so funny because we were just drinking it randomly in DC for a National Portrait Gallery [event] — it was a Rémy Martin 1738 and ginger. When I say we’re obsessed with that drink, I literally got home and I was like, I’m putting this on the menu at my bar for our next event.
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Okay, you’re going to have to tell me a little more about the Williams Invitational.
We play tennis — though I play lefty and Venus plays lefty — and then we just play with people that love tennis. And it’s literally just for fun, nothing else, and they’re all friends and family. And then we have a costume party after, because I love a costume. It’s just a good time to just unwind and to let go. And I really feel like it was something we looked forward to every year. It was the thing we would talk about for 12 months until it came.
How do we get an invite to this event?
It’s been a few years since we did it. We stopped it ever since Olympia was born, because I do all the planning and I was like, “I can’t do this right now.” Because I’m the one that actually sets it up and I do all the hosting at my place here [in Jupiter, Florida]. But we’re literally bringing it back this year and we’re all so so excited.
The Rémy Martin commercial shows you hyping up a team before a big game. Since this is for Rolling Stone, I have to ask about the songs you listen to, to pump yourself up before a match.
One artist that I always listened to was Irene Cara, and her songs “What a Feeling” and “Fame.” If you listen to the lyrics, those words are very powerful. People often just think of the choruses to those songs, but if you listen to the lyrics, they’re mind blowing.
Irene Cara was not who I was expecting you to say.
Well then I really got into The Weeknd and Bruno Mars, just to have fun for warm up, because I can dance to their songs. And sometimes I listen to Beyonce. It changes so much. But those were like the core: The Weeknd, Bruno Mars, Beyonce, Irene Cara. Also “Maniac!” I love that song and I love the Eighties.
Wait, “Maniac,” the song from Flashdance?
(Laughs) Yeah, it’s so motivating! Like, you have to get crazy sometimes. And I thought, to go out there and do what I did for so long… yeah, I’m a definitely a maniac.
What was the first concert you went to?
The first concert I ever went to in my life was a Green Day concert. I was 14 and it was the Dookie album. Green Day is my all-time favorite group. I love Green Day.
When was the last time you saw them perform?
I started to go to a lot of concerts over the last few years. I went to The Weeknd, which was so good. And then I went to see Green Day like twice. I saw Pearl Jam and I went with Venus for that. We do a ton of rock.
Any artist that people would be surprised to hear that you’re a fan of?
Oh, I went to the show for [Canadian rock band] Our Lady Peace recently. It was a small show and they literally sounded just like their album and I was like, “Oh my god, this is nuts! I love their albums!”
I’m Canadian, so I’m geeking out over your love for Our Lady Peace. What are your favorite OLP songs?
I love “Clumsy.” I always liked “Superman’s Dead.” I mean, what was I doing singing that song? I didn’t even understand the lyrics. I was like, “Serena, you should not be singing this” (laughs).
Any artists you’re dying to see?
I want to go to a Bad Bunny concert. I would dance my heart out.
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It was so cool to see you in this Rémy Martin commercial. Did being on set inspire any other on-camera plans?
I definitely want to do more producing and I have my production company, so we’re doing a lot more of that.
Is it true that you might be making a tennis comeback?
No, I’m definitely retired, as much as I would love to come back. I look at tennis and it’s hard for me, because I can still play like really well. And even when I left, I was still actually improving and I could still play on a super top level. But I also wanted to leave when I knew that I could play at a top level and not leave when I was like fading away. I didn’t want to fade away.
So it is hard for me to know like, “Oh my god, technically, I could literally be out there.” But I’m not. And I’m okay with that because I need to just have Serena time.
I’ve never really taken a deep breath because even when when I had Olympia, I still was thinking about tennis. When I had surgery, I was recovering for tennis. But last night I went to bed and I was like, “I don’t have to train in the morning.” And I’m still trying to wrap my mind around that and it’s weird, but I definitely want to be doing a lot more producing and focusing on certain adventures. And just focusing on life.
Well, you’ve earned it.
“Girl you earned it!” (singing The Weeknd song, laughing). Thank you.
To celebrate Williams’ Super Bowl campaign launch, Rémy Martin has teamed up with Cocktail Courier to create a Rémy Martin’s cocktail kit, featuring The Rémy Sidecar, made with Rémy Martin 1738 Accord Royal. The kit is available until February 17 for $97.99 on CocktailCourier.com.
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