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Darien Native Puts on an Act

RJ Kelly takes pride in being a "great landlord," and he's used to fielding phone calls from tenants. But every now and then, the Wilton resident gets a different type of question from one of his Norwalk tenants: Did I just see you on TV?

Yes, they did. Kelly, an actor, has had good luck getting a series of memorable commercial parts, most recently for Ally Bank. If you watch television, you've seen them : Kelly is teasing children as he illustrates the demanding rules many banks have.

"Do you want a pony?" Kelly asks a child and then hands her a plastic toy horse. When the next child says yes to the same offer, Kelly clicks his tongue and a living flesh-and-blood pony walks in. "Well, you didn't say you wanted a real one," he says to the first child, who gives him an unhappy, accusing look.

Those banks, they are so devilishly tricky. "I love being recognized," said Kelly, who grew up in Darien. "It's a cool feeling." But some people have taken offense at the Ally Bank commercial. "They felt I was being mean to the kids," he said of some elderly people he encountered in a doctor's waiting room.

Appearances to the contrary, "Everyone left smiling," he said. Kelly loved doing that commercial and other ones for Hank Perlman of Hungry Man Productions, because they are part script, part improv. Some of the children were actors, some were not, and none of them knew it was a commercial when they walked in. The commercials were shot Candid Camera style. Kelly had an earbud so Perlman could feed him directions, and when the kids walked in Kelly would "go." "After the Reveal, he'd come out and give them more direction, or he would stay behind and he would evoke more stuff Wizard of Oz-style," Kelly said. He thinks of commercials as his "bread and butter," but he's pushing to move up.

"I'm concentrating on trying to get an agent for TV and movie work," he said. "For me, it's like watching a sport: 'Oh, I could do that. That's what I do.' For 10 years I've been saying that, and I still have not really tried. So I'm putting a reel together now, and I'm trying. Because I can do it. I just have to get someone to put me in front of people to audition for."

Kelly owns two rental properties in Norwalk. When the economy went soft five years ago, he started a landscaping company and allowed his son to name it: Jackson and Dad's. Jackson, now 8, works with his dad. "I want my son, who loves being outside, to work," he said. "I think you miss out a little bit when you don't get your hands dirty in life." His wife, Jackie Kelly, teaches at Middlesex Middle School in Darien.

Kelly's other recent commercials include one for Lowe's. "I was walking out of an audition, it was 27th and Madison," he said. "Two guys were in a car and they were quick, they were 'Lowe's Guy!'"

Commercials have been great. "I have been very fortunate," he said. "I love acting. I love being in front of the camera. Even commercials that are not funny — it's good to be working."

Have you seen RJ Kelly in a commercial? Or in real life?

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