George Hamilton is munching on maybe his fifth KFC Extra Crispy Chicken Sandwich of the day. He can’t recall the exact number.
The actor, perhaps known best for his starring role in Love at First Bite and his perpetual suntan (which is still going strong for the 78-year-old), is reprising his role as Colonel Sanders in the next round of KFC commercials. KFC has enlisted over a dozen actors to each put their personal touch on the character of Colonel Sanders, based off the fast food chain’s founder. Having originally portrayed the “Extra Crispy Colonel” in 2016, poking fun at his notorious sunbathing, Hamilton will be seen in the recognizable white suit again on televisions beginning Monday (Apr. 23). His two Colonel spots sandwiched an anomaly for the company: the first female Colonel, Reba McEntire.
“I think that so many women were happy with [Reba in the commercials],” Hamilton tells Billboard. “It’s all positive. I didn’t see anything negative to it. I have no clue why they brought me back. Why not just let her be the Colonel for a while? They’ll probably call her tomorrow and tell her ‘we’ve had enough of George, we want Reba back.’”
Despite his lengthy resume, Hamilton repeats he has no idea why KFC would want him to star in their commercials. However, the classic role might always have been his fate, considering he coincidentally met Colonel Harland David Sanders in the flesh about 30 or 40 years ago while waiting for interviews on a radio show.
“[Colonel Sanders] had a good sense of humor, but he also had a very defining attitude about his life,” Hamilton explains. “You were never quite sure what he did, but you knew that he had his own game. So it was interesting talking to him…you knew he had an experience in some part of life that you didn’t.”
According to Hamilton’s memory, Sanders appeared that day exactly how anyone familiar with KFC would imagine him, wearing the unmistakable white suit with a black tie.
But despite sharing an hour-long conversation with the restaurateur, Hamilton admits the interaction didn’t have as much to do with his impersonation — in fact, it really wasn’t an impersonation at all. The bronzed icon took some creative liberty with the commercials, putting an internationally-inspired spin on a symbol of Americana.
“I created a character along the way,” Hamilton says. “I wanted to make him slightly European and not American — the character I was creating for me personally. So I had him dress a different way, and I’ve lived in Europe, so I made that my character. But underneath it, I’m just a boy from a little town called Memphis, Tennessee.”
Hamilton took that creative liberty further than will be seen on-screen. He spent a night brainstorming over 60 catchphrases that he knew wouldn’t be used; since he fancies not taking himself too seriously, he did it just for the fun of it. Among the one-liners include “new colonel, who dis?” “I like big buckets and I cannot lie.” “I got 99 problems, but a chick ain’t one.”
“Tell me I’m not hip to that,” Hamilton laughs. “I’m just trying to be as hip for a 78-year-old as I can be.”
The sef-proclaimed “old coot” appears to be doing pretty well when it comes to staying updated on pop culture. He says he watched the ACM Awards on April 15, and declares his admiration for Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood.
“I’m kinda enjoying country again,” he recalls. “I really didn’t like country for a while and then I really liked it again. There’s some interesting stuff going on…Underwood’s doing OK. After the stitches, she pulled out good.”
Hamilton also mentions a dream project of putting together an album of bizarre covers, including a “Bill Shatner approach” to Nirvana. Overall, he’s just trying to have fun while he still can.
“Fun is at the top of my list right now, so that’s why I’m here,” Hamilton says. “It’s pretty interesting to have been doing what I’ve done for 78 years. And the fun part of it is I don’t take any of it seriously. By that I mean I take people seriously, my relationships, but I certainly don’t take myself seriously. I find that people who take themselves seriously don’t really understand how small we all are. The only thing we have to hold on to is each other.”
Watch Hamilton as the Colonel board a yacht for his “extra cripsy good” commercials below.