'Suits' stars reunite in court with Judge Judy for e.l.f. Cosmetics' Super Bowl commercial

Zach Woods has experienced what he calls “the cortisol-drenched approach to making things.” That when the stakes are higher, the misery must be commensurate.

In the high-stakes world of Super Bowl advertising, where $7 million is the minimum buy-in simply to get in the game, fuses run even shorter. Surely, Woods wondered, there must be better ways to get things done than the attorney and the publicist pulling hair and gnashing teeth.

So when Woods, best known for his work on "The Office" and "Silicon Valley," found himself behind the camera to direct e.l.f. Cosmetics’ 30-second spot, his priority was process.

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“Something I try to say at the beginning of any shoot now is the experience of the people making it is as important to me as the finished product,” says Woods, whose Gabe Lewis on "The Office" was best known for making nobody, including himself, happy.

“Because that’s our lives. You can become so tyrannical about the final thing that you forget it is people making it. It’s really, really important to remember that for those three days, that was the grip’s life, and my life, and Meghan Trainor’s life.

“So the means are as important as the ends.”

That ethos largely comes through in Judge Beauty, e.l.f’s 30-second Super Bowl entry in which Trainor, several stars from the legal dramedy Suits (enjoying a second life on streaming) and former NFL player Emmanuel Acho, among others, engage in courtroom shenanigans while amplifying e.l.f.’s affordable beauty products.

Adjudicating it all is Judge Judy Sheindlin, herself having a moment with the successful run of her "Judy Justice" vehicle on Amazon Prime. Here, she aims to lend order to what Woods calls “a flurry of activity, like the Parliament Funkadelic of Super Bowl commercials where there’s 9 million people in it.”

That chaos runs through e.l.f.’s DNA, it seems. The cosmetics brand enjoys significant cred among the TikTok/Gen Z crowd yet desired a breakthrough among older demographics.

It saw an opening last year, when actress Jennifer Coolidge, then 61, delivered a stirring acceptance speech for her "White Lotus" win at the Golden Globes, then stated that her next dream role would be portraying a dolphin.

Coolidge’s Globes moment came on Jan. 10. Super Bowl 57 was played Feb. 12.

In between, e.l.f. threaded the needle with a regional Super Bowl spot featuring its unlikely star.

“We came out of the gate like a bat out of hell, with a woman who was over 60 years old, who three weeks before that got on broadcast television at a big awards ceremony and said my dream role is to play a dolphin,” says Kory Marchisotto, chief marketing officer for e.l.f. Beauty. “That was our Bat Signal.

“We called her up and said we got a role for you to play a dolphin on the biggest stage there is and we’re going to make this happen in three weeks.”

Given that quick turnaround, Judge Beauty was a breeze. This year’s spot leans heavily on a troika of "Suits" stars, most notably Rick Hoffman’s ever-irksome Louis Litt.

“There’s kind of a happy delirium to the whole thing,” says Woods. “It’s so pastiche-ey and goofy and fun and I like that. There’s so much stimuli in it – so many fast cuts, whipping to this person and that person.

“And in the Super Bowl, where there’s so much competing for your attention, I liked how dense this was.”

It will certainly stand out on Super Sunday, what with the ad lineup dominated by junk food, along with several of the big players in the beer and car spaces back in the game. This spot aims to capture e.l.f.’s inclusionary yet disruptive ethos, taking the cosmetics brand from the highly fragmented TikTok/Instagram audience into the single largest gathering place – 100 million viewers – in pop culture.

But no pressure. Harris insists it be that way.

“There’s a world in which some vicious PR company acting on behest of some vicious agency could probably twist my arm into saying all kinds of positive things, but you could see the deadness behind my eyes,” says Woods. “The truth is, these people are legitimately lovely and I’m very happy to talk to you about it. Because the experience was a good one.

“With that pressure on this process, it never felt like that and that, in and of itself, is an accomplishment. To have an experience where no one is belittled, no one is snapped at, where people are laughing and being playful and having a good time.

“That I’m very grateful for and don’t take for granted.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Suits' stars, Judge Judy in e.l.f. Cosmetics' Super Bowl commercial