Last September, Burger King was gearing up to launch Impossible Nuggets, a plant-based product engineered by the company making meat substitutes from vegetables. One early commercial shows a pair of hands holding up a single Impossible Nugget, like it is being praised. Those hands belong to George Butts ’08, a hand model and actor living in New York, who spent one afternoon inside a studio tearing faux chicken nuggets in half in front of a camera, over and over.
“I would love to say that I majored in hand modeling at Princeton, but they didn’t offer it,” says Butts, who studied comparative literature.After graduation, he tried qualifying for the golf U.S. Open. He then found an acting job, playing an American college student on a telenovela series called La Gata. He guest-starred on El Capo 3 soon after. One day, in 2016, his agent called with a potential new gig. A company called A/C Pro was looking to advertise a new repair kit for car air conditioning units. The ad would show a car owner maneuvering the tools. “I had to do this,” Butts says, picking up a pencil and rotating his right hand over FaceTime.
The environment was familiar to him: cameras, bright lights, a director giving notes. But the role was different than anything Butts had done before. It was all about “execution,” he says. “No interpretation. You don’t want to detract from the product.” For hand models, nailing the part means you’ve “hit your marks.”
Butts has modeled Chase Bank’s Sapphire credit card in an ad featuring British television host James Corden. He has cut limes and sprinkled chunky salt over a plate of fish in a Patrón Tequila commercial. (The real “glamor shots,” garnishing a cocktail, for example, went to the women, he says.) This summer, he spent weeks chopping carrots and cucumbers at home to prepare for a cooking spot produced by Mastercard and Major League Baseball.
Between hand modeling gigs, he continues to act — in a commercial for Wyndham Hotels, a TBS comedy called The Detour, and skits on Late Night with Seth Meyers and Saturday Night Live, among others. Recently, he auditioned for a role in the reboot of HBO’s Sex and the City.
Butts does not walk around wearing gloves, but he’s much more careful than he used to be about protecting his hands and said he uses them differently now.“It affects your everyday life, too, like going to pay the bill,” Butts says. “You’re out with friends and you go to pay the bill. Most people will just throw their card, right?” Not Butts: when he first began hand modeling, his friends joked about the way he’d gently place the credit card atop his receipt, as if someone was filming him. The major tenets of hand modeling — careful, deliberate movements — were seeping into his daily habits: “Everything you do a little more slowly.”
Then there was the time, months after he filmed the Patrón ad, that Butts watched his friend salt his food at lunch. “Zach, was that a tuck?” Butts remembered asking his friend, who’s not a model. “He’s sprinkling and then he lifts his finger. It was very artistic to look at. And I’m just thinking, ‘Well, if he could pull that off under pressure, that would probably be better than mine.’”