What might you look back and regret not trying sooner? That’s the central theme of the latest Coca-Cola Zero Sugar advert, which sees our lovable hero Mr. Hadley try the drink for the first time and wonder what else he’s been missing out on. We caught up with Mr. Hadley a.k.a the actor Nicolas Coster to find out the things he wishes he’d tried sooner and why…

It’s 8:30 am in Los Angeles. I’ve an appointment with the actor Nicolas Coster to have a chat with him about life: about things neglected and things postponed, about dreams and fulfillment – and about the question of whether it's ever too late to try something new. Because that's exactly what Nicolas Coster does as the lovable Mr. Hadley in the new Coca-Cola Zero Sugar commercial “First Taste”, a new version of the legendary Super Bowl spot from 2006.

As I'm dialing his number, I suppress the image that suddenly pops into my head that I am phoning him at a retirement home. He actually lives, as I soon learn during our conversion, with his third wife on a yacht in Los Angeles. Nicolas Coster greets me with a noticeably cheery air on the phone. There is no sign of tiredness, even though he had been watching the broadcast of the Olympic Games until late into the night.

Nicolas, it’s Valentine’s Day. You are spending the morning with another woman on the phone – what does your wife Elena say?

(I hear his wife laughing)

“Oh, my goodness. Yeah. That’s true. Well, actually I’m going to spend the morning with my doctor. I go swimming with my fins and a snorkel to keep my old body in shape, as I’m a scuba diver. And in the pool the other day I pulled some muscles in my legs, so I’m going to see what the doctor says about my leg today.

You know, when you get over 50, wonderful things start happening to your body…”

Well, I just turned 40 and I think I know what you’re talking about.

“Elena, my Russian wife, is 41. She is keeping me young at heart. She is a wonderful woman.”

Are you the real Mr. Hadley who inspired the story of the commercial?

“I don’t think the story is based on an actual incident. But the concept of living a sort of sedentary life... I know a lot of people, and even if they are not that sedentary, they are not very adventurous. They kind of give up the minute they get a few grey hairs and muscle stiffness. And I think that’s the whole point. The commercial just imitates life. A woman who rejects you? Well, that has happened to me, too. I don’t know anybody who has been in an adventure with a woman and to whom this has not happened. This is the funniest script. A lot of that is what my personal reaction would be if I were in the same situation.”

A scene from the Coca-Cola Zero Sugar advert: Breaking free on the highway 

What else haven’t you yet tried in life?

“I still want to skydive. I was in the U.S. Army and I was about to go to the Airborne Regiment, but then I was picked for the Presidential Guard. So, I spent the rest of my time burying people at Arlington and I never got the chance to dive out of an airplane. This is still on my bucket list. Do you know this term, “bucket list”?

One of my bucket list things that we’re going to do in March is to travel to New Zealand. My father was a New Zealander who went to London. I’ve never been there. I have a wonderful family that I’ve been in touch with a lot, but I’ve never been there. So we’re going to New Zealand in March.

And if I ever do a Coca-Cola commercial for Russia, I would love to go on a Russian space capsule.”

Nicolas Coster and Robert Redford in “All the President’s men” (1976) 

Is there something you recently crossed off your bucket list?

“Yeah! I went to Florida a couple of weeks ago and I was swimming in the ocean with my wife Elena, who is the first companion I’ve ever had that actually swims offshore with me. That was amazing! The weather was colder than it is in California, but the ocean is 75 degrees Fahrenheit. We were out there swimming and it was simply wonderful.

I want to go to a lot more places that are warm, like the beautiful islands in the Caribbean and Central America.

And I would love to come and see old friends in Germany, like one lady who is making great films. I’m a member of the Academy, and Elena and I saw 47 films last year. We love German films; every year Germany comes out with a really superb film.”

I saw a few photos of your wife next to actors like Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie…

“Angelina Jolie. I was staggered that her film did not break the shortlist, it is brilliant. She devotes so much of her life to helping other people. She is a phenomenal human being. And she’s very gracious, when you meet her; you know she really listens when she is talking to other people; she looks at you and listens. She is an incredible woman.”

(Machine noises and a voice interrupt us. Nicolas Coster has to move his car to allow workers to continue the construction work on his boat yard)

Nicolas Coster on his boat in Los Angeles a few days after our chat

What advice would your current self give your younger self?

“Concentrate, concentrate, concentrate. It’s my nature to be very distracted. I had so much energy when I was younger. I did so many different things. We call it a shoulda-woulda-coulda. I think I should have stayed at the Broadway Theatre in New York. But then I got divorced and I came to California and I did a lot of films in a row. That was an adventure.

But if I had to do it all over again, I would have stayed in New York. I got pretty far up the ladder. I’ve starred in a Broadway musical, did nine shows, but I think that my great love is the theatre. It’s not exactly a regret, because otherwise I wouldn’t have had my wonderful son and I wouldn’t have met Elena. We met on Facebook because of “Santa Barbara,” and I would have never been on Santa Barbara if I stayed in New York.

I would say, as a young actor, if I’d narrowed my concentration a bit... I started a big scuba diving school in New York City, which is still going. I got very active in scuba diving stuff. And I taught John Kennedy Jr. how to scuba dive.”

(We get interrupted again by his smartphone alarm ringing aggressively. A reminder for the doctor’s appointment)

“There were so many interesting things going on in the 60s and 70s, terrific music, concerts and other… I think some of them could be considered a little distracting.”

Nicolas Coster as Lionel Lockridge in “Santa Barbara”

What film character has allowed you to break free the most?

I’ve done some low budget films lately. There is a wonderful film called “Chemical Cut.” I played a deranged Vietnam veteran in the subway, and that was great fun. I like to push boundaries, that was disgusting in a pathetic sort of way. I love playing these bizarre, strange characters and I look forward to doing more.

If today was your last day on Earth, would you do something crazy?

That’s a damn good question. I just don’t know. I thought that gay parade scene was great in the commercial. It was a tip of the hat to my son, who was gay and who has passed away. He and I were very close. He took me to a gay cowboy club one night and I said, ‘How many sons would invite their fathers to come here?’. And he responded, ‘How many fathers would actually come?’”

Did you propose this scene for the commercial?

“No, all the scenes were ideated by the agency. But I was fine with this scene; most likely they didn’t even know about my son. I would be really happy if I felt that there was an increase of tolerance in the world over the next five or ten years. Especially in our country: we need an immense amount of tolerance.”

You are in very good shape. Don’t you have any guilty pleasures?

I used to smoke until I became a scuba instructor in 1974. I quit smoking because I was telling students how carbon monoxide inhibits the uptake of oxygen. Finally, my children said, “We need our dad more than you need a cigarette.” Then, I quit.

I have a vast enjoyment of eating and I love good wine. I’m afraid this is the moment where Mr. Hadley is a little overweight. 

Watch the making of the Coca-Cola Zero Sugar commercial “Break free”

What is more rewarding in life: making a movie or a TV series?

I cannot choose between those two, but I can tell you that the theatre is most rewarding to me. Once you get out there on stage, it’s all yours, baby.

Winning an award or getting kudos from a dear colleague?

Easy: getting kudos from a colleague.

Being in the water or on the water?

I actually feel more comfortable under the water than on the water in a boat.

Champagne or wine?

I prefer champagne. I love good red wine, too, but I love champagne and I serve it all the time on my boat.

Coca-Cola Zero Sugar or Coke Classic?

I’ve been drinking Coke Zero for years now.

Who would you like to meet and share a Coke with?

Well, I think Franz Joseph Haydn. I’m just his biggest fan. I would love to sit and talk to Haydn after he wrote his 75th symphony.

About Nicolas Coster…

The British-born, 84 year old US actor has been standing in front of the camera or on the stage for over sixty years now and has no intention of ever giving it up. But it wasn't until 2007 that he was awarded American television's ‘Daytime Emmy’. Nicolas Coster is mostly known from films and series like California Clan and Star Trek: The Next Generation, but also from Charlie’s Angels, Dallas, The Incredible Hulk, Magnum, Knight Rider, MacGyver, Law & Order and many more. Since 2016 he can also be seen in Paolo Sorrentino’s Sky production of The Young Pope.

In 1998, Nicolas Coster founded the Challenges Foundation, which offers professional sailing and diving lessons particularly to people with disabilities and war veterans.

Watch the Mr. Hadley advert: Break free with a Coke that’s sugar free