Pepsi has been immersed in a media storm after its protest-themed ad starring Kendall Jenner drew the ire of the Twittersphere. But one actor from the controversial commercial says most of the extras in the footage weren’t from the U.S. and likely didn’t know the significance of the ad’s message.
“I don’t live in the U.S.A. Maybe if I lived there and knew the [issues] before then, maybe I would feel bad,” one actor from Bangkok, who asked to remain anonymous, tells PEOPLE exclusively. “But I didn’t know anything, so I don’t feel bad.”
The company decided to pull the ad following intense backlash and accusations of trivializing civil rights and protest movements to sell soda. Although the protest in the ad appeared to take place in the U.S., the commercial was actually shot in Thailand. A production coordinator, who did not work on the Pepsi commercial, tells PEOPLE the decision to shoot overseas was likely “so that the extras would be cheap.”
In the advertisement, titled “Live For Now Moments Anthem,” Jenner ditches a photo shoot to join protesters in the street. The ad culminates with Jenner handing a Pepsi can to a police officer, who pops the top, takes a swig, and is met with inexplicable roars of approval from the marchers.
The actor says the cast was comprised of extras from Thailand and other countries outside the U.S., adding that he and many others didn’t think the ad (that many have called “tone deaf”) was an issue until they read the news.
“People say things to me like, ‘Why am I in the commercial?’ and say that it is really offensive,” he says. “It’s like, I was just doing my job. They asked me to be in the commercial.” He also adds that Pepsi officials discussed the direction for the ad with him beforehand, and he understood it to depict a message of “unity.”
“The commercial had hip-hop dancers and we were all together as humans,” he says. “I think they tried to show the meaning that people from every country can be together. That’s what I had understood, but maybe now I’m misunderstanding.”
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Pepsi has apologized for the ad and even offered an apology to Jenner. However, many have criticized the move, noting that the model was a willing participant in the commercial.
“Even though they took the Pepsi commercial down, people are still talking about it,” the source says. “I think they took it down to protect Kendall.”
He says that Jenner was “nice to every person” on set and she “talked when people talked to her.” He says the atmosphere was “fun” and “everyone enjoyed” shooting the ad.
Although Jenner has attempted to lay low in the wake of the controversy, a source told PEOPLE that the reality star is “very upset” and “feels terrible” about the backlash.
“To get a Pepsi gig was a big deal. She was very excited,” the insider said. “She never expected it to receive such backlash. She hopes people understand that she wasn’t involved in the creative process.”
- With reporting by GILLIAN TELLING