Bill Zollars, CEO of Yellow Corp.
K Street cameo
It wasn't quite 15 minutes, but it still made Bill Zollars the envy of every power player with a jones for the Hollywood limelight. Following in the footsteps of presidential hopeful Howard Dean, Senator Barbara Boxer and a host of politicos, executives, and journalists, Yellow Corp. CEO Zollars appeared on HBO's quasi-fictional series K Street, an inside-the-Beltway saga that followed real-life political consultants James Carville and Mary Matalin as they started a fictitious firm.
The role wasn't much of a stretch for Zollars. He played himself. Still, it was a heckuva dramatic debut. Zollars had an entire scene, and he ad-libbed the whole thing. "I'm trying to keep from jumping to the conclusion that you got a better offer from someone else," he tells a lobbyist played by Jack Quinn, a real-life lobbyist, who is trying to hand off Yellow to Carville and Matalin's firm.
Zollars didn't need a script. Or an acting coach. Being CEO of a major corporation, it turns out, is the best kind of method acting. When Quinn insists, "This is not a handoff," the normally congenial Zollars gives him an icy look that you know has been honed in countless negotiations. Without raising his voice, Zollars indicates he means business. "I'll take you at your word, Jack," he says. "It's the old trust-but-verify kind of approach."
So how did the head of a trucking company land a gig on an edgy HBO series? One of the show's executive producers called Yellow and mentioned that the show needed a transportation angle for that week's episode. Zollars rearranged his schedule and flew to Washington. After a brief discussion with director Steven Soderbergh, Zollars, Quinn, and actors Mary McCormack and John Slattery winged it.
And if his cameo wasn't impressive enough, consider this: The scene was filmed in one take.
A version of this article appeared in the February 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.