The dirty little secret of hand modeling is that it’s not as glamorous as it looks.
30 or 40 stressed-out food stylists, crew, and advertising and client executives crowd around a table, waiting for James Furino to release a muffin from his grasp for a Dunkin’ Donuts commercial. If he’s off by one second, or the muffin lands at the wrong angle, it could mean another few hours for everyone in the room.
Furino entered the hand modeling business when a friend from his songwriting class, also a hand model, commented on his “beautiful hands.” His background in music serves him well, as rhythm and dexterity come in handy.
If you watch television or read magazines, you’ve seen Furino’s handiwork. On his iPhone, he pulls up a list of various celebrities he’s played hand doubles for: David Beckham, for a Sharpie commercial; Daniel Craig, for a Smirnoff ad; Jackie Chan, for a V8 ad; and Tom Ford, for a cologne promotion (photo editors later added hair to his knuckles in Photoshop).
Age: Let’s just say that my hands look a lot younger than I am.
Graduated from: New York University, degrees in music and business
Based in: New York, N.Y.
Years in the business: I’ve been in the thick of it for 15 years.
Previous jobs: I was a child prodigy drummer. After college, I became a bartender and played drums at cabaret shows. I ran a club called Paulson’s on the Upper West Side; I wrote pop songs and jingles, including one for Snickers; I taught drums at NYU and performed standup at Carolines. Then I was trying to make it as a solo singer/ songwriter/ pianist.
So, nothing handsy. I met a woman in my songwriting class who was a hand model. I ended up at her apartment one day, and she told me I had beautiful hands. She said I had to get pictures done and see an agent. So I did.
Tell me about your first casting call. My pictures were nothing special; I was holding a calculator (see right.) Every big hand guy in the city was there, but they booked me for $250 an hour. It was a job for a medical magazine, cutting something with scissors.
How would you describe your hands? Not too big, not too small. Not too feminine – they’re manly enough. But, look. Nobody is really selling hands. You need a certain personality. As Mel Brooks would say, you either got it or you ain’t.
Gigs per year: Between 60 and 100. Lately, it’s been closer to 60.
Your greatest achievement: There are two sides to parts modeling. There’s the print world – from billboards to magazine ads to pharmacy pamphlets – and then there’s live action on television. I do a lot of both. I’ve done everything from the Staples “Easy” button to the iPod nano to Pizza Hut to DeBeer’s diamonds. There are really only three or four people who do this really well, and I’m one of them.
Weirdest job you took to make money: Well, before hand modeling, I cleaned bathrooms in college. That’s honorable work.
Weirdest modeling job you took to make money: Once, for a jewelry ad, I got paid $400 per hour to hold my hand on a naked woman’s shoulder. Another time, I was hired to model for a secret product – I didn’t even know what it was for. Turns out, it was for a Michael Jackson video, but I think they just ended up using Michael’s hands.
Your skincare regimen: Stay out of toaster ovens. [Laughs.] I use a regular moisturizer at night, and I’ve learned not bite my nails. I use chapstick on my cuticles to make them clean. I do a few things with gloves, like working out at the gym, waterskiing, and scuba diving. My kids are 5 years old, and they’re very rambunctious, so I’ve started putting gloves on when I roughhouse with them in the pool.
Must female hand models be more careful? It’s more important for a woman to have pristine hands. They can’t come in with callouses or cuts the way that I can. When it comes to print, like cosmetics and magazines, women dominate. TV is another world, and that’s generally men.
Best part of your job: Executing a shot that everyone imagines to be very difficult, and satisfying everybody in the room.
Most challenging part of your job: People think this is a get-rich-quick scheme, but it’s really hard to make a living from it. Everybody wants everyone else’s job. It’s a very small, niche market, and it vacillates between being the easiest job on the planet and crazy-high pressure.
A high-pressure job can still be glamorous. Ugh. Everyone who does this is like, I’m so fabulous. You’re not that fabulous, and you’re not making that much money. You’re just an average person doing something kind of fun, and you’re really lucky.
What would people be surprised to learn about your job? You never see the hands in about 80% or 90% of the stuff I do for television. I’ll be dropping a burger onto a plate for a commercial for Burger King, but if my hand is in the shot, they can’t use it.
So why the elaborate auditions process? They need someone with certain dexterity. For me, I think it comes from my music background. And of course [aesthetics] matter for print ads.
Do you model other body parts? My feet, sometimes. But the most money is made from hands, since they’re used most often. Jobs for modeling an ear or calf or nose are more infrequent, like once a year. Leg models and models who aren’t afraid to model nude can command up to $10,000 or $20,000 for the day.
How do you feel about the depictions of hand modeling in that episode of Seinfeld, or in Zoolander? It’s silly, but some take it too far. Everyone wants to meet the hand model and ask if they have nice enough hands to be a model. “Can I see your hands? Did you see the Seinfeld episode when George is a hand model?” Not that anyone means harm, but because of the novelty of the work, I become kind of a circus act.
Your hands won’t look young forever. Does your job have an expiration date? It’s a young person’s business, but if you take care of your hands, they can defy your age. Right now, modeling is just a vehicle to get me to the next place. I want to write and direct movies.
Average salary: For TV work, it’s in the range of $1,000 per day, which is regulated by the Screen Actors Guild. For print, it really varies by job.
Are your hands insured? No.
LAUNCHING YOUR CAREER>>
1. Visit a website or look in a magazine, find other hand models, and duplicate their stuff. If they’re holding a paintbrush, for example, hold some magic markers.
2. Get an agent and have some nice photos taken.
3. Don’t quit your day job.
And now, for something completely different: the artificial limb maker.
Unless credited otherwise, all photos courtesy of James Furino.