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He has a string of comedic hits under his belt, and his directorial work has won armfuls of awards. In fact, anyone in America who owns a television has probably had a good laugh watching one of his creations. But Craig Gillespie’s name doesn’t ring many bells, because until recently the Australian native has made his career with works just 30 seconds long—TV commercials. Over the past 12 years, his humorous spots for clients such as Altoids and Ameriquest have made him something of a rock star on Madison Avenue. Two of his commercials are even in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. But with his first two films opening this fall—the comedy Mr. Woodcock, starring Billy Bob Thornton, and Lars and the Real Girl, an offbeat, low-budget dramedy starring Ryan Gosling—the 40-year-old Gillespie, who makes his home in Los Angeles, is being called one of the brightest new talents in Hollywood.

“It’s a hell of a lot harder to do a movie!” he says, chuckling. “There’s a lot of discussion about character, which you don’t have the need for with commercials.”

While Mr. Woodcock is more of a straight-ahead comedy, Lars and the Real Girl shows off the director’s heretofore unseen control of tone, emotional depth and character nuance. Gosling plays Lars, a sweet but emotionally stunted young man who believes that a life-size sex doll is his living, breathing girlfriend. Emily Mortimer plays his sister-in-law, and Patricia Clarkson plays his doctor. Although the plotline may sound like a recipe for embarrassment, the film enjoyed an overwhelming reception at early screenings and is earning Gosling Oscar buzz. Says Gillespie, “I love humor where you don’t know if you should laugh or cry.”

Gillespie is now in discussions to make a third film, but the advertising world needn’t worry—the director says he’s still going to shoot commercials (next up, a Toys “R” Us campaign). And they’re still going to be flat-out funny: “I mean, drama in commercials doesn’t really play that well.”