ASHTON KUTCHER – by Brad Pitt
Brad Pitt: Sexy!
Ashton Kutcher: hey-hey! What’s happening?
BP: How you doin’, man?
AK: Good. How are you? You’re a little busy huh?
BP: A little busy duckin’ and weavin’, that kind of thing.
AK: I understand.
BP: I’m sure you know very well. Dude, all right. They told me they wanted to set the scene here. I’m calling from home. I’m hanging out. It’s a rainy L.A. day. Ashton’s at That ‘70s Show. We’re hooking up by phone. Apparently Ashton is off tomorrow on va-ca-ti-on.
AK: Taking a little five-day getaway.
BP: Okay, so what’s the most annoying question you’ve been asked in an interview?
AK: As of late that would have to be “Are you getting married?”
BP: All right! I know that one well. It will be followed by “When are you having a baby?”
AK: Exactly. I’m not looking forward to that one, either.
BP: So, Ashton, you’ve got a show going, you’ve got Punk’d [in which Kutcher sets up a variety of celebrities with gag situations and films them], you’ve got restaurants, you’ve got movies coming out… You’re like P. Diddy—you’re becoming A. Kutchy.
AK: It sounds a lot more than it really is. I’m almost finished with That ‘70s Show, so that will take a lot of pressure off; and I’ve got Punk’d at a place where it pretty much runs itself.
BP: But you do a lot of writing on that show and come up with a lot of the
AK: Well, I’ll come up with an idea and formulate it; then I’ll
give it to my writers, and they’ll write up the treatment.
BP: How does the whole thing work:
AK: We try to make each situation specific to the person. At the beginning of the season, we come up with, like, 50 to 100 ideas, which we workshop and then we call around to see who is interested in doing something like that. Once we find the people, we make the bid specific to them. A lot of it is about where you can get people to go physically, which is a little tricky because most actors and musicians are kind of hermits—they like to stay in their houses.
BP: You’ve got to have everyone’s permission afterwards to release it, right?
BP: Have you had people who wouldn’t give it up?
AK: One person. The trickiest people to get to give it up are comedians. They want to be the person that’s making it funny, and they don’t want the funny to be—
BP: On them.
AK: By somebody else, because it kind of gives up their schtick.
BP: Where did the idea for the show come from?
AK: From Candid Camera, basically. Originally, I wanted to create a new platform for young comedians because the only thing out there for them to show their stuff on was a showcase, or they could try to get on Saturday Night Live. I decided to start pulling practical jokes on my friends, and then, of course, the network really liked the fact that some of my friends were celebrities, which makes it a lot trickier. It would be a lot easier if I could just go do my dad.
BP: There’s a particular genius in it, and that is that it takes the polish off celebrity. It attacks it in an irrelevant fashion and makes us look at ourselves in a more human light.
AK: I think what’s fun about it is that people get to see a celebrity doing just what they do on a regular basis and then reacting to a situation just like anyone else would—which is kind of great.. And for the celebrities, it forces them to look at themselves for a second and go, “Wow, I’m really trying to use my name to my advantage,” so I think that’s a good thing.
BP: What about your friends? They’ve got to be paranoid every time you hook up that it might be a session of Punk’d.
AK: Not anymore. It goes back to the old rule of you keep your friends close and your enemies closer. I don’t even try to get my close friends anymore because they’re all wise to it, and if anything does go down, they’re immediately thinking something’s up.
BP: What about your girl? Has she made you swear not to get her?
AK: Yeah. You can’t go down that road.
BP: Jen made me swear if you guys ever came her way, I’d roll over. I gave her my word.
AK: Basically, there are about four people who are completely off-limits. If something serious were ever to go down, like if something happens to one of the girls and I had to call Demi, I can’t have been the boy who cried wolf. If it’s a real situation and I need help, or she needs help, you’ve got to be able to be there for each other.
BP: Fair enough. So what else is going on?
AK: When we get back from our break we get to move into our house that we’ve been working on.
BP: How long have you been working on it?
AK: Like, a year and a half.
AK: Yeah. I’ve watched this ABC home-makeover show, and they can do a house in seven days. It took us a year and half to do a remodel.
BP: Two years here, so don’t feel bad.
AK: Well, I’m sure it will be two years. They said it would be ready by the time we get back, but I’m sure it’s not happening until May.
BP: Do you guys have a clash of styles?
AK: Well, she’s, like, the detail person, and I’m, like, the big-idea person. I come in with, “Wait a second—we need four plasma TVs on this wall for football, so I can watch all the games at one time,” then she figures out how to make that look good.
BP: Earlier you said, “Most of us don’t go out.” How are you doing with that focus?
AK: With all the extracurricular business?
BP: Yeah, the things that come with doing what you want to do.
AK: When I was on the road with John Edwards and John Kerry, I realized that I got it easy. Those guys get hammered! And it’s interesting because they’re the ones who are really in a public-service position, but [the media] decided that actors are public service now. So that’s a bit of a pain in the ass, and it took a little bit of getting used to that. But now that I’m used to it, I just stay home.
BP: We’ll get back to the politicians, but how do you feel about living behind walls and gates? Because, me personally, it’s starting to get to me. I feel a little closed off from the world. I want to sit on my front lawn in a lawn chair and watch traffic go by.
AK: You can do it.
BP: You can do it if you sell tickets. [Laughs]
AK: The only time that it really bothers me is when it’s endangering Demi’s girls or something like that—that gets me. But I try to keep in mind it’s like… The government has satellites in the sky that are taking pictures of you all the time. You go to Vegas, you’re in the casino, there’s pictures going off all the time.
BP: That’s right. But it’s not sold for public consumption.
AK: I guess I just try to live with the idea that I don’t have any skeletons in the closet and that I don’t have anything I’m hiding. The glare kind of forces you to be a good, moral human being when you may not have been one before. And I can’t do anything to change it. I’ve tried, and I’m going to continue to try. But until then, I guess I have to take it for the good and take it for the bad and live with it.
BP: Listen, my man, you’re so far ahead of the game. Because therein lies the peace. What do you feel our responsibility—doing something good or something for an audience?
AK: I’ve found thus far that the things that really make me feel good are the pieces of work I do that give somebody some enlightenment, whether it’s through laughing or whatever. I think the more people that watch you, the more you become responsible for setting the bar. Like this movie I just did, Guess Who, which is a comedy [taking off on Stanley Kramer’s 1967 classic filmon society and race, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, starring Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, and Sidney Poitier]. The idea really came from when I was spending time with Sean Combs, and people couldn’t figure out why the two of us were hanging out together. They were like, “What’s going on with these two? Why would this hip-hop guy from New York City and this farm kid from Iowa be hanging out?” They really couldn’t look past the race line.
BP: Did you really run into that?
AK: Yeah, we really did. Even some of his friends said to me, “Look, I don’t know what you’re up to, but he’s a good guy.” I was like, “Look, we’re just friends.” And some of my friends came and said the same thing to him. In certain places in the United States I really think that people aren’t just looking at people as people. So I did this movie with the hope of changing people’s minds. If maybe I can break down some sort of racial barrier in the most minute way, then I can really feel good about what I’ve done.
BP: I think people point to race as a big dividing line a lot of the time, but what I’ve found is that it’s really economics: it’s really money that separates us.
AK: Well, I think that’s a large part of it. But I also think there’s a continuing thing that still exists in this country about race, and that’s really what we look for in the movie. Where I grew up, we had one black girl in my school. She left within a month because it wasn’t a friendly environment for her.
BP: let me as you about where you grew up. Is it a place where people question? Meaning talk about real issues, like beyond the weather and pie?
AK: Sometimes. People try to maintain the conversation around whether the corn is knee-high by the Fourth of July.
BP: John Deere versus—
AK: Yeah, John Deere versus Case Construction Equipment. For the most part, it’s people who are very comfortable with the way they’re living and very confident that what they’ve been taught is right, and not necessarily wanting to question things. It’s interesting because in Iowa they just passed in a new incentive program to keep young people from moving out of the state, because so many young people have been doing that. I think that trend has something to do with that fact that you’re really not allowed to question the system.
BP: my frustration with Missouri certainly was the same. Is Iowa a big religious area?
AK: yeah, there’s a lot of church. It’s definitely Bible Belt.
BP: More churches than 7-Elevens.
AK: Our town had three bars, two churches, a post office, and a gas station.
BP: Was your family religious?
AK: Yeah. I mean, we went to church on Sunday. Then, when I was around 13, I became a teacher in the catechism program. I felt like the program didn’t allow kids to question, and I wanted to encourage them to do that. Because when I was teaching, it wasn’t necessarily about “Okay, here are the facts of what happened in the Bible.” It was more about: “How do you create a miracle in your life? What can you do to make your life better?” it was important to me to encourage them.
BP: So, at what age did you say, “This doesn’t work for me”?
AK: At the same age I said, “Iowa doesn’t work for me.” I was probably 18 or 19.
BP: From experience I know that Iowa is going to be really pissed at you. But what you’re really saying is—
AK: I’m absolutely by no means saying that Iowa is a bad place or that the people in Iowa are bad or anything of that nature, because look, I love the people that raised me and the people I was surrounded by. I love my whole family. But I think people need to ask questions—that’s all I’m saying. The more questions you ask, the better off you’ll be.
BP: Amen, brother. There are 99 ways to save your soul in L.A. Do you think we’re a lost bunch in general?
AK: I think we’re a group compiled of a couple of things. We’re the second-best-looking people from every city across America. The best-looking ones always stay home because they’ve got it good there. And we’re a bunch of people who all felt like outcasts wherever we were from, and then we come here to be even bigger outcasts.
BP: But what’s this need for some kind of categorizing? I understand the need for some kind of spirituality. But why does it come in these packages here? Don’t go down this road if you don’t want to go down it. I’m fine with it.
AK: No, I’m totally cool going down this road. I think people have to categorize people because otherwise they don’t know where to place them.
BP: yet we know that it’s limiting and that we’re much more complex than that.
AK: I think it’s like what they said about Socrates—that he was the wisest man in the world because he knew how much he didn’t know. I think it’s as simple as that. Anyone who’s intelligent is willing to look at everything. If we actors decided, “Well, I’m only doing this particular kind of movie,” people would get pretty tired pretty quick. I feel like, ultimately, I’m not of any one spiritual path. I don’t represent Christianity, and I don’t represent Kabbalah—
BP: Although they’re trying to make you that right now.
AK: Of course they’re trying, because they have to categorize you; otherwise, it doesn’t make sense. But my beliefs are very simple: God is all about giving, whoever your God is. The happiest moments in our lives are when we’re giving. The only lasting happiness and fulfillment that I’ve ever had in my life is when I truly gave something away.
BP: Listen, I respect it. Let’s talk for a minute about your generation, because every generation that comes along usually fills a void left by the previous generation. I’m impressed with you guys because you aren’t too precious about it all. Most of you seem to be enjoying your life and not making this a life-and-death thing. What do you see in the older generations that you want to come in and redirect?
AK: Wow. I don’t know.
BP: Let me ask you what worked and what didn’t. When I came into the picture it was all Mickey Rourke and Sean Penn. Those were the guys who were doing it.
AK: Well, I can only speak for what I’ve experienced. It’s interesting for me now to see Robert De Niro on an American Express commercial. I think that’s something you probably wouldn’t have seen before.
BP: You’re dead-on. My generation was you don’t sell out, you don’t do that, you stay clean. It was a more precious idea of what this thing is that we do.
AK: Businesswise, I think that’s something hip-hop did. These hip-hop artists came in and became their own brand; they created a marker that is them. I think that’s one major way things have changed. Because before it was you can do a commercial, but it’s for to be for Japan or some other place. And now you’ve got Brad Pitt on a Heineken commercial. The truth is it’s not lowering yourself as an actor. I think actors have gone, “What the hell’s the difference? If someone wants to associate this product with me, and it’s a product I actually appreciate or use, so what?” It’s become acceptable.
BP: Right. But I think there’s still a real danger for an actor to have too much celebrity, though. Celebrity is a trap. It’s an absolute box.
AK: if you believe it.
BP: No, I disagree with that. Maybe it’s true if you participate in it. But it is true when an audience comes in to see a film that you’re in or I’m in, they have all these preconceived ideas—stuff they’ve been fed about who you are. And it takes a while to erase that. Whereas you go and watch Sean Penn, and you still know very little about him. He’s as good as it gets, but still, the fact that they know so little about his allows them to get lost in the story, and that’s the ultimate goal.
AK: For me, the ultimate goal in what we’re doing is trying to create positive entertainment that makes people look at the world in a different way.
BP: That’s one approach, yes.
AK: Look, I’ll say it very simple. Sean Penn is one of the most amazing actors ever.
BP: He’s a rock star. Come on! He’s a poet.
AK: But you know as well as I do if you’re not willing to go out and sell your movie, the studios aren’t going to hire you.
BP: Or they’re not going to pay you as much. There’s a trade-off there. For the readers out there, there are certain formulas that are attached to each and every one of our names on how we do on this movie and how we do on that movie.
AK: Right. They say, “This movie will cost $50 million to make. This guy can bring in $30 million, whereas this guy can only bring in one million because he won’t promote the movie,” so they don’t go with that guy. But you’re right. You can also diminish your value by doing too much.
BP: Well, it all depends on how long you want to do this and if you love doing it. Let me as you that: Do you love doing this?
AK: I absolutely do—I thrive on the moment when I actually finally get to act. I really enjoy my life. There’s so much bull that goes on before you actually get to do it, but the creation of the character and the actual acting… I get paid to go out and sell the movie, but I’ll act for free. The truth is, I don’t like talking about myself. I’d much rather talk about you. But at the same time, you do what you’ve got to do, and you make it as fun as you can.
BP: All right, you’ve got a couple of films coming up. In addition to Guess Who, you also have A Lot Like Love coming out this month. I think casting you opposite Amanda Peet was genius. She’s got that gift of walking the line between pathos and comedy.
AK: Yeah. And you see it all in the movie. She can have you laughing your ass off before the take, and then a moment later when the cameras are rolling, you’re crushed. She’s brilliant.
BP: I’m sure a lot of carrots get dangled in front of your face, but you seem to know where those carrots will end up. Do you feel any traps? Do you feel like you’re getting sucked in or pulled in a direction you don’t want to go? Where do you want to take this thing?
AK: I watch the guys I look up to, and without in any way trying to be like them or have their career because they’ve already done it as good as anyone can, I try to learn from them. I look at the way you’ve done things, always choosing for the director, the material, and what it’s saying. I really look up to that and appreciate the way you carry yourself as a man and present yourself.
BP: Dude, you know I’m single now.
AK: Well, we’ll blow you up a little bit, then. The first time I met you, I really didn’t want to like you. But you came directly over to me and said hello, and you were, like, the nicest, most genuine person I met that entire night. I was just blown away.
BP: First, I thank you for that. But you know, you’re going to get the same. In fact, to some extent you already do get that initial impulse of predetermined judgment.
AK: But for a career goal, I just hope to do the best stuff I can while carrying myself with the same kindness you carry yourself with.
BP: But where do you want to go artwise? What’s on your mind next?
AK: I have a couple eggs in the basket. I have a new show that we created and just finished up for WB. It is this social experiment where we took seven guys who are literal geniuses, but who are inept socially, and put them with seven smoking girls that are ridiculously hot but couldn’t spell the word “cat” if you spotted them the letter “c” and “t.” So we put them together, and these beautiful girls teach the guys how to be more comfortable in a social environment, and the guys teach the girls a little bit about carrying on an intellectual conversation. They basically compete in an academic/social decathlon. It’s pretty cool. That’s probably going to be out this summer. Then we have a show that we are creating for ABC that’s kind of my answer to Saturday Night Live. We haven’t started it yet. And I’m in the midst of hunting for the next thing that really sparks me.
BP: So, you’re spending a lot of time developing.
AK: Yeah. My production company has a bunch of things in development that are pretty cool and have potential.
BP: What about other passions?
AK: Spending time with Demi would be my number-one passion, and I really enjoy spending time with her kids. Hobbywise, I like snowboarding. I also play some guitar and piano and write music. I was thinking about starting a band, but then I realized I couldn’t sing. I sound phenomenal when I’m by myself, but when I have to sign for other people, it doesn’t go over so well.
BP: Yeah, I don’t know what that phenomenon is, but I have the same thing.
AK: [Laughs] I also like writing a lot. As a hobby I write scripts and then throw them away. I can never seem to get the ending right. It’s more a therapeutic thing. Or I’ll take a pass at a script we’re working on just to see if I can do it, though I never turn it in to anyone. I want these things to be just for fun. As soon as you try to do more with it, it becomes work, and I work enough.
BP: Okay, I’ve got to ask you: What is that stupid-ass truck you were driving?
AK: My semi? That’s the most idiotic thing I’ve ever purchased in my life.
BP: Bigger is not better.
AK: I had to have it.
BP: What are you talking about, you had to have it?
AK: It’s a boy’s dream. Growing up in Iowa, all these kids in my school who had money would go out and buy these Toyota pickup trucks and put these huge wheels on them, and I would go, “Oh, man, I’ve got to have one of those.” So when I saw this truck in the newspaper, I knew I had to have it—it was the fulfillment of the truck I wanted as a kid. Then I got it, and I was like, “Son of a bitch, I should have looked at it first.” I didn’t realize it was that big.
BP: [Laughs] But now you’ve done it, and you have to sell it.
AK: Either that or auction it off for some charity.
BP: All right. Listen, is there anything else you want to cover?
AK: I think we covered it, man.
BP: Are you wearing underwear?
AK: Am I? Today, yes. Yesterday you would have caught me on an off day.
BP: Dude, you’re hot.
AK: Well, there you go.
BP: What about the press? They’ve already said you’re stupid. Have they said you’re gay yet?
AK: I don’t know if I’ve gotten gay yet.
BP: Oh really? You’ll get there.
AK: But I love that everyone assumes I’m on drugs more of the time. They assume it so much they don’t even write it. They figure it’s a lost cause.
BP: I don’t think I’ve ever gotten that one, and I usually am on drugs. [Laughs] What else have we got here? Oh, I wanted to ask you about praise and criticism. How do you deal with that?
AK: With restriction—meaning, so long as you don’t believe the good stuff, you don’t have to believe the bad stuff. Basically, if someone’s hyping you up and you appreciate it but don\’t buy into it, then you can appreciate the criticism and not buy into that, either. But as soon as you start believing the praise, you’re done for because then you’ve got to believe the criticism.
BP: You passed with flying colors! Ashton, you’ve got my respect, and you’re going to be here as long as you want to be. I’m rooting for you.
So, for Punk’d who the holy grail? Who’d you like to get you haven’t gotten? I remember two years ago you were after [George] Clooney. I would tell you as your friend: Don’t do it. Don’t ever go near it. He’ll kill you and everything you love. I know it’s tempting, but don’t do it. By the way, do you ever worry about anyone on the show getting you back?
AK: I’ve kind of got to assume that will happen going on, so I try not to do anything mean. But you know what? The ultimate “Punk’d” for me was when Bush got elected. I mean, that was me getting punked upside the head.
BP: We all got punked there, I’d say. All right, man. Hey, one last question.
BP: When are you going to have a baby?
AK: Sucker! All right, you got me.