Life looks good back on the ranch for Asthon Kutcher
With his new series 'The Ranch' out now on Netflix, Ashton Kutcher sat down with us to discuss the joys of marriage, the state of US politics and flashing his abs at work
For most children of the seventies and eighties it will comes as a moderate shock to learn that Ashton Kutcher is 38: Not quite as bad as learning that Nirvana is now considered 'Dad music', but certainly worse than knowing that Friends came out 22 years ago. This, after all, is a man who was behind the juvenile megafranchise that was Punk'd, who served as the patron saint of toy boys during his Demi Moore phase, and who played the puppyish love interest in any number of rom-coms.
And yet, while you weren't looking, he was turning into a once-divorced businessman, who says things like "married life is just the beginning of the party." It's enough to send you back to Google to see what they make of the query "Bruce Willis still alive?"
Kutcher's age might be a jarring reminder of the relentless march of time, but in person the actor gives some hope to the imminently middle aged. In the (admittedly very flattering) lighting set up for our interview, he could still pass for twenty-something. And the makers of his new Netflix series, The Ranch, have not given up on Ashton the heartthrob just yet.
In the trailer for the series, the actor goes shirtless three times. But who's counting? "Come on, I play a professional athlete!" Ashton protests, as I scan his chiselled jawline for signs of enhancement. "No, you know what, it's true, I do rehearse shirtless most of the time, it's just more comfortable," he looks at me, tongue clearly planted in cheek. "Brando shot movies without pants."
Kutcher can clearly handle himself, but the publicist who sits in on the interview firmly warns everyone that the questions are to be solely about The Ranch, which seems curious given that the reviews for the series have been fairly tepid.
It's a cowboy comedy, with a laugh track and some intermittent jolts of pathos, broken dreams and hard times; sort of like Roseanne meets Two and a Half Men. "We set out to make a show that reflected conservative small-town values," Kutcher tells me, as his co-star and bestie Danny Masterson nods in approval.
"We set out to make a show that gives an insight into that world. When shows are great it's because they're unlocking a universe that has a mystery to it. Like, think of the first time you saw NYPD Blue or The West Wing. The message is also that the world we depict in the show is not that mysterious and not that radical. It's a lot more like our world than we might like to think."
There's a lot in that comment, because Kutcher is a small-town Red State boy who became a typically liberal actor before being bizarrely depicted as a conservative darling for extolling the virtues of hard work.
When he told the Teen Choice awards two years ago that "every job I had was a stepping stone to my next job, and I never quit my job until I had my next job," he earned praise from Sarah Palin, who wrote on Facebook, "You can take the boy out of Iowa, but you can't take Iowa out of the boy."
Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh and Republican primary candidate Ted Cruz also tweeted praise of Kutcher, who was unlikely to have returned the feeling - the actor is a big Democratic party supporter.
"I think I live in a country where there is a huge amount of people who are just frustrated at the pace at which government works [and] are doubtful that the government even works for them," he says.
"They are politically frustrated, and you can see that in the election. Sanders is far left, you have a far-right conservative evangelical, you have a pseudo-politician billionaire and then this kind of incumbent moderate in Clinton. It's a gigantic spectrum. I don't see myself reflected back in any of them. I think that leads to more political frustration. And I think one of the jobs of entertainment is to make sense of that for people."
That's one way of looking at it. Another might be that we look to entertainers to provide some sort of frothy distraction from politics. And there can be no doubt Ashton pulls his weight on that score. Over the last two years he got divorced from Demi Moore, replaced Charlie Sheen on Two and a Half Men, had a child with Mila Kunis and then married her and in the midst of it all made time to become a real-life Wolf of Wall Street - his tech investments have made millions for himself and others. He might always be more likely to win an MTV award than an Oscar, but there can be no doubt that in the life-as-entertainment stakes he is good value.
He tells me that he drew on his own sibling relationship in preparing to play Masterson's brother in The Ranch. Kutcher's twin brother Michael was born with cerebral palsy - he had a heart transplant in 1991, when the twins were 13. He was at Michael's bedside when he came around and the brothers have always been close.
As a young man Kutcher enrolled at the University of Iowa, where he studied biochemical engineering with a view to trying to discover a cure for his brother's illness. While there he was approached by a model scout in a bar and travelled to New York for a big modelling competition, which he lost out to Josh Duhamel. It didn't matter - he was soon moodily stalking up and down catwalks from LA to Milan - but his big break in acting came when he was cast in That '70s Show. Kutcher has described himself as a "trier" who needs "contingency plans" and he interspersed his stint on That '70s Show with a number of well received action and rom-com roles. In 2005 he married longtime girlfriend Demi Moore, but they were divorced less than a decade later, citing irreconcilable differences. The year the divorce came through, he started dating his former '70s Show co-star Kunis and they were married last July in California. By then they already had a daughter, Wyatt, who was born in October 2014. Of Kunis, Kutcher tells me "married life is wonderful, man, I couldn't ask for a better partner in life."
And in keeping with the Red State vibe on his new series, Kutcher tells me that the young family has a budding Republican in its midst: "My daughter has better hair than Donald Trump but she debates similar to him. If it's not what she wants, then you're just flat out wrong."
'The Ranch' is out now on Netflix
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