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March 2005
Guess Who: An Interview with Ashton Kutcher


Guess Who: An Interview with Ashton Kutcher

By Wilson Morales

Ashton Kutcher's acting career properly launched more than seven years ago with his role as Michael Kelso on the hit TV show "That 70s Show". Since then, however, he's struggled to find film projects that sustain his manic sense of humor; his greatest success to date was in "Dude, Where's My Car?" and a minor role in Steve Martin's family comedy "Cheaper By the Dozen". With the past failures of "The Butterfly Effect" and "My Boss's Daughter" behind, him, Kutcher hopes for a comic comeback with his new film "Guess Who", in which he plays a suitor who hopes to impress his stern would-be father in law, played by Bernie Mac. In this recent interview with blackfilm.com, Kutcher discusses his new film, his developing career, and the continued fascination the public has with his personal life.


WHAT ABOUT THE TANGO WITH BERNIE?

Ashton Kutcher: Bernie destroyed me in the dancing department. I'm not very good. If I'm like line dancing, I do all right when it comes to line dancing. But as soon as I have to move my hips, it's kind of an issue.


DID HE GIVE YOU POINTERS?

AK: Ah . . . we rehearsed in a dance studio for I rehearsed for quite some time, but Bernie just kind of came in and did it and left because he already knew how. But I had to put some work in.


DID YOU AND BERNIE WANT TO TO THIS LOOSE REMAKE OF GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER INDEPENDENTLY?

AK: Yeah. It's kind of like one of those bizarre coincidences . . . My production company and myself came up with doing a remake of Guess Who's Coming To Dinner, with the idea of having Bernie be the person who plays the father. And simultaneously Bernie came up with the idea to do an adaptation of the movie as well. And Sony was already in the process of wanting to do it as well, so everything kind of lined up at the right time.


WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES IN MAKING THAT ORIGINAL MATERIAL INTO SOMETHING THAT IS RELEVANT TODAY?

AK: I think that first and foremost we wanted to show respect and reverence towards the original film. Cause I think for me, watching Sidney Poitier in that movie and Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy . . . that movie I respected so much and I respected what it did for the time and what it did for interracial relationships at the time. . . . First of all, we didn't even want to use the title. It's just too much. Let's just take the premise and the heart and the soul and do that, so the working title of the movie was like The Dinner Party. If for whatever reason the movie didn't turn out and we didn't think that it carried the same sort of soul as the original, we didn't want to disrespect the original movie. And I think the real trick is finding what is the relevance in that story today? Because it's a different climate, it's still something that I think needs to be addressed that being that just general racially profiling that comes. I think this movie works whether it's racially motivated or not. Every kid has to come eventually and meet their significant other's parents. Every parent has to eventually meet their children's pursuer.


EVER HAD A GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER MOMENT IN YOUR LIFE?

AK: Ah, I never had anything I usually do pretty good right off the bat. The first impression thing my mom worked on that with me when I was a kid, so I'm doing all right with that. my mom did a great job of explaining that if you love the other person, that's all the parents really want to see, and that you don't really have to impress anyone. And so I did pretty good with that. but I've had my fair share of moments that haven't gone well. A situation I was dating a girl we were in North Carolina visiting her family and it's like 4 in the morning. I'd just met the parents like the day before and it was 4 in the morning and she's wrecked her brother's car in like a mailbox, and I was sleeping in bed and it was my fault somehow, so that was kind of an awkward moment.


DO YOU KNOW MORE ABOUT CAR RACING?

AK: I know more . . . absolutely, but I grew up going to the races on Saturday and watching NASCAR on Sundays. I'd say I'd be okay on my NASCAR. . . He got me on the dancing . . . but I've got the NASCAR.


HOW WAS THAT INTRODUCED INTO THE SCRIPT?

AK: It's interesting. There were a couple of scenes that were coathanger scenes, that stayed from the script we were presented (with) first. The big scene that stayed was the taxicab scene at the very beginning where we come in and meet Bernie for the first time. Everything else we tried to create it from within. Peter Tolan and (mentions a couple of people not in writing credits) myself . . . and Bernie we all worked hard on the script and what we wanted to do with my character we just wanted to take the racial stereotypes and break them down in any way shape of form that we could. My character, you know, was (sounds like: innocent) in the same way in the original that Sidney Poitier came in and he's a doctor and fluent and going to the convention in Geneva, my character on the flip side of the stereotype doesn't have a job, doesn't have any money, all of those stereotypes, and then you have Bernie who's the manager of a bank, he's in a nice car, so we just kind of wanted to take things and flip them. Because that's where good comedy is derived from anyway, 180 degree flips.


WHERE DID YOUR GIFT FOR COMEDY COME FROM? WERE YOU FUNNY GROWING UP?

AK: No. I learned it from Bonnie Turner who was one of the creators of That 70s Show. I think she taught me the dance.


HOW DO YOU LEARN COMEDY?

AK: Well, the first trick is you learn not to try to be funny. Like, as soon as you're trying to be funny, that's not honest any more, and it's not going to work. For me, I learned this specific timing . . . which is just the beat of it. it's like a waltz, like a one two three, one two three, setup setup punch, setup setup punch. I learned that from working on the Seventies.


COULD YOU PUNK BERNIE?

AK: Absolutely. We haven't but we would and we could. Once we decide we're going to do it, we'll decide what to do.


WHAT ABOUT THE DINNER PARTY SCENE AND THE BLACK JOKES.

AK: Before we actually did that scene there was a lot of discussion about it, and at the very beginning of starting to make the movie Bernie and Kevin and myself sat down and we said: look, we have to all be able to go where nobody wants to go, and we all have to be comfortable with that, we all have to know that it's coming from character, and that it's coming for the sake of comedy and that if we can make people feel a little bit uncomfortable, then they can grow a little bit from it. so those jokes had been gone through and gone through and gone through. There were a lot more than what's in the movie, but we just kind of weeded out the ones we felt like . . . they got the point across, it wasn't overly overly too offensive, but at the same time they all had kind of a level of a level where it can crack, a level where it can break off. And it was never uncomfortable actually at the table. There was one take, I did my side of the scene first, so they shot all of the jokes, and then they flipped around, and they did the reactions of everybody after that. And off camera I was throwing out some stuff that we had and wasn't in the script and everyone was like when Howard gets up from the table, he's really getting up from the table. But it was funny. It worked.


HOW MUCH OF INVOLVEMENT WITH SERIES LEFT?

AK: One episode left.


BITTERSWEET TO END?

AK: Yeah, it is. It's exciting for me, it's a little scary, it's kind of been like my safety net for seven years. And just thinking about leaving, I already miss all my friends. I mean they're really my family out here. When I moved out here I didn't know anyone and the only people that I'd met and known were he cast of that show. And they all became my best friends and it's going to be a bummer not seeing them. I still have my show on MTV. I'm still producing a lot of TV shows. I'll a lways be involved with TV. It's the best medium in the world if you're going to reach millions and millions of people on a weekly basis. When I'm actually working on someone, I don't punk anyone because you have to have a trust with your fellow actors. We were pretty busy working on the movie, so I didn't really have a lot of time to Since then we punked Zoe Saldana which was pretty funny. You know what? I took a cue from the movie and we did Kelly, who's in the movie, plays Zoe's sister, Zoe and Kelly were like living together and so Kelly had this one of our actors Chris Elliott Ellwood?? And said that he was her new boyfriend, a white guy, and that's interesting because it works kind of into the movie, so they went out a couple of times together and then Kelly invited Zoe over to they were going to go to his house and surprise them, make a surprise dinner, and Zoe walks into the house first and Chris is making out with some other girl, and Zoe flips she lost it, lost it. It's pretty funny.


DO YOU HAVE ANOTHER MOVIE COMING OUT.

AK: Yeah. We're going to have a whole other one of these for that thing in a couple of weeks. It's a romantic comedy with myself and Amanda Peet, pretty different from this, actually it's a little more grounded, a little bit more of a love story.


DESCRIBE OFF-SCREEN RELATIONSHIP WITH BERNIE.

AK: Well, it was incredible. It was like here I'm sitting Bernie's like a teacher, a friend, a father, and somebody you just laugh with all at once. I got to work every day and learn from one of the master comedians that is alive today. So that was just a pleasure in and of itself. And then he's always looking out for you. And you're like wait a second, I'm having like absolute reverence towards him and . . . he's always looking out for me and he's asking me my opinion and he really cares and he just makes going to work a pleasure.


WHAT ABOUT THE BED POSITIONS?

AK: Man! You make it sound like something that it's not, when it isn't what it is but it's not. Man. I don't know. We just shot that like that was like a pickup, that overhead shot with us just kind of moving around. Just a quick pickup. I think we maybe did like 20 different moves and positions.


CAN YOU COMMENT ON THE NEW YORK POST REPORT SAYING GONNA BE A DADDY.

AK: What? Why am I the last person to find out everything? If I am I'm going to be a daddy! God. Nobody tells me anything. I need to make a phone call if that's true because I'm the last person to find out everything. You're telling me for the first time. I mean if Demi's pregnant, she's certainly not showing yet. That'll be news to me.


DO YOU LIKE TALKING ABOUT THIS (I.E. Demi etc)?

AK: Am I relaxed about it? No, I don't like talking about it. I don't like talking about it. I don't like talking about it at all. But at the same time if somebody's going to ask me a question, I'm not going to lie. You know, it could get real awkward and I could like pull one of these I'm not talking about this or that or I can be I don't have anything to hide. I have no skeletons I'm worried about.


LAST YEAR, IT WAS ALL OVER THE PLACE. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHAT'S HAPPENED SINCE LAST YEAR AND WHERE YOU ARE NOW?

AK: I've just been busy working. I did this movie, I did A Lot Like Love and then went right into the 70s Show, worked on Punkd, producing another television show, so I really haven't had time to do a whole lot of anything. Between that and my personal life at home, I really haven't had a whole lot of time to do a whole lot of anything else.


WEIRDEST PLACE WHERE PAPARAZZI CHASED YOU?

AK: I think the weirdest place is when they're at your house. That's like the creepiest thing. you would just walk outside and they're there. And that's the weirdest place, because that's the place that you thought was off limits, but unfortunately it's not because the laws don't permit that. You can't do anything about it.


DID YOU WANT TO MAKE THIS FILM DIFFERENT FROM THE ORIGINAL?

AK: It's exactly what we wanted to do. I think the original was relevant in its time for changing inter-racial relationships. I think our movie has the heart of that, I think it has the premise, I think it has the message, I think it has the soul of that. But it's funny. You can laugh at it and you can enjoy it and I think that once you can start laughing at something and once you go to the uncomfortable places, those are the times that you can really grow. When I saw the film, it did that for me. Even when I was watching it at a couple of test screenings, and everytime I watched the dinner table scene there were audible gasps in the movie theatre . . . and I'm sitting there, everybody in the theatre is like pins and needles, doesn't know whether to laugh or not to and I went this is exactly what because if it's still uncomfortable, then it's not dead yet. I think everybody's getting real comfortable now with like you know, the state of race relationships, and we should not be comfortable yet, because there's a lot I mean if it was all even, and if everything was cool, nobody would be uncomfortable in the theatre. And that's the whole point. It is uncomfortable and we've got a lot to do and it ain't all even yet and it's not all right and that's why the movie needs to be made, and I think that it does just that.


WHAT IS THE MOST OUTRAGEOUS ROMANTIC THING YOU'VE EVER DONE FOR A GIRL?

AK: That's tough. Wow. You know, I'm not much of a singer, although I like to sing and have made up a couple of songs. I don't know. I think that honesty is the most romantic thing. And I have done the big like I'm going to fly in for half an hour to see someone and then fly back out of the country or something, or like a crazy great date, but I think that the most romantic thing in the world is like when you have that truly honest moment with a person and you can literally see yourselves growing together.


WHAT CAN YOU SAY ABOUT THE DIRECTOR'S STYLE?

AK: Working for Kevin Sullivan was a very different experience for me. Kevin didn't just let us go. At no point in time did Kevin just let us go. So there might be like one or two moments where Bernie or I slip something in there because both of us kind of like to just go. And Kevin didn't let us go. And I think that brought a different performance for each of us from what we'd done before. And it kind of I learned about kind of living within somebody else's vision instead of like dictating my own, which was a good lesson for. I had a conversation with Kevin before we started the movie. And the reason I liked Kevin we picked Kevin to do the movie, Bernie and I did, because what he knew the movie needed was heart. And he was more concerned about the heart than the comedy, and I knew Bernie and I could be funny, but I wanted to make sure we had somebody there that was going to dictate and make sure this had heart.


WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE MOVIES?

AK: Philadelphia Story is one of my favorites. The other part of the (previous) question no, we didn't cut anything out. You know it was really interesting how concerned everyone was are we going too far? Are we just going to push it too far? You know it's interesting what got cut out was I decided I wanted to play my character Jewish, to have another difference, because Bernie's Christian in the movie. And I started out wanting to play my character Jewish, to have another difference, so every Jewish reference that I made in the film got cut out.


HOW AWARE OF RACE GROWING UP?

AK: Well, I was born in a city called Cedar Rapids and was there until I was about 13, and we moved to a small town, and when I was growing up in Cedar Rapids I had a couple of friends, and one of my friends was black. And I didn't know it. Like I wasn't really aware that I was. Until I kind of came to a passing where I wanted to invite him down to this family reunion thing, and mom was like that might not be a great idea. And I was like why? I don't know some of the relatives (might not) think that was a good idea. I was like why? I really couldn't understand it. She sort of explained it to me. And we moved to the small town where there were no people of colour at all. It was just white people. And I remember we had one girl, African American girl, and she went there for I think a month. And then she moved out because she I wouldn't have lasted as long as she did. I know that. It was not pleasant and it wasn't right. Man, it's interesting. You go to LA and New York . . . and it is better. It's not just go out in middle America for a while and find out why. It's not just race either. It's religion. It's sexual orientation. It's all of that stuff. It's anything that causes us to separate our selves from somebody else, so that I'm different from you because of this. Like the great Sidney Poitier said; You see yourself as a black man. I just see myself as a man.




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