Ashton Kutcher’s latest producing venture, a television show called The Beautiful Life, starring Mischa Barton and Elle Macpherson, was filming in the garden behind the Italian restaurant Barolo in Soho on a recent humid morning. A swarm of twentysomething guys wearing shorts and T-shirts and complicated sneakers were tending to lights and dishes and endless reels of electrical cord. Floppy-haired Kutcher could easily pass for one of them, though he is clearly something else—and not just because he pulled up in a chauffeured SUV with darkened windows and a modest entourage. He’s way better-looking than everyone here—way better-looking, in fact, than most people full stop—which might explain why his TV shows are so often concerned with the meaning and implications of being hot. There was Beauty and the Geek, which paired babes with nerds, and then True Beauty, in which contestants mistakenly thought they were in a pageant (the camera was secretly recording their treatment of one another in an effort to ascertain their inner beauty, or lack thereof). And now this: a drama about the lives of young models that will debut on the CW this week. “I’m always interested in aesthetic misconceptions,” Kutcher says. On one wrist, he wears wooden prayer beads kitted out with a diamanté Star of David charm and a red Kabbalah thread. “It doesn’t matter what someone looks like, or how smart someone is,” says Kutcher, “everybody has an insecurity.” So what is his? “I struggle with constantly feeling like I have to get what’s out there because I don’t feel like what’s in here is enough,” he says, clutching his chest. “I find myself chasing external things, such as success, or trying to find a really great wine, or trying to meet somebody I don’t know, or making a business deal I don’t already have. It’s a constant pursuit of the external that’s probably built on an insecurity that what’s inside isn’t enough.”
The chasing, whatever its origins, has resulted in a lot of external payback: Kutcher quit modeling just as he was making it—“I was trying to entertain,” he says, “and they always wanted brooding. It was counterproductive.” He wanted to act, and, presto, he was starring on That ’70s Show, and then in mostly undistinguished movies like Dude, Where’s My Car? But! “I’m not a great actor,” he admits. “I don’t fool myself to think that I am. Most of the work that I get is through having really good relationships with people and being dependable.”
So he began producing, starting with Punk’d. (“A human observation of people protecting their egos,” he says.) And what followed has all been part of a larger karmic adventure. “The things that I’ve been most successful at in my life are when I set out in pursuit of making someone else successful,” says Kutcher, who, in marrying Demi Moore, also succeeded in becoming one half of an intensely famous couple. “Karma does exist, and if you think about it, it’s actually Newtonian physics. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. The very moment that you give you receive.”
Does this have anything to do with the red thread on his wrist? “I do study a lot of the teachings of Kabbalah. I read stuff. I read a lot. When I read Siddhartha, it moved me spiritually. I was like, Wow. So I can work, I can fast, and I can wait. I get that. And I read a book by John Wooden, the coach of the UCLA Bruins, ten-time national champions. I study his philosophies and go, ‘Wow, that makes sense.’ I read Phil Jackson, Malcolm Gladwell. That is the study of a Kabbalist—you study the world, you study everything.”
A publicist cuts in—Kutcher has exceeded his twenty-minute time limit for an interview. “We all have to put each other in check,” he concludes. “Otherwise, people start to become delusional about who they are and what they are and what they’re contributing to the world.”
The Beautiful Life
September 16 at 9 p.m.