ASH­TON KUTCHER

THE SIT­COM STAR SET TO BE­COME A BIL­LION-DOL­LAR TECH PLAYER

GQ (Australia) - - FRONT PAGE -

1997, Bill Clin­ton was the 42nd con­sec­u­tive Cau­casian male to be US Pres­i­dent. Sil­i­con Val­ley was in its in­fancy with Ap­ple’s ‘Think dif­fer­ent’ cam­paign just launched and Google reg­is­tered as a do­main name. Mean­while, Ash­ton Kutcher was win­ning the Fresh Faces of Iowa modelling con­test. Kutcher’s prize was in­stant recog­ni­tion, his foppy hair and boxer-brief bod soon splashed across Calvin Klein ads. Such ex­po­sure then bagged him a part in That ’70s Show and fame gar­nered pace with roles vary­ing from 2000’s idi­otic Dude, Where’s My Car? to 2004’s fawed sci-f thriller The But­ter­fly Ef­fect. Both were un­ex­pected box-of­fce suc­cesses; both had Kutcher’s grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity to thank. His stock rose fur­ther in 2005 when he defed a 15-year age gap to marry ’80s dar­ling Demi Moore. By the time he’d Punk’d ev­ery celebrity un­der 30 and re­placed a not-so “win­ning” Char­lie Sheen as the lead in Two and a Half Men in 2011, Kutcher was one of the most talked-about, and fol­lowed, stars in the world. Yet, as he’s grown older, amid fame and celebrity, the 38-year-old’s great­est role has been mind­ing his own busi­nesses, plu­ral. As an ac­tor, Kutcher’s forte is com­edy. So it’s funny that while he missed the mark for por­tray­ing Steve Jobs in the 2013 biopic Jobs, he’s done a pretty de­cent ‘job’ of mir­ror­ing the for­mer Ap­ple boss’ savvy to fnd suc­cess in tech. Spo­tify, Uber, Shazam, Airbnb and Sound­cloud share two things in com­mon. They’re all likely to be on your phone, and they’ve all been in­vested in by Kutcher’s ven­ture cap­i­tal frm, A-grade In­vest­ments. “I look for com­pa­nies that solve prob­lems in in­tel­li­gent and fric­tion-free ways,” Kutcher’s said, and his nous is telling. In 2011, he pre­dicted wear­able tech would be big. You only have to look at your wrists now to know he was on the money. And Kutcher’s techy fngers are wedged in many more pieces of dig­i­tal pie. Last year, he ex­panded his port­fo­lio by co-found­ing Sound Ven­tures, to tar­get start-ups and put more money into funds that raise fol­lowon rounds, and he also set up A Plus, a tech­nol­ogy-based dig­i­tal me­dia com­pany that de­liv­ers con­tent “with a fo­cus on pos­i­tive jour­nal­ism”. We’re hop­ing this ar­ti­cle might well land there. Kutcher’s hand­some looks may have been the foun­da­tion of his ca­reer, but it’s this for­ward-think­ing in­tel­li­gence that’s en­abled hand­some re­turns and a rep­u­ta­tion as one of the most cere­bral mem­bers of the Hol­ly­wood squad. Nine­teen years on from that modelling mo­ment and Hil­lary Clin­ton is run­ning to be­come Amer­ica’s frst fe­male Pres­i­dent, to suc­ceed the frst of African-amer­i­can eth­nic­ity. Ap­ple is now the world’s most recog­nised brand in a tech sec­tor worth tril­lions, and Ash­ton Kutcher’s a man mar­ried to Mila Ku­nis, worth north of $250m and ris­ing. Yes, much has changed. With his new Net­fix show, The Ranch, de­but­ing this month – a top­i­cal, in­nu­endo-laden sit­com about a dys­func­tional mid­dleAmer­i­can fam­ily who run a ranch­ing busi­ness – we fgured it time to check in and chew some good ’ole Amer­i­can fat and fnd out where he, and the US of A, are at in 2016. Di­alling, ring­ing, some­one picks up: “Hi, how you go­ing? I said ‘How you go­ing’ be­cause that’s an Aus­tralian thing, right?” Kutcher’s in the mood – this’ll be fun.

GQ: Let’s talk about your new show, The Ranch. It’s pretty funny. AK: I like the way you say it, it sounds like The Raunch. It can get raunchy in places, a lit­tle raunch on The Ranch. GQ: Why, thank you Ash­ton. Tell us what it’s about? AK: Fam­ily, coun­try mu­sic, throw in a bot­tle of Jim Beam, and be­tween those things, maybe a lit­tle bit of God, and you’ve just about got ev­ery­thing cov­ered. GQ: Three of our favourite things. How did the show hap­pen? AK: I was fnish­ing Two and a Half Men and ever since Danny [Master­son] and I did That ’70s Show, we’d been talk­ing about work­ing to­gether again. We started a con­ver­sa­tion with the [writ­ers] Don [Reo] and Jim [Patterson] about how the world’s be­come so po­lit­i­cally cor­rect and that it’s hard to do com­edy the way peo­ple used to do com­edy. GQ: So that was the start­ing point? AK: Yes. Jim cre­ated this bat-shit bonkers guy – Beau, Sam El­liott’s char­ac­ter – who’s middle Amer­ica, con­ser­va­tive, has small­town val­ues, and the world’s chang­ing all around him but he re­fuses to com­ply. Then we sur­rounded him with his fam­ily and sons. Most shows like this make fun of peo­ple from those places, so in­stead, we set out to put our arms around them and laugh with them at the rest of the world – that was the heart of the com­edy and of the show. But the thing that at­tracted Danny and I was that it’s about fam­ily. Ev­ery great sit­com has been about fam­ily, or rather, a dys­func­tional one, so the show’s about their small, stupid dis­agree­ments and fghts, and how they re­solve them.

GQ: Do you worry peo­ple mightn’t pick up on the sar­casm, and in­stead think Beau, who’s some­thing of an anti-obama Repub­li­can cli­mate change de­nier, is ac­tu­ally be­ing cham­pi­oned? AK: Here’s the thing, you’re im­me­di­ately cast­ing peo­ple who have con­ser­va­tive val­ues as ig­no­rant, but they’re not, they’re just peo­ple with con­ser­va­tive val­ues. Cli­mate change is some­thing that’s good to be brought up, but my char­ac­ter [Colt] coun­ter­points the ar­gu­ment with Beau and so it’s not like we’re sit­ting there say­ing cli­mate change isn’t hap­pen­ing, pe­riod. There’s some­one who is push­ing back against that and that’s kind of the point of my char­ac­ter. GQ: So who would Beau be vot­ing for in this year’s US elec­tion? AK: I guess he’d vote for Jeb Bush, given Don­ald Trump is a Wall Street bil­lion­aire mogul type of guy. But the truth of the mat­ter is, he’d prob­a­bly write down Ron­ald Rea­gan for the 20th time. GQ: Talk­ing of the elec­tion, what’s the ac­tual ap­peal of Trump for so many Amer­i­cans? Is it that he’s un­afraid to voice what many think? AK: Right now, the lure of Don­ald Trump is that

he’s thor­oughly en­ter­tain­ing. He’s a well recog­nised man and peo­ple who feel like they’ve touched his prod­ucts some­how think they know him. There’s prob­a­bly a large part of the coun­try that shares his per­spec­tives, but it’s re­ally still too early to say whether he could be elected.

GQ: The me­dia has cer­tainly played its part.

AK: Trump sure knows how to win a head­line. He pulled out of a Repub­li­can de­bate in Fe­bru­ary – had any other can­di­date pulled out, the me­dia would have been, ‘Nah, so what.’ Be­cause it’s him, the head­lines were all about him. It just goes to show how pow­er­ful me­dia is and how badly me­dia can screw up political leg­is­la­tions.

GQ: Go­ing back to The Ranch, it’s a Net­fix pro­duc­tion. The script jok­ingly makes ref­er­ence to it, but what’s your take on the global suc­cess of the stream­ing site?

AK: It’s in­ter­est­ing, we could have taken this idea any­where but there’s only one place I did take it – Net­fix.

GQ: Why?

AK: We wanted to break the mould of what a sit­com is, and in do­ing so we changed the light­ing – usu­ally sit­coms are lit re­ally brightly, and when you’re watch­ing you’re like, ‘Why is ev­ery light in the house on.’ So, we wanted to make it more re­al­is­tic. And we didn’t want to fol­low the net­work lan­guage con­straints, where you can’t speak like peo­ple ac­tu­ally speak.

GQ: So you wanted to dis­rupt what is a staid TV for­mat?

AK: Ex­actly. Nor­mal sit­coms are 22 min­utes long, we wanted to dis­rupt that and tell more of a story, so our show runs be­tween 28 and 30 min­utes an episode. But we couldn’t do any of th­ese things on a net­work. We felt maybe, just maybe, Net­fix would give us per­mis­sion to do that, and to not hire co­me­di­ans to play the other roles, but hire le­git ac­tors like Sam El­liott, and they did that. Net­fix are in­cred­i­ble cre­ative part­ners, they al­low you to be in­no­va­tive, al­low you to think out­side the box, and al­low you to push the bound­aries and the sta­tus quo, which is won­der­ful.

GQ: And what’s your take on stream­ing’s in­fuence over tra­di­tional TV mod­els?

AK: Net­fix is a com­pany that runs on data and at the end of the day, I feel like data and sci­ence win, which is the DNA of that com­pany. They make choices based on data-driven de­ci­sions and from what I can see, it’s pro­duc­ing in­cred­i­ble pro­grams. I would chal­lenge any net­work to have as many vi­able, high-qual­ity pro­grams as Net­fix does right now.

GQ: The Ranch be­ing one. We ap­pre­ci­ate the shout out to Aus­tralia in the form of mock­ing Ugg boots. Do you own a pair?

AK: I do own a pair of Ugg boots, ab­so­lutely. They’re like pre­ferred movie-set wear.

GQ: Nice. And what else do Amer­i­cans gen­er­ally as­so­ciate with Aus­tralia?

AK: There’s the clas­sic, ‘Foster’s is Aus­tralian for beer’, which is a huge com­mer­cial in the United States but we know bet­ter, we know that BV is Aus­tralian for beer. It’s BV right?

GQ: It’s VB ac­tu­ally, Vic­to­rian Bit­ter.

AK: Ah. Yeah it’s funny, the frst time I went there I was like, ‘Well, bet­ter fnd a Foster’s,’ and I couldn’t fnd it any­where.

GQ: So beer and Ugg boots then? Good.

AK: I think beer, I think The Crocodile Hunter, I think ‘Crikey’. There’s a food chain called Out­back here that’s like a steak house. So I think there’s some cat­tle as­so­ci­a­tion – Aus­tralia has a pretty large cat­tle mar­ket.

GQ: There you go, how can Aus­tralians not want to watch The Ranch?

AK: I mean the boys know their way around an An­gus… isn’t it like 30 per cent of the grass-fed beef comes from Aus­tralia?

GQ: Some­thing like that, we have a lot of cows. Un­like many ac­tors, there’s a lot go­ing on with you – your in­ter­ests are quite var­ied. Has that al­ways been the case?

AK: Maybe I’ve al­ways been afraid that I’m not that good an ac­tor [laughs]. I was split when I was a kid – I was in all of my ju­nior high school plays and al­ways had a pas­sion for act­ing, but I was also re­ally stu­dious and ended up start­ing a course in bio­chem­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing. So I kind of feel like I have a split per­son­al­ity. And when I was work­ing on That ’70s Show, I had a lot of ex­tra time on my hands so, aged 21, I started my own pro­duc­tion com­pany. It’s partly born out of worka­holism and part cu­rios­ity, but I just have this de­sire to learn new things. The world is so full of in­ter­est­ing things I can’t stop read­ing and learn­ing.

GQ: For the past fve years or so you’ve been an avid in­vestor in tech com­pa­nies – Uber and Airbnb be­ing a few. Is it fair to say both have gone about their busi­ness to in­ten­tion­ally draw at­ten­tion to them­selves?

AK: I don’t think they draw at­ten­tion to them­selves, at­ten­tion is drawn to them be­cause they’re great and pow­er­ful and they grow quickly. Any time you have a com­pany that is grow­ing quickly, and is im­ped­ing upon some­body else’s busi­ness, you’re go­ing to have peo­ple that are scared shit­less and want to do ev­ery­thing they can to trash those busi­nesses be­cause they’re cut­ting into their proft, their mar­gins and their busi­ness.

GQ: Peo­ple don’t warm to dis­rup­tors?

AK: It’s an un­for­tu­nate truth, but any time you’re the mi­nor­ity, such as th­ese com­pa­nies, and you’re start­ing to grow and take busi­ness from other guys, they’re go­ing to cause a lot of fuss. A lot of com­pa­nies rel­a­tive to Uber and Airbnb, and plenty of the other com­pa­nies [Sound Ven­tures] we’ve since in­vested in, the minute some­body else starts beat­ing them, they go, ‘You’re play­ing un­fair,’ and then they start lob­by­ing city coun­cil mem­bers, lob­by­ing politi­cians, to reg­u­late th­ese com­pa­nies and that tends to make a lot of me­dia. But the bot­tom line is, I’m sure Go­liath was pretty pissed when he got beat by David – and what hap­pens is th­ese lit­tle com­pa­nies that are smarter, faster, more nim­ble, which pro­vide a bet­ter cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence, they take busi­ness share. So a lot of me­dia and in­ter­est is at­tracted to them. I don’t think they’re go­ing out so­lic­it­ing any of this bull­shit regulation that comes down on them – all they’re do­ing is pro­vid­ing an ex­tra­or­di­nary con­sumer ex­pe­ri­ence and kick­ing some­body else’s arse.

GQ: You’ve in­vested in a lot of start-ups. How im­por­tant are th­ese com­pa­nies to Amer­ica’s fu­ture fnan­cial po­si­tion­ing?

AK: We’re at the be­gin­ning of the ab­so­lute dis­rup­tion that is ul­ti­mately go­ing to take place. Amer­ica doesn’t do a whole lot of man­u­fac­tur­ing any­more. The busi­nesses of the in­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tion have moved to other coun­tries and the con­ven­tional wis­dom goes,

‘Oh we gotta hold on to this man­u­fac­tur­ing; we gotta hold on, we gotta hold on.’ But what Amer­ica con­tin­ues to do, gen­er­a­tion af­ter gen­er­a­tion, is rein­vent it­self in a new cat­e­gory and cre­ate [new] cat­e­gories for busi­ness. The minute it stops cre­at­ing cat­e­gories for busi­ness, it’s screw­ing it­self.

GQ: The Aus­tralian govern­ment could cer­tainly be more sup­port­ive of its start-up cul­ture. Is the US govern­ment re­act­ing to this shift ac­cord­ingly?

AK: I talked with some of the politi­cians that are run­ning for elec­tion in this cy­cle, and I was dis­heart­ened be­cause they were say­ing we need to reg­u­late the growth of th­ese dis­rup­tors so they don’t get out of con­trol and take away jobs – when ac­tu­ally what you need to do is con­tinue to in­no­vate and fund in­no­va­tion be­cause we need com­pa­nies that are built on great ideas be­cause that’s what this coun­try is made out of. So what if you off­shore some of the man­u­fac­tur­ing? The in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty, the in­spi­ra­tion for it, still ex­ists in the United States – it’s still built here.

GQ: So pol­i­tics needs to get with the times?

AK: Yes. The coun­ter­in­tu­itive but bet­ter choice is to con­tinue to drive in­spir­ing, dis­rup­tive busi­nesses and have them come out of the United States, as op­posed to hav­ing the same dis­rup­tive, in­spir­ing busi­nesses come out of some other coun­try. Then what will we be­come? Then who are we? Then where do we drive value as a coun­try? That’s my per­sonal po­si­tion and I feel the same thing for Aus­tralia – it’s a coun­try that’s built on peo­ple who are not afraid to do dis­rup­tive things, to try things, and cul­tures like ours need to drive by not sup­press­ing those things that are suc­cess­ful in in­cep­tion, just be­cause they change things.

GQ: An­other topic ex­plored in The Ranch is the con­tro­versy sur­round­ing gun laws. Do you own any frearms?

AK: I’m a sports­man my­self – I love pulling trap at a gun range and hunt­ing, so I’m not anti-gun for sport. I also have a frearm and if my house is pen­e­trated, and I have to shoot some­one, I will, so I’m not anti-gun. I just think we can be smarter about how we own guns and who owns guns. And I think that some of that stuff should defnitely change.

GQ: Do you think it’s pos­si­ble for Amer­ica to match Aus­tralia’s stance on gun con­trol?

AK: I don’t know. It’s hard to change the Con­sti­tu­tion so that’s one thing. It’s writ­ten that peo­ple have the right to bear arms. That said, those peo­ple have the right to bear arms in or­der to mil­i­tarise them­selves against any sov­er­eign govern­ment that was try­ing to take over. I would fnd it un­likely that the Amer­i­can peo­ple, with their shot­guns and what­not, could take on tanks and planes of the Amer­i­can govern­ment.

GQ: What’s your take on Obama’s re­cent leg­is­la­tion on the mat­ter?

AK: What Obama’s put in, for our men­tal health as it re­lates to guns, is re­ally smart. I fnd it re­pul­sive that any­body thinks that’s any­thing other than smart. There’s some regulation that could come down around am­mu­ni­tion and the own­er­ship of ammo be­cause there’s the right to own guns, but you don’t nec­es­sar­ily have the right to own all the am­mu­ni­tion in the world. And the new tech­nol­ogy that en­ables guns to only be able to be fred by the owner, that would be re­ally smart. I also think there’s ways you could use fric­tion from the kick­back on the gun to send a GPS bea­con from any gun fred in the United States of Amer­ica, which would im­me­di­ately be re­ported.

GQ: Are th­ese tech­nolo­gies some­thing you’d per­haps look to in­vest in?

AK: A lot of times you want to in­vest into the trends. I would in­vest my own per­sonal money be­cause it’s some­thing that I think should hap­pen. As far as in­vest­ing from my fund [Sound], I don’t know that it would be a pru­dent de­ci­sion at this point, only be­cause I feel like there’s so much reg­u­la­tory hair on this. I feel like the NRA [Na­tional Rife As­so­ci­a­tion] is so pow­er­ful, and ul­ti­mately doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily ap­ply rea­son to their lob­by­ing ef­forts. So I feel like it might be dif­fcult to cre­ate a ubiq­ui­tous so­lu­tion that beneft­ted from some level of a net­work ef­fect that would al­low this tech­nol­ogy to grow ex­po­nen­tially, which is one of the core mea­sures of the in­vest­ments we make.

GQ: What do you make of the NRA?

AK: An or­gan­i­sa­tion like the NRA is so pow­er­ful and could, and can, be so good in so much as it pro­tects peo­ple’s rights to own frearms – which I think is an im­por­tant thing to pro­tect. But they should be pro­tect­ing sane peo­ple’s rights to own frearms and there’s a lot of fear pro­pa­ganda that’s put out by them that says, ‘If they take away one thing, they’re go­ing to take away ev­ery­thing,’ which I don’t think any­body’s try­ing to do... to clar­ify, I don’t want to seem as if I don’t think the NRA is a good thing be­cause I think it is, but some of their po­si­tions aren’t the best.

GQ: Got it. Is your wife, Mila [Ku­nis], in­volved in your in­vest­ment de­ci­sions or do you sep­a­rate busi­ness and plea­sure?

AK: Mila prob­a­bly has the most valu­able per­spec­tive of any­body in the world to me, and that’s why she’s my wife. When I’m about to make a big de­ci­sion on in­vest­ing in some­thing, or I’m sort­ing out a prob­lem with a com­pany I’m work­ing with or build­ing, we sit in bed and work on our craft to­gether and share ev­ery­thing. She’s a pow­er­house, she has a busi­ness that is un­be­liev­able and she’s so smart about it – I ad­mire her for her savvy.

GQ: Given all the busi­nesses you run, are you at all in­ter­ested in pop­u­lar cul­ture?

AK: I try to have some aware­ness of what’s go­ing on, you know, great flms prop­a­gate great ideas, but I don’t re­ally have a pen­chant for that stuff. My wife al­ways makes fun of me be­cause we’ll be look­ing at some­body who’s fa­mous and I won’t even know who they are. She’s like, ‘How do you not know who that is?’, and I’m just like, ‘I lit­er­ally don’t know who that is.’ I’m kind of a mo­ron when it comes to that stuff.

GQ: And how do you feel about rais­ing your daugh­ter, Wyatt, in this mod­ern world?

AK: [Busi­ness mag­nate] Car­los Slim has this great quote that says, ‘Most peo­ple are fo­cused on mak­ing the world bet­ter for their chil­dren when what they should be fo­cused on is mak­ing their chil­dren bet­ter for the world.’ I al­ways found that to be one of the smartest things I ever heard – I be­lieve it and in my list of pri­or­i­ties, it goes: wife, child, ev­ery­thing else.

The Ranch de­buts on Netflix April 1

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