like FATHERS, like SONS
The Ranch co-stars Ashton Kutcher Sam Elliott and share the real-life experiences they bring to their TV roles.
IF YOU’RE LOOKING
for someone to play the TV patriarch of a Western ranching family, look no further than baritone-voiced, horse shoe-mustachioed Sam Elliott.
“I’m a sixth-generation Texan, even though I was born in California,” says Elliott, 72, in a drawl that could lull a runaway calf into taking a nap.
When executive producers and stars Ashton Kutcher and Danny Masterson started working on their Netflix sitcom
The Ranch—which debuted its second season June 16—they were wise and lucky enough to get him to play their dad.
The Ranch, which Kutcher once called “a country song turned into a show,” centers around the blue-collar Bennett family on their Colorado spread. Kutcher, 39, plays Colt Bennett, a semipro football player who has returned home to help operate the Iron River cattle ranch with his older brother, Rooster, played by Masterson, 41. Elliott is their dad, the grunt-happy Vietnam vet Beau, who is separated from—but still sleeping with—their mom, Maggie, played by Debra Winger, 62.
While Colt and Beau lock horns on the show, in real life, Kutcher and Elliott have an easygoing rapport that isn’t too far from the relationships they say they had with their real-life fathers.
‘A Snowball’s Chance’
Elliott was born in Sacramento, Calif., raised with his older sister, Glenda, by his mom, Glynn, a schoolteacher, and his dad, Nelson, an outdoorsman and former Eagle Scout who worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Elliott bonded most with his dad, nicknamed Shorty, when they went fishing with his buddies. “He hung out with a lot of trappers,” he remembers, hiking and riding horses with the men to get to their fishing spots in the Sierras.
When Elliott was 17, Nelson, then just 54, passed away from a heart attack—just a few years before his son moved to Los Angeles to pursue his calling as an actor. “I’d love to have my dad see this,” Elliott says of both the show and his life today. “He died thinkin’ I was a total idiot for wanting to be an actor. You know, ‘You got a snowball’s chance in hell in that town!’ ’’ says Elliott, shaking his head.
Elliott took that snowball’s chance and built a résumé that runs as deep as his voice, with roles in Mask, Road House, Tombstone, The Big Lebowski and FX’s Justified. And next month, he stars in The Hero, a film now getting a major theatrical rollout as it gains critical buzz for Elliott’s portrayal of an aging Western movie star diagnosed with cancer looking to make amends with his family as he contemplates his mortality. (The film opens nationally July 4.)
If there was one role that really changed Elliott’s life, it was the 1978 horror film The Legacy, where he met actress Katherine Ross (The Graduate, Butch Cassidy and
the Sundance Kid, The Stepford Wives). The two fell in love and have been married 33 years. He and Ross, 77, have one child, daughter Cleo, 32, an artist. “I just really love being with Cleo. It doesn’t really matter what we’re doing,” Elliott says, although he particularly enjoys walking with Cleo along the beach near his home in Malibu, searching for rocks.
“We’re rock hounds. My dad was a rock hound, I’m a rock hound, my daughter is now a rock hound. We pick up all these beautiful stones.”
Kutcher also grew up far from the bright lights of Hollywood—in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he lived with his fraternal twin, Michael, and their older sister, Tausha. His mom, Diane, was a schoolteacher before she began working at Procter & Gamble on the Head & Shoulders line. His dad, Larry, a Vietnam vet like his TV father, had a long series of jobs, from butcher to construction worker, and a stint at General Mills, where he worked on Cheerios and Fruit Roll-Ups products. He was “gone a lot,” Kutcher says. “He was basically working 16, 17 hours a day. I’ve never worked a single day as hard as my dad would work.”
Like Elliott and his dad, their favorite times were spent fishing, when Kutcher’s dad would wake him up at 4 a.m. on Sunday mornings. “We had this little johnboat and we’d go out and load up the tackle and the bait, get in the boat and head up the river.” After a full day of fishing for bass and catfish, they’d head home and do what fishermen do: tell tall tales. Larry is a brilliant man and a deep thinker, says Kutcher. “He was kind of a poet trapped in the blue-collar world.”
After finding success in Hollywood with roles on TV’s
Show, in movies like Dude, Where’s My Car? and as the host of Punk’d, Kutcher was able to help his father retire early, and he purchased an RV for his dad so he could cruise around the country. He and his father now have a lot more time to visit with each other, Kutcher happily reports.
And just like Elliott, Kutcher has a role to thank for changing his life: In 2015, he married a former co-star, Mila Kunis from
That ’70s Show (after his first marriage, to actress Demi Moore, ended), and today they’re the parents of daughter Wyatt, 2 years old, and son Dimitri, almost 7 months.
“I’m so blessed because my wife is so just on it, all the time,” he says of Kunis, 33, whose acting credits include the movies Friends With Benefits, Black Swan, Ted and Bad Moms, and providing the voice of Meg Griffin on TV’s Family Guy.
Like his co-star, Kutcher loves getting out in nature with his daughter, “even going on a hike so she can find a new leaf.” His time with Dimitri involves “anything to make him laugh,” like Kutcher’s dead-on impression of Grover from Sesame Street. “I’ll do it for an hour if he lets me!”
Kutcher says he and Kunis have created a great worklife balance around their kids. “We have a fifty-fifty household,” he says. “I’ll work for six months on this show, and then we’re gonna go away for four months where Mila’s going to work and I’m gonna be the one at home.”
Kutcher and Elliott’s blended TV family is housed on Hollywood’s Warner Bros. lot, which has been home to The Ranch since day one. Elliott says it wasn’t easy transitioning into his sitcom role. While he’d done TV comedy before (Parks
and Recreation and Grace and Frankie), The Ranch marked the first time he’d performed for a live studio audience. “I was terrified when I started,” he admits. Even today, he says he gets “so wrought up and nervous” that on Friday’s filming nights, “I’ve got my script tucked in, ’cause I’m afraid I’m gonna not remember what I need to say.”
Kutcher shakes his head. “He’s underselling himself, as he always does,” he says.
As the second season of The Ranch unrolls, Kutcher says viewers will get to see the show tackle some bigger, controversial social issues—including abortion and immigration. “None of these issues are cut-and-dried and simple,” he says. “If
‘I’ve never worked a single day as hard as my dad would work.’ —Ashton Kutcher about his father, Larry ‘I just really love being with Cleo. It doesn’t really matter what we’re doing.’ —Sam Elliott about his daughter
it were easy, people would just fix it! What this show gets to do is unpack these issues in a different way—and empower people to laugh while exploring them.”
With the new season of The Ranch debuting two days before Father’s Day, the onscreen father and son reflect on what the day means for each of them.
“It’s great to have a nice career—I’ve been doin’ it almost 50 years,” says Elliott. “It’s what I wanted to do since I was 8 years old, and I’m fulfilled on that level.” But being a dad? That’s even more fulfilling, he says. “It completes me. I’ve been married one time and I have one daughter, who I love more than anyone in the world. And that’s where my world is.”
Kutcher, still at the beginning of his long road of fatherhood, says he celebrates every day. “That celebration happens every day I open the door, every day I go in their room and see them in the morning, every day we share a little secret or pass a message to each other. The act of being a father in itself is the gift.” This makes him think of his dad, Larry, again, for it’s his day too.
“As soon as I had kids, I called my parents and apologized,” he says, laughing, “’cause I had no idea how much they loved me.”
Kutcher, Elliott and Danny Masterson kicked off the second season of The Ranch on June 16.