FAM­ILY guys

Sweet Fa­ther’s Day tales from the co-stars of The Ranch

Albuquerque Journal - Parade - - Front Page - By Amy Spencer Cover and open­ing pho­tog­ra­phy by Art Streiber/Stock­land Mar­tel


for some­one to play the TV pa­tri­arch of a Western ranch­ing fam­ily, look no fur­ther than bari­tone-voiced, horse­shoe-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.”

Tall Tales

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

That ’70s 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.”

Fathers’ Gifts

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 TheRanch on June 16.

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