We’re in The Dorchester hotel in London surrounded by antique Victorian furnishings and super polite door staff. In addition to the plush surroundings we have just been treated to a feast of salmon rolls, Danish pastries, and copious amounts of Columbian coffee. While this might butter us up nicely we can’t help feeling that it’s going to take a bit more than some free food to warm to the goofy charms of Hollywood hunk Ashton Kutcher.
After appearing in a string of slushy comedies and oh so quirky middle of the road dramas the That ‘70s Show star is trying his luck at the action genre alongside Kevin Costner in sea rescue epic The Guardian. It’s a long way from his humble hometown roots. In 1997 he was a Biochemical Engineering Student at the University of Iowa and worked for General Mills sweeping Cheerios dust from the floor in his home town of Cedar Rapids, Iowa for $12 an hour. Now he probably earns the same amount in the blink of an eye.
When asked about preparing his body for the inevitable hardships involved Kutcher is quick to state that it ‘was the fittest I’ve ever been in my life. With a film like this you have to do all the work before you get there. With a film as big as this there are always things going to go wrong so I’ve got to make sure my body is up to the job. It took me 8 months of training with about three months of pure water work which for me is difficult. I mean I don’t like the water, don’t really like bathing or drinking the stuff so I was pretty screwed.’
Building his physique up to such a peak may reap awards on the big screen but it meant cutting back on some vices and making some sacrifices: ‘All I could eat for the last three months before shooting was chicken, broccoli, and brown rice. I went to see the training school two months out and these guys are just built. I mean built in a way that you can’t even imagine. As a result I had to give up smoking. I gave up smoking but I ain’t ever giving up drinking. It’s really hard to smoke while you’re swimming. I swapped the smoke for the oxygen man and it feels great. I ended up reading a book by a British guy called Alan Carr which lets you smoke as you read so that was wicked. As soon as I was done with the film though I took three months out from any kind of training and just crashed on the sofa.’
Despite his celebrity whimpering Kutcher’s new found physique and swimming skills came in handy on a recent holiday in Turkey. ‘Me and Demi and the kids went on holiday to Turkey with some friends. One of them, the Drinking Doc as we call him – he plays a mean game of bridge, had a few too many gins on the boat and decided to take a dip in the sea. It wasn’t exactly a sea rescue but I had to jump in and save his ass. It wasn’t anything special but if I hadn’t had that training I would have probably drowned with him.’ Such tales of high jinks and bravado may just seem like the usual Hollywood bluster but Kutcher is surprisingly sweet and humble. Where on screen he may gurn his way through scene after scene, in the plush decor of The Dorchester he seems ill at ease and just a little more than uncomfortable in his $2,000 suit.
‘The films and experiences that mean the most to me are the ones that help me grow as a person and not as a film star. When I started acting I didn’t really have that much choice in what I did. I pretty much had to take whatever I could. Now I’m lucky enough to take parts in films that have a story I can believe in.’ The Guardian may be his first proper action flick but he’s more than happy to admit that without the help of co-star Kevin Costner it would have a hellish experience. ‘The man’s a legend where I come from down in Iowa. I mean I used to have a cornfield at the back of my house and after seeing Field of Dreams I was like just waiting for those dead baseball players to come out of the corn and let me play a game. The thing with Kevin is that he is a pro. There I was training my ass off for months and months and then I meet up with the films trainer Trevor and he tells me he hasn’t seen Kevin once. I mean it’s like that story about the filming of Marathon Man when Dustin Hoffman is running around and around this track trying to get fit for the role and then he passes out on the track and Laurence Olivier just leans over him and says: ‘It’s called acting my boy.’ That’s the thing with Kevin. I just learnt so much from him. Not about working with the water or any of that but how to be a generous actor when you’re working. I mean we’d be strung up together on an 80ft cable above the concrete with the wind blowing at us and the rain pounding down and he’s like so calming and professional. I was just shitting it but he was like so cool and knew exactly what to do. I mean the guy is a director in his own right. Dances for Wolves for me is an excellent film. What was that, like, seven Oscars and one for himself. To be able to self-edit like that and direct yourself is so difficult to do for an actor. Kevin is always good in his movies but you know sometimes he’s great.’
Kutcher’s inspiration for doing the film came over three years ago when he first read the script. He immediately hired his own swim coach and started getting into shape. ‘When I got the script three years ago Katrina hadn’t happened yet. These guys were the real heroes of that whole thing. They were the one and only thing our Government could lean on. Anyone who’s willing to risk their own life to save another person has to be respected. That was the real inspiration behind doing the film. Also it was refreshing to find a Government branch that’s trained to save lives rather than to take them. I managed to get hold of the Sea Rescue training manual and I just worked my way through from start to finish. So when I got to the set I believed I was ready and in great shape. Then I get to Indiana and they show me the pictures of the guys that I’m filming with in the water. I mean there were Olympic swimming champs up there. One of the students was Mark Gangloff, an Olympic swimmer who won gold in Athens and I had to swim off against this guy. I was pretty much left behind until we got all the gear on and then because that’s how I’d been training and the other guys hadn’t I managed to catch up a little bit.’ The physical challenges Kutcher faced were similar in their extremity to the ones faced by his current squeeze and Hollywood madam Demi Moore in GI Jane. When asked how Demi helped him prepare for the role in The Guardian he’s more than complementary: ‘Demi just told me to go all out. She just told me that when she did GI Jane she did everything she possibly could, physical and mental, and that way when it came to shooting she wasn’t only ready but because she’s been there and done it the crew and army guys had total respect for her. I tried to make it the same for me on set. I just told them to keep up with me on this one. The coast guard guys were there all the time so they always had the answers if it got tricky. You know when you’re in the moment and trying you’re best to act you never want to actually get caught acting.’
With The Guardian Kutcher is at least beginning to show signs of a potential not entirely linked to hisTinseltown connections. In the film Kutcher sets a new record for holding your breath under water but he’s keen to point out his misfortune: ‘In that scene man I was like under water for like three and a half minutes while they filmed. Then I see the film and I’m ready and they go and cut it down to like twenty seconds. I was like: ‘C’mon man. I worked for that.’ Working hard for the spills is something Kutcher is used to by now. As well as being an actor in his own right Kutcher is a high profile television producer with such mainstream material as Beauty and the Geek and his own Jeremy Beadle rip-off prank show Punk’d. When asked if Costner was ever worried that Kutcher would set him up for a very public fall whilst filming he’s quick to state that when it comes to acting work Punk’d takes a back seat: ‘I mean I can’t guarantee immunity but when I’m making a film with someone I’m not going to break that trust. How could I do that to the Costner. I just couldn’t do it. While we were working together I think Kevin knew he was safe. How do you punk someone when you’re tied up together eighty feet off the floor on a cable and all you’ve got to hold onto is each other?’ Such dangerous situations may be common place in epic actioner flicks like The Guardian but for Kutcher dealing with the elements is a daily occurrence: ‘To me, a dangerous situation is when you realise what could happen. We could all potentially be in danger right now but we just don’t know. You and me are sitting here in this room and there is the possibility of danger all around. When you learn to deal with danger on screen living your life is a walk in the park. I may have had to get built for this role but that doesn’t mean I’m a gym addict. I haven’t been properly since I finished filming. I could go and play a heroin addict but that doesn’t mean I’m going to start taking heroin.’
With that bombshell it’s time for Pure Movies to leave the opulent surroundings of The Dorchester and return to the more meagre habitat of deepest, darkest Hove. Kutcher may not be a Brando or a Pacino; he may not even be a Farrell or Affleck but he has something to offer. He’s a man only too aware of his limitations and as such is refreshingly humble. The Guardian may not be a classic but with it comes a figure of a young rogue slowly taking shape in an adult world.