Redefining ‘Cool’ | Ashton Kutcher on Street You Grew Up On
- You learned a little bit? - Yeah. - Oh, that's good. - Yeah. (upbeat music) - I'm very excited to talk to today's guest. This guy is one of my favorite people. He's smart. He's talented.
He's an actor. He's an investor. He's a philanthropist. He's got a new movie out called "Vengeance" and some incredible work that he does to protect kids. Our next guest is Ashton Kutcher.
(cheering) The crowd goes wild. (Kerry laughing) (audience cheering) - The audience is ha-ing, ha. - Ha, hi, hi, hi. I started having these conversations with folks because my production company, Simpson Street, is named after the street that my mother grew up on, and that's very much my origin story. So I love talking to people about their once upon a time, their origin story, and I wanted to talk to more people that I love and respect and adore, like you, about your origin story and your once upon a time. So I'm gonna jump in by asking you your sexy alter ego name, some might call it your porn name, which is the street you grew up on and the name...
It's the name of your first pet and the street you grew up on. - My alter ego/porn name would be Thumper Oakland. - Oh my God! (laughing) That's good. Was Thumper a bunny? - Thumper was a Saint Bernard. I feel like Thumper fits the porn name.
- I mean, it's perfect. Tell me about Oakland. Was it Oakland Street, Oakland Road, Oakland Place? - Oakland Road, it's in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It's about probably a quarter a mile away, seven blocks or so away from the Quaker Oats factory. - [Kerry] Oh, wow.
- So where all of your oatmeal was being manufactured, so it smelled, always smelled like either Captain Crunch or Quaker Oats at all times. - It's like Willie Wonka. That's like a kid's dream.
- It was about seven blocks from our school that we walked to or road our bike to every day. There was a little bike shop another block the other way and a week-old bakery. So it was where they took all the Hostess Twinkies and everything that two days to expiration. We'd take soda cans, and we'd go up to the little store at the end of the block, and we'd turn in the cans, and then we get like $0.05 per can on a-
- And go back. - And take the money and just instantly go to the day-old bakery and just buy as much crazy, horrible food for us as we could. - And when you smell those smells today like Hostess cupcakes and Captain Crunch, does it immediately take you back home? - Yeah, it's instant. They call Cedar Rapids the City of Five Seasons, but we also called it the City of Five Smells because it always had that aroma in the air at all times.
The instant I open up Captain Crunch or something like that, I'm like, "Okay." It's just going home. - It's home, wow.
What were some of the other scents like the cupcakes, the oatmeal? Can you think of anything else that comes to mind? - I mowed lawns. I mowed our lawn, the neighbor's lawn, two neighbors down's lawn, and there was- - Always an entrepreneur, industrious from the beginning, I see. - No, always broke and being like, "How do I make any money to go down to the Hostess." - To get more cupcakes, yeah. Tell me about the house itself, that first house on Oakland. What did the house look like? Was it a sort of a ranch style house, or did it have more than one floor? - Two-story house, and there were three bedrooms, and there was one bathroom in the whole house.
And I shared a bedroom with my brother, my twin brother, and then my sister had her own bedroom, and my parents' bedroom. I oddly, I remember the house less than the neighborhood because my mom was like you'd get up in the morning in the summers, like it is now, and she's like, "Go outside, and play." We could be anywhere on our block is what "outside, go outside and play" meant. And we had a cut-through through our backyard to our neighbor's house through a gate.
- Love it. - And it cut through this guy's house that was our neighbor. His name was Harry Billings, and he was an inventor, which was crazy. He was like 75 years old when I was a kid, but he became my friend, and I used to go to his house and watch the Johnny Carson show, and he was obsessed with the Johnny Carson show.
He actually, when he was a kid, Duncan Toy Company sent out all these leftover tinker toys that had been built. And he took one of them and created a spool and spooled a bunch of string up and then came up with a design for a yo-yo. And they bought the patent for the yo-yo from my neighbor for like $100 when he was the little kid. And so that's how Duncan ended up creating the yo-yo was my neighbor. - This can't be true. - Swear to God.
I mean, at least, that's what he told me, and I always believed him 'cause he told me a lotta true facts. - So what was it like to leave the street you grew up on? - So after my parents got divorced, my mom decided she was gonna move with my stepdad, and they actually moved to the town where my dad grew up, which was another street I grew up on called Y Avenue, but I wouldn't necessarily call it a street. So we lived on a gravel road- - Whoa. - Out in the country. Our nearest neighbor was like a quarter mile away.
It was an adjustment for me because to me, even though Cedar Rapid is I think like 200,000 people. Moving to a place where you're in the middle of nowhere was this like, "Oh, okay, well," And then I learned how to work on a farm. - I love that you said that, "another street I grew up on is," 'cause I do think a lot of us grow up on more than one street, and the way that each neighborhood influences our development is unique. - I think there was an impression that being from the city meant you didn't really know what work was.
My dad got laid off from his job, and I had spent the summer helping replace a tin roof. It was like three weeks and like 105-degree temperature replacing this roof. I remember my great uncle looked at me.
He was like, "What have you been doing?" And I was like, "Oh, you know, I've been working hard." And he is like, "You've never worked a hard day in your life." - Mm. You remember it. You remember that moment. - I still hold it every day. What's really interesting is I learned about hard work when I moved out into the country because baling hay all day is a job that you don't wanna do.
Being on a roof and roofing all day is a job that I didn't wanna do. And that sense shifted for me and made me appreciate that the things that I see as hard work now aren't actually hard work relative to the hard work that I did then. The other thing I think I got that was different was you learn how to entertain yourself when you're by yourself. Sometimes that thing that's entertaining is just getting better at something, and so I think I had a shift in my personal drive to get better at math or get better at science or get better at anything that I could do, engineering, anything I could do on my own. - Wow, that's super interesting. But were your siblings with you in that move? I'm an only child, so the fact that you have a twin is very strange and supernatural to me.
It's a totally foreign idea. Were your brother and sister with you out in Y, or were you there on your own? - Yeah, so my brother was moved with us, but there was another interesting shift that happened around that time where my brother had a heart transplant- - Whoa. - When we were like 13. And prior to that, he and I were like this, just sort of inseparable like I didn't go anywhere without my brother. - Enmeshed, yeah. - I didn't do anything without my brother.
It was just one person. And then after his heart transplant and he was in the hospital for like a year, it shifted because I started to find a personal independence, but also, I think he came out of it and decided to find a new identity for himself. And so even though we were there together, we weren't doing things together in the same way. Whether it was go play football or do whatever it was, there were things that he couldn't do at that time. - Tell me about some of the other kind of elements on the street you grew up on, and it can be Oakland or Y.
What was the music like? What were the foods like? - Well, two things, one, we couldn't afford to go to a restaurant if we wanted to. If somebody graduated high school, we might go to Red Lobster (Kerry chuckling) in the strip mall. - Yeah. - That was the... Going to the mall was kind of a big day.
The food was the food that my mom cooked. It was whatever we could get on the table, and that might be a piece of toast with some cream and mushroom soup poured over it, or it might be a bowl of cereal, or it might be a bologna sandwich. - And music-wise? - A lotta country music like Garth Brooks and Brooks & Dunn. And I saw Garth Brooks when I was like 13 years old. I had a cowboy hat on, and I was in the aisle. I'm like, "Oh my God, it's Garth Brooks! This is crazy! (Kerry laughing) Take my hat off, and I pointed to him, and I was like, "You, you!"and he took his hat off, and he pointed at me.
- Aw. - He was like, "You." and I was like, "Whoa, Garth Brooks saw me!" - Oh, yes, that's all anybody wants, right, is to be seen, but to be seen by your hero. - Yeah, and here's the crazy thing. He and I have the exact same birthday, (Kerry gasping) And so on my birthday a couple years ago, Mila tracked down Garth Brooks, and we had a hamburger with Garth Brooks, and I got to talk to the guy.
I was like, What? This is crazy." - Did you tell him what he gave you in that moment about that? Yeah. - Yeah, I tell him every year on our birthday.
I was like, "You saw me. I see you. Happy birthday." And it's every year, crazy thing now.
- Oh, wow. - So country music was really big. But then when I was like 12, I really got into Bell Biv DeVoe. - Yes, you did, yes. - Milli Vanilli. - Of course. - And I really got into Candyman.
- Yes! - And then my buddy got this Oldsmobile with T tops, and he got a giant subwoofer in it. - Oh my goodness. - And we were like, "Oh my gosh, we can cause so much havoc with this." So then we just started listening to this crazy house music that was like as long as it had bass tones in it. - Oh, God! - And we would just crank it and drive around just like boom, boom, boom. - Waking up the corn fields? What were you? - Yeah.
- This is a really eclectic journey. Did you think of yourself as a creative person? Being drawn to all these different kinds of music, was that a peek into this life you would have as an artist, as a person who became other people for a living? - I was just not afraid to like what I liked. - Mm, that's a statement.
- We had this kid that was in our school in Cedar Rapids who was the captain of the football team but also amazing singer and very into theater. He did both, and it was wild 'cause he kind of paved the way for everybody else to just do both. And then when I moved to this new town, I was the captain of the football team, and I did both. Why can't we do this and that, and why does cool have to be defined by what one person's into? Can't we just like what we like and be okay with that? - One of the things that really strikes me about your story is the number of really important male role models that you had, you know, your neighbor who was an inventor, who to me feels so pivotal in your development because I know you to have such an inventive, innovative mind, or your great uncle who instilled in you the idea of hard work or this student who was like, "We can do all things." It's really interesting that you've been kind of blessed, I think, with all these powerful male role models. - I've been insanely lucky, and I still have a ton of mentors that I lean on all the time and reach out to all the time.
- What was your dream? Did you dream about... I know you were doing it all, so was the dream to be a quarterback in the NFL, or was the dream to be the star of a major comedy as you were? Was the dream to be a philanthropist? What was the dream? - I'll give like a Pat answer, and the Pat answer is why do you have to pick? - Hm, mm-hm. And is that how you felt as a kid, even as a kid? You were like, "I don't wanna pick. I wanna do everything"? - Kind of a little bit. I liked working on race cars.
I thought that was interesting. I loved playing football. I loved doing theater. At one point, I wanted to be a geneticist, and that's why I went to school for biochemical engineering. - Wow. - But there was a point where I realized that I absolutely loved acting.
I got on stage, and I got attention. - Mm. - And that felt- - Somebody saw you. - Incredibly... Oh, it was like, "Oh my God, they applauded, and they laughed when I was trying to make people laugh," and it was like this sense.
And that was a moment where I was like, "Okay, I'm doing this. There's no version of not doing this." And then also, we watched a lotta TV when I was a kid, and I had a poster of Kirk Cameron. - That was one of my first crushes. - Mike Seaver was the man! - Yes! - If I could do that thing, that thing.
When I got "That '70s Show," I was like, "Oh my God, it's that thing!" (Kerry laughing) - And do you feel like... I think it's so cool that you got cast as a Midwestern kid with Midwestern values. Did you feel like that you brought Oakland with you to work every day? - When I read the script, there wasn't a title on it. I just got scene sides.
Having read all three roles, I didn't know that it was in the '70s. (Kerry laughing) - And then you saw the wardrobe also, and you were like, "These are really big collars." - Here's the thing. This was exactly the way life was for me.
We were sitting in a basement in a circle. Maybe things were being smoked. (Kerry laughing) To me, that was just growing up. And when it dawned on me that "Oh, this is supposed to be in the '70s," I was like, "Wow, things haven't really changed that much." - Wow. - "Like you still have the dad that's always on ya, and kids are still looking for that rebellious freedom, that sense of identity and trying to figure out relationships, and it's all the same.
The only thing that's changed is the hair and the wardrobe. - Right. - It was exactly the same, which I think is why the show worked. - Once you started working in Hollywood, did you feel any friction between the kind of Midwestern values that you talk about and the culture of the business and the town? - I mean, it was more... I was coming from New York. So I moved to New York. - Oh, okay.
- I won a contest, and I won a trip to New York, and I- - An acting contest or like a supermarket sweepstakes? - I was going to college, and this woman came up to me, and she's like, "Have you ever thought about being a model?" And I was like, "What? (stammering) No." Fabio was my version of a male model, and I'm like, "I'm not Fabio, so." And I was like, "I have thought about being an actor."
And she was like, "Oh, modeling is a great way to get an acting." I was like, "Okay." And she was like, "Listen. There's a contest that is in this shopping mall." - Wow. - "Next weekend.
Why don't you come? If you come, I think you would do very well, and you could win a trip to New York, and I can introduce you, help you get introduced to an acting agent or manager." - Wow. - And I win this trip to New York, and I show up in New York with a pocket knife, my clothes, my boy scout duffel bag and sleeping bag, and 100 bucks.
And I come in second place in the competition in New York to Josh Duhamel. - No! - Yes, but then I get an agent, and I called my dad, and I was like, "I'm not coming home." - Oh, I just got chills. - He's like, "Get on a plane. You're crazy.
This is a bad idea." And about three years ago, my dad was like, "I'm proud of you. You made the right decision. Thanks for standing up to me." - Ooh! - And it was a very wild ride.
So I went from Y Avenue. All of a sudden, now I'm on 36th and 9th when it was still Hell's Kitchen. - Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. - That was culture shock. - I want you to tell me if you can...
Take a minute. I just want you to tell me the first three or four sentences of the fairy tale of your life if you were telling it, like once upon a time, and then give me three sentences. - Once upon a time, a boy who didn't know it was born the luckiest person in the world.
- Mm. - And he was so lucky that when he came into the world, they made two of them, and off he went on his journey. - I love it! Oh, that's so good. So you're from the Midwest. I'm from the Bronx. We know that things are called different things in different places.
So I wanna just do a little comparison between what you call a thing and what I call a thing. (upbeat music) - [Ashton] So here's number one, right? - [Kerry] Yeah. - That's a pop.
- That is crazy. That's insane. I don't understand that. That is a soda.
That's a soda. Pop. - That's a pop. - Pop is what we call somebody's grandfather. That's what a pop is. - No, that's called Papa. This is a pop.
- No, Papa where I'm from is a rapper who's deceased called Biggie Smalls. - No, that's Biggie. We call him Biggie. - We could play this game forever. (laughing)
Okay, what's the next one? - Those are pancakes. - Oh, good, we agree on that! Some people call them flapjacks or something like that, but that's good. - No, I've heard flapjacks, but we call 'em pancakes. - Okay, I like that. See? We're more alike than we are different.
(Ashton laughing) Next. What's that called? - That is called a remote. - Oh, interesting. Growing up, at was the clicker. - Oh, it's also the clicker. It could be the clicker too.
- My eight year old, when she was a little itty bitty called it a merote, so we call it a merote, but that has nothing to do with geography. - Merote's way better. I'm changing it to merote.
- Okay, this next one is gonna be controversial, I'm sure. What are those things called? - Well, it depends on how specific we're being. So they're shoes. - Oh, jeez.
- That's number one. - Oh, okay. - But they're also sneakers. - Wow, I'm so impressed! I did not expect for this to be more common ground. - Or- - Oh, here we go. - When I was a kid, we would've called 'em tennis shoes.
- That's the one I don't like. That's ridiculous! Why would you call a shoe that you wear for all different various activities a tennis shoe? - I don't even think where we grew up it was tennis shoes. It was tenna shoe. - Tenna. - Tenna, Tenna shoes.
- Yeah. Okay, last one. What's that called? - This is that's a subway.
- Yeah, I'll go with subway. - Or you could call it club sandwich. - Yeah, I actually, in this moment, I'm actually getting a little bit anxious. I don't know what my cousins would say I'm supposed to call that one.
I feel like I've been away too long. I would say sandwich, but I think a subway sandwich is probably right. - But that's just because of Subway, the company. When you were a kid, you called that a club sandwich or a hero.
- A hero, I think, not to be confused with gyro with the G-Y-R-O. I wanna give you an opportunity to shout-out any kind of businesses or companies that are in Iowa, close to Oakland or Y. - I mean, there was a very important installation that was like five blocks away that was 7-Eleven. (Kerry laughing) 7-Eleven was like- - An institution. - When you went to 7-Eleven, that was like you got the Big Gulp. That was everything, that Big Gulp.
I have to shout-out Hy-Vee food store. - Yes. - 'Cause Hy-Vee was the deal. There was a little bike shop down the street called Car City, and that was where you went and you got pegs for your bike. The big one, you know what the biggest one was? - Give it to me.
- Dairy Queen. - Oh, wow. - Dairy Queen, Dairy Queen. - That was everything. - But, man, you could get a Blizzard, or you could get a banana float, Peanut Buster Parfait. It was everything going at the Dairy Queen.
(Kerry laughing) - This season on "Street You Grew Up On," we've been able to come up with some money to be able to help our guests support charities that are close to their heart, and you chose THORN. So will you tell us a little bit about THORN and what it means to you and the work that you do? - THORN builds software that fights the sexual exploitation of children so that every child can have an opportunity to just be a kid. And I had great fortune to have an amazing childhood where I just got to be this carefree kid, and a lotta kids don't have that opportunity usually because it's someone that they know or someone that their family knows sexually abuses them.
It is way uglier than a lot of folks think, and 72% of the transaction for sex with children happens online. And we thought about a decade ago, "Why don't we start building software to make it really hard for those transactions to take place?" And so we identify child sexual abuse material on the internet, report it and remove it, and we help companies do that. We help law enforcement find kids that are being abused. We've identified about 28,000 kids so far, and we keep going. - That's amazing.
It's really such tremendous work. If you could go back to that kid on Oakland and give him one piece of advice, what would it be? - I'd just say it's gonna be okay. - Hmm. What do you think he would think about who you've become, this incredible actor, investor, philanthropist, dad, husband person? - He'd probably say why didn't you play football? (Kerry laughing) - And is there anything that you would bring back from you? If you could go back in time, is there anything that you'd wanna bring into this present time? - I mean, I took it, and I got it, and it's right... You want me to show you? - Yes, of course. - I dunno if I can. - What is it? - So I got this right there.
That is the lamp- - Wow! - That was hanging over our dining room table my entire childhood. And so every time we sat down for family dinner, that was the lamp that was overhead. My parents had it after we left the house, and they gave it to me. - And does your family sit under that light? - That light is actually in our bathroom. (Kerry laughing) Not over our dinner table.
- It's with you in your most intimate moments. - Hey, listen. Every time you go, "Oh, shit," you go, "Oh, oh, shit." (Kerry laughing) - Ashton, thank you so much. I loved having this conversation. Thank you, thank you, thank you! - Thank you.
- Bye-bye. Send my love to Mila. - Bye, Kerry. Best of luck. (kissing) - Muah! I'm so happy that you guys got to get to know Ashton a little bit more. I think he's such a tremendous human being. What an incredible life.
Please make sure to check out his new film, "Vengeance," and if you're interested in learning more about THORN, we'll put all that information out here. And make sure you keep coming back. Like, and subscribe.
I'm so excited to share more streets from more people and hear more about their journeys growing up. So thank you. See you soon. (upbeat music)