It all began when Ashton Kutcher was 19, studying for final exams at the Iowa School of Engineering. He managed to talk his way into a bar. “I can be persuasive when I need to be,” he says. “This woman came up to me and said ‘How old are you’ and I said, ‘just give me one second’ as I’m ordering my beer. She said, ‘You should be a model.’ And I said, ‘Do guys even do that?’”
It didn’t take long for Ashton to learn that in fact they do, and began his career in New York City at the highest level, starring in a runway show in his first week, and being quickly discovered by famed fashion photographers Mario Testino and Bruce Weber.
“I walked down, and Mario Testino was in the crowd,” Kutcher explained, “He’s like ‘Who is that boy? Why is he walking so angry?’ And then, that started a buzz.”
Now, not much more that a decade later, the 6’1” Kutcher has emerged as so much more than just a pretty face, making a name for himself on teen show That 70s Show and in films like Dude, Where's My Car?, Boog and Elliot’s Midnight Bun Run, and the more serious Butterfly Effect. Kutcher learned the ways of Hollywood quickly, working as an actor, executive producer, and writer in no time at all. With many successful projects under his belt including fan fave Punk’d, the movie Spread which debuted at Sundance and premiered in L.A. the night before this interview was done, two films Valentine’s Day and Killers scheduled for 2010 and five new projects in development, he also managed to snag Demi Moore as his wife. Age is obviously no obstacle to the ambitious Kutcher.
But now the 31 year-old is returning to his show business roots, by executive producing along with partners Jason Goldberg, Karey Burke and Mike Kelley, a new CW show called The Beautiful Life: TBL, featuring models at all levels of success, from struggling newcomers to fashion’s biggest supermodels.
“It was a completely alien experience,” says Kutcher, “and I think that’s why, at the end, it makes really interesting fodder for a show like this, because it’s such a foreign world. It was for me, anyway. I thought the Marlboro Man was a real cowboy. And going from Iowa to New York, you’ve got this world that you’ve never even really heard of, and then you’ve got this city that is just daunting. And then you’re surrounded by some of the most beautiful people you’ve ever seen and then some of the most eccentric people that you’ve ever seen, in the artists and the designers and the photographers. So that fish-out-of-water story is completely out of water. It’s a fish-in-the-desert story really.”
“The other interesting thing is that the people that you’re around and the characters that we’re going to have in the show- they come from all over the world, so you’re not experiencing the culture of a city. You’re not just experiencing the culture of an industry. You’re experiencing the culture of the world, because models come from Africa. They come from the UK. They come from France. So you’re dealing with people that all speak different languages. They’re all from different backgrounds. And so it’s this amalgamation of these cultures in a really sexy world.”
The Beautiful Life: TBL features two teenage models who are about to discover this world for themselves. Raina Marinelli (Sara Paxton, “Last House on the Left”), is a stunning beauty with a secret past, and Chris Andrews (Benjamin Hollingsworth, “The Line”), is a strikingly handsome Iowa farm boy (perhaps somewhat reminiscent of Kutcher?).
When Raina makes an unforgettable impression at a show introducing the new line from designer Zac Posen (appearing in a cameo role), she steals the spotlight from her friend Sonja Stone (Mischa Barton, “The O.C.”). Sonja has been out of the country for mysterious reasons and is now desperate to reclaim her standing as the reigning supermodel. While Raina and Sonja live at the top of the fashion food chain, Chris is starting at the bottom, having just been discovered by an agent at the Covet Modeling Agency, which is owned by former supermodel Claudia Foster (Elle Macpherson, “Friends”).
Elle Macpherson brings a sense of authenticity to the show, because of her long career as a Supermodel, appearing in magazines and newspapers worldwide an unimaginable number of times. “This is a fabulous job for me, says Macpherson, “because it allows me to express and explore and communicate my experience in the fashion industry. We as a team, because of our multiple experiences, are working very hard to make sure that this program is authentic- authentic in its human relations, authentic in its portrayal of the industry, authentic in the growth and the arc of people within this industry. And, you know, it is not a manufactured, dramatized version, and we have all had enough experience to be able to really monitor that and work as a team to keep this real, to keep it honest, and to have integrity.
At his first photo shoot, Chris’ inexperience almost derails his career until Raina comes to his rescue, showing him how to relax and work the camera. That afternoon, Raina brings Chris to the “models’ residence” where she lives along with other young hopefuls, including Marissa Delfina (Ashley Madekwe, “Secret Diary of a Call Girl”), Isaac Taylor (Corbin Bleu, “High School Musical 2”) and the current alpha-male-model known as Cole Shepherd (Nico Tortorella, “Twelve”).
According to Supervising Producer Adam Giaudrone, also a model once upon a time, sex plays a big part in the modeling game, and therefore will also play a big part in the show. “Most models, both guys and girls, get hit on, and for me it wasn’t just lecherous male models. It was men, women, gay, straight, young, old. When you’re over there, especially when you’re struggling- I say ‘over there’ because the high fashion markets-Paris, Milan, New York- you have to struggle. Not all of us are supermodels. Actually 95 percent of us aren’t. So every day is that grind, and people look at you as a product, as a face or a body, and it becomes sexualized. So you’re constantly hit on by the whole spectrum of people, some lecherous, some not. Some are just wanting to get to know you, but most of them are wanting to get to know you in a different way.”
Apart from the drama onscreen, Mischa Barton, who plays Supermodel Sonja Stone in the show, has afforded The Beautiful Life more than a fair share of extra publicity. Barton was allegedly placed under involuntary psychiatric hold at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles last month after reportedly suffering a meltdown and calling cops to her Hollywood home. The incident sparked rumours Barton had been fired from the cast. Then, when the troubled actress was cut from the first promotional photos for the new series, rumours went from simmering to blazing in no time. Her spokesperson explained, "She didn't participate in that shoot. It didn't work out timing-wise for her. (The photo shoot took place) a while ago when she was in London." Kutcher himself also defended the star, by saying,” She’s very prominent. She’s one of our lead players.”
It’s not possible to think about the show and not wonder about the title The Beautiful Life: TBL. What’s with the TBL?
Kutcher explains, “We’ve been calling it ‘TBL’. It’s one of those things like- I actually think it’s a reflection of the digital era, because you write e-mails and it’s like, I don’t want to write out the whole ‘The Beautiful Life’. So we just head them ‘TBL’
“I don’t think I’ll ever have to say, ‘enough TV’, Kutcher continues, ‘because I think that the two mediums will eventually merge into one. I don’t think it’s one or the other. I think it’s both, and I think our goal is to be there when they merge and already have an established understanding, awareness of that space. It’s true that my Twitter space has more than 3 million followers, and that’s more than a lot of shows. We have a web show that we produce called ‘Catalyst HQ’ that actually had an audience of 9 million on the web. Networks would actually love to have that number. So we have 9 million viewers on a web show that we syndicated through social networks. So yes, I do think the two will merge.”
But in the meanwhile, there’s the CW and The Beautiful Life: TBL getting ready to launch. “We create rich characters that have flaws. They become sympathetic because of their flaws, because they become relatable. As soon as you can see a little bit of yourself inside a character, then you can have empathy for them. The industry is the backdrop, but it’s really going to be the personal stories- the love stories, the connections, the obstacles that stand in these people’s way with family and work. I think everyone is going to be satisfied, especially the viewers.”
Do not miss THE BEAUTIFUL LIFE: TBL beginning September 16 at 9:00pm ET on The CW.