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2011 Movie Preview: 'No Strings Attached'

Ashton Kutcher has a serious side, dude, really

January 16, 2011|By Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times

Ashton Kutcher seems like the type of guy who could pull a fast one on you any second, as he did for years on his now-defunct celebrity prank show "Punk'd." His public persona mirrors the character he's often reprised throughout his career: a lovable stoner-goofball with model good looks that dates back to his career-making turn as Michael Kelso on the long-running sitcom "That '70s Show." He's seen as a 32-year-old cad — one who shares scantily clad pictures of his wife, actress Demi Moore, with his 6.1 million Twitter followers.

But last week, before embarking on a long day of media exposure to promote his new film, "No Strings Attached," Kutcher embodied none of these characteristics. He'd just returned from a vacation with Moore, where they stayed on a yacht on St. Barts. That morning, he'd dropped off one of her daughters at school. In lieu of breakfast, he'd picked up an iced coffee. He was serious — sedate, even — speaking at length about his charity work to end sex trafficking and his intentions for his acting career. He never cracked a single joke.

He's deeper than most imagine, acknowledges Ivan Reitman, who directed the romantic comedy, out Jan. 21.

"I think he's a really intelligent, committed guy who's mostly been doing kind of boy parts for the last bunch of years," Reitman said. "''Dude, Where's My Car?' and 'Punk'd' have informed our view of him, but really, he's this smart, caring, very talented man who's ready to play an adult."

The filmmaker believes Kutcher gets that chance in "No Strings Attached," in which the actor is a struggling television writer who enters into a friends-with-benefits relationship with his best friend, played by Natalie Portman (not to be confused with the upcoming rom-com "Friends With Benefits," which stars Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake in a similarly themed story, due out in July).

Of course, a film about two "sex friends" isn't exactly Shakespeare. Nonetheless, Kutcher — who majored in biochemical engineering at the University of Iowa and has had no formal acting training — said he prepared for the role by researching the methods of legendary acting instructors.

"I went online and looked up everyone from Stella Adler to Meisner," he recalled. "There's different little techniques that they each feature, and I try to steal a little bit from all of them. I like to use a variety of different things and stretch myself in different ways."

In his career, however, some critics say Kutcher has yet to exhibit much range. He's starred mostly in commercial romantic comedies like "What Happens in Vegas" and "A Lot Like Love." And that formula hasn't always proven successful for him: His last film, "Killers" with Katherine Heigl, was a critical dud which grossed only $47 million domestically.

He says he's most proud of the films he's made that showcase an effort to branch out. But those movies received little notice: "Personal Effects," a small film in which he starred with Michelle Pfeiffer, went straight to DVD, and "Spread," a movie about a playboy that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009, was picked up by distributor Anchor Bay but barely registered at the box office.

"I think as much as I want to stretch as an actor and try different things, you can only do what you're given to do," Kutcher said of his choices. "You have to put yourself in a position to do other things — and this movie, for me, because of the company that I keep and because of the role that I had the opportunity to play, I think will give me the opportunity to try some other things."

Kutcher's next role — a part in " New Year's Eve," a follow-up to Garry Marshall's star-filled "Valentine's Day" — seems in the actor's wheelhouse. But Reitman is confident that the actor is capable of being more than just a rom-com staple.

"I know this sounds bizarre, but he reminds me of Gregory Peck. There's a kind of solidness about him," said the director. "It's a wonderful, all-American quality of a guy who you can count on — that sort of hero quality embodied in the '50s and '60s. He has that strength inside of him, and he's going to improve with age."

amy.kaufman@latimes.com

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