Ashton Kutcher's New Media Thing

How "Kelso" morphed into one of the most powerful people in social media.

May 10, 2010, 2:20 PM

May 12, 2010 — -- They are the elite of the elite. Power brokers, mega-watt celebs. All in New York City for Time magazine's annual Time 100 bash, celebrating their picks for the 100 most influential people on the planet.

There's Sarah Palin. There's Martha Stewart. There's Elton John. And there's ... Ashton Kutcher?

You heard right.

He's not here because of his famous wife, Demi Moore. Or because of his acting resume (his most famous film?: "Dude, Where's My Car?").

Kutcher is here because he has turned himself into perhaps one of the most powerful people in social media.

Watch the full story Thursday on "Nightline" at 11:35 p.m. ET

He has almost 5 million followers on Twitter and 3.5 million fans on Facebook.

He's a major investor in hot Internet properties, and he's the owner of a successful multiplatform media company called Katalyst.

On the day the Time 100 was announced, "Nightline" co-anchor Cynthia McFadden caught up with Kutcher at the Katalyst office in Los Angeles.

McFadden asked Kutcher how it felt to be on the Time 100 list.

"I don't think it matters, it doesn't make a difference," Kutcher said. "Not that I'm not appreciative. It's one of those lists that former presidents, and network execs, and Madonna and Oprah are on -- I don't see myself operating in that."

Actually, Kutcher is operating in two seemingly divergent worlds. Supercool lunching in Hollywood with reality show guru Mark Burnett and posing for magazine covers on one hand, constantly indulging his inner geek on the other.

McFadden asked whether he got more satisfaction out of the acting or entrepreneurial sides of his life.

"I think I probably think about myself as an actor, which is the way most people do," Kutcher said. "I think I'm good, I don't think I'm great," said Kutcher. "I think I would hire somebody else to play me in the movie about me."

Kutcher on Twin Brother's Health Crisis

The movie of Ashton Kutcher begins in the humble cornfields of Iowa. He took his first job to pay for his studies in bio-chemical engineering at the University of Iowa. The job was as a cereal-dust sweeper at the General Mills plan in his native Cedar Rapids.

He describes himself back then as "a kid trying not to be a problem." The reason was that his brother was so sick.

Kutcher's twin brother, Michael, was born with cerebral palsy and a heart defect. When they were 13, Michael needed a heart transplant.

"It seems unfair, like it doesn't seem right," said Kutcher. "... It seems like the game is set up differently for certain people -- and it is."

McFadden asked whether he had felt guilty about his brother's illness.

"Yeah, I felt sorry for a long time," Kutcher said. "But then my brother pointed out to me, every time you feel sorry for me, you make me less. And that hit home to me, that made me understand that this game is set up.

"Because he only knows that way, and so for me to feel sorry for him, I'm making him less, when in truth he's so much more, he's overcome obstacles that I will never have to face. So I have to have gratitude for and appreciation for what I have, and the fact that I haven't had to face those obstacles."

Michael Kutcher got the transplant, and today lives and works in Iowa.

Kutcher said that as a 13-year-old, he was so traumatized by his brother's illness he considered jumping from a hospital balcony so his brother could have his heart.

"It was just that," said Kutcher. "I just didn't think it was fair what was happening. So I knew there had to be a blood type match, and he's my twin. So the assumption would be that we would be a match -- but that doesn't all compute. We were fraternal twins. I started studying genetics right after that, and it doesn't work that way.

"It wasn't a good plan anyway ... 'cause wouldn't that have been the worst, to jump off and then they would be like, 'You're AB! You're an A-plus and he's AB, it's not a match. What're you thinking!'"

Ashton Kutcher: An Unexpected Turn

Kutcher focused on his studies, but then life took an unexpected turn. He was discovered at a "Fresh Faces of Iowa" competition.

"My parents couldn't give me a whole lot of financial support," said Kutcher, "but they gave me good genes. My dad is a handsome son-of-a-gun, and my mom is beautiful. And I've definitely been the lucky recipient. So, thank you, Mom and Dad."

Kutcher quit school and became a top male model.

"It's hard to appreciate success in modeling, because it's not something you feel like you've earned, so there is a little bit of bread of shame that comes with that," said Kutcher. "It's like somebody giving you a puzzle that's already put together. There are some things you have to do to maintain, but it's like getting a 1,000-piece puzzle and having two pieces out. ... It was hard for me to feel ownership as a model."

So Kutcher quickly leveraged his modeling career into acting, landing a starring role on the Fox hit "That '70s Show." Stardom came with perks: money, fame and a string of beautiful starlets, including January Jones and Brittany Murphy.

Kutcher met Murphy on the set of the 2003 romantic comedy "Just Married," and the two began to date.

Last year, tragically, Murphy died at the age of 32.

The coroner ruled the cause of death pneumonia, but there were persistent rumors of Murphy's prescription drug abuse.

McFadden asked Kutcher how one makes sense of what happened.

"I don't think you can," said Kutcher. "I don't know if you try to make sense of it or not. I just celebrate who she was. She was like the person who walked in the room and she was always like the first person to dance.

"You know when you go to a party and everybody is standing around, and the music is going, and you know, sooner or later everyone is going to dance. She was always the first person to dance. And I just try to connect to that and celebrate who she was and how she was, and not make sense of it, 'cause there is no sense of making sense of it."

Were they still in touch?

"Not really," said Kutcher. "I mean she came in, we were casting a TV show that we were producing, and I wanted her to play this role in it. And she came in, and I got to see her probably about two months before she passed away."

Kutcher played the role of dim-witted Kelso on "That '70s Show" for eight years.

Then he delved into film. He played a dimwit in the movie "Guess Who" and another dimwit in the film "What Happened in Vegas."

"That's what I knew how to do," he explained. "That guy's a little daft, lazy, getting by on his looks and not a whole lot else, and sweet, and likeable, blue-collar, that guy... funny sometimes. That's what I knew how to play."

Is that who he was?

"No, that's who I got really good at playing."

McFadden noted a misperception among some people that the man was not so different from the characters he has played.

"Good," said Kutcher. "If people can peg you and know exactly what you are, and what you are gonna bring to the table... then your opportunity becomes to disappoint them. Sometimes you can exceed an expectation, but it's a lot more work to do that."

Ashton Kutcher: Business Career

Kutcher has put in the work. Not satisfied with just being an actor, he became a producer and co-creator of the MTV hit show "Punk'd." For it, he played brutal practical jokes on unsuspecting celebrities.

He has gone on to produce 12 TV shows in the past five years. When does he sleep? "On weekends," he said.

And of course, we all know who he goes home to. His relationship with Demi Moore, who is 47 -- 15 years his senior -- is now old news.

McFadden asked him what his biggest extravagance was.

"Neither Demi or I cook," Kutcher said. "I have someone that cooks for me... that's the best thing ever. I just want to show up and I want my house to be like a hotel... so I want to have a couple of options. ... I like to have a couple of options."

And does Moore, she of the famously maintained figure, actually eat?

"What do you mean does she eat?" said Kutcher. "Of course she eats!"

Moore's three children with actor Bruce Willis are nearly grown now. The youngest is 16.

McFadden asked Kutcher whether he wanted to have a biological baby.

"I don't know," he said. "It's I don't know.

"There is something attractive about our third girl gaining some independence. I get to walk the dogs in the morning because she can drive herself to school now. There is a level of independence that we've never had since our relationship started, and an ability to spend time together doing things that we might want to take advantage of, because in our relationship we've always had kids.

"And having Bruce as such a great partner in raising the kids affords us a lot. There is something very attractive about what we can do in the world and for the world... given that responsibility in a different place."

McFadden noted that Moore is now 47 and asked whether her biological clock wasn't ticking.

"I think my wife is a genetic freak," Kutcher said. "... I'm not worried."

Kutcher uses his social media prowess against the paparazzi that is constantly stalking his family.

"It means if I'm gonna be in a zoo, I want the keys to the cage," he said.

Instead of allowing the tabloid media to leak personal information about his relationship with Moore, he does it himself.

"We create a zone," Kutcher said. "We know exactly where we want the zone to be. We have an agreement with each other. We have an agreement with the people around us. We know what it is. ... Ninety percent of the stuff that I post has nothing to do with me."

But oh! that 10 percent. Kutcher once posted a photo of Moore's bottom, and tweeted, "Watching my wife steam my suit while in a bikini, I love God."

Kutcher said he is "1,000 percent certain that I am less exposed now, because I expose what I want to expose when I want to expose it."

Ashton Kutcher on His Company, Katalyst

Kutcher likes to remain a step ahead. And that's what his company, Katalyst, is all about.

Katalyst produces TV, films and digital content. Companies around the world want Kutcher to do for them what he's doing for brands like Kellogg's, Pepsi and Nestle.

Katalyst has partnered with the food company in an initiative to fight hunger in the United States. Apart from its social mission, the campaign has brought Kellogg's huge exposure.

The exposure stemmed from Kutcher's ability, through his online networks, to take videos that nobody has seen and put them in front of a million eyes in a day or less.

"I can find a video right now that will trend, and it will be the next trending video on the Web," Kutcher said.

Katalyst can help companies not only sell products but also acquire that indefinable cool -- and the youthful demographic that goes with it -- while at the same time inspiring social good.

"[It] can't just be about dog food, can't just be about a soda," said Kutcher. "It has to be about what are you, as a company, doing to spread light and love into the world."

Meanwhile Kutcher is promoting his latest film, "Killers," in which he plays a super spy who marries small town girl played by Katherine Heigl.

"It's a movie about a guy fighting to be a normal guy, just a normal guy," said Kutcher. "I'm fighting the same fight. Social media for me and my wife is about saying to people, I'm a normal guy, I have my wife, we have a regular relationship."

"But you are not a normal guy," said McFadden.

"I am," said Kutcher, "indeed I am. And I will fight to be that. I want to go fishing..."

In some ways, Kutcher is normal. He has three dogs he walks every day. And you can't get more normal than picking up after your dog. Because even celebrity dogs have to do their business.

"I know that goes on TV," Kutcher joked. "If I'm producing this show, I'm definitely getting the actor getting the poop off the ground."

Kutcher admitted that in some ways he's surprised at how things are turning out.

"I've already exceeded my expectations for myself," he said. "I'm one of the most influential people! I mean come on! I wanted to be ... I never thought the things I've experienced in my life, I didn't think that was the life that I was gonna get to live."

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