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June 17, 2016

A Most Interesting Interview with a Most Interesting Man

Jonathon Goldsmith might really be the most interesting man in the world, even if he isn't going to Mars.

David M. Gutiérrez

Jonathon Goldsmith is better known by his title than by his name.

For almost 10 years, Goldsmith portrayed the "Most Interesting Man in the World" in a series of commercials for Dos Equis, a subsidiary of Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma Brewery. Most would be hard pressed not to recognize the self-assured gentleman of gentlemen, the wise rogue with a smirk and swagger, whose legendary feats can make Chuck Norris feel inadequate.

As Goldsmith tells it, he never expected to land the role that would bring him instant recognition. He attended an ad agency's cattle call for a "Hemingway-esque" pitchman. 

"There were hundreds and hundreds of guys and they all looked like Juan Valdez from the coffee commercial. I said, 'Jesus, they don't want me. They're looking for a Latino.' I quickly thought of my friend Fernando [Lamas] and channeled him, as well my uncles, and the gods."

"The ups and downs [of acting] take their toll on you," said Goldsmith. "When I went out on the audition for Dos Equis, I had been out of the business for 10 years. 'Out of sight, out of mind' has a special meaning in Hollywood. You can be out of sight for two weeks, but 10 years? I had a feeling in my gut, wondering if I should still do it."

Goldsmith improvised his way through the audition and ended it saying, "And that's how I arm wrestled Fidel Castro." Word came down from the agency that while they liked Goldsmith, he was deemed too old for the role.

His manager  -- now wife -- asked the ad exec the question that would change Goldsmith's life. "'How can the most interesting man in the world be young?' He said he'd call us right back."

Goldsmith won the role. Now, the "Most Interesting Man in the World" is saying good-bye. Dos Equis is ending their campaign and sending Goldsmith's character off in style. He's going to Mars arm-in-arm with a beautiful scientist. An interesting ending for an interesting man.

But the truth is Jonathan Goldsmith doesn't put sabretooth tigers into sleeper holds or perform appendectomies blindfolded. The truth is a bit more, well, interesting.

When he's not out dismantling landmines in Vietnam, or working with his local at-risk youth, he's out holding court with world leaders at the White House Correspondents Dinner or on a USO tour visiting US troops at Guantanamo Bay. Making a home in Vermont has not slowed Goldsmith.

Where is the Most Interesting Man in the World from?

I can't give that out. That's a secret. It's really classified.

Did you give him a backstory or assign a birthplace for him when you auditioned?

Absolutely not. All I knew was that I had an improvisation to do and to end it with the line, "And that's how I arm wrestled Fidel Castro." That's all I knew about it.

What's it like for you when you go out in public? Are people expecting danger or a party to follow you?

Firstly, people smile when they see me. And that is so pleasant. My god, this world needs that more than ever. I can't go any place without someone holding a phone to me and saying, "Hey, talk to my mother. Say [the catchphrase] once." I determined early on that I would never do that.

But, I take pictures with everyone. It brings a lot of joy to people and to me, too. I enjoy every bit of it.

Before we get to the end of things, let's talk about the beginning. What made you start acting?

A psychiatrist! I had dropped out of school during my junior year at New York University. I didn't know what I wanted to do, but I didn't want to go into academia. It was a fatuous existence.

I was partying too much and father told me, "You need to see someone and stop this frivolous existence of yours." I saw this psychiatrist and was told that the next week I was going to meet someone who would change my life.

The following week, I met this director down in the Village. The doctor told me he wanted me to take an acting course at the Living Theater. I told him I didn't want to do that. The only time I had acted was when I played a girl at summer camp.  He told me he'd only treat me if I took the class.

At the time, the Living Theater was at the forefront of all the Avant-Garde theaters in the country. They were doing Eugène Ionesco, Jean Genet, and William Carlos Williams [productions].

The very first night I went, I was told we were doing improvisation, and I didn't even know what that was. But I did it and got applause for the first time in my life. I found this was something I liked. This room was filled with lovely bohemian ladies and some interesting guys, and so I said this wasn't a bad thing to pursue.

It's interesting that your father suggested seeing a psychiatrist given its stigma at the time.

My father was a bright guy. We were extremely close. Sometimes, you have to hear it from someone else. I went into therapy, started acting, and got a scholarship to enter the playhouse. 

My first year after being in the playhouse, I was very lucky to work for the top people in the industry like Elia Kazan, Arthur Miller, William Inge and Tennessee Williams.

And then Hollywood beckoned, where I drove a garbage truck for a number of months. The typical actor's syndrome. But it hit and I had a good career with over 350 starring roles. I just never quite hit that brass ring. I was a journeyman actor and made a living at it. I got some nice recognition, mainly from my peers, but it never hit until the Dos Equis commercials.

Did your father get to see your success?

He never got to see the Dos Equis commercials. But he got to see me being hanged, shot, poisoned, and drowned hundreds of times. I was always [playing] the bad guy. He always saw me being taken away over a buckboard or a saddle.

He never saw my success except for Go Tell the Spartans, which was a very small film. We had wonderful reviews, but were knocked out by a little picture called Apocalypse Now.

It's fitting you're being sent to Mars, considering you're credited as being a "Redshirt" in the original Star Trek.

No, I wasn't. I've never done that show. I can't convince the fans of that. They keep sending me pictures of a guy in a red shirt, but it ain't me.

What do you remember from your television work, including appearances on Trapper John, M.D., The Streets of San Francisco, and countless others?

I met some wonderful people. I really liked working with Donna Mills. She was a lovely girl. I loved working with Linda Gray on Dallas and Joan Fontaine on Cannon on the two-parter called "The Star." She was the star, I was the killer. I was always the bad guy. We developed a great friendship. I thoroughly liked James Garner from Maverick.

I developed a great friendship with Burt Lancaster on Go Tell the Spartans. It was a movie about Vietnam and is used in schools today to teach directing, where I worked with Ted Post. And of course my dear friend, Fernando Lamas, whom I based this character on.

And now you've bid farewell to the character and shot your final commercial.

Yes, I've been sent to Mars. But I come back from time to time. They're going to have to send up a midwife. And the blonde scientist [the advertising agency] sent up with me, she died of exhaustion, so they're going to have to audition some new scientists.

Was it bittersweet? How was it?

Sure it was. I was the ambassador for Dos Equis. But, it's true what they say, "one door shuts and another opens." In my case, 10 have opened and there are wonderful things ahead of me. I have all kinds of opportunities and offers and am in a very nice position.

Let's talk about that. What's next for you?

For one, my book has been sold to a big publisher and will be coming out next year.

I'm on the speaking circuit. I've spoken at Harvard and understand they are calling me to do another appearance there.

I do a lot of charity of work. That's the best part of the "celebrity status," being able to call attention to things I'm interested in. I've been working with at-risk kids since I was 18 – and that's a long time ago. I'm active in local charities, like Hunger Free Vermont. And I've done some PSA's for the Make-a-Wish Foundation. I love doing that. Life is good.

This doesn't sound like you're retiring.

I'm busier than I ever was. When I was doing Dos Equis [commercials], contractually I couldn't do the things that are open to me now. People have been so welcoming and appreciative. I feel very, very lucky.

At 77, are you looking back?

I'm in the second half of my life. So many things have happened and opened up because of this role I've played for the last 10 years of my life. I feel rejuvenated in many ways. [I feel] very young. Born again, if you will. Trying to be ready for the next opportunity, because you never know.

Who do you find interesting?

I think Richard Branson is extremely interesting. I had the pleasure of meeting and working with him. He's a marvelous guy. This is a fellow that has it all, yet is so aware of the problems in the world. He's so philanthropic.

I'm also crazy about President Obama. I think he's going to go down in history as a wonderful president. I had the pleasure of spending the weekend at Camp David as his special guest for his birthday. He's one of the most charming people I've ever met in my life.

One of my old heroes was Jackie Robinson. They broke the mold with him. And Nelson Mandela. Another gifted person and a leader that was out front with his heart that changed the world. Jesus Christ was a hero. I think he was an incredible human being.

What's a typical day like for you? The assumption is you started every day by wrestling a bear, downing five shots of tequila, then swimming a few oceans.

I have two Anatolian Shepherds that get us up every morning between 5:00 and 5:30, which is really a pain in the ass. I'll go downstairs and exercise.

In the winter, it's a dreary existence in Vermont. The other seasons are joyous. I have four and a half acres that keep me very busy. I landscape. I enjoy fly-fishing. I love to cook. And of course, all my charity work.

Have you discovered life's big secret?

Like most actors, I spent most of my life preoccupied with the job, or lack of one. I was always preoccupied with the near-misses. The secret is to be present.

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