The actor and author discusses his book Stay Interesting: I Don’t Always Tell Stories About My Life, but When I Do They’re True and Amazing.
Actor and Author Jonathan Goldsmith
Tavis Smiley: Good evening from Los Angeles. I’m Tavis Smiley.
Tonight first, a conversation with Jonathan Goldsmith, the actor known globally as “The Most Interesting Man in the World”. He charts his unlikely success in his new memoir titled “Stay Interesting: I Don’t Always Tell Stories About My Life, but When I Do They’re True and Amazing”.
Then Emmy-winning actress, Regina King, joins us to discuss her career working in front of and behind the camera.
We’re glad you’ve joined us. Jonathan Goldsmith and Regina King coming up in just a moment.
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Tavis: Before becoming something of a cultural icon, Jonathan Goldsmith spent decades in Hollywood appearing in hundreds of TV shows, movies and commercials, but never made it big until he landed the role of Dos Equis’ “Most Interesting Man in the World”.
Look at that face. I love that face [laugh]. His new memoir is called, what else, “Stay Interesting: I Don’t Always Tell Stories About My Life, but When I Do They’re True and Amazing”. What a great title. I’m honored to have you on this program.
Jonathan Goldsmith: Thank you. It’s my pleasure.
Tavis: Oh, my God, it’s my great pleasure. So this face — and you must not be able to go anywhere now without being stopped.
Goldsmith: Good. I’m delighted with that. People say, “Does it bother you?” I say, “No, keep ’em coming.” [laugh]. Not at all.
Tavis: But the back story is, after 45 years basically, you were in this town trying to make it like everybody else.
Goldsmith: Just like everybody.
Tavis: And then eventually this commercial hits. We’ll come to the commercial in just a second.
Tavis: But tell me what that 45-year journey was like trying to be in this business. Not trying to be. You were in the business, yeah.
Goldsmith: Well, I was in the business and I actually made a living at it. I didn’t do anything else, but it was the same struggle that everybody has, you know. It’s so many ifs, ands, maybes, close calls, heartbreaks, almost there. Those dreams just trounced on so often, never being right for anything exactly, and it takes its toll.
So I actually got out of the business for 10 years and then I got a call from my new agent, one of the few that would handle me. After being gone in Hollywood for 10 years, out of sight, out of mind has a very special meaning in Hollywood.
She said, “There’s a commercial that’s being cast and I have a hunch you’re right for it.” I said, “Well, what do I have to do?” She says, “Well, it’s an improvisation and you’ll have to end with the line “And that’s how I arm wrestled Fidel Castro.” Well, it was easy [laugh].
So I was living up in the High Sierras. I had been in the business world for 10 years and got into some financial problems and I always wanted to go back, you know. It’s my dream. That was my goal. Even though I guest starred in over 350 shows, I hadn’t made it. So I’m driving this old truck down and I’m thinking, “Do I still have it? Is it possible, if I ever had it? Can I fool them one more time?”
I got to this campground. I had money, but not enough really and I didn’t want to save. So I slept in the back of my truck up in the Malibu — Sycamore Canyon, as a matter of fact, and it was a long night. I was by myself.
There was no hot water and I just wondered, “Could I stand another disappointment?” I wasn’t 30, 40, 50, 60. I was almost 70 years of age. So then the long ride to the audition going through Hollywood and all the areas that I had been in and driven a garbage truck.
I got down in this casting office on South La Brea and I see a line full of people, like 400 or 500 guys. They all looked like Juan Valdez, the coffee man [laugh]. I said, “This sweet agent, she made a mistake. They don’t want me. They want some young Latino.” I didn’t want to go and I called her. She said, “You’ll never forgive yourself if you don’t. Don’t run away from this.”
I wanted to run away. I felt helpless. I said, “Well, I’ve come so far. At least make ’em laugh.” So then it was my turn. I went into an empty studio. There was a whole bank of audio equipment on a wall in this empty room. The director and the client, they were back in New York and they said, “Tell me about yourself.”
Now sitting outside, I said, “My God, what am I gonna do? I’m from the Bronx. I’m not a Latino.” I thought about my buddy who’s really featured a lot in the book, Fernando Lamas, greatest raconteur, lothario, charming, bon vivant. I said, “Come on, help me.” He had been dead 10 years, but I channeled him big time.
It started coming and they’re, “Tell me about yourself. What did you want to do when you were a kid?” I did it in Fernando’s accent. I said, “I was torn. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a white hunter and then, as I got older and into fifth grade, I wanted to be an OBGYN.”
They started laughing and they kept laughing [laugh]. I just kept up this stream of B.S. how I met him through Che Guevara. I loaned him a motorcycle and, of course, I had a tryst with Che’s mistress, his wife and his two nieces.
Well, they’re laughing and I don’t know where I got it from. Anyway, afterwards, they went around. They didn’t have me on that first one. They went around the country to all the big markets and then to Mexico and then to South America. Three months later, I got it.
Tavis: That’s a lot of searching. They had to find the most interesting guy in the world, and they went around the world to find him.
Goldsmith: Yeah, they did, they did.
Tavis: In retrospect, what do you believe or what did they tell you made the difference for you, Jonathan?
Goldsmith: Nobody ever told me what it was and I don’t know what it was, but I know that I loved doing it. I love making people smile and I love the ladies and the atmosphere and the charm of it. The campaign was so beautifully written. A bunch of young kids and, you know, I get a lot of attention from it, but they created that. So I don’t know exactly.
Tavis: How does it feel when you have gone through the journey you just laid out for 45 years and then right place, right time, right opportunity, it hits, and you are known around the world for one thing? How do you process that?
Goldsmith: It’s wonderful. I love it [laugh]. Well, there’s a lot of great athletes, a lot of beautiful people. There’s only one or there was only one. Now there’s another one. The torch has been passed, so I thoroughly enjoyed it. People say, “What was the nicest thing about it?” There were two things. Number one, it brought a smile to peoples’ face and we need smiles these days.
Goldsmith: Oh, boy, do we ever. Number two, it was something that everybody tried to emulate, including me, you know. Who didn’t want to be like him? I was getting off a bus in New York. An elderly gentleman with a gold-handled cane did a double-take.
He said, “Driver, stop!” Madison Avenue, stop the bus. He came over as if he was knighting me. He said, “Sonny, when I come back, I want to be you.” [laugh] It was great. It was just great.
Tavis: So how many times a day do people come up to you and they want you to say something in that voice or…
Goldsmith: Oh, a lot. Just say something from my ad, you know, a lot. But now where I live, I live in the mountains in Vermont, less and less. It’s okay.
Tavis: Does this 10-year run that you had with Dos Equis, how do you situate that up against all the years that you struggled? Did it make it worthwhile?
Goldsmith: Oh, my Lord, yes, it did. I mean, you forget very rapidly when you get so much. I’m a lucky guy. You know, so much recognition and people that appreciate you. The rest goes away. It goes away, yeah. It was worth it, trust me. People say, “Well, what’s happened now? Gee, you’re off that show.” One door shuts, 10 open, you know. And in my case, I’ve been very, very fortunate.
I’m able to do things that I really care about like tequila [laugh]. I’m doing that now, Astral Tequila. It’s a marvelous story behind that and it’s a great, great special taste. So that’s one thing I’m doing. And something else, I’m not too much into the digital world, but enough to recognize excellence in a company called Luma, high-speed internet, no buffering, good stuff.
Tavis: Not getting into too much of your business, can one do economically well with a commercial that big for 10 years?
Goldsmith: Oh, yeah [laugh]. Yes, indeed.
Tavis: So you’re not homeless?
Goldsmith: Not anymore. Not sleeping in the back of the truck.
Tavis: You’re not in the back of the truck anymore, yeah.
Goldsmith: Not yet.
Tavis: I think you’re okay. This story — I mean, I don’t have time to get into all of it now, but you lived a pretty fascinating life in Hollywood and you didn’t just attract girls in that commercial. You had a fair share of…
Goldsmith: You getting to Warren [laugh]?
Tavis: You had a fair share of experiences in this town.
Goldsmith: Yeah, I had a good time. Listen, you have to do something when you’re not working.
Tavis: Yeah, I guess so.
Goldsmith: And an actor’s not working most of the time, right? And you need to have a hobby, right?
Tavis: Yeah. Well, you were unemployed a whole lot then [laugh].
Goldsmith: Yeah, I was.
Tavis: When I started going through these names of who you hung out with, I was like, my goodness, you put your free time to good use.
Goldsmith: Well, you have to. It’s just a one-time trip. It’s not a dress rehearsal, it’s now.
Tavis: And you were obviously taking care of yourself. You’re so handsome all these years later.
Goldsmith: Well, you’re sweet. Yeah, I’m almost 80. I’m 78.
Tavis: You see this?
Goldsmith: I work out every day, every day but one. Vanity keeps me going. I don’t want to get old. My father called me Peter Pan, yeah.
Tavis: That’s good, though.
Goldsmith: Yeah. I think it’s good. I feel good. Lots of kids, lots of grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren. I started very early, of course.
Tavis: Yeah, yeah, yeah, very early.
Goldsmith: Everybody needs a hobby, Tavis, right? [laugh]
Tavis: It is an amazing story. Obviously, you know the face. There’s no way you could have not seen the commercial for 10 years. But when I saw the back story for how this all happened for him at almost 70 years of age, it is quite a story. Then I got interested, of course, in his back story. It is quite a back story.
The book is called, what else, “Stay Interesting: I Don’t Always Tell Stories About My Life, but When I Do They’re True and Amazing”. I should have had you read that. Jonathan Goldsmith is the author. Good to have you on, my friend. All the best to you.
Goldsmith: Thank you, my friend.
Tavis: Thank you, sir. Up next, actress Regina King. Stay with us.
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