Ashton Kutcher talks about ''The Butterfly Effect'' -- The star of ''That '70s Show'' and the now-defunct ''Punk'd'' explains why he got serious for once

By Brian Hiatt
Updated January 23, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST
Ashton Kutcher, Sundance Film Festival 2004
Credit: Ashton Kutcher: Jeff Vespa/

No, the title of Ashton Kutcher’s new movie has nothing to do with the stomach flutters his heavy-lashed brown eyes have induced in girlfriend Demi Moore and countless ”Punk’d”-rocking teen girls. ”The Butterfly Effect” (which refers to the chaos theory concept of small actions causing huge changes) is the ”Dude, Where’s My Car” dude’s first serious leading role. The 25-year-old plays a college student who tries to fix his life via an unusual talent: He can time-travel back to his childhood. Fresh from promoting ”Effect” at Sundance, a subdued Kutcher sat down (or rather, sprawled wearily on a leather couch) with to explain why he’s not quitting comedy just yet.

You look tired.
I’m a little beat, man. I’ve been working for 22 days straight, between ”That ’70s Show,” the two new shows I’m producing for MTV, and promoting ”Butterfly Effect.” I get this weekend off, and then it’s another 20 days. But I once read the one thing that all the people in the Fortune 500 have in common is they all work at least 60 hours a week. So I feel like I’m on pace. [Laughs]

Is it true that you only need five hours’ sleep a night?
It’s true. You only need about four or five — but you’re still tired. [Laughs] You can get it up when you gotta get it up, though.

Um, so to speak. In ”Butterfly Effect” there are so many extreme scenes — you lose your arms; you offer sexual favors to a prisoner. What do you do to keep it from going over the top?
When you’re in that moment, and you’re playing that role, it’s really uncomfortable. You have to be aware that it’s uncomfortable and play it real… Just trying to actually be there and visualize it really happening. You kind of use whatever emotions are hitting you at the time. I believe the whole spectrum of emotions are available at all times — you can laugh out loud, you can cry. It’s hard when it’s a lofty concept like being able to go back into your own past — and so I tried the best I could to keep the character grounded.

So do you want to be a serious leading man now?
I just want to do what keeps me interested. I get bored really quick. If I don’t have something to keep me interested, I’ll do bad things.

Bad things, like taking roles in bad movies?
Nah, I mean I’ll misbehave. I don’t want to misbehave. I want to do socially conscious roles, roles that say something. But it’s whatever floats my boat, whatever I think people want to see. It’s kind of our job to entertain people, and I take that role really seriously. I like to do things that people haven’t seen before, whether it’s comedy, drama, action movies, thrillers?

Nah, I’ll probably be staying away from the porn. [Laughs]

Did you give the kid who plays you at age 13 tips on the art of being Ashton?
No, I did it the other way around. I spent a lot of time with him beforehand, because they shot their principal photography [with scenes of his character’s younger days] after we shot ours. I kind of watched the way that he walks, his speech patterns and tried to emulate that. I think it paid off.

I heard you researched dissociative disorders for the part — did you actually talk to people who suffered from them?
Well, I have before: My mom used to teach kids who had mental handicaps. So I’ve had a lot of exposure to it. I did extensive research, reading books and auditing psychology classes, to try to understand why people become the way they become. I went to a college in Santa Monica and just popped in.

You didn’t freak out the class?
Back row, baby!

The Butterfly Effect

  • Movie
  • R
  • 113 minutes
  • Eric Bress
  • J. Mackye Gruber