"I can see two dogs copulating and get teary-eyed."
Jonathan Goldsmith saved a man’s life once during a whiteout on Mount Whitney. He rescued a little girl who was drowning in Malibu. He starred in a film about Vietnam and has appeared in some 100 TV shows. He cries easily, practices Pilates, and has sailed through hurricanes. Impressive, sure. But is the 72-year-old actor, who plays the Most Interesting Man in the World in the Dos Equis ads, as intriguing as the gallant gentleman he portrays? Mark Jenkins rang him up at his home in Vermont to find out.
Outside: I love that you’re Sno-Sealing boots as we talk.
Goldsmith: I really like the smell of that stuff. I even put it on my dress shoes.
Most people hate commercials, but everyone likes yours. Why is that?
The appeal, I think, is to all our fantasies. For example, I was sitting in a Mexican restaurant, and this fella came up to me and said, “I asked my seven-year-old kid what he wanted to be when he grew up and he said the Most Interesting Man in the World.” Two weeks later I’m on a bus in Manhattan, and this old gentleman getting off the bus taps me on the shoulder and says, “Sonny, when I come back, I want to be you.”
He’s kind of the alpha male—part Indiana Jones, part James Bond. But I find it interesting that you’re poking fun at the whole persona, too.
I try not to make fun of the character at all, although I understand how it could come off that way in someone’s interpretation. I take his legacy seriously. He has a sense of pride and all-knowing that only come from a life well spent and thoroughly lived on the edge.
Let’s talk about that, because most guys don’t live on the edge.
Yeah. The funny thing is that my life has had more of those kinds of moments, really, than the character’s has.
So is he based on you then?
Not really. I based him more on my friend [South American actor] Fernando Lamas. He used to be my sailing buddy and regaled me with his stories for years. And he’s the kind of guy, of course, that I, too, would like to be. We’re different in some ways—I prefer the outdoors, nature, and solitude—but I like to think there’s a little bit of a DNA match somewhere.
This resurgence in your career must be wonderful.
You have no idea. I had a very auspicious start in my first year as an actor, 52 years ago. I co-starred in some vehicles with Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, and William Inge.
I read that you always wanted to do comedy but ended up being a bad guy instead.
Absolutely. I once played Dracula in a comedy with Jack Elam, but then I went back to killing and being killed.
You’ve got kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids now. What advice do you have for a young man today?
Life is like a parade, and it’s one that most people watch go by. And then there are some that get in that parade. Those are the people who come away with something special. And don’t be afraid of your sensitive side. I used to be ashamed that I was so sensitive. I can see two dogs copulating and get teary-eyed. I find the least attractive men are the ones who have so-called machoness on their sleeve. They bore the living shit out of me.
That’s part of the appeal of your character—you get the feeling he doesn’t have to prove much.
Exactly. You either have it or you don’t. And it can’t really be quantified; there’s no prescription for it. Class is class. Courage is courage. Adventure is adventure. Most people who live a nine-to-five life, they get security in structure. I don’t. I love unstructured. I find sleep mostly a waste of time. I’ve been living on sailboats on and off for almost 40 years. Sometimes you have to let the dock lines go.