'Bachelor' Arie Luyendyk Jr. Talks Age Gap Controversy and Final Rose Ceremony

Arie Luyendyk Jr. is no stranger to watching himself on TV. After placing runner-up on Emily Maynard's season of The Bachelorette, he admits that he watched the weekly episodes alone because "you pick yourself apart."

"But at the end of the day, it’s all about the experience," Luyendyk Jr., who has been promoted from contestant to star of the current season of ABC's The Bachelor, now tells The Hollywood Reporter. Five years after his first reality dating stint, how to best relive his TV-love experience is one of the many things he has learned to deal with: "Watching it back is like the icing on the cake. The real fun happened months ago, but it feels fun to talk about it now."

Luyendyk Jr.'s turn as ABC's leading man comes five years after he placed runner-up on Maynard's 2012 season. Though he was in talks with producers for years about leading his own show — even going so far as to record an introduction segment — the former professional race car driver says nothing prepared him for that first night, when 29 women paraded out of black limos with wild introductions in hopes of leaving a mark on their waiting, rose-armed suitor. 

"Being selected as the Bachelor was so last-minute," he says, recalling his behavior on the first night, which aired during the Jan. 1 premiere. "It was so unexpected that I’m sure some of the women who came to the mansion that night might have had hopes for someone else to be standing in that spot. I had to kind of figure that out, whoever I felt was really there for me."

Luyendyk Jr. won't confirm whether or not he gets down on one knee and proposes during the finale, but he does say that he is "happy" with the overall experience. Outside of a guest appearance on next month’s Bachelor Winter Games, Luyendyk Jr. says he's ready to head back to Arizona. His five-year plan includes settling down with a "special someone," preferably in his hometown if circumstances allow, and becoming a dad: "I’m just having a little bit of baby fever."

In a wide-ranging chat below with THR, the Bachelor addresses the significant age gap with his contestants, previews the upcoming drama from week two to the final rose ceremony — including a visit from one of his contestant's ex-boyfriends — and exposes himself as a different kind of Bachelor than viewers might expect. Says Luyendyk Jr.: “I’m not here to do anything else in entertainment. I think this might be my last hurrah.”

You are more private than the recent Bachelor and Bachelorette leads, especially on social media. Why did you return to TV to find love, instead of using a match-making service or dating app?

I have tried Bumble — for a really short period of time. It just didn’t suit me. I think because it was more about physical appearance and less about conversation. Also, my time is really important to me, with racing and real estate. I’m the type of person that budgets their time throughout the whole day. So, taking time to be on an app like that seemed like a waste of it.

You had been in talks with ABC about starring as the Bachelor in previous seasons — how far along in the process did you get with producers? 

Back when Chris Soules was selected as the Bachelor, we were pretty far in talks and I actually filmed an intro for The Bachelor. But they went with Chris at the last minute. That was a couple of years ago, but we kept in touch ever since. They’ve always, I think, wanted it to happen and the timing was just perfect now.

You said you dated a lot of women since leaving The Bachelorette, and that you hadn't found love since Emily Maynard. What do you want to say to people who think you're not ready to settle down? 

After you get off The Bachelorette, there’s a lot of attention and that’s fun for a little, but a lot of that was to get over the relationship that I had with Emily. And casual dating is not something that is uncommon. Every person does it. I think I was in a place right after my breakup with Emily where I wasn’t ready to be in a serious relationship for a while. A single guy going on dates is not uncommon. When it came down to it, things have really changed in the last few years. For me, just because I’m 36 now and people around me are all getting married and having kids, I think that was the big shift to really make me realize it’s time to settle down.

What did you learn after watching the Jan. 1 season premiere?

It’s really interesting because I’m seeing the other side of things. I’m seeing the conversations between the women. I’m also seeing their interviews, so it’s really fun to see a whole different side. The first impression rose with Chelsea — she gave me a lot of confidence by pulling me aside twice and she really showed me that she wanted to have a relationship with me. That gave me a boost in confidence and that’s why I gave her the first impression rose. I had to figure out who I felt was really there for me, whoever I felt connected with and pulled towards, and Chelsea was one of those people. It’s a two-way street. Being the Bachelor, everyone thinks all the decisions are made by me. But, not really. You really have to sort out if those feelings are mutual and sometimes, you’re letting someone go that you just know there isn’t a future with because the feelings aren’t developing on their side of this, too. The first night is judging on first impressions.

During that first rose ceremony — where you eliminated 29 women down to 22 — how do you remember everyone’s names? And how do you decide the order you will hand out the roses?

Sometimes you’ll have a really great conversation and you want to give that person some reassurance, so you call out their name first. The first night, learning everyone’s names was definitely difficult. There’s 29 women, so it’s hard. I try to pick out things that you remember about them and try to associate their name. As far as the order of roses, that’s something that we talk about [with the producers]. For me, it was just about giving the people who needed some confidence roses early on.

Emily Maynard said she hopes you are the last star from her season, so she never has to see a replay of herself on TV. Did the premiere bring up old emotions about her, and when is the last time you two have spoken?

We spoke shortly after her season about five and a half years ago. It must be difficult for her to watch things back, or maybe fun for her. I don’t know. Maybe not the breakup part, but some of the things are really cool to see. For me, it just feels like a lifetime ago. She has such a beautiful family and a happy life so we’ve totally moved on from that, but watching the breakup back, it conjures up a little emotion just because I remember how I felt.

You wrote in a column about premiere night that contestant Becca K., 27, reminded you of why you were really there — "to end up on one knee." Can you elaborate?

She’s just a very humble person. She reminded me a lot of myself that first night as far as being very sincere. I got a really good sense that she was a very humble and sweet person, and that she wasn’t going in with a big expectation. She was going in with an open mind. I like that. I could tell she was very sincere.

Once the first rose ceremony wrapped and you were in the thick of filming, what was the biggest change from your first turn on the franchise? 

One of the biggest things for me being on this side of things was seeing the enormity of the production, and having the curtain drawn back so I could see how many people were involved on the show. As a castmember, you’re shielded from that so you can be open and comfortable. Being the Bachelor, now you’ve been through the experience. You also kind of know what to expect, but it’s so much different because you realize how much goes into everything — from the dates to the rose ceremonies to how many camera people and producers are involved. That is something that was eye-opening for me. On that other side of things, you’re trying so hard not to take that in because you want to focus on that one person and see if there’s a connection there. But as the Bachelor, you can’t ignore it because you’re running the show. You’re leading the dates. It was hard to adapt to being able to lead the dates, knowing what was happening next and be like, "Okay we’re going to sit here and then we’re going to go there." There’s an order of things, but all of those things are amazing and they’re really cool surprises for the woman on the date, but I know all the surprises because I’m the one giving them out. So for me, it was a little of an adjustment to stay in the moment but also still run the show. I get to the locations first. I kind of assess what we’re doing and that was also exciting in a completely different way, but it was something that I had to get used to.

Which week was the most difficult rose ceremony elimination for you?

I would say other than the last ceremony, one of the toughest was going into hometowns and then after hometowns. Because at that point you’ve met the families and you’re very invested. There’s a lot of emotion involved, so that was difficult for me. You feel so invested in that relationship and you know the next date is the overnight dates and it’s in a really amazing location and there’s a lot that goes along with that, so that’s a huge decision.

You said age will become a topic as the season progresses, something that has already been teased by ABC with Bekah M., who is 22. At what point did you ask or find out how old the women were? And when you did, did that change how you felt?

I only really addressed that if I felt it was an issue — if I felt there was some immaturity there, or if I was questioning if they were really ready for marriage. I really didn’t let that get in the way unless there was some real emotion in that relationship and I needed to know if we could get to that next step of being possibly engaged. I never asked the producers for any of the women's ages. If it came up in conversation, it came up. It’s like anything. If you’re on a date and you reference an old movie or you reference a band and they don’t know that band, then you’re like, "Wait a second, they don’t know that band." It never really has been an issue for me. I’ve dated older. I’ve dated younger. It’s just more about readiness and about being able to take that next step. And if that’s something that they really want in their lives.

Then why does age become such a thing between you and Bekah M.?

I don’t really think it does. I know they’re hinting it. I think she has this bold, big personality and you see that in the first episode already. I love her facial expressions. That’s something I didn’t really catch on to until watching it back on Monday. It’s interesting and the viewers are really going to get to know her. I’m interested to see how everyone takes it.

You said you are different than former Bachelor Nick Viall because you were more open to the process. How have you evolved since the last time you were on TV? 

I said that about Nick, but everyone takes their journey in their own way. I might have misspoke there, because I can’t really relate to what he was feeling in that moment. I’m just looking at it from a viewer’s perspective, which knowing now after watching that first episode, that was probably something I shouldn’t really have commented on. Everyone has their own journey. Everyone handles relationships in a completely different way, but that doesn’t mean that he felt less. So for me, from my side of things, I just really wanted to make sure that I didn’t zero in on one person and that I gave everyone a chance. Since I hadn’t been in love and I hadn’t been ready to be married since I was with Emily, I didn’t want to let anyone pass by who could potentially be my wife.

What is one regret that you have from the experience, something you wish you didn't say?

Watching that first episode, saying that “excitement excites me,” along with “my love for pizza.” (Laughs.) I think I was just so taken aback by Bekah and her big personality, and there were little things, too, that first night that threw me that you don’t even think about when you’re a contestant. Let's say you’re walking on the driveway and you have to land a mark [for the cameras]. I know where the marks are when speaking to you, and you’re a contestant and there’s a shadow on your face, so I need to move you or move myself so there’s light on your face. I remember sitting on the back of that red Mustang and my face was casting a shadow on her face. I was trying to move myself a little bit so in my head, I was thinking about all the nuances of being the Bachelor and not the conversation. After that evening, I was like, "OK, I need to just be myself." I think in the second episode you’ll see me be a lot more relaxed — and maybe get some jokes that flew over my head the first night.

Was there one piece of advice that turned out to be key as you went through the season?

Catherine [Lowe] said to be present during every conversation. To really be a good listener and make that person feel like they’re special, and not just one of 29. That really held true because I wanted to make sure that I connected on that level.

The teaser also previews an ex-boyfriend of one of your contestants crashing the set. How does that visit impact your final decision?

That’s difficult for anyone, if you’re dating somebody and their ex comes. It’s a difficult situation. In any scenario when you’re dealing with an ex, it’s a touchy subject because that person was obviously a big part of their life and they chose to be with that person at some point, so to have that enter this experience was stressful.

Now that you're watching it all back on TV, what are you most wary of when it comes to reliving what you went through?

Right now, nothing’s been hard to watch back. Even the things where you go, "Man, I should have said this" or "I should have done that." It’s like — that’s life. You’re never going to come up with the perfect thing to say. Could I have done the speeches better? Yes. Totally. I sucked at the speeches. Could I have been a little more relaxed? Yeah. But you can’t really beat yourself up about that because everyone’s nervous and everyone has their own personality, and sometimes when someone’s nervous you can really see that they’re genuine or that they are actually feeling something and not just being a robot. Or being an actor. I don't really have any cringe-worthy moments yet, I just think it’s funny. I remember back on Emily’s season I never even watched it on Monday nights. I used to watch it on Tuesdays by myself in my condo because I couldn’t stand my voice. You pick yourself apart. But at the end of the day, it’s all about the experience. Watching it back is like the icing on the cake. The real fun happened months ago, but it feels fun to talk about it now.

Do you want to start a family? What do you see when you look down the road five years from now?

Hopefully I have kids or a kid already. I want to be a dad really bad. I want to get married first, but I’m almost more excited about being a parent just because I want that step of my life. And just watching Sean [Lowe] with [his son] Samuel, and all my other friends. John Wolf who was on my season I still keep in touch with and they’re expecting their first. So I’m just having a little bit of baby fever, I think, as a man, which is kind of funny.

A lot of opportunities come with being the Bachelor. After the show, do you plan to explore TV opportunities and stick around Los Angeles? 

In my perfect world — I don’t know, it all depends who I end up with and how our lives work together. Being in L.A. is fun, but I’d rather go back to my life before this with my special someone. I’m not here to do anything else in entertainment. I think this might be my last hurrah. 

The climate has shifted in Hollywood. As a leader of your own show, did you find yourself wanting to ensure a safe and comfortable set? How was consent handled during filming?

I don’t think any of it was addressed. We’re so sequestered and a lot of this movement happened while we were filming but for me, I believe I have good values and if you’re a good person then you would never let anyone around you feel uncomfortable. Everyone used very good judgment. The production staff is very attentive of everyone and that never was a question.

Rapid Round with The Bachelor:

Did you buy your own suits and clothes? No.

Not one? No. I wanted to.

Did you style your own hair? Yes.

What did you do during your downtime? Journaling and some Game of Thrones.

What's your go-to rose ceremony beverage? Red wine.

What about your go-to comfort food while filming? Rx bars. I did eat a lot of Rx bars. So many.

Which rose ceremony was the longest? The first one. That was the longest. It ended at 8:30 or 9 a.m.? The sun was way up.

What was your most exhausting moment? The second week of filming.

First reaction when you saw Chris Harrison again? "Like old times.” A lot of the times we would come out wearing the same suit — tie and shirt combo. Which was hilarious.

Did someone have to change? No, we just rolled with it.

Did you cry more or less than you expected to? A little less actually. It’s interesting because I’m the type of person that can cry watching a movie on a plane, but then if something really sad happens in my life, I won’t shed a tear.

In a word, how did you feel when you narrowed it down to two women? Overwhelmed.

Are you happy looking back at all of this? Yes, I’m happy looking back at all of this. For sure.

The Bachelor airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC. What do you think of the season so far? Sound off in the comments section, below. For more coverage, head here.