The Most Interesting Man in the World: The Exit Interview

Jonathan Goldsmith  - H 2016
Brent N. Clarke/Getty Images

As he closes the door on his decade-long Dos Equis campaign, Jonathan Goldsmith, the actor behind the iconic advertising character, reveals how he hung out with Jennifer Lawrence and traded bear-fighting tips with Leo DiCaprio.

Since 2007, he has served as an inspirational figurehead to legions of parched beer enthusiasts with a taste for adventure. Part Ernest Hemingway, part James Bond, he is known simply as The Most Interesting Man in the World, a tanned, bearded and effortlessly debonair mascot dreamed up by Havas advertising agency to sell Dos Equis, a Mexican import owned by the Amsterdam-based Heineken brewery.

The tongue-in-cheek character — whose boastful résumé includes details like "sharks have a week dedicated to him" and "presidents take his birthday off" — instantly clicked with the public. Since his debut, Dos Equis has seen sales increase threefold. But all interesting things must come to an end. And so on Wednesday, Dos Equis announced that the Most Interesting Man would soon embark on a "final journey" (he's been issued a one-way ticket to Mars). The character will live on, but the company is not saying who will fill his immense shoes.

The single greatest beneficiary of all this intrigue is arguably Jonathan Goldsmith, the 77-year-old veteran TV actor who beat out over 500 other men at a cattle-call audition to win the part that would finally make him a star. The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Goldsmith about bidding farewell to his alter ego and along with it an advertising era — one that would have made Don Draper proud.

How does it feel to know this character you’ve been with for almost a decade now is heading into the sunset?

Well, it feels like I’ve had a wonderful, wonderful journey with this. I feel like it was successful and I made a good contribution. I thoroughly enjoyed it. And one door has shut and 10 open. I’m thrilled of having the opportunity to take advantage of things I couldn’t do before because of contractual obligations.

Cary Grant once said, “To play yourself is the hardest thing in the world.” Did you feel the same way, having to carry this guy around with you all the time?

I’m frequently asked that. No, I don’t. I feel we are the sum total of our experience and I closely identified with this character, long before I ever had that audition. I always enjoyed life. I’ve had a capricious outlook and appreciation for so many things and I felt very close to the character. I didn’t have to think about it much. I just enjoyed myself.

What are your fan interactions like?

The graciousness and welcome that I received from so many people, so many demographics, was truly joyous. My wife and I were sitting at a Mexican restaurant in L.A. and this gentleman comes up to me and says, “Are you …?” And I said, “Yes.” “You know, I was talking to my seven-year-old boy asking him what’s he wants to do when he grows up, and he said, ‘I want to be the Most Interesting Man in the World.’”

A few weeks later, we're on the bus in Manhattan and a dapper octogenarian gentleman was getting off the bus and sees me, tells the driver to wait a second, comes over and taps me on the shoulder with his cane as if he was knighting me. He said, “Sonny, I want to be you.” It’s brought so many smiles and so much fun to people. 

I understand they had originally wanted to go younger with the part.

The casting director called and said they really loved me, but they wanted to reach a younger demographic. My wife, who was my manager at the time, said, “How can they expect him to be young? It takes time to have life experience.” He said, “I’ll call you back.” He did, and said, “The role is yours.”

Advertising and entertainment tends to be so youth-oriented — it’s all about the “demographic.” And here you come along and became this huge cultural icon and the coolest guy in the universe, and you’re an older guy. Do you see yourself as having shifted perceptions of what getting older can mean?

I hope so. There’s so much ageism at every level and area of our society. People have a false perception of what it means to age. It’s just like it is with wine: Things have to mature, have to develop, have to gain wisdom and have to have experience. It’s certainly more interesting.

Have you interacted with any major celebrities over the years?

There have been a lot. Two that come to mind recently: Like everybody else in Hollywood, I was eating at Craig’s and a waiter came up to me and said, “Would you mind taking a picture with Miss Lawrence?” Well, this was not Gertrude Lawrence, it was Jennifer Lawrence. I went over to her table and she was very sweet. I met her friend and we took a couple pictures.

Also at Craig’s — they have good food, good drinks and a good vibe there — I’m sitting there with my manager and Leo DiCaprio comes over. I almost didn’t recognize him because he was preparing for The Revenant. He said, “Excuse me, are you Jonathan Goldsmith?” Well, for years nobody knew my name except for “The Most Interesting Man in the World,” but that started changing about three years in. So I said, “Yes, I am.” Leo said, “Would you mind if we had a picture together?” I said, “Of course not!” It was very nice. 

Well, Leo probably took some inspiration from your character’s bearded adventures before he went off to fight that bear.

Oh sure, absolutely. I mean, in my real life I never fought a bear, I never fed a puma, I certainly didn’t get 15 yards away from a live rhinoceros by the name of Spike. But as the character? Sure I did! All those stories are great inspiration for an actor, like when you put on a pair of shoes it helps you find the character.

Did the team behind this campaign approach it more like, say, a superhero franchise? Was someone overseeing the mythology and making sure every commercial adhered to “Most Interesting Man” canon? 

There was such a wonderful creative department involved with this. They helped me so much. That’s perhaps why they’ve won so many awards in the industry. It’s an amazing group accomplishment. I’m the guy that gets all the accolades because I’m the face of the campaign, but the talent and genius of so many people that were behind this. Their lives have changed, too. So many have gone on to bigger and better positions.

But I love what you said about superhero movies. See what you can do for me, I’ll put you on staff. 

You’d be a great Poseidon!

Just talk to my agent! It’s nice because there have been so many things that people were gracious enough to talk about possibilities and I couldn’t do that for contractual reasons. But now I feel like a free agent. It’s great!

Are you much of a beer drinker or a drinker at all?

Oh yes, definitely. Particularly in the long Vermont winters. But I’m definitely a beer drinker and I’m not saying that for political reasons. I love beer, particularly when it’s warm outside. In the winter I don’t drink much, but I’m a fisherman and the ice chest is filled when it’s hot.

You used to live on a boat in Marina Del Rey.

I did. My wife Barbara and I lived in a boat for the last four years we lived in L.A. We’ve been in Vermont for the past six years. It’s been a wonderful life.

What do you think of your senator, Bernie Sanders?

I am thrilled with Bernie Sanders. I absolutely champion him. I think he’s honest, his message is right on board and inspirational and I support him 100 percent.