The Man Behind 'The Most Interesting Man' Is Interesting, Too
As part of a series called My Big Break, All Things Considered is collecting stories of triumph, big and small. These are the moments when everything seems to click, and people leap forward into their careers.
When he first moved to Los Angeles, he worked as a garbage truck driver.
He's acted in Westerns alongside John Wayne — even though he couldn't ride a horse.
His big break was acting in Dos Equis beer commercials.
He is Jonathan Goldsmith ... the actor who plays "The Most Interesting Man in the World."
As it turns out, Goldsmith is pretty interesting himself.
The garbage truck driver-turned-Hollywood actor got his start with small parts in western movies.
"It wasn't easy," Goldsmith says. "Jewish boys that grow up in New York are not that adept at riding horses."
He lied his way into a part on the TV show, Gunsmoke. After director Marc Daniels hired him for a role on the show, he asked Goldsmith if he could ride a horse.
"I say, 'Like the wind, sir, without breaking stride.' Well, I had never been on a horse in my life," Goldsmith says.
When he glanced at the script, he realized he was in trouble. In Goldsmith's scene, he was supposed to vault on horseback and gallop into the night.
"As soon as I got on — the horses know," he says. "Off he went. Everyone's screaming at me, 'Turn him, turn him around.' Well, I think I'm breaking the poor horse's neck ... Every time we went round and round this wonderful, old director Marc Daniels, he looked at me, followed me, [and he] says, 'Like the wind, huh?' "
He stuck with westerns for a while, from a small part in The Shootist with John Wayne to Hang 'Em High with Clint Eastwood. In later film and television appearances, Goldsmith says he was typecast as the villain.
"All I ever wanted to do was comedy, but that was not available to me," he says. "Until the Dos Equis commercials."
It was at a time when Goldsmith was trying to resurrect his film career. He had left the industry and was working in the business world when he received a call from his then-agent, now wife, Barbara.
She suggested he try out for a commercial, playing a "Hemingway-ish character." It would be improvised and he'd have to end with the sentence, "And that's how I arm wrestled Fidel Castro."
He arrived at the audition and, to his surprise, was surrounded by hundreds of young, Latino actors.
"The line is out into the street. And I said, 'Oh boy,' " Goldsmith says. "If they're looking at these Latino guys, I better put on an accent."
The voice of the late Argentine-born actor, Fernando Lamas, instantly popped into his head. The two were sailing buddies and good friends, and Goldsmith had perfected an impression of him.
"So I thought about him and how funny he was and how charming and a great raconteur, so I put on my best Fernando imitation," Goldsmith says. "And they started laughing."
Barbara received a call from Joe Blake, the casting director. He told Barbara that they loved Goldsmith's performance, but they felt like they had to go younger.
"And in her infinite wisdom, she took a long pause and she said, 'Joe, how can the most interesting man in the world be young?' " Goldsmith says. "He said, 'I'll get back to you.' "
Soon after, the casting director called back. He got the part. It was Goldsmith's big break.
"At a time where many of my friends who have had far more credits than I have, were in the twilight of their career, it just started for me," he says.
"It only took 50 years. An overnight success."
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