By Kenzie Bryant. Photos: Getty Images.
How long does it take to be so over an ugly divorce that you can joke about it? For Ashton Kutcher , apparently, it takes about six years, one marriage, and two children. That's how long it's been since his very public split from Demi Moore, from whom he separated in 2011; the pair divorced in 2013. At the time Kutcher had his “name splashed across every gossip magazine as an adulterer," as he put it while accepting an award for character on Saturday.
The actor returned to Iowa, his home state, to receive the Robert D. Ray Pillar of Character Award at Drake University. Kutcher was undoubtably worthy of the recognition—he‘s a cofounder of the Native Fund, which helps Iowans affected by disasters. Still, he pulled a defensive move, getting ahead of any reason one might say he doesn’t deserve it. In the opening to his speech, Kutcher mostly spoke about past mistakes, like getting pulled over while on shrooms, being briefly incarcerated for breaking into his high school when he was 18, and, quite pointedly, his divorce from Moore.
Rumors that Kutcher cheated dogged the couple in 2011, culminating in an Us Weekly cover featuring the alleged other woman.
Moore said in a statement after announcing the split, “It is with great sadness and a heavy heart that I have decided to end my six-year marriage to Ashton. As a woman, a mother, and a wife there are certain values and vows that I hold sacred, and it is in this spirit that I have chosen to move forward with my life.” She eventually changed her Twitter handle from “MrsKutcher” to “JustDemi.”
During his marriage to Moore, Kutcher was able to reframe his MTV’s Punk’d persona into something more serious. In 2009, they launched the Thorn foundation to combat child trafficking and sexual exploitation (both actors remain on the board of directors). Then post-divorce, besides continuing his stint on Two and a Half Men, he moved away from Hollywood to San Francisco, becoming a frequently recurring name in the tech sector for a series of smart investments. Time helps add some distance to one’s mistakes, but so does rebranding. Kutcher is at a safe enough distance from the tabloid headlines that his alleged infidelity can be a useful beat to a story about his character.
In his speech on Saturday, Kutcher continued, “Character comes from those magazines that tear you apart for something you may or may not have done, and you gotta go out and perform tomorrow with everyone looking at you like you might be an adulterer.” There was a point for dredging all this up half a decade later, and it was this lesson:
I had the great fortune of getting a divorce because I felt the impact of it and I felt how much loss is in there and how much love is in there and that it's not neat or clean or messy. And I understood, finally, my parents' divorce in a whole different way.
He also managed to tip his hat to wife Mila Kunis, despite their typically private approach to marriage and parenting. "I'm telling you, this morning, I woke up and [Kunis] kicked my ass on character,” he said. “I thought I was awesome because I got up early and helped with the kids before she woke up and I let her sleep a little bit and then she's like, 'Well, now you're gonna act tired? I do it every day.' But it was a character moment, right? Because she's right!"
This story originally appeared on Vanity Fair.
More from Vanity Fair: