Cigar Aficionado

Smoking with the Most Interesting Man in the World

I met the most interesting man in the world the other day. No, I'm not talking about Jack Bettridge—it was Jonathan Goldsmith, the actor who portrays The Most Interesting Man in the World in ads for Dos Equis beer.

They’re great ads, and you’ve likely seen them. (The YouTube views on one of the commercials exceeds 1.4 million.) Goldsmith plays a mysterious character with near mythical powers, bench pressing a pair of women in chairs to the cheers of a crowd, freeing a grizzly bear from a trap, or exploring ancient ruins, all while wearing a well-pressed tuxedo or smoking jacket. A narrator proclaims his prowess, tongue pressed firmly in cheek: “He once had an awkward moment just to see how it feels... He lives vicariously, through himself," and the classic: “He can speak French—in Russian. He is, the most interesting man in the world.”

When I had the opportunity to meet Goldsmith, I said yes, asking his agent if the actor enjoyed cigars as much as the character, who typically has a robusto in his hand. The answer was yes, so we met at the Cigar Aficionado lounge at the Cigar Inn on Second Avenue in New York City.

First off, the silver-bearded, well-tanned Goldsmith says he's not his character. "I'm not The Most Interesting Man in the World," he says, his voice quite unlike the gravelly, lightly accented one used by his character in the commercials. Turns out Dos Equis doesn't allow him to act in character outside of the ads—they prefer he maintain his mystery. While he's not the character, he's still quite fascinating. Goldsmith been acting in television and films since the 1960s. He demurs when asked his age: puts him at 70; he will only admit to being “between 61 and 96.” In earlier years he went by Jonathan Lippe, and has worked with the likes of Clint Eastwood, Burt Lancaster, John Wayne and Dustin Hoffman, but this most recent gig has brought him the most pleasure by far.

“I’m having the best time,” he says. “I’ve never received the attention or the accolades that I am now.”

Goldsmith cut his teeth in Westerns, despite not knowing how to ride a horse. “I bled into the saddle trying to learn,” he says. “I used to play a lot of bad guys.” The films were sometimes painful, including the time he was shot with a fake blood pellet in the forehead over seven takes. (The director, feeling bad, doubled his $700 salary.) He always yearned to do comedy, but the funny roles never really came, until now.

The ad spot is one Goldsmith thought he would never get. Barbara, his wife and manager, told him to go to the audition, which was seeking a Latin character. Goldsmith, a man of Latvian descent who describes himself as a “Russian Jew from New York,” thought she was silly.

“I went on a cattle call with 400 guys who looked like Juan Valdez,” he says, lighting a long, wooden match with aplomb, and letting the sulfur burn off before he puts flame to an Arturo Fuente Don Carlos cigar. “They let me go a bit longer than usual…but I said to my wife, ‘It’s not going to be me.’”

They asked him back. There were fewer guys. He read again. He came back, and there will fewer guys still. He finally got the role.

The first year, things were quiet. Then people started recognizing him on the street. “A guy came up to me the other day and said ‘my son wants to be The Most Interesting Man in the World,’” he says with a laugh.

Goldsmith lives a life many would envy. “I love a good meal, I love fine wine,” he says. He smokes a cigar a day, typically Dominicans, such as Villa Dominicanas, Romeo y Julietas, Auroras or, when he’s celebrating, Arturo Fuente Hemingways. He and Barbara (who also enjoys cigars, in her case, small Al Capones) live on a sailboat in California, which makes it easy to get around the anti-smoking laws in that state. “We have a view, cocktail time, sunset, we have a cigar.”

The cigar in the ad was his idea. “They weren’t receptive at first,” he says. “They [shot the ads] both ways, with and without the cigar.” Because he was so comfortable with the smoke, it made the cut.

The Dos Equis ads bring a smile to his face. “I’ve had a great career,” he says. “I’ve had great fun, and the most is now.”