Thursday, July 15, 2010

Jesse Metcalfe: I Want To Earn The Respect of My Peers

Crown Features Syndicate™

Some guys are content to be character actors who dip in and out of films and TV series without really making a big splash. They can make a nice living that way without breaking too much of a sweat or having their privacy invaded by paparazzi. There’s a lot to be said for it, really.

It’s just that it isn’t enough for Jesse Metcalfe.

The handsome 31-year-old, who bears a passing resemblance to retired professional tennis legend Pete Sampras, has been searching out the next big thing since bursting onto the scene in 2004 as the hunky gardener John Rowland on TV’s DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES. He’s the one who sneaked around having an affair with Eva Longoria Parker’s character, a small role that Metcalfe transformed into a memorable turn.

Not that this was necessarily anything new. Metcalfe already had made an impact on the daytime soap PASSIONS, and in an expanded guest spot on the series SMALLVILLE. But the guy just happens to want more. Much more. And who can blame him?

“What I’m working toward is having a real career and earning the respect of my peers,” Metcalfe explains. “It isn’t just that I do it all for the love of my craft, though I do love to act. I’ve also got to make a living, and the best way to do that is to establish myself as the real deal.”

Consider Metcalfe well on the way to making that happen, slowly but surely.

He starred in the 2009 thriller Beyond a Reasonable Doubt opposite no less a star than Michael Douglas. There’s also a leading role in the horror film The Tortured alongside Erika Christensen, who is now starring in the drama series PARENTHOOD.

But in September arrives what may well be Metcalfe’s most accomplished acting role to date, when he toplines the poignant Hallmark Channel Original Movie Fairfield Road, which premieres on Saturday, September 11 (9 p.m. ET/PT, 8 CT). In it, he portrays Noah McManus, a young politician – chief of staff to the mayor of Boston – who bolts for a Senate job in Washington after finding that his boss has moved away from her ethical ideals.

But no sooner is McManus ensconced in D.C. than he discovers his boss has accepted illegal campaign contributions, forcing him to step down from his post on the very same day that he discovers his girlfriend has been cheating on him. He slinks out of town, devastated and alone, only to find that it’s always darkest before the dawn. Or something like that.

Fairfield Road is very reminiscent of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” asserts Metcalfe, referring to the 1939 screen classic from director Frank Capra. “In the times we’re living in, I feel like it tells a really poignant story, the kind that a lot of real-life politicians should see and heed. With what’s going on in terms of filibusters and pre-emptive filibusters, the movie hits a lot of genuine notes about small-town values vs. big city politics.”

Metcalfe adds that he “took a lot of cues” from Jimmy Stewart’s performance in Mr. Smith.

“I watched it twice before we started production,” he recalls. “It hit a lot of the same notes that our Hallmark movie hits, which isn’t surprising considering how the Hallmark stories are often so reminiscent of the past, in the best way. They pride themselves on making films with a positive message that also are heartfelt. I tried to bring a similar energy and optimism to what Stewart did in Mr. Smith."

Lest it sound a bit immodest for Metcalfe to be comparing his work to that of Stewart, he admits, “I’d never imagine being in Jimmy’s league, but what I did might be seen as an homage. It was also a new type of character for me in terms of being young and inexperienced and kind of wet behind the ears, really.”

It also may surprise some folks to learn that Metcalfe doesn’t merely show up on the set and expect his good looks and warm smile to carry the day. With every script he receives, he pores over every line with an acting coach, agonizing over interpretations and styles and how he comes across. The man is, indeed, a real actor.

When he reflects on the Fairfield shoot in Toronto last fall, Metcalfe can remember one thing: It was no cakewalk. He was in practically every scene, and there was “a tremendous amount of dialogue. It wasn’t like doing one of those movies where you cover a page or two of script every day. This one was more like six or seven pages a day.

“We did 90 pages in like 18 days, so it was quite a spring,” he emphasizes. “Yet at the same time, we were able to do great work despite how challenging it was. As an actor, when you get into situations like that, preparation is everything, and fortunately I did an immense amount.”

It was the same kind of preparation that Metcalfe believes helped him land on DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, the job that put him in the position where he finds himself now – that is, on the cusp of real stardom.

“That show provided an amazing platform for me and an incredible opportunity that I’ll always be grateful for,” he says. “It put me on the map and made me a bit of a household name.”

But as is often the case, the sword provided Metcalfe by HOUSEWIVES came with a double edge.

“Because I was on this TV phenomenon, it was difficult for some people to see past what my role was there,” believes Metcalfe, born in Carmel Valley, CA and raised in Waterford, CN. “I think that’s very common in Hollywood. People see you only as being capable of doing roles similar to the last role you did. It’s a constant process of proving yourself. But it’s kind of been that way for me ever since I started in daytime and had to show that wasn’t all that I was about.”

Metcalfe surely is proving that now in spades, getting an opportunity to play more mature adult roles such as a journalist in “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” and a young doctor in “The Tortured.”

Then there’s a regular series role in a Jerry Bruckheimer-produced TV show entitled THE CHASE, in which he’s one of five leads, in his case playing a U.S. Marshall who is part of a violent offenders task force tracking the country’s most wanted fugitives.

“I’m so excited that the show got a pickup, because Jerry Bruckheimer has a history of hit-makers,” Metcalfe says, even while acknowledging that he hopes within a few years to be spending more of his time in quality roles on the big screen.

When not pursuing perfection in his chosen craft, Metcalfe can usually be found strumming a guitar and singing (“I have a real passion for music,” he says) or spending time outdoors playing sports.

“All in all, I have to say things are going really well right now,” Metcalfe admits, “but my fingers are crossed that things will soon start to go even better.”

Fairfield Road premieres Saturday, September 11 (9 p.m. ET/PT, 8 CT).

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