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Fame is a fickle mistress. One minute she immerses you in a flattering hailstorm of paparazzi flashbulbs, whispering sweet nothings of public adoration in your ear. You’re wanted; you’re loved. But one misstep, and she pounces, bloodthirsty, chomping at the bit for the next beautiful starlet’s spiraling demise to splash across the headlines. Suddenly the once welcome glow of cameras feels icy and intrusive, the media’s sweet-talk turns derisively caustic, and you become the newest late-night punch line.
The harsh shift is one that actor Jesse Metcalfe knows all too well, as he endured many of his self-described “growing pains” in the limelight.
Metcalfe was 20-years-old when he decided to forego his final year studying acting and film at NYU’s esteemed Tisch School of the Arts, instead choosing to take his partial education for a real world test drive in the entertainment industry’s epicenter – Los Angeles. Fortunately for Metcalfe, (who could feasibly be Mattel’s perfect muse for an ethnic Ken doll with his undeniably good genes that include a knockout blend of French, Italian, and Portuguese) his first break came quickly. A successful open casting call for NBC’s soap opera, Passions, awarded Metcalfe his first major role as Miguel Lopez-Fitzgerald, serving up his first taste of celebrity. After six years on Passions, Metcalfe elected to leave in 2004, citing lack of character growth, only to promptly secure a coveted role on ABC’s mega-hit Desperate Housewives that same year. Metcalfe played John Rowland, a bright-eyed, impeccably chiseled ‘teen’ who turns a often-shirtless neighborhood gardening gig into more than extra pocket money after catching the eye of Gabrielle, a gorgeous, impossibly bored housewife (played by Eva Longoria), consequently catapulting Metcalfe into the national spotlight.
He was the quintessential teen dream, a heartthrob to women everywhere, dark and handsome, but not quite ready for all the temptations that came along with his newfound level of stardom.
“Fame’s a very strange thing,” the now 33-year-old Metcalfe explains with a rueful smile, slowly shaking his head as he ponders the necessary beast of his profession. “It’s incredibly intoxicating. You know, with it comes an immense responsibility, and I certainly wasn’t ready for the responsibility.”
Metcalfe’s reputation began to shift as the paparazzi zeroed in on his hard partying ways, public scuffles, and a handful of bad accidents, including a fall from a Monaco club balcony, which left the actor with a concussion and fractured leg. His work was overshadowed by his personal life, as the public gleefully clamored for dirt and scandal.
The story was, and is, a Hollywood classic – another out-of-control young actor speeding up his own expiration date because he can’t set limits. The media has this story down pat. Just fill in the appropriate blanks – (insert name here), (insert offense here), (insert what could have been here). During all this, it seemed Jesse Metcalfe was well on his way to becoming another fill-in-the-blank, and the press was waiting, pen in hand.
“I was definitely wild,” Metcalfe concedes, taking a moment to absorb a delicately phrased query about his well documented troubled past. He continues, “At times, self destructive. There’s no doubt about that.” He looks me straight in the eye as he rounds out this thought. His still boyish features slightly harden, his jaw flexes as he stares at the floor momentarily, carefully measuring his next words with the hesitation of a public persona choking back an entirely candid response, seemingly well aware of both this writer’s ‘press’ distinction and his publicist perched nearby.
Metcalfe takes the middle road, explaining that he lacked a strong role model when he first entered the Hollywood scene and how maturation seems to progress more slowly for the Los Angeles set.
“In some cultures, you become a man at 16 or 15, and, quintessentially, the American way of thinking is [that] you’re a man when you’re 18, and you can vote. But, frankly, [I think] it’s the contrary. I don’t think you become a man until you’re about 30 – at least in the time that we live in, and especially in Los Angeles where everybody has Peter Pan syndrome. And I certainly had Peter Pan syndrome.
Story by Caroline Pham | Photography by Chris VelascoTo read more become a subscriber or purchase the digital edition here.