Jesse Metcalfe first made an impression as the sexy gardener on “Desperate Housewives,” but the actor’s hard work and talent have kept him working steadily on television. Currently starring on the third season of TNT’s “Dallas” as Christopher Ewing, Metcalfe actually began his career studying film and television at NYU. “I think ultimately it caused me to annoy a lot of directors,” he says of his behind the camera experience. Acting felt like a natural progression for Metcalfe, but he says, “I have some stories to tell and very strong ideas about how they should be told, so hopefully I will be directing sometime in the future.”
When “Dallas” came along, Metcalfe wasn’t even sure he wanted to audition because he wasn’t sure how the '80s show would work in present day. “It wasn’t until maybe midway through the shooting of the pilot that I realized that this could work,” he says. Ironically, he initially auditioned for John Ross, but because he was shooting “Chase” for NBC in Dallas, it didn’t work out. Ultimately, he was offered the role of Christopher which he felt was a better fit. “Christopher and John Ross are two sides of the same coin. But in Christopher’s case, I really felt like there was a hole within him that needed to be filled.” Metcalfe felt Christopher was constantly trying to prove himself to his father, to his family, and as a Ewing. “All of those things resonated with me.”
Metcalfe shares some of the tips he’s picked up on and off the set.
Don’t underestimate craft.
When he started his career on the daytime soap “Passions,” Metcalfe didn’t have a lot of acting experience. “I really didn’t have any sense of craft or any technique under my belt. So it was a great opportunity for me to act day-in and day-out, work with various acting coaches, and for the first time, figure out what acting really was, what it was really all about, and develop some semblance of a technique.”
Don’t fall into bad habits.
“Obviously, the amount of material that is shot on daytime per day is a great exercise for memorization, but I think if you stay in that medium, in that genre for too long, you can learn some bad habits. So I’m glad I left when I did.” Because of the amount of material and the pace at which soaps shoot, Metcalfe says “There’s not a lot of time to explore the scene on the day and I think that the level of acting which is accepted before you move on to the next scene is lower than other areas. Lower than in the other genres, whether it’s night-time soaps, whether it’s a cable drama, or whether it’s film. Everything is more compressed time-wise. You are shooting more material per day, so you’re not going to get as much into exploring the craft, are you?”
Don’t discount genre.
Before shooting, Metcalfe watched the original series to get a sense of his character’s backstory as well as a sense of tone for the show. “I think as an actor, there are a lot of gradients in the types of acting that you’re doing. If you’re on sitcom, if you’re on drama, if you’re acting in a film, it’s really important to get a sense of tone.”
Don’t get distracted.
“There are so many distractions out here in the entertainment industry. It’s really important to make it about what you do as an actor and it’s really important to have a strong work ethic.” Metcalfe works hard on his material, often working on his lines with an acting coach. “I spend a lot of time breaking down my scripts and thinking about the different layers I want to bring to the character in each and every scene that I shoot on any show that I’m on. If you make it about the work and work hard, I think you’ll succeed.”
Don’t fall into the hype.
“Right about the time I broke out with ‘Desperate Housewives,’ the media was becoming increasingly impactful on an actor’s career. On their persona, on the way they’re perceived, and ultimately, the work that they could get, or would get.” Metcalfe wasn’t expecting the amount of access there would be to his life. “Our personal and professional lives become one. In the golden age of cinema, there just wasn’t as much access, so therefore it preserved the mystery.” While Metcalfe doesn’t necessarily view this as a negative, he does acknowledge that it’s something young actors should be prepared for. “I didn’t have the wisdom or the guidance at 24 years old when I became a somewhat household name…to navigate the pitfalls of Hollywood.”