The real Jesse Metcalfe

How fitness helped this TV and film star find out who he really is

You know Jesse Metcalfe as a few things — the oft-topless gardener from Desperate Housewives, the serial-cheater from John Tucker Must Die, and maybe even as a soap opera star from his days on Passions. But knowing Jesse Metcalfe from television and film means you really don’t know him at all.

Yes, many people assume Metcalfe’s uncanny ability to play a dreamy, pompous, hotshot ladies’ man comes naturally to him. But spend five minutes with him and you’ll quickly learn that it’s all an act. Away from the cameras, he’s a humble dude. Nice. Funny as hell. Smart. Reserved, almost. He’s pretty much the opposite of what you’d expect — and that’s a good thing. Because, once upon a time, Metcalfe did try to play that character in real life, and let’s just say things didn’t go so well for him — but we’ll get to that later.

Metcalfe had a rather non-traditional journey to Hollywood. Despite being born in Carmel Valley, California — just a few hours outside of the film capital of the world — he moved to an idyllic seaside suburb in Connecticut at the very young age of two years old. There, he grew up in the lower-middle class just as most regular kids do. He went to school, he worked tedious part-time jobs, and he played sports. In fact, rumour has it that he was quite the basketball player as a teen — though he assures me he had no hope of going pro with it.

“Never had the height,” Metcalfe quips. “I didn’t have the physical attributes to go anywhere with it. I wish I played soccer from a young age because I think I could have succeeded in a sport like that — you know, where the athletes are actually human-sized.”

With or without the height, and whether or not he played competitive soccer as a kid, it’s unlikely Metcalfe would have ever seriously pursued sports as a career. While he did love them — and still does — he had his heart set on something else: the entertainment biz. In fact, he can pinpoint the very minute that Hollywood caught his eye.

As a seven-year-old boy, his father took him to the local cinema for a screening of The Breakfast Club. Based on how clearly he recalls this day, it’s unlikely Metcalfe even blinked during any of the film’s 97 minutes. He holds this movie in such high reverence that he credits it with kickstarting his passion for film — he even goes borderline fanboy just mentioning Judd Nelson’s name.

“From that moment on, I knew I was going to work in the entertainment industry,” he says. “I had this sudden burning desire to tell stories.”

Originally, he thought he’d be behind the camera. A writer, maybe. A producer, perhaps. A director, if he was lucky. He’d never really considered being an actor at all — funny how things work out.

In pursuit of his dreams of becoming a filmmaker, he enrolled in New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. It was during his studies, however, that the opportunity presented itself to hop in front of the camera. In 1999, Metcalfe nailed a random audition for an NBC soap opera called Passions, dropped out of school, and moved his life back across the country. In the blink of an eye, he was an actor.

While he thrived in the soap gig for over five years, he didn’t really hit his stride as an actor until he got the role of John Rowland on Desperate Housewives. Shortly after that, John Tucker Must Die, his first mainstream starring role, hit the big screens. Easily his best work (and the work he says he’s most  proud of even to this day), the movie cleaned up at the box once, and he was a bona fide star-in-the-making. But Metcalfe says he wasn’t ready for what came next: Fame. Money. Pressure. He let it all get to him.

“I wasn’t ready for all of the traps that fame can bring,”

he says. “There were a lot of pitfalls, and I seemed to fall into every single one of them.”

Of his struggles at this time, the biggest was a battle with the bottle. Metcalfe was drinking a lot, and living what he calls “the fast life.”

“I knew addiction ran in my family, but I thought for a while there that it might have skipped a generation,” he says. “I eventually realized, however, that it hadn’t. At that point, it was up to me to make a change in my life.”

The first step to getting back on track was to go completely sober. He entered rehab for alcohol addiction, and put 100 per cent — “110 per cent,” he corrects himself — of his energy into cleaning up his life.

His outlet? Fitness. Metcalfe has always been fit — he’s been training in some capacity since he was around 15 years old — but he says he really took things to the next level during this identity crisis.

“I had to choose another direction for myself, and a large part of that new direction was health, wellness, and fitness,” he says. “Since then, fitness has become an anchor in my life — I feel completely oΩ if I don’t train.”

Fitness, for Metcalfe, is a two-birds-one-stone kind of thing. On top of helping him keep his priorities in check, it also helps him procure the kind of on-screen roles he can succeed in. In the past two years alone, Metcalfe has played everything from a brawny heartthrob to a badass zombie-slayer, and he knows well enough that his fitness is partially to thank for that.

“Fitness is incredibly important in the entertainment business,” he says. “Actually, it’s incredibly important in general. Fitness is all about setting and achieving goals, and just about anybody can benefit from having that kind of structure in their life. Fitness, in a way, is an outline for how to live a successful life — a microcosm of the way you’re supposed to do things.”

Away from the gym, Metcalfe spends whatever other free time he has tending to his baby — a recently purchased 1990 Porsche 964 Cabriolet. He’s a self-admitted motorhead, and he oozes that same Breakfast Club enthusiasm when he talks about his cars. While his current obsession is with early-’90s Porsches, he also loves motorcycles — he’s super-proud of his custom 2008 Harley-Davidson Rocker, but just wishes he had more time to ride it.

Part of the reason he doesn’t get out on the bike often enough is that he’s never home. Metcalfe travels a lot — sometimes for work, sometimes for fun, and sometimes as a volunteer.

“I’m always on the move,” he says. “It’s one of the perks of the job, though, as far as I’m concerned.”

In recent years, he’s committed himself to being involved with The

United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). Three years ago, his involvement took him on a field visit to Botswana, where he visited small villages sufering from poverty and disease.

It was what he describes as an “amazing, eye-opening experience.” Since then, he’s double-downed on his efforts with UNICEF, calling them

“the greatest humanitarian organisation on the planet.” “Philanthropy is a key part of a well-rounded life,” Metcalfe says. “We talk about fitness being good for our health and well-being, well, giving back is good for the soul.”

At 37 years old, Metcalfe is settling down. Fresh of getting engaged to long-time girlfriend Cara Santana and landing a recurring role in a new show called Chesapeake Shores, Metcalfe is looking forward to having some consistency in his life going forward.

The new show, which airs on the Hallmark Channel, drew almost two million viewers for its premiere, and has Metcalfe’s Moves been a relative hit so far. He hopes it’s a show people will eventually come to love, and he likens the story to some hybrid version of shows like Parenthood and Nashville. Metcalfe himself plays a country musician who’s had some success, but comes back to his hometown after a traumatic incident occurs.

“It’s a great role for me because I can pull a lot from my own personal experience,” Metcalfe says. “My character was out living the fast life, had some success, but heads home to try to find himself again.”

Huh — would you look at that? Letting himself become his characters resulted in disaster, but letting his characters become himself has resulted in success. There’s a lesson in that: Being yourself can pay oΩ. Just ask the real Jesse Metcalfe.