Q & A With Jesse Metcalfe
In the same way Justin Timberlake transformed from Tiger Beat staple to cool guys’ guy, Jesse Metcalfe is morphing from the stuff of a teenage girl’s dreams to badass actor. Metcalfe became a household name during his six years playing the love interest of Eva Longoria’s character on Desperate Housewives when he caused Suzy Homemakers all over America to fantasize about the prospect of an illicit affair with the pool boy. Then in 2006 he was a high school heartthrob who juggled three girlfriends at once in John Tucker Must Die. Metcalfe has dated pop stars and models—hell, he was even tapped as one of People magazine’s 50 Hottest Bachelors during his precious stage. But now Jerry Bruckheimer has cast the 32-year-old as hard-boiled, gun-toting U.S. Marshal Luke Watson on NBC’s Chase, and things are changing. In the hit show, which manages to balance rhetoric on immigration law and violent thrills, Metcalfe’s character feels like the guy who will take Jack Bauer’s place in a few years. That and his tattoos make us think he’d be a great guy to have a beer with, which we did at a sports bar in Dallas.
INKED: So you escaped Hollywood for Dallas?
JESSE METCALFE: Dallas is really cool … a very welcome reprieve from Los Angeles. Being in the center of it all, the center of the entertainment industry, can wear on you a bit. You can have a whole different lifestyle out here.
And Chase brought you here. How’s shooting been?
Yes, we film around Dallas. When we first came out to Dallas, with humidity, the temperature was around 110 to 115 degrees. Chase is a very tough show to shoot, and some days we shot 15- or 16-hour days. It’s pretty tough with the choreography of the fight sequences—but pretty rewarding.
Is working with Jerry Bruckheimer intimidating? Or is it nice knowing the show has an established leader?
It’s a little of both. Bruckheimer’s got a very respectable track record on television. You definitely want to live up to that. You don’t want to be one of the few failures that Bruckheimer’s had. I mean, obviously there are lots of different variables that go into a show succeeding, but it’s pretty difficult on TV these days. Some shows don’t even get the time to find their viewers. But being that it’s a Bruckheimer production, we definitely have a strong shot and they’ve stuck with the show and I’m really proud of it—the episodes keep getting better. My character keeps getting better, and I’m happy about that. And also, on the other side of things, yeah, there’s a little bit of pressure. But since Bruckheimer’s really behind Chase, it’s going to be well produced and it’s going to be big.
What do you like best about being in Texas, other than the lack of L.A. craziness?
The food is amazing in Dallas. We’re actually at a place called Lemon Bar, which has amazing food in the West Village area of Dallas. There’s definitely a very strong bar scene that I haven’t really been taking part in. But I’d say the thing that I love the most are the people. People just have a completely different sensibility down here. People do have that sense of Southern hospitality. They really want to talk and get to know you. And it’s more of a sports-driven and outdoors city.
Have you taken up a sport?
I’ve been training with my stunt double, who owns a mixed martial arts gym out here in Dallas. It has been really good for the fight sequences on the show and makes them look as realistic as possible.
Was MMA something you were into before the show?
I had done training and boxing for the last few years just because I love the workout. And I took martial arts when I was in college. But it’s just something I kind of branched off into a little bit because it’s a lot of fun and the training is extremely intense.
What’s it like having to fight in all that gear?
We’re completely tacked up with our tactical vests and our weapons, and Luke, my character, also tends to be the guy who’s carrying the battering ram that’s 50 pounds, chasing people down. So during those hot summer months … it was pretty exhausting. We literally had to change wardrobe a few times a day because we’d sweat through our clothes. For this particular character I also trained with the FBI in California. We trained with actual U.S. Marshals and SWAT teams, and we have a consultant on set at all times who’s an ex-SWAT member and a current Dallas police officer. We try to make everything as authentic as possible.
Were you interested in law enforcement before the show?
Definitely. I think most people find law enforcement incredibly interesting—they have real-life hero stories.
So you’ve played a bunch of different types of roles in your career. Any that you haven’t done yet that you’ve hoping to?
Actors get this question relatively often, and it’s a difficult question to answer because there are so many types of roles I’d love to play. Early in my career I was often told by people in the industry that guys don’t get the opportunity to play the really great roles until they get older. And as I’ve gotten older that has definitely been true. I’ve moved from these teen heartthrob kinds of roles into a role like this. Early in my career I never thought I’d get here. But you have to grow up and mature, and you start to get these more mature, more complex roles. As far as a dream role or something, I just like to play characters that I identify with, that I think are compelling, that people will like, and that have a really strong arc.
Pulp Fiction—and then third is The Godfather.
Do you think eventually you’ll make your own movie?
No. I don’t understand why actors want to do music and actors want to direct. It’s not something that I’m actively pursuing right now. It’s that cliché of someone gets their first job and they’re like, “I’m designing my own line of clothing and I have my own production company, and I’m putting out an album!”
Plus you’d be spreading yourself thin.
Exactly. I ask the same question. I know, for me, I take my work as an actor so seriously, as far as working with my acting coach, breaking down my scripts … you really get sucked into doing all that, and oftentimes if you’re really putting your heart and soul into something, there’s not much time for anything else.
Let’s talk tattoos. What was your first?
The first was the cross on my back. It’s part Celtic and part a design from the Byzantine Empire. I got that in the middle of my back when I was a 17-year-old freshman in college.
And how many do you have?
Right now I have this big arm piece, then another tattoo on my right triceps that says “IX lives.”
What does the “nine lives” represent?
I’ve had several near-death experiences, and I thought it was a cool way to say, “I’ve come close to death and I’m still here.”
Yes, I had two serious car accidents and an emergency landing on a private jet.
On LA Ink, you said that as an actor or as a model you have to consider the ramifications of getting a tattoo, but you got to a certain point and said fuck it. Do you still feel that way?
You know the whole idea of getting tattooed is a statement. It’s obviously very expressive, but it can be a very liberating experience. As an actor you’re constantly expressing yourself, and a lot of people take great pride in expressing themselves through the way they look, whether it’s the way they dress or how they wear their hair. At that time I wanted some serious ink. I had an idea, and I was passionate about that idea, and I got the opportunity to be on LA Ink and get my work done by Hannah Aitchison. I loved her work—she was the perfect person to do that type of pinup style, so I went for it. As an actor it is a pain in the ass sitting in that makeup chair and getting this arm piece covered up when it needs to be covered up. There’s no doubt about that. I would like to do a period piece at some point, and having tattoos is definitely a hindrance to getting that kind of role. A tattoo can be covered up, but at times, if the lighting is a certain way, you can still see it. It’s definitely a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly for someone who’s really serious about his craft as an actor.
That tattoo is a pinup of your ex-girlfriend Nadine Coyle, right? Did you get it on impulse?
I think getting a tattoo that’s emotionally connected to a specific point in your life is a pretty impulsive move. I had the idea for my arm—the concept of, like, a female angel with angel wings and a devil’s tail with a lasso around a human heart dripping blood—for a long time. I kind of came up with that concept and was mulling that around for a while, actually far before the relationship that it was connected to.
Do you regret it?
The great thing about tattoos is that it reminds you of a specific point in your life. I love the work that was done. I see it as art and I still love the tattoo. I think it looks great, and for me, it was a powerful moment. Through that turbulent relationship I learned a lot. It’s kind of like Johnny Depp getting “Winona Forever” tattooed on his arm. He changed it to “Wino Forever.” So maybe I could get the eyes on my tattoo, like, censored out or something.
Or you can make it look like the person you eventually marry.
It’s definitely a consideration. When the time comes that I’m ready to get married, if the person I’m with has a serious problem with the tattoo I’d definitely consider getting it lasered off. But it’s not a decision that haunts me, by any means. If you’re ready to get a tattoo you got to be ready to live with what you’re putting on your body forever. The whole idea of tattooing—and probably one of the mantras of this magazine—is “no regrets.”