“Should I go healthy or fattening?” The first question in my interview with Dallas star Jesse Metcalfe comes from the 35-year-old himself. He’s mulling over the menu as we sit at a popular gastropub in Dallas, his hometown for seven months a year while shooting the reboot of the iconic show. But let’s be honest, dude’s built like an action figure and probably crushes calories with every hazel-tinted gaze.
Like many professionals in his age bracket, Metcalfe finds himself asking a lot of questions these days, questions more important than what he should eat for lunch.
Starting his career in daytime television, Metcalfe portrayed Miguel Lopez-Fitzgerald on soap opera Passions, detailing the romantic and sexual proclivities of the inhabitants of the town of Harmony. Metcalfe left the NYU Tisch Film and TV program when he landed the role. His original focus in school was directing, and then he took a required acting class—one he wouldn’t have chosen otherwise—and discovered a new path.
“The greatest thing about acting is the transcendent, transformative, cathartic experience,” Metcalfe says. “With acting, I can exorcise my demons and become a better person.”
From Passions, Metcalfe moved on to popular nighttime drama Desperate Housewives, playing a hunky gardener who has an affair with Eva Longoria’s character. Fresh-faced and finding success, he also starred in a string of films around the same time, playing a serial cheating jock in John Tucker Must Die (2006), a self-destructive club kid in Loaded (2008), and a local TV reporter in Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (2009).
Though the bulk of his work has been in TV, film remains Metcalfe’s passion. “I’ve always loved film. My father took me to a lot of inappropriate movies for my age. I just remember being transported by films. Now, I love developing a character and telling stories. Obviously, in film you have a lot more time to develop a character.”
Metcalfe still works with the same acting coach (Ivana Chubbuck) he’s had for years. He notes that outside of the coaching she is a “great friend and confidant,” that she taught the actor to draw from life experience: “I take a look at the character’s overall arc, what drives a character,” he says. “Everything evolves from that. Personality, how they carry themselves, their likes and dislikes, their secret desires—it’s all driven by early life experiences. I think most driven, successful people can pinpoint the moment that propelled them. What defines Chris [Ewing] on Dallas is his deep, primal need to prove himself. And that’s what defines me.”
Recently, Metcalfe has taken on another real-life role: philanthropist. He serves as the head of the celebrity board at the North Texas Food Bank and visits children at the Dallas Children’s Hospital. “Being philanthropic is important to me. It wasn’t always important to me in my 20s. I admit that part of it is selfish; it’s about being a well-rounded person.”
He has planned a field visit to Botswana with girlfriend Cara Santana in May to see UNICEF’s efforts there, which include operating schools and medical centers. UNICEF does not offer such visits to everyone, and Metcalfe says it’s an honor to be invited.
As for Santana, Metcalfe says their relationship is special. Though they live in different parts of the country for most of the year—Metcalfe in Texas and Santana in California—they make the most of their time together. They also lead individual lives, which Metcalfe says is vital. “Most actors need solitude. It’s very difficult to be creative when you’re constantly spending time with one person.”
It can also be difficult to be creative—or to lead anything close to a normal life—when fandom and paparazzi seek you out. But Metcalfe says he has learned to engage with his audience (his choice of words—saying “fans” seems pretentious to him) while maintaining a private life. He appreciates that people have followed him over his 15-year career and he doesn’t take them for granted.
In a similar vein, he doesn’t want to take his job for granted. But he wants more for himself. “I’m definitely looking for the right vehicle. I’m at a crossroads in my career,” he says. “I feel like I’ve only shown part of myself. Being in your 30s is such an interesting time because society has a lot of expectations for you—to settle down into yourself, have kids. For a lot of us in the arts, it’s about the journey. I’m not ready to settle down. I’ve just started living. I’ve just started exploring myself as an artist.”