From “John Tucker Must Die” to “Dallas,” Jesse Metcalfe has been a familiar face in the Hollywood landscape for awhile.
The actor broke big with the soap opera “Passions” and the juggernaut hit “Desperate Housewives” in the early 2000s. In 2006, he starred as the titular character in “John Tucker Must Die,” a raunchy teen comedy about four friends teaming up to take down a high school player that became a staple of teenage sleepovers everywhere – including for yours truly.
But after years of playing heartthrobs, Metcalfe started to move in a different direction. He stars alongside Dennis Quaid and Heather Graham in the upcoming film “On a Wing and a Prayer,” which will be released on Amazon Prime Video on April 7. The movie, which was filmed in Georgia, is based on the true story of Doug White, a man who had to land a plane in 2009 after the pilot died following take off.
Rough Draft Atlanta spoke to Metcalfe about the movie and his career. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Can you share a bit about the story behind this movie?
Jesse Metcalfe: It’s an accurate depiction of a true story where a man with very minimal flying experience has to land a very big complicated aircraft after the pilot dies. He needs help from several other people, I being the expert in this aircraft. My character’s name is Kari Sorenson. Kari manages to help Doug do the impossible, which is land this very complicated aircraft in bad weather, and save himself and his family.
What drew you to this particular role?
Metcalfe: I really liked the character. I felt like the character, the real life man, Kari Sorenson – he’s an interesting guy. He lost both of his fathers – his father and his step-father – in plane crashes. So he had a lot of past trauma, and finds healing and finds peace in being able to help Doug and his family.
Were you able to meet with him or speak with him?
Metcalfe: I wasn’t able to meet him, but I did read everything that was out there, as far as interviews and stuff after this incident had happened. I think I could glean a lot about what kind of man he was. He’s not an attention seeker. He’s not someone who seeks the limelight. He was very humble – almost sardonic in the way that he responded to questions in these interviews. So I liked the guy, but from an acting standpoint, I liked what he went through and I felt like I could sink my teeth into that as an actor.
Like you, I looked for information about Sorenson before this interview. It seemed to me there’s a lot, obviously, about Doug and his family, but not a ton about Sorenson. What’s the process like of building a character who is based on a real person, but maybe there’s not a ton of information available to you about what they’re like?
Metcalfe: I felt a certain level of artistic freedom, just because I don’t look anything like Kari. If I don’t look anything like a character that I’m playing, you know, I don’t need to necessarily go the Christian Bale, Johnny Depp route, and do prosthesis and try to look like this guy. But I wanted to represent what he went through emotionally, and I wanted my performance to reflect his essence, or at least the essence that I could gather from these interviews.
I wanted to ask a couple of questions about your career up until this point. I was a preteen and teenager back in the aughts, so I’m very familiar with a lot of your projects back then, like “Desperate Housewives” and “John Tucker Must Die.” I feel like as your career has moved forward, you really pivoted to roles that are very different from those I just mentioned, like “Dallas” and “Chesapeake Shores.” Obviously a lot of that is just gaining more experience and growing, but how do you think the way you approach picking projects has evolved over your career? What are you looking for in a project at this point in your life?
Metcalfe: I think you hit the nail right on the head. I’m looking to mature personally, but also within my career. I think that you have to take more control of your career as you get older. With the success of “Desperate Housewives” and “John Tucker Must Die,” it’s like a tidal wave. You ride that wave as long as you can, and you ride it where it takes you, but then you ultimately do get to a point in your career where you don’t want anything taking you anywhere. You want to be in control of where you go. So that’s why I decided to sort of move away from the hearthrob-y roles, and move away from network television a bit, and try to find more interesting, independent projects where I could showcase my talent, play different types of characters, and allow people to see me in different lights.
Do you feel like you’ve been able to grasp more control as things have gone on?
Metcalfe: I do feel like I’ve been able to grasp more control, and I’m looking to grasp even more creative control – tell the stories I want to tell, create vehicles for myself that I find interesting and engaging and that ultimately I’ll be proud of.
I was reading an interview with you recently, and you were talking about the celebrity media landscape that you experienced in the 2000s, and there was a pressure and anxiety that came along with that. Media changed so drastically throughout the 2000s, and has only continued to shift as far as social media. Do you feel that change has been a positive one for young actors who are in the position you were in back then?
Metcalfe: I think the media landscape has probably shifted in a positive way, concerning entertainment media. I think that entertainment media is a little softer now. They’re a little softer, they’re a little bit more responsible. Maybe it’s a post-pandemic thing? Because after dealing with what we’ve dealt with for the last, you know, four years, I just don’t think there’s an appetite for that level of negativity that existed in the early 2000s.