Jesse Metcalfe was a heartthrob in ‘Desperate Housewives,‘ 'John Tucker Must Die.’ Why he’s OK with not being ‘the young stud' anymore.

Actor Jesse Metcalfe addresses unrealistic male body standards after rising to fame as a young heartthrob.
Actor Jesse Metcalfe addresses "unrealistic" male body standards after rising to fame as a young heartthrob. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Olivia Wong/Getty Images)

In the 2006 teen flick John Tucker Must Die, Jesse Metcalfe played the titular high school basketball star that everyone wanted to be — and date. But the actor, also known for his role as shirtless gardener John Rowland in Desperate Housewives, has opened up recently about the “pressure” and “anxiety” he felt to maintain the look of an early 2000s heartthrob — eight-pack abs and all.

Speaking to Yahoo Life, the now-45-year-old actor says he’s hopeful about the way that conversations about body image and standards for both women and men have evolved since then. “I think people are a lot more sensitive, empathetic and self-aware than they were in the early 2000s. The tabloid media then was toxic — it was vicious and it was toxic,” Metcalfe says. “It's important to have an open dialogue about it so that people aren't necessarily harming their bodies or putting their health in jeopardy in order to achieve some physical industry standard.”

The scrutiny facing women in Hollywood has “been more well documented,” he adds, as female stars have spoken out about their experiences with media and industry people sharing unsolicited opinions on their appearances over the years. In his experience, the criticism that he was exposed to during his “meteoric rise to fame” in his 20s contributed to similar issues with self-worth and confidence.

“This industry can do a number on you psychologically. I mean, it can really chew you up and spit you out,” says Metcalfe. “We see a lot of young stars kind of getting burnt out and going down a self-destructive path, and I didn't want that for myself.”

In order to stay relevant, however, he felt the need to keep up with the physical standards set by leading men in the industry. He points to actors like Zac Efron and Jake Gyllenhaal, who continue to take on physically demanding roles that call for big muscles. “These are not realistic body images, but it's part of the storytelling that's going on in Hollywood right now. I mean, these are like superhuman physiques that we’re seeing,” says Metcalfe. “On a day-to-day basis, unless you're a professional athlete or a professional bodybuilder, it's just not realistic to maintain this type of physique.”

And although Metcalfe himself has the figure that people have certainly tried to emulate, he’s quick to say that “the comparison game is very detrimental to your mental health.” It’s even led him to what he refers to as a “three-year midlife crisis” that he’s been coming out of over the last year and a half. His priority during that time has been to not place so much worth on what his body looks like.

“I just felt like I needed to make the necessary changes mentally and psychologically, to embark on the next chapter of my life, and also the next chapter of my career,” he says, explaining that introspection has been a big part of his process, as well as practicing humility and gratitude. “I think when you're in that place, you emit a presence and an energy that is more attractive to others. … I'm not necessarily the heartthrob anymore, you know, I'm not the young stud anymore, and I'm cool with that.”

This isn’t to say that Metcalfe no longer spends his time in the gym. (He does, and he documents a lot of it on his social media.) But he says that he’s no longer “seeking constant validation” through it. “I really have been able to find a spiritual center within myself that's allowed me to deal with the highs and lows of the industry and ultimately be the best version of myself so that I can approach the business in a healthier way.”

He’s even still “up for the task” of getting into shape for a role that demands it. “If I need to get super-ripped for a role, I know that I can do it, I know that I can pull it off, I know how to do it in a healthy way,” he says. “But I understand those pressures and I understand how difficult that can be on a young actor.”

He doesn’t say if that would be the case for a potential John Tucker Must Die revival. “There is a script, I have read it. I can't say much more than that at this time,” is all he reveals.

These days Metcalfe feels like he has a better grasp on what’s realistic and when some lengths are too extreme. He’s also encouraging others to practice the same amount of transparency.

“The standards are still pretty high. I mean, a lot of these guys are just in insane shape, and it probably makes a lot of people wonder how they're pulling it off,” he says. “We have to respect the human experience and not expect everyone to be perfect all the time. … Hopefully that can help someone.”