After taking off the spring in Los Angeles due to the coronavirus, Jesse Metcalfe is working again. Last week, the 41-year-old actor began as a lead on a Hallmark TV movie, “Ships in the Night: A Martha’s Vineyard Mystery,” on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. The production, which was delayed from March, finally got off the ground after the cast and crew adhered to rigorous quarantine protocol.
Before flying to Canada, Metcalfe had to get a COVID-19 test in Los Angeles. Once he landed, he had to agree to 14 days in quarantine — in case he had contracted coronavirus on his flight — and then get another test before he started shooting. Cast and crew aren’t allowed to leave the vicinity of where they are shooting, to lower the chance of getting sick and spreading the deadly virus.
After a recent day of filming, Metcalfe talked to Variety about that process, his latest movie “Hard Kill” (a thriller in which he plays the gun-wielding head of a security team), and what it was like to become famous at 25 as the hunky high school gardener on “Desperate Housewives.”
What has been it like shooting a movie in Canada with production restarting?
It’s been fine. We follow strict guidelines, which we try our best to adhere to — like wearing masks in all transportation vehicles and during rehearsals when you’re not shooting. Obviously, it’s well worth it, because everyone is happy to be at work.
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When did you start?
A week ago. It was supposed to start sooner, but we were waiting for certain SAG guidelines to become clear, as well as CDC guidelines concerning productions here in Canada. I think we were really waiting on SAG more than anything, to allow me to travel.
The west coast of Canada has not been hit very hard by the virus. Their numbers are incredibly low, and they continue to maintain very low numbers because of the strict criteria that citizens are abiding by. It’s a different vibe here. People are a lot more respectful of the rules and take the virus a lot more seriously. Also, maybe less people are traveling to more remote areas of Canada than they are in the United States. The incidence of the virus is very low here.
Did you need to quarantine when you arrived?
I had to quarantine for 14 days in Victoria before I started production. A lot has gone into starting production.
Can you walk me through all the different protocols?
You’re not supposed to leave the island — cast or crew. When I came onto the island, you cross the border, you have to have a quarantine plan. You have to know where you’re staying, someone has to bring you whatever your necessities are: groceries, etc. You’re not allowed to leave for 14 days. That’s what I did.
How has this changed your work as an actor?
There’s certain protocols that have to be gone through for any type of intimate scenes. There’s a lot to it. We have someone on set all the time coordinating that.
I do have one kiss in the movie. We’re going through a rigorous protocol. We both got COVID tested again. And then, we’re using a topical spray on our faces that I guess kills the virus. And we’re also using a special mouthwash after the kissing scene. Everyone can have their own opinion about that and the effectiveness of that, but there’s definitely quite a protocol surrounding intimacy while filming.
Do you think this is the future for how movies will get made?
For a little bit. I think we can control and contain the spread of the virus through quarantining crew members and actors before production. What’s changing things and hurting things the most is the fact that we’re still shut down.
Your movie “Hard Kill” is coming out in drive-in movie theaters and on VOD. How did you train for that?
There wasn’t a lot of time to prepare. The film was shot in 10 days. I do a lot of boxing and mixed martial arts. I work at this private facility up above Sunset [Boulevard] called Unbreakable, where we have professional UFC fighters teaching us jujutsu.
Are you disappointed that your movie won’t be coming out in traditional theaters?
I think it’s a completely different landscape now. I don’t think these things are going back to the way they were. We need to be OK with our films not hitting the theaters and being available on demand, because there’s a lot of great movies that are not in theaters.
When did you know you wanted to become an actor?
In college. I grew up loving going to the movies. It was my favorite thing to do. It was something my father — who I was estranged from for quite some time — bonded over. The only college I applied to was New York University Tisch School of the Arts. During my time at Tisch, I started acting in my own films and took some acting classes and got the acting bug. And I started auditioning in New York, where I booked my first role, “Passions,” on NBC daytime.
Did you like being on a soap?
It was everything I thought it would be and more. For someone with minimal acting experience that grew up in a small town in Connecticut, being a working actor, making the money I was making, living the lifestyle I was living — it was incredible. It was exciting. It was very fulfilling.
How did “Desperate Housewives” change your life?
Being on “Desperate Housewives” made me into a household name.
Did you ever feel too objectified or pigeonholed by the show?
I think pigeonholing does happen, that’s a real thing. It’s almost a compliment of the job you did in that role. You were so convincing and you play the role so well, that people believe that’s who you actually are. Decision makers and tastemakers in the industry are not immune to that.
Do you think a character like that — a teenager who has an affair with a married woman — would be portrayed now?
Probably not, because we’re in a oversensitive world right now. I think a lot of good is coming from this critical, oversensitive world because we’re thinking critically about a lot of the issues that need to be addressed. But I do feel like when there’s a movement, the pendulum tends to swing too far in the other direction and then it takes some time for everything to come back to equilibrium. And we’re in one of those moments right now.
Did you see Eva Longoria as the emcee this week at the Democratic National Convention?
No, I haven’t gotten the chance to watch her yet. I work until 1 o’clock in the morning, but I plan to watch.
Do you think there could be a “Desperate Housewives” TV reunion?
Do you know what I think would be cool? A film like they did with “Sex and the City.”
Have there been any discussions about that?
Not to my knowledge. But I haven’t been paying attention.
How did you navigate your career after you left “Desperate Housewives”?
In hindsight, I realized I should have been more strategic. I was so hungry coming off “Desperate Housewives” and getting “John Tucker Must Die,” I think I jumped too quickly at a lot of roles after that. It’s really about patience. At the end of the day, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. I’m definitely hopeful for my second act, much like, maybe, John Travolta in “Pulp Fiction” — for the right role in the right project that is going to reinvigorate my career and bring more quality roles to me.
What would you like your second act to look like?
I’m interested in so many different things. I want to produce. I want to direct. I want to play music. I want to do it all. But I think my directorial debut is imminent.
Back when you were in Los Angeles, how was your life different in quarantine?
I’m very lucky. A lot of people struggle and continue to struggle because of this pandemic. For me, quarantine was like an extended summer vacation. I did a lot of reading. I played a lot of music. I did a lot of personal development and introspection. And I feel like I came out of quarantine with a greater sense of clarity about who I am, who I want to be, what I want to achieve and how I want to live my life.