Jesse Metcalfe Opens Up About Leaving 'Chesapeake Shores' and If He'd Come Back (Exclusive)

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Jesse Metcalfe's early departure from Hallmark Channel's Chesapeake Shores caught many by surprise earlier this year, most notably viewers of the multigenerational family drama, which was months away from premiering season 5.

Metcalfe, who's played singer-songwriter Trace Riley since the series' first episode in 2016, acknowledged that his decision to leave the hourlong series was largely unexpected. But several factors, including a prolonged delay in production due to the pandemic, creative changes behind the scenes and a desire to begin a new chapter in his career, played a part in why he parted ways with Chesapeake Shores, which said goodbye to Metcalfe in his final episode Sunday.

"Life's all about growth. I tend to put myself in challenging situations because I feel like that's the fastest way to grow. No one saw this decision coming for me to leave Chesapeake, but sometimes the hardest decisions are the best ones to make and the ones that you grow the most from," the 43-year-old actor, who traveled to Puerto Rico soon after to film The Fortress with Bruce Willis and Chad Michael Murray, exclusively tells ET. "I think this is one of those decisions."

Following his swan song, Metcalfe opens up about why he chose to exit the Hallmark series early in season 5, if he's satisfied with Trace's bittersweet ending, what he's looking forward to doing next and if he'd be open to returning to Chesapeake Shores.

ET: How did you come to the decision that you were ready to leave Chesapeake Shores?

Jesse Metcalfe: Well, it was an amazing journey doing Chesapeake Shores. I'm so thankful to Hallmark for the opportunity, but also the respect that they gave me throughout the creative process. They really allowed me to take ownership of the character of Trace Riley and develop that storyline in a way that I think really suited me, and I was very creatively fulfilled for four seasons. I just felt that there wasn't really anything else I could do with the character, and we did go through three showrunners in five seasons on the show. Getting to know a new showrunner and create a working relationship with a new person was not necessarily something I wanted to do. I just felt like it was time to turn the page and start the next chapter of my career. I definitely wanted to pursue my film career with greater focus and also find the next challenge. I'm very proud of the work that I did on Chesapeake and very proud to have been a part of a great ensemble cast. I wish everybody nothing but success with season 5 and beyond, but I felt like my time on the show had come to an end.

What conversations did you have with the writers and producers about how best to write Trace out?

I didn't have any conversations with our new showrunner, Phoef Sutton. We took a lunch well before the pandemic. Then the pandemic hit and Phoef and his writing team had a long time to craft season 5, but unfortunately I never heard from anybody on the production side and so I was given the [scripts for the] first couple of episodes. That creative relationship was not really established this time around.

Trace and Abby have been through so many ups and downs over four seasons of the show. In the end, it became apparent that they were never going to be truly happy together and it was time for them to part ways. Did you feel that that was the right ending for them? Were you satisfied that that was the direction that was taken?

I'm satisfied. I'm satisfied because I'm satisfied, ultimately, with my decision. For better or worse, when I play a character and put my name on a series, I really, really invest 110 percent. I read the source material and I try to bring as much emotional resonance and depth to my characters and my characters' relationships. And yes, Trace and Abby definitely had been through a lot. I think that the fans ultimately wanted to see them work it out and be together. Trace did build the bridge in Chesapeake Shores, and then in season 4 built a recording studio in Chesapeake Shores and seemed to be completely committed to staying. So I think the fans were very surprised, but I have faith in Phoef Sutton, our new showrunner, the writing team [and] Dan Paulson Productions that they're going to honor the Trace and Abby relationship and send Trace off in a way befitting to the character that was established over the previous four seasons. Hopefully the fans will be satisfied with that.

Hallmark's Chesapeake Shores
Ricardo Hubbs/Crown Media

At the end of the second episode, Trace leaves town. Do you believe this is the end of his story?

Trace didn't die. It's not the end of the road for Trace. He could always come back to Chesapeake Shores. It's possible. I certainly don't have a crystal ball, so I don't know what the future will bring but I think in the near term, I hope that [the fans] enjoy season 5. Obviously I wish my former cast and the new cast members much success. From what I can tell from the cast, everybody had a great season and I think that's amazing because at the end of the day, especially coming out of the pandemic, people want to have fun and it seems like my former castmates had a great season. I'm happy for that and the proof will be in the pudding in the ratings. As we know, it's such a saturated landscape of so many amazing shows to discover and watch. It's always challenging to get good numbers, so I'm pulling for the show. I really hope it performs, but I'm looking to the future and what's next for Jesse. Again, I'm so thankful for the opportunity and for the experience. For me, it was incredible and I hope to do more great projects with Hallmark.

Over the course of the series, you showcased your musical talents. What was that like to explore? 

I loved that aspect of the character. I thought it brought so much soul and authenticity to both the character of Trace and to the show. I really thought it was a great one-two punch. You have the O'Brien family and you also had Trace's world and how they intersected, but I feel as though the core of the books and the core of the show, really, is the O'Brien family, and to a certain extent, my character over time started to limit where they could go with the O'Briens. Look, in the world of storytelling, there's infinite storylines, there's infinite possibilities and this was a choice that was made by both myself and the writing team behind season 5 and it doesn't mean it's the end for Trace.

Trace could come back to the show. Maybe he will, maybe he won't. But I think what I was able to help create over four seasons, I'm incredibly proud of. And that was a part of the show that brought me great creative satisfaction. Although I don't think that this particular production was necessarily prepared for Chesapeake to be a musical show. There was definitely growing pains throughout incorporating music in the show and that process. I think Hallmark was very behind it. I think the fans enjoyed it, but that character, that storyline and the music that was a part of Chesapeake, I think, has come to an end. 

So if the stars aligned and it made sense creatively for your character to come back or stop by in the future, that door is still open? 

I certainly haven't shut it. I would definitely be open to that, given that the show was continuing to perform seasons down the line. I think a lot hinges on season 5 as to how much longevity the show will ultimately have.

You mentioned new cast members coming in. Robert Buckley is introduced in episode 3. Are you excited to see new blood filtering into the show?

Yeah, I think it's always great to have new blood. Sometimes a cast member leaving can be a catalyst to raise the bar, if you will. I'd like to think that that happened in this case and they're going to have a great show this season. I wasn't entirely familiar with Robert Buckley and his work, but obviously I wish him the best. From what I've picked up on social media, everyone's had a great experience working with Robert and I read a quote from our showrunner, Phoef, that he saw my character as a brooding James Dean type and his character is a lighter, more optimistic, more excitable type of character. That he's kind of like a golden retriever, which I thought was funny and kind of interesting. It's definitely going to change the timbre of the show. I thought there was already a lot of laughter and lighter fare on the show, so I was happy to bring the more emotional, brooding stuff. Maybe the whole show is going to be light and laughter this season and maybe the Hallmark audience will love that. I hope they do.

Robert's character, Evan, is definitely the opposite of Trace.

The antithesis of Trace, which makes me feel good, too, because they didn't try to replace me. They just went in a different direction, which I think is great.

Your relationship with Hallmark isn't over yet. You still have the Martha's Vineyard Mysteries franchise, which I assume will continue.

Yeah, I absolutely love doing the Martha's Vineyard Mysteries movies. They're great. The source material's incredible. We actually have to dial it back from the books. The Philip R. Craig books are so irreverent. They're actually a really fun read, but I love executive producing on that because I love being a part of every aspect of producing a show and I find it so rewarding. Obviously, I have Hallmark to thank for that opportunity but a lot of changes have happened over at Hallmark and everyone's in a bit of a holding pattern waiting to see which direction they go, which TV shows and movies they continue to support and which ones end up on the chopping block.

What's next for you? What is at the top of your career bucket list?

I really want to get on a critically acclaimed cable TV show again. I really want to up the bar in my career. Not to look down on any of the previous work that I've done, but I want to continue to pursue a film career and I think the best way to do that is to get on a respected, critically acclaimed television show. We're still in the golden age of television. There are a lot of great projects out there. I've gotten a lot of premium opportunities recently and I'm focused on that. I'm still focused on my music and enjoying myself personally. Life's all about growth. I tend to put myself in challenging situations because I feel like that's the fastest way to grow. No one saw this decision coming for me to leave Chesapeake, but sometimes the hardest decisions are the best ones to make and the ones that you grow the most from. I think this is one of those decisions.

Chesapeake Shores airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Hallmark Channel. For more, watch below.

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