Jesse Metcalfe's Second Act: How the Heartthrob Found an Unlikely Home on Hallmark (Exclusive)

Ricardo Hubbs/Hallmark Channel

Jesse Metcalfe is settling in as a leading man on Hallmark Channel's original series Chesapeake Shores.

In the multigenerational family drama, Metcalfe -- famously known as the sexy gardener on Desperate Housewives and the title character in the 2006 rom-com John Tucker Must Die -- plays Trace Riley, a country singer who reunites with his high school sweetheart, recent divorcee, businesswoman and mother of two Abby O'Brien (Once Upon a Time's Meghan Ory), in their quaint seaside hometown of Chesapeake Shores, Maryland. Unlike the wholesome movies and shows dominating the network and its sister channels, Chesapeake Shores strays from the network norm, exploring the realities of life with an ever-so-slight hint of edge -- one of the reasons why Metcalfe, 39, was initially interested in the role.

“'I love what you do, but I want to make sure that this show is really grounded and not just existing in this utopian fairy-tale land,'" Metcalfe recalls of his first thoughts on Hallmark's intentions with the show in an interview with ET, likening Chesapeake Shores to a mix of The Partridge Family, Parenthood and Nashville. "I think we’re accomplishing that more and more each year.”

When season three kicks off, Trace returns to Chesapeake during a brief break from a national tour with country superstar Donovan, but Trace's desires to keep his personal life separate from his public persona amid his rising stardom will prove to be problematic when a journalist from a popular country music magazine begins to dig into Trace's rekindled romance with Abby.

“We pick up with Trace and the Trace Riley Band having taken off," Metcalfe teases, sharing that Trace finds an unlikely sensei in Donovan, a new character introduced this season. "He’s a somewhat aged but still very relevant, very respected country music artist who takes Trace under his wing. In the story, he serves as what Trace’s future could look like if he stayed on the road. Trace is grappling with maintaining a relationship with Abby and being a family man as a stepfather to her daughters. Having this budding country music career that has all the trappings of success and fame are coming to bear on his life and on his relationship. It’s a storyline I feel like I can bring a lot of personal experience to.”

Meghan Ohry and Jesse Metcalfe in season three of Hallmark Channel's 'Chesapeake Shores.'

Ricardo Hubbs/Hallmark Channel

Trace and Abby's reunion may start off smoothly at first (after they clear the air about why Abby decided to break things off in the sophomore finale), but Metcalfe cautions that the obstacles that face them in season three aren't easily overcome. 

"Now that they have another opportunity, they've both come back to the relationship with a little bit of a different perspective and enjoy the time they have together," he says. "They're not going to put too much expectation on it, but quickly, as it does with somebody you have strong feelings for, their relationship gets serious and progresses quickly. But with his newfound fame comes a reporter who's doing a piece on Trace who's really digging for a story and digging into his personal life, and they're dealing with the paparazzi coming to Chesapeake Shores. He really wants to shield Abby and her daughters and protect them and keep his life in Chesapeake separate from his career, but it's nearly impossible."

Metcalfe, who has been a songwriter in real life for more than a decade, continues to show off his rarely seen musical side -- through his character, Trace, that is. In the new season, he performs at least three original songs, the first of which is featured in the second episode. With his musical talents regularly on display onscreen, Metcalfe is hopeful about getting into the studio and releasing music of his own. (It'd be more "Southern country-leaning" than "stereotypical country," he posits.) "It's challenging to find the time to do so many things well at the same time, but music has always been something that I've been passionate about. I would definitely love to put an album out there," he says, later clarifying: "I have no doubt in my mind that within the next year or two that I will put out an album." 

Looking back on his two-decade television and film career, Metcalfe was candid about his experiences in Hollywood thus far, which have consisted mainly of "hot guy" roles.  

"I've been on quite a journey, to say the least," Metcalfe says with a laugh. "I've worked consistently for the last 20 years; not many people can say that. But of course, I want more. I feel like I've really only scratched the surface in the last 20 years of what I can do. I want to move into producing. I want to move into directing. I hope to get the opportunity to work with some incredible writers and real auteurs and be a part of some film at some point that really resonates with the audience, with the world." 

Cara Santana and Jesse Metcalfe at the Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries winter TCA press tour in January 2018.

Tara Ziemba/Getty Images

"I've done a lot of films that... the only one I've really done that's been considered a hit is John Tucker Must Die, so there's a lot more that I want to accomplish. But at the same time, I'm not one of those actors with a chip on their shoulder complaining every day about how they're underachieving," he continues. "I put 100 percent into everything that I do, and I think that's probably why everything that I've done has, for the most part, been a success. Failure is not an option for me. It never has been."

On a personal note, it appears Metcalfe and his longtime love, fiancee Cara Santana, may have finally set a wedding date for next summer.

"Cara and I, we do our thing. We don't really care what anybody else thinks," he says. "We've been together for 13 years and there's definitely no timeline. We've been engaged coming up on two years. We're looking to [have our wedding] in 2019, but again, we'll see what happens. She has been crazy busy -- a lot of great things going on in her career -- and I've been busy myself. Our careers are really taking precedence right now. It's really a foregone conclusion, it's just about finding the time to do it the way we want to do it."

For now, Chesapeake Shores -- one of Hallmark's most-watched original series -- is top of mind for Metcalfe, who promises fans the family drama is just ramping up.

“I’m really excited for the viewers to see this season of the show. I think it’s the best season yet," he says, adding that the season has a "nice flow." "Everything sort of coalesced this season, as far as the writing, the storylines [and] the performances. I feel like everyone really found their voice and their character, and it’s been a very collaborative environment behind the scenes. I’m really proud of the show. I think we’re really pushing the network forward, in terms of layered storytelling and real drama.”

Chesapeake Shores season three premieres Sunday, Aug. 5 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Hallmark Channel. 


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