Thursday, Sep 28, 2006
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'Desperate Housewives' boy toy makes leap to big screen

'Desperate Housewives' boy toy makes leap to big screen 1/8BC-MOVIE-JOHNTUCKER:PH 3/8(PHOTO) (HAS TRIM)By David HiltbrandThe Philadelphia InquirerPHILADELPHIA -- God's gift to women enters the Four Seasons clutching a generic baseball cap. Presumably it's an emergency disguise, something to slap on his head so he can slip away incognito if an estrogen riot breaks out.

A full-scale, women-gone-wild meltdown is a very real possibility when Jesse Metcalfe is around. It's like Elvis has entered the building.

"From time to time, it seems like I have a pretty strong reaction from the ladies," the 27-year-old actor says, with understatement. "I guess that's not a bad thing."

Ever since he created a sensation as the randy teenage gardener John Rowland on "Desperate Housewives," playing boy-toy to Eva Longoria, pop culture has positioned Metcalfe as true north on the sex compass.

He thought he was used to frantic female fans after four years -- most of them shirtless -- on NBC's steamy soap "Passions." "But 'Desperate Housewives' made me a household name, upped the ante, and multiplied everything," he says.

"Passions" appealed primarily to teens and young adults. "'Housewives' really made me popular with the older set," he concedes. "I have middle-age women coming up to me all the time proudly identifying themselves as desperate housewives and coming up with some pretty aggressive lines, like" -- well, you can fill in any garden-variety, double-entendre come-on you'd like here.

Metcalfe's film debut is only going to splash gasoline on his fiery image. In "John Tucker Must Die," a teen comedy that opens Friday, he plays the title role, a high school stud athlete -- a cross "between an Abercrombie model and a Greek god" -- who is working his way through the prettier part of the student body.

When three alpha girls from different cliques (Sophia Bush of "One Tree Hill," R&B singer Ashanti, and Arielle Kebbel of "Aquamarine") realize he is dating them all simultaneously, they hatch a campaign of revenge, using a newcomer (Brittany Snow of "American Dreams") as their heartbreak agent.

"I was attracted to the project by the script," Metcalfe says. "It was kind of a new take on the teen movie. And when the cast came together, I was really looking forward to working with all the girls: Brittany, Sophia, and Ashanti, Arielle and Jenny McCarthy."

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The 2 1/2-month shoot in Vancouver flew by. "They were shooting 'She's the Man,'" a teen comedy starring Amanda Bynes, "at the same time we were shooting 'John Tucker,' and both casts knew each other so we would go out all the time," he says. "We really did things right. We hit it."

Metcalfe currently dates Nadine Coyle, an Irish singer with Girls Aloud, a pop group that is very big in the United Kingdom and Europe. They met in Australia, where he was promoting "Desperate Housewives" and she was performing. Even Down Under, the actor's reputation preceded him.

Coyle's father, Niall, told the Irish News, "She always says she is concentrating on her career at the moment, but for a joke says if (Metcalfe) ever phones up for a date, she wouldn't say no. She was interviewed on television in Australia and said the same thing, and it turns out he was watching. He got his publicist to contact her publicist and they met up for a date."

That was in the spring. Since then, every time Metcalfe is photographed with another female, the feisty Irish press flies into a frenzy with rumors that he is two-timing Coyle.

Metcalfe scoffs, "You'd have to be a fool to go out with another person that has some fame and cheat on them because you're definitely going to get caught."

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The future hunk was born in Carmel Valley, Calif., to an Italian-French father and an Italian-Portuguese mother. His parents split and he moved with his mother to Connecticut when he was 3.

His striking looks always have attracted attention. "Unfortunately, it was something that I've always been made aware of," he says. "When you're a young guy going through adolescence, you don't want to be too good-looking. I would kind of rail against it. I would dye my hair crazy colors and wear weird clothes and definitely try to play it down."

After attending prep school, he enrolled in the Tisch program for film and TV at New York University, hoping to write and direct movies.

Metcalfe began modeling to support himself and on his first acting audition, at 19, he was snapped up by "Passions," which entailed a move to Los Angeles.

"It was my training ground, my acting boot camp," he says.

"To have to learn in those circumstances is a very frightening thing," says Ben Masters, a veteran actor who was Metcalfe's castmate on "Passions." "But the camera knew right away that this kid was fabulous."

The effect the youngster had on women was obvious. "He'd walk down the hallways at work and every woman's head would almost come unscrewed," Masters says. "And he didn't even really know it. He was working on his lines."

After four years on the soap, Metcalfe left, eventually landing the lawn-boy part on "Desperate Housewives." "My role was kind of a dream," he says. "I got to roll around with Eva every day. She's a pleasure to be around, so fun and energetic. And she's obviously gorgeous."

Still, Metcalfe hasn't yet committed to a third season on Wisteria Lane. "They haven't made an official offer and I haven't officially accepted," he says. "'Desperate Housewives' was an amazing opportunity and something I'm very thankful for, but I don't want to get stuck playing John the gardener because he can be a little limiting."

Though if you have to be typecast, God's gift to women isn't too shabby a pigeonhole.

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(c) 2006, The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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PHOTO (from MCT Photo Service, 202-383-6099):

MOVIE-JOHNTUCKER