MaHB / TV: Centre Stage

Esquire Malaysia, May 2015

Harvey Specter

Centre Stage
Television’s leading men are walking guidebooks on how to be the star of your own show.

By Sophia Goh

I’ve been mulling over the age-old question television critics have been asking for decades (okay, not really): what makes a successful TV leading man? When it comes to casting one, perhaps Sharon Klein, Executive Vice President of Talent and Casting at Fox, put it best when she said, “You want to pick someone who a man wants to be and a woman wants to do.” Except, what exactly does that mean?

The world loves a good-looking man, but not everyone wins the gene pool lottery. If you are more Danny DeVito than Don Draper, I’ve got news: most of the major players on TV today aren’t in the big leagues because of how they look; in fact, many of them aren’t classically handsome*. And if you’re thinking, Hey, it’s different for them, they’re actors, I say: just because these guys happen to be on television doesn’t mean we can’t learn a thing or two from them.

Lesson #1: It’s not enough to be a pretty boy.

An example that drives this point home and puts it to bed is Chace Crawford. Formerly Nate Archibald in Gossip Girl, Crawford is so handsome I’ve actually had straight guy friends tell me (enviously) how good-looking they think he is. Unfortunately, he was also one of the least interesting characters on the show, and, save for an appearance on Glee last year, hasn’t really been heard of since Gossip Girl ended in 2012.

Lesson #2: You don’t always have to be in the spotlight.

Think of the supporting actors who went on to become bigger stars than the main cast of their show. Jeremy Piven from Entourage immediately comes to mind – Ari Gold might be a supporting character, but when Piven is in a scene, I can barely remember what the names of the main characters are. Sometimes, not having the spotlight on you constantly just means an opportunity to let your talent and charisma shine even brighter when your turn comes.

Lesson #3: Dress the part.

Would Don Draper in Mad Men be even half as watchable if he were dressed in Bermuda shorts and flip-flops? I doubt it. From Harvey Specter [pictured] and Mike Ross on Suits to President Fitzgerald Grant on Scandal, there are countless examples why, when it comes to standing out, the suit really does maketh the man.

Lesson #4: You need to be in the right place, at the right time.

Behind every successful leading man is a team of wonderful writers who churn out brilliant scripts week after week that make him so compelling. There are directors, production crew, wardrobe people and makeup artists who make him look amazing, and, especially in the complicated world of showbiz, a hundred different stars have to align for a TV show to finally see the light of day. In other words, as far as it’s within your control, seek to put yourself in positions where you can shine, and then cross your fingers, stroke your lucky rabbit’s foot and wish upon a star.

* Bryan Cranston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jim Parsons, Jeff Daniels, Kevin Spacey, James Spader, almost everybody in Game of Thrones… need we go on?

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