Hollywood has a precise idea of what it takes to be a man. Or, rather, what it takes to be the man. The quintessential man, the manly man, the man’s man, the stuff of legend. A man must be able to woo ladies without trying; ladies must want him at his natural best; he must be silent and brooding; ideally, a man must not feel at all (and, if he does, no one should ever know). James Bond is a man. So is Shaft. Batman is a man (the Christopher Nolan version). So is Rambo. So is Clint Eastwood in every movie. There is an honour code that all men must live by, but only real men ever do. The Godfather, King Leonidas, Tyler Durden and Maximus Decimus Meridius all fall in that category. A man can throw a punch when he needs to — and, there is always a need for a man to throw a punch. John McClane is a man. So is Liam Neeson (and not merely his character in Taken). To top it all, a man is handsome, suave and stylish, but ruggedly so. A man is definitely not metrosexual. Gordon Gekko is a man. So are Frank Bullitt and Ryan Gosling’s Driver in Drive.
If Hollywood is right, then there are few who fit the description of a real man better than television’s Harvey Spector, from Suits, which has quickly mushroomed into a phenomenon among American TV addicts in India. With a reach of 3.3 million viewers (according to Comedy Central India), Suits is currently the highest rated English language show in its genre.
So, who is Gabriel Macht, the man behind the character? At 42, the drama graduate from Carnegie Mellon College of Fine Arts, is happily married with a daughter, to fellow actor Jacinda Barrett (The Namesake, The Last Kiss), has a great job that keeps getting better, and some solid indie acting credits along the way. His career also spans 36 years — he debuted at the age of eight in Why Would I Lie?
Macht is also a man of his word. When I call his hotel room in New York, the reception desk tells me there’s no one by that name staying there. I try Harvey Spector, and the reception desk laughs me off. As I put the phone down and mail Macht’s publicist and the minutes fly by, I assume the worst. But, then, I get a tweet from his verified account — “Call me again and they shall put you through. Apologies.” Macht somehow hunted me down on Twitter. When I call, he profusely apologises for what was the hotel’s fault — the personnel at the reception desk had changed and Macht’s instructions hadn’t been passed on. Not many celebrities of his stature would do such a thing.
Macht is a gentleman alright, so I ask him if he’s also similar to the Hollywood definition of being a man? He pauses and then says, “I think that a man is somebody who is responsible for his actions and lives his life with integrity, care and respect for others. When something important is asked of him, he follows through. But, Hollywood’s version of a man is, I believe, just a little superficial. In real life, we can go deeper than that guy, you know? We can show weakness a little bit more and be a bit more vulnerable. Because, I think, Hollywood’s version of a man’s man can become a bit too serious for its own good. If men can poke more fun at themselves, and listen more to the women around them, I think the world would be a slightly better place.”
So, Macht is also a ladies’ man, but in all the right ways. I prod him to elaborate on the last line and he chuckles, “Well, I think what makes a man complete and happy, if he’s in a relationship and if he’s married, is a happy wife. When you get down to it, if your partner is happy and fulfilled, that’s all that matters. When I married my wife, that’s when I fully became a man. When I owned my first property with her, and everything that goes into owning a home, and keeping it in a liveable condition, and, of course, the next stage when I had my daughter — those are all tests for life. And, if you seal it in those tests by being there for your family, it’s the most important thing.”
Macht is a family man. And, that’s as far a cry as can be from his character on the show. Spector has a single-minded focus to succeed, whatever the cost. He doesn’t need a family; he doesn’t have time for one. Spector’s a lone wolf who knows what he wants. He’s essentially the grown-up, corporate version of a bad boy, and that’s what makes him so appealing. So, does Macht think Spector’s a quintessential man? “I don’t, actually,” he says. “I think Harvey’s got a very solid character and integrity, but I don’t think he’s in touch with his emotions. He’s got a lot of demons inside and some anger management issues. And, the way he talks to people under him could be refined. Harvey’s certainly learning to be a man, but he’s got a lot of growth, and that’s what makes him interesting. If he was a perfect man, it would be just so boring to watch. But, I don’t buy Harvey’s idea of success. I do think there’s something to finding success and feeling worthwhile, but I don’t think it really matters what everyone around you thinks. If you feel like you’re doing good work, if you think you’re making a difference, if you feel like you’re coming to work and giving it your best, that’s real success.”
Macht is a successful man by his definition or any other. But, this success has taken almost 15 years to come. Even with strong performances in credible movies and a much-coveted lead role in Frank Miller’s directorial debut, The Spirit, opposite Eva Mendes and Scarlett Johansson, in 2008, it was only until Suits happened in 2011 that Macht’s charisma as well as acting chops gained worldwide recognition. For an actor who dabbled in movies for so long, did television ever feel like a step down? “To be honest, I made the leap to television because I wasn’t finding the roles to sustain myself in films,” he says. “I wasn’t getting the ones that guys I really looked up to such as Christian Bale, Matt Damon, and Leo (DiCaprio) were getting. And, the movies I made were not $100 million movies. And, so, I thought, ‘You know what? Is it really about a successful film or is it really about just finding a character or finding a story you can tell?’ When Suits came along, I was like, ‘I just want to work now.’ And, there was something about Harvey as a character that I thought would be fun to play.”
He continues, “And Suits works on so many levels. It’s cinematic, there’s a ton of wit, all the characters really care about what they’re up to, and, most importantly, women have a really, really strong voice on the show. A bunch of guys are huffing and puffing on the show, but it’s the women who are its spine. That’s really well done. I always believe that things happen for a reason. Suits has been fruitful in so many ways. There are a lot of great things about the show that I see are really touching a nerve with people.”
Macht is indeed a popular man. If you’re in doubt, ask the ladies who follow Suits in India. Unsurprisingly, Macht is aware of this, “You know, when we shoot Suits in Toronto, and we’re on the streets, hundreds of people come out. And, they’re predominantly Indian women. I mean, there’s a huge Indian following that loves the show. Please do tell Indian women out there that I love them, and also to everyone else who watches the show that I’m very thankful.”
So, Macht is, ultimately, a good man. A man who’s seen failure, but returned stronger. A man who has struggled his way to the top, but doesn’t take success for granted.A man who loves his craft, but who loves his family more. A man who could take up multiple projects in his five months off from the show, but ensures that the time is used only to “fill up the Daddy well — spend time with my wife and daughter, take her to school, and be there for both of them as much as possible”. A man who has his priorities right.And, of course, a man who looks excellent in a suit.A quintessential man’s man? Hollywood has found its answer right here.
By Nikhil Taneja