Getting Ross Mathews to take over from Ryan Seacrest on E!’s Red Carpet moments was the smartest move the channel made as he was no embarrassing replica of his predecessor. Instead, he carved out his own niche with his dynamic, affable, larger-than-life personality. In being true to himself, the industry, which normally shuns people who don’t fit the mould, has embraced him, writes Debashine Thangevelo.
ROSS Mathews was eight years old when he envisioned a career for himself in Hollywood. In fact, the thought came to him while he was watching a talk show with his mother.
“I remember specifically – and I write about it in the book (he released Man Up! Tales of My Delusional Self-Confidence last year) – I was watching this talk show with my mum and she looked very happy. They got to interview celebrities (on the show) and I thought, ‘there is a job for me and it would make my mum happy at the same time’. Ding, ding, ding… I found it,” he chuckles.
Mathews’ is a real Hollywood underdog story. He doesn’t quite fit in with the narcissistic industry’s requirements. After all, he has a funny voice and, well, let’s just say he won’t be gracing the covers of any sports magazines. In such a cut-throat industry where the Bradley Cooper and Ryan Gosling types are a dime-a-dozen, a betting man would say the odds were stacked heavily against Mathews making any in- roads. But he has.
A communications major from the University of La Verne in California, he started at the bottom as an intern on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno before working his way up to correspondent on the show. In fact, that rather fabulous start earned him the nickname, “Ross the Intern”.
With his passion as uncontainable as his creativity, he started to bag other offers and, 12 years later, he has his own talk show and is doing E!’s Red Carpet moments with Giuliana Rancic.
He says: “I’m proud of everything. When you look like me and sound like me, everything is stacked against you if you want to become a broadcaster because Hollywood doesn’t work that way.
“But I have been lucky enough to have had these amazing opportunities come my way and then to pivot and use every opportunity as a step forward. I think that is the key. You can’t predict what comes your way. But you can predict control and how you handle it. I think that is how you make it in this business.”
So how does his mom feel about him having made it in Hollywood?
Mathews laughs: “At first, she was like: ‘Call the neighbours!’ Now it is like: ‘Oh honey, I will PVR it and watch it tomorrow.’ But it has been 12 years since I started.”
The über-camp host shed light on his experience as a participant in Celebrity Fit Club, where he lost 18kg and helped his team to be first over the finish line .
He says: “It was a very weird experience. It was a very bizarre thing to weigh yourself on national television. It is so personal. Nobody really knew who I was when I first started. I was just on Leno’s show for a couple of years. I didn’t fit in. But when it ended, it was good as I made a few friends. Also, there was suddenly a whole new demographic of people who knew who I was. I think they connected with me as a voice of reason on that show and were rooting for me.”
Mathews points out that he loathes falseness, especially in an industry where air kisses and fake charm are as abundant as Jimmy Choos and Armani, Chanel and Tom Ford suits.
”That is why I dedicated my book to anyone who has felt different to anyone else. In this industry, so many people come here and take the same hosting or acting classes and they all of a sudden start looking alike. I am just me. Here’s the deal – you can’t reinvent the wheel hosting the show. But you can bring your own point of view – no one can compete with that.”
The E! host also had the privilege to join the vociferous female panel of The View. And took it in his stride.
Of the experience, he says: “It was great. The first time I was invited was back in 2005/6. It was the early days of being on TV and they were very kind to me and gave me a lot of exposure. I just went back a month ago. It felt so great. They were all so happy for me. In fact, that is my goal one day – to be a daytime talk show host. You know, I’m too perky to be talking late at night.”
With Chelsea Lately, After Lately, Big Saturday Night, Love or Hate – not forgetting his web show, Inside Dish – he has made big strides. Besides releasing his book Man Up! Tales of My Delusional Self-Confidence, he is now on his second season of Hello Ross, an interactive talk show.
“To this day, I have those standout moments of achieving and learning something new. I got the chance to executive produce this talk show and a few others. I love entertainment that is spontaneous, fun, energetic, kind and not hurtful. Just good. I think so many shows and stories live under that umbrella and I’m just getting started. My show isn’t like every other show with a Halle Berry or so on. It has a different vibe. We just had Kendall and Kylie Jenner. They are a big deal and very wealthy and Kendall’s modelling career is taking off. There are no stiff or lame people on the show,” he assures.
With a career blessed with too many highlights, he does have one that will always be close to his heart.
Mathews smiles: “The most unbelievable interview ever (which is in the book) was when I met Gwyneth Paltrow at the Oscars in 2002. It was my first Oscars (on the red carpet) and I just loved her so much and said: ‘Will you be my best friend?’ She said: ‘Yes!’ and I gave her my e-mail address – she mailed me the next morning. And we’ve been best friends since. She wrote the foreword for my book. And that pulled the curtain back from the kid from this farm town who thought Hollywood wasn’t even a tangible thing to now knowing somebody who won an Oscar, is on the cover of every magazine and she is a real person with a heart, humour and sensitivity. I still haven’t wrapped my head around the concept that all of this is real.”
So dreams do come true for the underdog, eh Mathews? Just like the Hollywood movies, but in real life!
• Hello Ross airs on E! (DStv channel 124) on Saturdays at 10pm.