Wilson Bethel: On His Own at 17 and Now Heating Up “Hart Of Dixie” Sans Shirt

Shirtless or not, Wilson Bethel is tough to ignore on the CW series, Hart Of Dixie.

The CW freshman comedy/drama series Hart Of Dixie has star Rachel Bilson at its core as Dr. Zoe Hart, moving from the metropolitan streets of New York City to the small town of Bluebell, Alabama.  But the show could also be called Hot In Dixie, since there are more than a few good looking fellas circling Bilson. Scott Porter (Friday Night Lights, The Good Wife) and Cress Williams (Grey’s Anatomy) are two such pieces of eye candy on the show, but it’s difficult not to notice Wilson Bethel, who plays Dr. Hart’s charming, sexy and often shirtless and sweaty neighbor Wade Kinsella.

While it remains to be seen where the various romantic entanglements on the series will end up, viewers can expect the rest of Season One to include more light-hearted comedy, a splash of drama and, since the show is set in the deep South, a multitude of reasons to get Bethel and his male co-stars in as little clothes as possible. In fact, in one episode last fall – entitled In Havoc & In Heat Bethel was given a slow-motion walk out of a pond where the adoring camera lingered along his ripped torso. Thank you, Hart of Dixie.

There’s more good news, though, in that the friendly & well-mannered Bethel clearly has a lot more going on for him than just his striking looks. AfterElton found that out at the recent Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour when we sat down with the actor for a chat. Among other items, he shared his thoughts on playing gay and talked about his career pre-Hart of Dixie, which included getting fired from another popular prime time soap!

A welcome scene from the “In Havoc & In Heat” episode of Hart Of Dixie

AfterElton.com: Let’s first talk about your pre Hart of Dixie life, During the “Bad Ass Boys of the CW” panel, you talked about writing poetry…
Writing has always been a big part of my life. My mother’s a writer and I grew up in a household where that was something that meant a lot to me. For years, especially when my acting career wasn’t where I wanted it to be, I would tell people that I was a writer. Whether or not that meant anything to anyone is anybody’s guess. That is something I am very proud of and is a very important part of my life. I think that one thing that I am really proud of is the way that my career in my adult life has grown and expanded. You know, I’ve been on my own since I was seventeen.

AE: I didn’t know that.
And supporting myself, under some pretty gnarly circumstances, and trying to make it in the world as an artist. It’s not easy, but I think what’s cool is that, at this stage, I’m able to look back over the last ten years and look at it all as like a really pretty dynamic growth experience.

I wouldn’t have traded for anything to have been like an overnight success when I was twenty-one. And I think that it’s often like that myth of overnight stardom and stuff like that. For some people that does happen, but for many more people it’s a lot of hard work and there are a lot of ups and downs. The whole journey for me has been as much about a journey of acting as it has been about growing up and becoming an adult and figuring out who I am as an artist. And that’s all been part of the growth I guess.

Bethel’s character Wade Kinsella needs a little cooling off now and again. (with Rachel Bilson)

AE: Why have you been on your own since seventeen?
That was a decision I made when I graduated from high school. I decided I wasn’t going to college, and I got a one-way ticket to Africa. I spent a year traveling around Africa. When I came back from that I was pretty firmly in the individualist camp and decided that from that stage on I was going to make my own way and do things on my own terms.

AE: That’s really impressive to do at a young age like that.
That was kind of how I ended up in LA. From the outset it was blazing my own trail. That has been very important to me even since I was a young teenager that I was going to really make my mark in the world in my own terms and figure it out myself.

AE: Okay. Sounds like acting kind of folds in with all the creative stuff you want to do with the music and stuff, but the acting is just another extension of all that.
I grew up in a household that was very encouraging of artistic pursuit, which is one of the greatest gifts I think that anybody who is even remotely inclined toward the arts can have is support. Then it’s a matter of being really brave in the face of a lot of… well not necessarily brave… maybe dumb. Maybe like naïve, or maybe a lot of other things. You know, having a certain amount of fortitude to push on even when it seems really unlikely that you’re really going to be making any kind of reasonable life for yourself at it.

AE: What was the acting job that got you your SAG (Screen Actors Guild) card?
It was on The OC. I had screen tested for the pilot, for Ben Mackenzie’s role. And I didn’t get the part, obviously. Then a few months later I was thrown a bone by the casting director for this small recurring part on the show. Which I promptly, royally screwed up by showing up eight hours late for the last day of shooting of the first episode of that recurring arc. That was how I got canned from The OC.

I’d be okay if Wilson Bethel wanted to write me a poem, wouldn’t you?

AE: But you got your SAG card, right?
But I got my SAG card and I got my foot tentatively in the door. But even after that, it was years before I was making a living as an actor. There are so many markers in the course of an acting career. One is getting to LA or New York in the first place. One is getting your SAG card. One is, you know, getting your first legitimate thing, where you actually have lines and you actually have a character and then when you actually start making your living, it’s a pretty amazing thing.

AE: And Hart Of Dixie is doing well for a freshman series. I’m guessing you’re hearing from fans of the show?
I live in a pretty bubblified life of not really interacting much with a fan base or a critical response to this show, except for lonesome nights at home, Googling myself. [laughs] So it’s nice to have an actual physical interaction with people who are watching the show…and in the character and the work I’m doing. It’s a nice kind of change from the removed speculation.

AE: Once you get cast on a CW show, do you right away go ’okay I have to hit the gym just a little bit harder than I have been?’ Because, you know, the guys’ shirts tend to come off a lot on the CW.
As it happens, I didn’t really know there would be the amount of shirtlessness that there would be. I might have suspected as much. The truth of the matter is that my physical life, which is to say, a lot of activity, has always just been a very elemental part of who I am. I’ve never been much of a gym rat. So the amount that I ride my bicycle and go running and play tennis and all these other things hasn’t really changed much since I was eighteen. But it happens that it works well in my current line of work.

Bethel says he’s fine playing gay or straight on Hart of Dixie.

AE: Yes, it works very well. Now, since the show premiered last fall, have you heard from gay viewers out there?
It’s weird. I haven’t really had too much of a chance to get my head out of the sand and see what’s going on around me. My hope is as my career continues to grow and build that I will have an opportunity to do more stuff where I’m like ’Oh, wow.’ It’s wild to me, even just coming in here today [to the TCAs]. You have people outside asking for autographs, and I’m like ‘Boy, this is so bizarre.’ I can’t believe there are people who know who Wade Kinsella is. Or who I am. You know, they have pictures of me, albeit shirtless, ready and waiting to sign.

AE: I saw show creator Leila Gerstein recently and she said she had some plans to have a larger gay presence on the show in the second season. But let’s say she came to you and said, ’Okay, so Wade’s going to have a little gay fling.’ Or, maybe, ‘we’re not going to label it, but that’s something that happens.’ How would you react to that?
You know in every job I have ever done, it’s so much about the story and the character first. If I felt like it was true to the story, and I felt like it was part of the natural progression of things I would be absolutely all about it. What I think sometimes happens, it could happen with any show, is they start fishing for weird dramatic twists just for dramatic twists. And I would be really reluctant to, of any kind, if they asked Wad to commit a murder. I would be like, ‘Really? Wade murdering someone? That doesn’t seem right.’ Or at least I would make sure they explained it pretty damn well to me. But no, I have no problem with that.

Hart Of Dixie airs Mondays at 9/8c after Gossip Girl on the CW.