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Neal McDonough Leads Well

Feb 07, 2012 // By Marcus Brotherton

I want to put in a good word for actor Neal McDonough. I don’t claim to know the man. Not closely, anyway. But what I’ve seen of him, I admire.

A few years back I was the writing collaborator for Lt. Buck Compton’s memoir, Call of Duty. Neal had portrayed Buck in the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers, so I contacted Neal to gather input for the book’s epilogue.

Lt. Buck Compton and Neal McDonough.

Neal was in France at the time shooting a movie, and he and I spoke by phone for about 30 minutes, then corresponded by e-mail several more times as the edits of the epilogue were passed back and forth.

Neal talked about how Buck Compton had changed his life in two big ways. Before Neal landed the role in Band of Brothers, he had been acting in professional roles for about a decade but hadn’t done anything major, just independent films and smaller roles. He’d even considered giving up acting and had moved from Hollywood back to his hometown of Cape Code to reevaluate his career.

Band of Brothers landed huge, and after portraying Buck, Neal McDonough’s phone never stopped ringing. He went on to act in a number of hit movies and TV shows including Flags of Our Fathers, Minority Report, Boomtown, and Justified. He’s the Paul Newman of our generation.

Another big life change for Neal has a connection to the filming of Band of Brothers, and to his travel to London for the project. On his first day in the city, he and two friends were in a pub where Neal met a beautiful 6’3” model from South Africa named Ruvé Robertson. They were married in 2003 and today have four young children.

A few weeks back, Buck Compton turned 90, and a big birthday celebration was held for him in Burlington, Washington, his hometown. Neal and Ruvé, along with James Madio, Michael Cudlitz, and Richard Speight, Jr. (three other actors from Band of Brothers) flew up from Los Angeles for the day to wish him well. It was the first time I had met Neal in person, and he greeted me with a big hug.

We didn’t have the opportunity to talk much, as the party was packed. But what stood out to me was how gracious, gentle, and honoring Neal was toward his wife throughout the event. Neal spoke from the mic and thanked Buck profusely. If it wasn’t for Buck, Neal would have never met Ruvé. Neal spoke through tears, and when he came off the stage, he gave Ruvé a passionate kiss.

Skeptics would say he was showboating because of the crowd. But I doubt it. Here’s why.

In 2010, Neal lost some $1 million USD because he refused to do a sex scene in ABC’s series Scoundrels. The script called for him to make love on screen with co-star Virginia Madsen. Neal said no and was fired. (He had also turned down sex scenes with Nicollette Sheridan when acting in Desperate Housewives.)

Critics had a field day. They called Neal McDonough a prude, a fool, and a hypocrite. He’d do scenes involving violence, just not sex.


I doubt if Neal’s a goody-two-shoes. And you’ve got to be smart to make it in his career. I’d venture to say he doesn’t object to doing violent scenes because there’s no doubt in his mind he’s acting in those. In everyday life, he doesn’t struggle with the temptation of grabbing a gun and killing a man.

But Neal knows he’s red-blooded, same as any man. Hollywood has got a horrible track record of infidelity. Neal doesn’t do sex scenes because he wants to safeguard his integrity. That’s plain smart.

When it comes to Hollywood, you can have your rudeness, your bad taste, your impropriety. But I’ll take an actor any day with a generous heart, dignity, and style.

Neal McDonough, I raise my glass.

May you continue to lead well.

Question: what traits do you admire most in a man?

  • Carlton

    Marcus, you mentioned a Generous heart, dignity, and style. Please add “class” to that group, as you said, today one has to be smart in their vocation. I have seen Neal in other potrayals and he does strike me as a man with class.

  • Anonymous

    Well said Marcus. Neal is a classy guy. We need more like him. Thank you for writing this blog.

  • Hank

    What an excellent post and honoring of Neal McDonough. I’ve always heard great things about him and am glad to hear them confirmed first-person!

    I think that one of the trait that I admire the most is loyalty. Part of that is because it seems so rare today. My kids are still a little too young to watch Band of Brothers, but I so want them to see it because of the loyalty and commitment to one another that the men of Easy Company (and other companies in the war) demonstrated. Besides that, the loyalty and commitment they showed to the missions they were on, as well, are a far cry from what we see today. Honestly, it’s heartbreaking to see.

    My best friend is a guy who I’ve known for 29 years and have been best friends with for most of that time. Through nearly 30 years, we’ve been through amazing highs and terrible lows, seen each other at our best and worst, celebrated together and been in a couple knock-down drag-out fights. And through all those years we’ve had each other’s backs, known that we could call any hour of the day or night if needed, without even thinking twice about it, and told each other things we’ve never told anyone else. I’m thankful that my friend embodies the loyalty and honor that you describe McDonough with.

  • Tobias (GER)

    Hi Marcus,
    thank you so much for that great inside look into the life of Neal! he was and is still one of my favourites BoB actors. After BoB I was watching his filmography closely not to miss any movie.
    I guess he does no sex scenes, cause he don’t want anybody to see the four holes on both his bottom cheeks (joke). Seriously, I think it is well thought not to make such scenes in hollywood. you can get put into a drawer very fast, if you know what I mean. Great actors like Neal don’t need such scenes to profile themselfs. Why he does violent scenes..because therefor you need to be a good actor, these scenes are very challenging. Because most of the time you have to act violent to somebody you call a friend in real life (on the set).

    I wish I will have the chance in meeting one day too. I’m very happy he found his big love and wife in Ruvé with the help of Buck!

    keep up the good work Marcus


  • Loyalty, respect for others and himself, kindness and empathy are some that come to mind. I would like to think Neal possesses most or all of these and that they each played a role in his decision.

    It’s always refreshing to hear about someone like Neal who realizes there are much more important things in life than money.

  • Honor, character and integrity are the attributes I value most. Honor means keeping your word, charachter describes how you behave when no one is watching and integrity demostrates you are a loyal, trustworthy person regardless of the temptation to do otherwise.
    I respect Neal for his refusal to perform in sex scenes and rather than others respecting his beliefs, they ridicule him? Just like they tend to demean Tim Tebow. Instead of respecting the high standards people like Neal represent, they resent him for making them “look bad”. You won’t find people who lead well in this group who disparage the best among us. They just don’t get it!
    John E. Nevola – Author of The Last Jump

  • Tobias (GER)

    hope you got the joke with the four holes through his bottom cheeks…
    If not I can explain.

  • Ha ha, Tobias, I am sure we all get the joke! ;). Neal was one of my favorite characters in BoB. I also watched every movie he was in after that, and always think he is a great actor. When I read the part that Neal wrote in Buck’s book about Buck, I really thought he was great and realized the impact that BoB and the veterans must have had on his life. So, reading this blog is very informative. And what do I admire most in a man? Being a man myself, I have to be careful what to write here! I think that I admire the same in men and women. They need to be themselves, have a passion for something, they need to have some humor, be funny as well, and they should not be narrow minded. Willing to take a risk, even if it means failing or not gaining anything from it. It might better someone else. Another rare thing is to find a man who really talks about his feelings. Somehow I think that is something very special as well.

  • MB

    I think the 4-hole joke is a alluded to with a line or two of dialogue in the miniseries and then explained further in Buck’s book. It has to do with Buck’s wound in Operation Market Garden, yet the men of Easy Company have never let him live that down. One bullet, four holes.

    Great thoughts on character traits, folks.

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the bestselling author or coauthor of more than 25 books. Welcome to my blog. Thoreau pointed out how too many people lead lives of quiet desperation. Their lives are bland and meaningless, or they make choices that trap them in despair and darkness. By contrast, I want to help people lead lives of excellence. Meet here regularly for powerful stories and insight into how to live and lead well.