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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.

Whatever.

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?

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HI, I'M MARCUS BROTHERTON,

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.