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Winnipeg actor genetically blessed, but more than just a pretty face

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Winnipeg's Marshall Williams will star as the 'better boy' in Disney Channel's upcoming How to Build a Better Boy.

MELISSA TAIT / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Winnipeg's Marshall Williams will star as the 'better boy' in Disney Channel's upcoming How to Build a Better Boy. Photo Store

His football team at St. Paul's High School completed perfect seasons in 2004, 2005 and 2006.

At the University of Manitoba, his football squad again went undefeated on the way to winning the Vanier Cup.

His first assignment as a Toronto model in 2008 was portraying a real-life Ken doll who, with Barbie, represents the perfect couple for every little girl.

In his latest TV movie, two tech-savvy BFFs concoct the perfect boyfriend, and he is the visual personification of their hot male fantasy.

You could say life is perfect these days for Marshall Williams, a former Winnipegger. He's home from Toronto to celebrate Christmas with his Charleswood family on his way to Los Angeles for TV-pilot season with his model girlfriend.

The 24-year-old actor, who sat down this week in an Exchange District café, resembles a young Ryan Phillippe, with the same boyish good looks, chiselled jawline and ripped physique. His only visible physical flaw is a mangled pinkie finger, left over from his football-playing days.

"I don't have any complaints," says the almost six-footer, without a hint of braggadocio. "I'm enjoying myself. I'm making headway in my career, so I'm doing pretty good."

The fair-haired Williams exudes that appealing, Prairie boy-next-door friendliness, so the only hope haters hold for gene-pool lottery winners like him is that he might be as dumb as a post.

They will be disappointed to learn that last year he was an academic all-Canadian at the University of Toronto, where he is two courses short of his undergraduate degree. His grade-point average was 4.1, he says.

"I try to do things as well as I can," he says. "Luck is an aspect, but there is a lot of work that puts you in position to be successful."

His high school record as a cornerback with the St. Paul Crusaders was 31-0, but he didn't consider himself a terrific athlete and was certainly no slam-dunk to make the Bisons. He hit the gym hard, refined his pass-coverage techniques and became the only defensive back recruited by the U of M from the high school league.

"I didn't come in lucky with really good genes; I had to work really hard," says Williams, who sports a star tattoo on his right elbow, seemingly emblematic of his future goal. "I got hurt a lot."

His list of injuries on the gridiron is long, including two fractured tibias on each leg from chronic shin-splints, and a shoulder that still pops in and out. He suffered numerous concussions, lost the ligaments in his thumb and tore calf and oblique muscles, as well as his hamstring.

His money-maker remained unblemished, however.

"I didn't mess up my face, but I sure did my head," says Williams, casually outfitted in a grey pullover, jeans and black-and-white runners.

On a lark in 2007, Williams went alone to Toronto to try out for Canadian Idol, where he finished in the top 40 and earned the nickname Kelly Clarkson from his football pals. It was a humbling time as a poor student, making do with meals of mushroom soup and dried noodles while sleeping on a bare mattress because he couldn't afford sheets.

 

He tried again at Canadian Idol the following year with the same result, but this time came away with advice to contact modelling agencies. He signed on with Ford Models and booked a lot of work, including as Barbie's arm-candy, Ken, during Toronto Fashion Week.

"Girls could be the Barbie in this box with me and have their picture taken," he says. "I was in hundreds of those photos. I also had to go to a bunch of children's birthday parties with Barbie."

Williams was content with the life of a human mannequin while biding his time in figuring out a career. That meant healthy eating, keeping himself clean-cut and maintaining his six-pack, despite longing to sport a goatee, grow his hair long and put his earring back in. Soon, the poser began to feel, well, like a poser.

"I'm not a big fan of modelling; I didn't enjoy it much," he says. "I felt I couldn't express myself. I got bored with it."

On a trip to New York City, he visited several agencies, where he got a gig as a background model for a short-lived TV reality show called High Society in 2010. The casting director put him in touch with people who helped launch his performing career. He signed up for acting lessons, got an agent and began an auditioning binge, trying out for the likes of Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games and The Young and the Restless

"I thought, 'As long as I put time into it and work hard, I will get it,'" he says. "It was actually really helpful to have taken psychology in university, so I could understand where the characters and the stories were coming from. I also learned from football to bring my intensity level up and deal with the pressure."

The auditions began to get him bit work, including roles as a frat guy in an episode of CBC's Being Erica, a jock in the TV series My Babysitter Is a Vampire and a bully in the TV movie Pete's Christmas.

His first leading role is in the Disney TV movie How to Build a Better Boy, about a pair of high school sophomores who create the perfect boyfriend through a few computer strokes. It's in the can and slated to air next August on the Disney Channel.

He counts Daniel Day-Lewis, Heath Ledger and Hugh Jackman as actors to emulate.

"They have the roles I want to be playing when I'm older but I can't now because I look like I'm 14," he says. "It used to bother me to be dismissed as a pretty-boy, but now I have a lot more confidence in myself. I know I can do things well. You can't beat yourself up over someone not willing to understand that."

kevin.prokosh@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 24, 2013 D1

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Updated on Tuesday, December 24, 2013 at 5:46 AM CST: Replaces photo, changes headline

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