Mr. Big Stuff
Mr. Big Stuff
November 14 2011 8:00 AM EST
November 17 2015 5:28 AM EST
Mr. Big Stuff
Mr. Big Stuff
Describing Ross Mathews as having a personality big enough to fill a room is fitting. Heads turn as the 32-year-old television personality enters the airy lobby of the stylish W Hotel in Hollywood, and even the seen-it-all servers smile and nod in his direction. Mathews smiles and nods back at them. Is Mathews always so effusive? "I try to create special moments with people," Mathews admits.
Mathews has parlayed a recurring bit on NBC's The Tonight Show With Jay Leno as the effervescent on-air celebrity-interviewing intern with the helium voice into an admirable career. Besides appearing frequently as a panelist on E!'s Chelsea Lately, for which he is also an occasional guest host, Mathews has guest-hosted ABC's female-driven talk show The View, competed on Celebrity Fit Club, had a recurring role on Days of Our Lives, and spoken on college campuses around the country. It's probably his spontaneous red carpet interviews (he says he never does research), where he's had "moments" with everyone ranging from royalty to Oprah, that have made the biggest impression on fans.
Mathews says he owes some of his success to daytime host Kathie Lee Gifford. Earlier this year, when Mathews secured a deal with cable channel E! to develop his own talk show, he immediately thought back to one certain summer as a 9-year-old watching TV with his mother in Mount Vernon, Wash.
"I remember watching Regis and Kathie Lee interview celebrities, and my mom looked so happy," he says. "I just did the math. I wanted to make my mom happy, and I wanted to talk to celebrities. Basically, I wanted Kathie Lee's job!"
Mathews grew up in a small town as a self-described "flamboyant, chubby kid with a Care Bear voice," but interestingly says he never felt like the object of ridicule. It's even more unexpected to hear that he's been a lifelong sports buff. "I played football in eighth grade, and even though I had a passion for it, it turned out I'm no good at playing it," Mathews recalls. He was also disarmingly gregarious, which he says helped him escape the wrath of school-yard bullies. "I felt like in every group of friends I had, someone had my back," Mathews says. "So I was really lucky that [although] I was this high-pitched then, this flamboyant then, and this unapologetic then, I never really got shit for it."
This example will undoubtedly extend to the pilot for his own talk show, which he'll produce with Handler's team. "It's going to be a half hour of laughs and smiles," he says, revealing hints about what he has in store for his audiences. "It's a crappy world out there, employment's down, their homes are being foreclosed, so I want them to look like my mom did when I was watching TV with her and I decided this is what I want to do with my life."
While Mathews's visibility is increasing, his waistline has noticeably diminished since his Leno days. Mathews credits his slimmer appearance to Jenny Craig. Despite dropping 40 pounds on Celebrity Fit Club in 2007, Mathews says he gained all of it back -- and more. He blames bad eating habits from childhood. "Nutrition wasn't a priority when I was growing up," he recalls. "My parents were just trying to pay the bills, and my dad was a hunter, so we ate whatever he killed." Mathews noticed that a close friend, actress Sara Rue, who was a Jenny Craig spokeswoman, had developed a svelte figure, and through her introduction he was offered a free program. After mentioning it on Handler's show, he was invited to be a spokesman, making him the first gay spokesman for any national weight-loss company. "I love it," Mathews says. "I even got my mom on it."
Mathews smiles and waves at another fan who's caught his attention in the lobby. Even with his punishing schedule, Mathews finds time for his fans. He undoubtedly remembers the chubby young boy in Mount Vernon watching talk shows with his mother, a reason he makes himself as accessible as possible on social networking sites, including his blog, HelloRoss.
"If I could have had contact with Kathie Lee Gifford that easily, it would have blown my mind," he says. "I try to do that to people on a daily basis. I feel like it's part of my job." For Mathews, it's all about creating a moment.