In the guise of his best-known character, Gabriel Macht is often asked “what would Harvey do?”. Off screen, as himself, he would prefer people to ask the exact opposite.
With a long career in a wide variety of film and television roles, the US actor hit paydirt when he was cast in the role of ruthless New York lawyer Harvey Specter in TV series Suits.
So successfully has he tapped into portraying the narcissistic, manipulative Specter that the 42-year-old sometimes finds it hard to convince people he is the complete opposite of his character.
“Harvey says 'pretend not to care'. I say care until it becomes uncomfortable and then care some more,” Macht told an audience at Melbourne bar The Prince as part of an intimate series of evenings known as the Asahi Silver Sessions.
He shared the stage with GQ Australia publisher Nick Smith and men's tailor Tom Riley, each to speak about the experiences that shaped their careers and the lessons learned along the way.
Macht was quick to distance himself from his most famous creation, using stark contrasts to paint a picture of his own life.
“Harvey is the self-described 'best closer in New York City' and when I say closer, I mean in every sense of the word,” Macht said with a wink. “He's quick, smart, cocky, verbally ambidextrous, firing from both sides of the brain at all times.
“It's a dream playing Harvey Specter because he and I, I think we're just polar opposites. On the show everyone's asking WWHD – What Would Harvey Do? Let's talk about WWGD – What Would Gabriel Do.”
Specter is a well-known commitment-phobe, while Macht has been together with his wife for 13 years, has been married for nine and has two children.
“Harvey says 'vulnerability is a weakness', I would say that's just a bunch of bullshit,” Macht said.
“Allowing myself to be vulnerable is one of my greatest strengths. When you have a kid, the responsibility that comes is just huge. When a child is dependent on you it changes everything.
“I believe (vulnerability) does not only improve me as a husband and a father, but also as a man. It is precisely that vulnerability that I have focused on giving Harvey to give him the depth of character.”
However, he conceded he shares some of Specter's more obsessive and driven traits.
“Harvey and I are not the same person but there are some things we have in common; we share dedication to work, to practice; we're about focus, and pushing through our insecurity and self-doubt, we both listen, we're both curious about life, we ask questions, we both persist through failure,” he said.
Smith, the editor and publisher of GQ Australia and Vogue magazines, told the crowd the most important lesson he has learned is to be yourself.
“There's no point trying to be something else because, really, people see through it. So you've got to be so honest,” he said.
“Even if you don't know anything in life, you've got to fess up to it. People are on the same journey as you, your team at work or even your family, so there's no point lying or being dishonest because we're all in this crazy world together just rambling through as best we can.”
Smith gained a new perspective from the death of a beloved grandparent. “I had a moment of complete clarity when I realised 'there's more to this world (than career success)', and I think that's the true measure of success in realising that,” he said.
“What I'm trying to do is set big, audacious goals for me every year, whether it's moving on to a new role or helping someone else.
“I don't know what my legacy is going to be but I'm hoping along the way I can touch people's lives and make a difference.”
Tom Riley, one of the creative forces behind highly successful men's tailor P. Johnson, said his father taught him to 'take the job seriously but not yourself seriously'.
“I guess on a day to day level, if you focus on the things that are your job and your task and you do them well, then you succeed and things happen naturally,” he said.
The next Asahi Silver Session will be held in Sydney at Mojo in Waterloo on April 2 featuring Sculpture by the Sea founding director David Handley, Archibald Prize winner Vincent Fantauzzo and leading architect Nick Tobais.