You’re either going to side-eye Justin Baldoni, or he’s going to be your new man-crush. At just shy of 37 years old, he’s already got an arm-long resume as an actor, producer, director, and writer. He’s got his own production company, a charitable foundation, and yes, he’s even had a TED talk. And yes, he’s incredibly handsome, is in tip top shape, and has two adorable kids. What’s worse? He actually cares. About people. And he’s on a mission to change what it means to be a man.
Baldoni got his start playing parts on soaps like The Young and The Restless, going on to roles in prime time dramas like Everwood and Blackout. He really caught our attention, though, as the handsome homme fatal Rafael Solano on The CW network’s telenovela send-up Jane The Virgin. He founded Wayfarer Studios so he could focus on producing purpose-driven “radically sincere film and television content.” The studio won multiple awards for the documentary series My Last Days, about people living with terminal illness. It premiered the film Clouds in October on Disney Plus; a biopic about Zach Sobiech, a high school student and musician whose music topped the charts as he lived out his final days with terminal osteosarcoma bone cancer.
“Clouds is performing really well. It’s exceeded expectations,” Baldoni tells The Manual, “which I’m really happy about. It’s resetting people in an important way. It went viral recently on TikTok with all of these young people watching it and filming themselves and trying not to cry. It’s really sweet because so often we can stop ourselves from feeling all the things we need to feel. I want to make movies that remind people that they are living, breathing human beings, and that sometimes watching somebody else’s struggle can unlock and release your own. It goes back to empathy and compassion. Feeling breeds compassion which breeds empathy which breeds humanity. You can see yourself in somebody else. That is being human.
His now-viral 2017 TEDTalk, “Why I’m done trying to be ‘man enough;’” was his take on toxic masculinity and male behavior. In it, Baldoni describes several of his onscreen roles as “Shirtless Date Rapist, Shirtless Medical Student, and Shirtless Steroid-Using Con Man.” So when we had the chance, we had to ask him, when he is wearing a shirt, what does he prefer?
“I have eight white t-shirts that are identical,” Baldoni says, tugging at the collar of the broken-in crewneck pocket tee he’s wearing at the moment. Walking us over to his closet he showed five more (the others were in the laundry) hanging with only a few other items. “I’ve had them for five years. Originally I had fifteen, so I’ve destroyed the others I wear them so much. I generally wear the same things over and over again. I’m about convenience and comfort, and I don’t like to think too much about what I’m going to wear that day. What’s cool is you can have these things that are your go-to pieces forever, and then you can accent them with whatever is hot that season. I can wear this same shirt, but throw on a cardigan or a suit jacket, and then it’s a whole new wardrobe; but I’m still wearing the thing underneath that makes me feel comfortable.”
Boldoni also has a penchant for simple white sneakers. “They’re actually super cheap. I have four or five different pair and buy them on Amazon for twenty or thirty dollars.”
Unprompted he goes on to say, “It starts with underwear. For a long time I wondered where was the underwear for men that was as soft and comfortable as women’s? My wife has all these pairs that are soft and ‘spandex-y’ and you can’t see the lines under pants. So I used to wear boxer shorts, but I found these Pair of Thieves briefs at Target and they’re so stretchy and comfortable I don’t feel like I’m wearing anything.”
Speaking of his wife, actress Emily Baldoni, we asked Justin about the black ring he wore, assuming it was his wedding ring. “This is actually not my wedding ring. It’s an Oura Ring. I’m a bit of a biohacker, and am really into the optimization of our bodies through data. I like wearables and being able to measure and see the effect stress has on my body, and then it’s a constant game to figure out how to reduce it. This tracks how much I sleep and when I’m in REM sleep, my resting heart rate, and my heart rate variability. But my wedding ring is a way cooler thing. I was born on my grandparents’ anniversary, but I never met my grandfather. He was an Italian-American immigrant who came to America in 1912 and became a state senator in South Bend, Indiana. My Nana and I are very close, so when I got married, she gave me his wedding ring. One day while shooting Jane The Virgin I lost it. I swore if I found it again I wouldn’t wear it shooting anymore, and, by the grace of God we found it. It was a miracle! My wife and I decided to get tattoos instead.” Baldoni bears his wife’s initials — in her handwriting — on his left ring finger.
A follower of the Bahá’í faith, Baldoni brings a strong sense of mission to all that he does. That TED talk was just the start. Man Enough, is his web series of candid dinner conversations about why men don’t talk, the #MeToo movement, fatherhood, and gender bias. The Man Enough website hosts related content as an ongoing conversation. He’s also got a three-book deal with Harper Collins, and will be released April 2017.
“’Abdu’l Bahá said, ‘Tell the rich of the midnight sighing of the poor.’ There was something about that quote that really touched my heart,” says Baldoni. “It reminded me that we can be in a position of privilege, but what are we doing with our platform and our voice to actually relieve some of that suffering? Suffering is always going to exist, but for those of us who are comfortable, what are we doing to help those who are just downright uncomfortable. The Wayfarer Foundation is where we are doing a lot of work in and around Skid Row (a neighborhood in downtown Los Angeles infamous for a homeless problem that extends back to the 19th century), working with the unhoused population. We’ve launched a peer mentoring program called Wayfarer 1:1, part of our Be Love Give Love campaign. It’s being run by my dear friend Melvin who was on the street himself five years ago. We believe that people who’ve had the experience of being on the street are uniquely situated to be able to help someone else get off the street.
“We have to destigmatize what it means to be unhoused and stop ‘other-izing’ those folks,” he says. “Homelessness is a human issue. It’s not going to be solved by policy, it’s not going to be solved by politics: It’s going to be solved by recognizing that the person you pass by on the street or drive by every day on the corner, who has a sign up, or who’s begging for food, is a son, a brother, a daughter, a friend, a mother, a father, or an uncle, who had a dream once just like you do. We have to tap into our empathy and start to see ourselves in those people.
“When the pandemic hit there was some crazy percentage of millennials who had no savings account, and who were one disaster away from being homeless. Luckily most had families they could go to for help, but what if you didn’t? We don’t think about people who don’t have options. If they can’t pay the rent, their home is foreclosed, or they lose their job, whatever it is; what happens when they end up on the street? For me the question was, how do we humanize the situation? The point of the Wayfarer Foundation is to change the way we respond to homelessness. Can I start to see you as a friend, instead of somebody who’s going to decrease my property value?”
Successful actor, director, producer, family man, and humanitarian, one might begin to wonder where Baldoni gets the energy to keep up with it all. Of course we found out his dark secret: It’s coffee.
Justin has been working withon the launch of its new series of automatic espresso machines. “This machine has been a lifesaver, especially during the pandemic when you can’t go out. Occasionally, because I want to support our local coffee shop, I’ll order something in advance and give the baristas a tip because they’re working; but to be able to press a button and get the same thing I would order from a shop, whenever I want, and have it actually taste better because I’m using my own beans — that I know are healthier — that’s a huge win. The machine is not necessarily cheap, however, most people don’t realize how much coffee they drink. If you go to a coffee shop for a latte every day, that adds up! One of these can pay for itself in a couple of months.”
Best of all, you can use either fresh beans or ground coffee to make espresso drinks or regular coffee. The brand has also incorporated a module called the LatteGo into certain models that steams milk for lattes or cappuccinos like a pro, and can even go into the dishwasher for easy clean-up. Simply put, it’s an essential kitchen gadget during our stay-at-home reality.
What’s up next for Baldoni? While he will keep acting, there are no firm projects in the works right now. He’ll continue to focus on directing and producing (Look for Love You Anyway, a film about mental health issues, shot mostly on iPhone; and part of Wayfarer Studio’s The Six Feet Experiment.)
“Every day is a new opportunity, and I get a clean slate to be the husband, father, and friend I want to be,” Baldoni says. “A lot of folks might think I’m an overachiever, but all that comes with sacrifice, and it might not be a sacrifice I’m proud of or that I want to make. If I don’t succeed at hitting all my goals or my deadlines; if I drop the ball, that’s okay. I have to be kind to myself and remember that I’m human and I’m flawed. We only get so many breaths and heartbeats in a life and have to be conscious of those things. We have to remember to have empathy and compassion for ourselves, especially men who are socialized to be ‘alphas’ and right about everything. At the end of the day we’re human.”
And we need a lot of coffee.
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- Why Mental Health Matters (and Why It’s Time to Change Our Perspective)