Wilhelmina model Peter Argue, inspiration for the character Eric Ellis in the new novel, The MENhattan Project, answers questions about what it’s like to be a male model. I came into the interview with some inaccurate preconceived notions, and Peter set me straight.
Last year, I worked with authors Victoria Flores and Leslie Wilson on their romantic comedy novel for adults, The MENhattan Project. They wrote the story, and I fleshed it out and punched it up. It was great fun to work with them, and I’m happy to announce that the book is now available on Kindle.
As part of my research before getting started, I asked Victoria if I could interview her soon-to-be husband, Canadian model Peter Argue, for two reasons:
- His lifestyle and career were the inspiration for Eric Ellis, one of the male leads in the book (although Peter is a nicer guy than Eric);
- I knew nothing about the world of male modeling, and I needed to get inside his head so that what I wrote about Eric would make sense. This was especially important because I had spent the better part of my writing career railing against the objectification of female models and body image issues, in my blogs and my first book, Shape Shifting—reclaiming YOUR perfect body. And, as one of Peter’s favorite Wayne Dyer quotes states, “The highest form of ignorance is when you reject something you don’t know anything about.”
Peter kindly agreed to answer my questions, and I used many of his answers while fleshing out Eric’s character. But some of the interesting things he said never made it into The MENhattan Project. So I thought I’d share them here (with plenty of spoiler alerts).
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a male model? Here’s Wilhelmina model Peter Argue’s take:
Q) What made you decide to become a model?
A) I always enjoyed nice clothes. Beatings from my older brother were the norm when I would wear one of his Ralph Lauren shirts to school. We were expected to be financially self sufficient as kids, and my older brother used money he earned to buy nice clothes. Eventually, I made money from teaching trumpet lessons. Things changed then, but until that point I had to wear hand-me-downs and non-name-brand clothes.
My father owned several hair salons and distributed hair products so, as kids, we would work in the warehouse on the weekends. A woman rented a space he had in the city for her modeling agency. I helped her set things up, and worked with her running the agency. Because of my parents, I had a good understanding of business at a very young age.
Eventually I flew to NYC and LA for conventions when I was sixteen and seventeen. Although I didn’t get signed with my number one pick, Ford Models in New York, I did get offers to model in Korea and Taipei.
I worked out every day, and continued to help grow the agency and eventually had a good business that I was a part of. I set up mall fashion shows, and photo shoots for the local newspaper, all the while still dreaming about working with Ford. To me they were the best and most prestigious in the world.
One day while walking through the mall, an agent from none other than Ford-NYC approached me. They were scouting across Canada for contestants for their Ford Supermodel of the World. I won for my province and then won in January 1995 for Canada. I spent about six months in Toronto working and then moved to Europe. All my dreams came true.
Q) What is the hardest part about being a model?
A) Most male models would say being on your own, or traveling all the time, but those are two of the things I enjoy the most, although that changes over the years: last year I took fifty six flights and worked in eighteen countries. The market is saturated here in America.
I’m now signed with Wilhelmina NYC, which is the Ferrari compared to the Lamborghini in terms of comparison with Ford. Being with one of the best agencies also has its downfalls, as my agents turn jobs down on my behalf if not enough money is offered. And their roster has some of the top guys in the world, so they are also your competition.
It’s important to have a good business sense, since some clients and agencies can take up to one year to pay. I’m one of the guys that puts a lot of money back into my career, investment-wise, so I need that money in due time to stay ahead, always. Even though clients pay airfare, hotel etc., I still end up spending a lot of my own money when traveling so much.
Q) How cutthroat is the male modeling industry?
A) The male modeling industry isn’t really as bad as the women’s. Men have a much longer career span. I’ve always done well since I moved to Toronto all those years back, but that was partly due to the fact that I set up markets all over the globe, and didn’t rely on just a few main markets. It helps to visit those markets a couple times a year. We are like cows: the agency likes to have a fresh group in and work, work, work for a season, and then a new batch comes in. It gives the clients access to variety.
When it comes to NYC, most guys just stay here all the time as they are tired of traveling, want to settle down or set up some other business. It can get a little competitive, but most of the time the guys are all pretty cool. Some will sell themselves out but it’s never been my style. I am what I am. Either you like me or you don’t.
Q) How hard is it to maintain a relationship when you’re traveling and having women throw themselves at you (which I assume happens a lot—is that accurate?)
A) I don’t think that’s the case at all, actually. There are so many assumptions about the modeling industry and it only takes a few well publicized cases to have people assume it’s like that all the time.
You create what you want. It’s always been that way for me. There was a point in my life when I was living in London and woke up one morning with some girl in my bed and it made my skin crawl. I was quite often hooking up with random girls as that is what becomes the norm, and it’s like this for most of the models I know. They either date another model (omg kill me—I want to talk about something other than work!) or just play the field.
I realized that I wasn’t happy living like that. I was craving a relationship, but had to figure out how to make it possible, as it never worked before. As good as this business is, there are a lot of compromises. Some models can deal with it and others can’t. I guess it just depends on what you want at that time in your life.
Q) Do the women you have been involved with feel insecure if they’re not at the same level of beauty? Do you ever wonder if people like you for who you are inside, or only for your looks?
A) What draws me to someone is the fact that, no matter what they look like, they have self confidence. I’ve seen a lot of “ugly” female models but they have confidence and they become attractive. I’m pretty sure that people like me for who I am on the inside, and the outer shell is just a bonus.
Q) What is it like to be so “genetically blessed” in a world of relatively average people? I mean, I assume that living in NYC and working in your field, you’re probably surrounded by beautiful people. But when you’re out among regular folks, do you find that you get preferential treatment? Do you ever deliberately use your looks to get special treatment? Do you get tired of this even being an issue and just want to forget about what you look like sometimes?
A) I get special treatment all the time and I love it. Who wouldn’t? To be honest though, I see all my flaws more than I see my beauty. My hair is never 100% right, my body is definitely way behind what I want it to be, my teeth are not perfect and I don’t think I have much fashion sense. Even to this day, I don’t know how to put a stylish outfit together, partially because I don’t care all that much and think the whole industry is ridiculous, but I get around that by going out and buying a $700 pair of Dior sneakers with a cool pair of RRL jeans and a t-shirt that is body hugging and it all works. I’m a jeans and t-shirt kind of guy. I could see myself being very happy living up north in a really nice cottage and working outside all day, chopping wood.
I may use my looks to get my way sometimes, but never in a malicious or selfish way. It’s just one of the things that make me who I am. Some people are articulate, so they use that skill to get what they want. Others are funny, so they use that. I think it’s just a part of being a human being and survival to use what we have. I don’t see anything wrong with it.
These days I get a bit embarrassed or uncomfortable when people make comments about how I look, but after so many years you get programmed to still want that, and you need to hear it, deep down inside.
Q) Women have been objectified for a long time and held up to impossible standards—this isn’t news—but now it looks like men are getting their turn. How do you feel about that? How much pressure is on you to maintain a perfectly toned and sculpted physique? What do guys in your field do to get and stay that way? How hard do you have to work to stay in the kind of shape you’re in, to maintain your career?
A) I think women let themselves be objectified and I don’t see anything wrong with it, as long as there is no harm done. If they are foolish enough to not take advantage of being objectified then that is their own fault. If someone wants to objectify me, fine. Do as you wish, because I’m smart and hard working enough to get what I want out of the situation. I look at it as everyone wins.
Unfortunately there are always things being pushed too far and then you have problems: anorexic girls, mental issues, etc. I suggest people getting into this industry had better be really strong; otherwise it can crush you and damage you for life. Maybe that explains why you always see models partying and maintaining that eighteen-year-old lifestyle when we are in our thirties and older. Maybe to mask some underlying issues?
Maybe we sleep with hundreds of women to make up for every time we went into a casting and were objectified and turned down. Maybe we do stupid things sometimes to make up for some really scary situations we got ourselves in. Bad shit happens and it stays with you.
There are a lot of control issues in this industry and you can either be controlled or control. Sometimes we can’t always pick. I’m a neat freak—a perfectionist in many things, and I get frustrated when things are beyond my control. I was once told by another model that she had seen a shrink after developing these same characteristics, and the shrink said it was quite common after being in this industry for many years—you live in so many shithole model apartments, and do your best to make it bearable, so once you have your own home it has to be perfect all the time because it’s one of the things that you could control in your life.
When it comes to the gym, I have my ups and downs. So many years of pressure to be in top shape, it’s very hard to maintain all year long, especially with so much travel. Science has come a long way and many supplements exist to help you keep a good body, but it comes down to a lot of discipline. The better shape you’re in, the more money you’ll make.
When I was in my teens it was popular to just go to the gym and throw around some weights. It worked at the time but then we were eighteen and raging with testosterone. Times have changed and so have views on how to train. To do it properly you need a full time trainer and to do more cross fit and resistance activities. I still enjoy throwing around my weights, though, but I’ve picked up roller-blading and occasionally running.
From this point on, in this interview, there are lots of book spoilers so turn away if you haven’t read it yet. When I started working on the book, the plotline had already been laid out, and I wanted Peter’s help in filling in the corners of Eric’s character, so I asked him to suppose what Eric’s motivations might be, given their similar professions.
WHO IS ERIC ELLIS?
Q) Tell me about your restaurant concept, as it’s similar to what Eric is planning.
A) Throughout my twenty years of traveling I found it a challenge to find a quick bite to eat that is healthy and affordable without having to sit down in a restaurant. Growing up in the middle of Canada, baked potatoes were (and still are) one of our staple foods. I’ve seen the concept work with great success in Turkey and also in Germany, so I’m in the process of adapting it for the North American market.
I see it based on the Subway sandwich shop business model with franchise opportunities worldwide, except using baked potatoes prepared in a unique way and then loaded up with healthy and delicious toppings. Small overhead, high profit margins and in locations (airports, universities, malls) where there is a high volume of traffic and people just want a quick meal under ten or twelve dollars.
Q) Why do you suppose Eric isn’t interested in Vivian as more than a friend with benefits? Does she not fit into his world? Is he too busy? Are there too many other fish in the global sea?
A) Eric is living THE life. He can spin the globe and put a finger down and pack his two bags that contain his life (he prefers being mobile and has perfected it over all the years) and can be out the door. He can stay in that country and work as a model, and most of the time make enough money to get by, living a very fun filled time. In most cases, he can even come out way ahead, if there are a few lucky breaks along the way.
All in all, at the end of the year, he is always ahead of the game and in the male model business this is the key: to be able to stay mobile and work many countries/markets throughout the year. With that, there are always many opportunities to meet up with women along the way.
Long term relationships for Eric always end in heartbreak, as staying in one market too long doesn’t work. His career will suffer eventually. He knows this, as it’s been proven, time and time again. He learned to save himself the heartbreak for both him and his lover by just keeping a casual dating scenario and being honest from the start, telling her that he would be leaving in a few months.
I like to think of Eric as a pretty nice guy and very down to earth. At times he knows what he has to do to get what he wants, but it’s for the right reasons and he’s never malicious.
Q) I’m imagining Eric’s life as being like Vincent Chase in Entourage, to a lesser degree of wealth and fame. Is that accurate at all?
A) I can see some parallels but, honestly, I had to stop watching Entourage as I got so annoyed by Vincent. He started out fine but, at a certain point, he became far too needy and quite a whiner. I think that Eric would maintain a good head on his shoulders and still be down to earth.
Eric is fun and adventurous, but also more caring these days and would never use anyone in a malicious way. He may still want his freedom, and he feels better knowing he has it even if he doesn’t have any desire to be with anyone else, mostly because that’s what he is used to.
Peter Argue and Victoria Flores
Q) Considering Eric’s lifestyle, how many other women—apart from Vivian—do you suppose he’s sleeping with in NYC, and is he getting laid while he’s out of town? Would he even have time when he’s traveling/working, or would he be too busy?
A) I think, at this point in Eric’s life, he has made some big changes moving to North America from Europe. He feels that the whole mentality here is quite different than in the rest of the world. Although his career is still going strong, it’s changed. He went from working three to five days a week and now, in NYC, it’s the kind of market that is so saturated that most models (men and women) only work a few times a month.
I think, when Eric first moves to New York, he is going to be very careful and can feel already that it’s going to be difficult in a city like that. He has a frustration growing in him the longer he stays. He’s a busy guy—it takes a lot of work to keep on top of thirty agencies worldwide, going to the gym, and even just eating healthy every day takes a great deal of time. Although he has grown used to getting lots of attention, over the years he has become a bit more private and less social.
Going out to clubs was never really a bit priority for him. He has always been able to entertain himself and be self sufficient. He prefers it that way.
Q) Why do you suppose Eric came back to Vivian? What was it about her, out of all the women he meets and after all that went down between them, that makes him want to commit?
A) That’s simple: it was all about timing. He had reached a stage in his life before he met her where he was ready to finally commit to the right woman. Sometimes a certain lifestyle is hard to give up, but eventually you know it’s the right thing.
As with wishing to be signed with Ford Models, if you put something out in the universe, and truly want it badly enough, then things will happen. You must give back and make a conscious effort to do it daily and Eric believes in this. After all, in traveling in thirty different countries in twenty years, he has picked up a lot of worldly knowledge and maybe that’s why sometimes he’s misunderstood.
Some people just think, “Oh, you’re a model … snicker, snicker.” They only think of what Page Six says about models and all the stereotypes, but he’s actually a quite deep character.
The Menhattan Project, by Victoria Flores and Leslie Wilson, with Lisa Bonnice, is available on Kindle and soon to be in book form.
Vivian Fiori may seem like she has it all. A thriving career, the “nice” guy that loves her and an anonymous, successful dating blog that’s changing the way women date in New York. Only glitch, she is falling for the wrong guy and when the public is itching to find out who the secret blogger of The Menhattan Project is, her world is about to come crumbling down around her. Her only saving grace, her best friends who aren’t afraid to tell her the truth, no holds barred. Vivian Fiori, you are F@#!%D!
“The Menhattan Project is a fun, extremely sexy and laugh-out-loud funny page-turner, featuring whip-smart women and to-die-for men. Perfection! More, please!”
Best Selling Author
The Dirty Girls Social Club
Dating advice and beauty bloggers Victoria Flores and Leslie Wilson are best friends living in New York City, who are both finally married with children on the way. Victoria can be seen on this season’s dating show, “The Singles Project” on Bravo TV. The authors have been featured in the Huffington Post, New York Magazine, Self Magazine, Cosmo Latina, Hamptons Magazine and many others. Lisa Bonnice is a best-selling author and former standup comedienne. She, too, has had more than her share of crazy experiences in the dating world.
Lisa Bonnice is the author of four previous books:
Shape Shifting–reclaiming YOUR perfect body (also on Kindle)
The Shape Shifter’s Daily Diary
Be Careful What You Witch For! (also on Kindle)
Fear of Our Father
She is currently working on a sequel to her first novel, Be Careful What You Witch For!
The photos on this page were snagged from Peter’s facebook page (except for the spoiler gifs, which were found on Google).