UCF alumnus Luke Hawksworth ’13 isn’t sure if the folks smiling at him in the Orlando international Airport were just exemplifying southern hospitality or if they recognized his face as one of the leads of Netflix’s popular reality show, “Dating Around.” The show, which premiered Valentine’s Day of this year, stands out from other dating shows in its commitment to put the gimmicks aside in favor of a simple per-episode formula: one single New Yorker, five blind first-dates.
Hawksworth, who grew up in a town so small that you could hold your breath driving through downtown, was the lead in the first episode of the series.
We sat down with Luke a couple weeks after the show premiered to hear about his UCF story, his path to getting on the series and the reality behind the reality show.
Before we get into talking about the show, can you just tell me a little about yourself?
Sure! I’m 28 years old and graduated from UCF in 2013. I’m from a small town in North Carolina called Hillsborough, and now live in New York City.
Did you dream of big city life as a kid or were you perfectly content being in a small town?
Being in a small town made me anxious. I didn’t know what to do with myself. When I go back and visit at night, it’s super quiet. You can hear crickets and I’m like, I need to get outa here. I need a siren or a cab honking or something going on. I always wanted to be in the city because I felt like that was where my energy matched.
But first a stop in Orlando for UCF.
Yes. In high school I dreamed of being a pilot and eventually an astronaut. So, since it was close to Kennedy Space Center and had an amazing engineering school, I started looking at UCF. I initially came here to study aero-space engineering and my plan was to be a pilot and eventually go to space. But during my freshman year, I joined the ATO fraternity and was one of the first members of the Young Investors Club. These influences changed my interests and I started to become passionate about business and the financial markets. So, I eventually switched my major to finance.
What came after graduation?
I got a full-time job in financial operations during my senior year, so I kept at it for another year or so after graduation. Eventually I became unhappy with what I was doing and started to think about how I had always wanted to move to New York City. I had done different sorts of acting growing up, mostly theater and commercial work, so I took a leap of faith, quit my job, moved to the city with three bags and called myself an actor. To support myself, I started working in a restaurant, but eventually transitioned to become a real estate broker, because of the flexible schedule. That led to a more professional career and is still what I do for work today. I was still taking voice lessons and trying to work on developing my craft in acting, but I had really fallen in love with real estate right away; it encompasses every part of business that I enjoy.
Were you going to auditions at all?
I didn’t go on many auditions because I was still working on learning. I did really dive hard into real estate and I started to spend more and more time working. In the back of my mind I did still have a desire to be on camera and do some sort of acting or entertainment. Being on “Dating Around” was very random. I was doing some soul searching after a relationship ended last year, so I went on a solo trip to Europe. During that trip I started thinking more about how I still have such a desire to be an actor, and it was all I could think about on that trip. God must have heard me because the second day back in the US a friend of mine reached out about this spot on “Dating Around.” They needed to find a lead for one of the episodes quickly, so I did a few interviews and before I knew it I was filming the show.
What do you think it is about you that makes a friend of yours see an ad for a dating show and think of you?
I think it was the combination of her knowing that I was interested in acting and that I’m just such a ladies’ man. Kidding! The ad for the show said, “We are looking for a handsome man in his twenties to go on dates with five different women. You’ll be payed this amount and everything is taken care of —dinner, wardrobe, etcetera.” I was like, wait you want to pay me to go on dates? Sign me up! But I didn’t take it seriously at first until my friend Briana Cohen, who is also a UCF graduate, said that she thought I’d be good for the part and the other casting agent thought so too. So I did a few Skype interviews within a few days and before I knew it they told me the network loved me and wanted to me to meet with the producers the next day, and then said, “By the way, it’s a Netflix Original.” At that point I was like “Oh wow, I’m actually going to have to do this”. So I met with the producers the next day and everything went well and they gave me the green light and we filmed two weeks later.
I’ve watched your episode, so I know a version of what you experienced filming, but what was it actually like?
It was pretty structured, which I think helped me feel more comfortable. At the beginning of each date we would get drinks at the bar and get to know each other while asking most of the same questions back-and-forth. And these were truly blind dates. I didn’t get to meet any of the girls beforehand or talk in between scenes and each date was filmed on a different night. I never forgot about the cameras. I always wanted to keep in mind that I was being filmed so to not do anything too ridiculous. But I think after the first night, I kind of got most of my nerves out and it was really just trying to have as real and genuine of dates as possible.
So the scene where you met each of them was for real?
Yeah. They didn’t let us meet before. It was truly blind. Every conversation we had was filmed, like when we were switching scenes from the bar to the table, we didn’t speak. They separated us so that we could keep the conversation as real as possible.
Does that mean you weren’t able to kind of address the reality of the situation or say to each other things like ‘whoa, this is kind of weird’?
We were but they just cut those parts out. Also we filmed for almost 12 hours each night. We started at six or seven and would film ‘til five or six in the morning. So they were really long nights and very exhausting, especially after the first couple nights.
You’ve been on five twelve-hour dates?
Yeah. And all in one week. So I didn’t know what they were going to use, which is why at all times I wanted to try to be interesting, but that was such a challenge. It’s really tiring, especially if you don’t have chemistry with one of the dates and you’re trying to keep conversation going.
Were there any you felt you didn’t have chemistry with?
Ashley is a very nice girl, but I think right away we both recognized we had nothing in common. But what they didn’t show is that most of the time we were talking about stories from dating and our friends and if we had people that we could match each other up with. But that date was important to show because not everyone is meant for each other. Sometimes you’re just not that into somebody.
You picked Victoria for the second date. Do you still keep in touch with her?
We went out a couple more times after the show, but it never led to anything. It felt like an experience and once the show was over the spark was gone. But picking someone wasn’t really the point of the show. It was so people could see what it’s like to date in New York City and the different people that you come across. It’s to show how a lot of times you have very awkward and cringey moments and, well, I think my episode did a great job of showing that.
Like Tiffany and the smacking-lips thing?
That’s the real stuff! That really happens. Every date you go on is not a good date, at least in my experience.
Has it been weird for you, knowing so many people can watch you experience something as personal as first dates and first kisses?
Before the show came out, I knew they were going to have those two scenes in there [kissing scenes with Tiffany and Betty]. My producer told me, ‘Make sure that you call your mom, tell her you love her and remind her it’s just a show.’ It is interesting that it’s out there for everyone to see, but I think it’s made me more comfortable with being vulnerable.
Do you have any parting dating advice?
You hear it all the time, but be your genuine self. It’s always important to be authentic, but especially when you’re dating. If you try to be someone that you’re not just to please someone else, you’ll end up wasting a lot of time. It’s really about first finding out who you are and being confident in that yourself, then finding a person in that same place that you can be genuine with.