Matthew Maher is an actor in theater, film and TV, who lives in New York City. He is currently performing in Golden Child by David Henry Hwang at The Signature Theater, and will also appear in Annie Baker’s The Flick, upcoming at Playwrights Horizons. Film credits include It’s Kind Of A Funny Story, The Killer Inside Me, I’m Still Here, Gone Baby Gone, Jersey Girl, Dogma, Bringing Out The Dead, Vulgar, The Third Wheel, Homecoming and, upcoming, East Of Acadia. TV work includes recurring roles on “The Unusuals” (ABC) and “John From Cincinnati” (HBO), as well as guest appearances on “Bored To Death:, “The Jury”, “Deadline”, and all three “Law and Order” shows. Most recent theater credits include Red-Handed Otter, by Ethan Lipton, at The Cherry Lane Theater; Uncle Vanya at Soho Rep; and Tales From My Parents Divorce with The Civilians, the theater company of which he is an associate artist.
As we shall discuss in this interview, Matthew may be most known to a wide audience because of a batch of strange and sadly loyal patrons, such of myself, to any and everything legendary filmmaker Kevin Smith, and anyone who has associated with him, has ever done in his life. Hell, I even watched that god awful piece of shit Paris Hilton movie because it Jason Mewes was the lead male, and Smtih had a cameo as well. It gets that loyal, my friends. And prior to this interview, Mr. Maher was simply the Holy Bartender, and Ethan Suplee’s fellow creepy ass brother in Vulgar. But, upon reaching out to Matt, I soon became reocgniscent of my own ignorance, and finally realized that this is a genuine and true genius in the acting world, and should obviously be treated as such. So with that in mind, let’s talk more about Kevin Smith! Just kidding, please sit back and enjoy what has been one of my personal favorite interviews here at Trainwreck’d Society to date. Enjoy!
What inspired you to become an actor?
Well, I went to high school with a great theater program. It was one of the rare public schools where doing plays was actually cool. I was shy and socially awkward–I was a skateboard kid who wasn’t very good at riding a skateboard. Doing plays seemed like an easy way to meet people and get invited to parties. I started by working on the backstage crew, but found after a year that I was jealous of the kids who were performing, so the next year I auditioned and was cast as Billy, the photographers assistant, in the Fall production of Stage Door. I had one line, I still remember it: “Just Billy”. So anyway, that’s what drew me to acting: a desire for popularity and attention, and an envy for those who had it. An appreciation for the art of acting, making work, creating a character–all that came later.
You portrayed a sought after child molester in Gone Baby Gone. As an actor, how exactly do you prepare for a role like that? And how was that experience in the actual portrayl? And to continue on with the subject of estranged personas, what about your role as a potential clown rapist in Bryan Johnson’s creeptastic Vulgar? Was that bizarre in some ways?
Vulgar (w/Ethan Suplee)
It is a weird fact of my career that, at least in movies, I’ve been cast a lot as rapists and child molesters. I cannot account, exactly, for why this is so. I’m a very nice, normal guy. Vulgar was the first one; Vulgar was one of my first movies, period. I had no agent–I read about the audition in Backstage magazine. I thought it might go somewhere because it was being produced by Kevin Smith, who had just come out with Chasing Amy, and was very big at the time the indie movie scene. Vulgar was and is a very bizzare weird movie–equally off-putting and funny, like John Waters meets, well, Kevin Smith. It was also an exploitation revenge movie. Anyway, it was very, very fun to work on. Ethan Suplee and I played two brothers who had the intelligence and emotional life of eleven year olds. The director, Bryan Johnson, let us improvise most of our dialogue, and we would just whine and cry and hurl insults at each other. We had a whale of a time. The fact that the script called for us to kidnap and rape a party clown, while very central to the story of the movie, seemed incidental to the good time we were having shooting the actual scenes. I think the manic ridiculousness of it all ended up making the scenes all the more disturbing, in the end. That was the idea, anyway.
This kind of addresses your question about Gone Baby Gone, too. Truly sick, crazy, dangerous people–at least the kinds that are portrayed in movies–don’t think of themselves as being crazy or sick. They’re inside their own heads, and one has to assume that they see their own needs and behaviors as normal, at least to them. It wasn’t actually that hard to prepare for Gone Baby Gone. I didn’t have to imagine what it would be like to want to sexually assault children. It’s worst crime I can imagine, but Corwin Earle, the character, didn’t think of it that way; he was just fulfilling his needs, trying to have a good time. Now, he knew that everybody ELSE thought he was sick and twisted, and he knew enough to be ashamed and terrified when he was busted, but the real acting challenge, for me, was to imagine what it would be like to beg for my life. Ben Affleck, the director, who was particularly shrewed at working with actors, kept pushing me to be simpler, to do less; also, the set dressing, the costumes–they went a long way towards showing what a sad and dangerous person Corwin was–I didn’t have to do any extra work to get that across. And besides, as despicable as he was, and a lot of my characters are, it’s not my job to judge them. The script, the story, the movie as whole, do that just fine. I thought it was brave of Ben to humanize my character as much as he did.
You were also at the end of the classic “Holy Bartender” joke in Kevin Smith’s Dogma? Are you often recognized as the guy Jason Lee filled with bullets? And you made a return in a Kevin Smith projects with Clerks The Animated Series and a role in Jersey Girl. After all of these occasions, how was it working with Smith as your director?
I have, at this point in my life, done a fair amount of movies, and television–lots of Law and Order and such–and quite a lot more Off Broadway and Off-Off Broadway plays. I’ve been recognized or congratulated, at some point, for most of these performances. All of these recognitions, these nice instances of kind words from strangers, all of them taken together would not equal even a tenth of the the amount of times I’ve been called out for being the Holy Bartender in Dogma. In New York, Los Angeles, Berkeley, New Orleans, Oklahoma City–in all these cities I’ve been approached by a guy in hoodie telling me he’s seen the movie seven times. They often know my name. I have five lines in that movie. I was shooting John From Cincinnati in a suburb of San Diego and a group of teenagers partying in the house across from my trailer tried to get me to come in and watch the movie with them. They were very insistent. It is a testament to Kevin Smith’s cultural authority.
I met Kevin on Vulgar, and we got along well. It didn’t hurt when he found out I had gone to high school with Ben Affleck, and that we were still friends. Kevin I think likes to keep things in the family, to surround himself with people he likes and trusts–even in small parts, which Jersey Girl, Dogma and Clerks The Animated Series most definitely were. In all those instances I just got a call from Scott Mosier, the producer, asking me if I was around the following week. They were all very fun, very relaxed experiences. The trick was to get Kevin and Scott to laugh, and then you knew you were in good shape.
Gone Baby Gone
Do you have a coalition with the Affleck brothers? How do you manage to appear in so many of their films?
Well, as I mentioned, we went to high school together. In fact I’ve known Ben and Casey longer than that–our parents were roommates in college. So it’s not a coincidence I’ve worked with them as much I have. It’s not complete nepotism either, though. The Kevin Smith movies I got through Kevin; The Killer Inside Me, Casey recomended me, but I still had to audition. Gone Baby Gone was a strait offer though; Ben walked up to me and said something like “I have a part for you in this movie I’m directing, but I hope you don’t take it personally.” I also play myself in I’m Still Here–I didn’t have to audition for that either. Anyway–I’m of course incredibly grateful. I didn’t know they would be as famous as they are when we were little, but I knew they were smart, and funny, and that I liked being around them. And it taught me early on: relationships are everything, and that if you meet someone who is talented and who’s company you enjoy–famous and powerful or not–stay close to that person, because they will do more for the overall quality of your creative life, and maybe your career as well, than any one audition ever could. Working with friends, and having friends who are really good at what they do, is one of the best things about my career.
Who would you say is your greatest non artistic influence in your life?
That is a strangely difficult question to answer. Art and creativity inform pretty much every means by which I engage with the world. I’m either working–collaborating with writers and directors and other actors–or relaxing–by watching plays, movies, reading novels, and hanging out with the aforementioned writers, directors and actors with whom I am often working. Even my volunteer work is centered around making art; I work with an organization called The Possibility Project, which reaches out to teenagers around the city, getting them to talk about the problems they’re facing in their lives, at which point they…write a play about it all, and perform in said play. The work the staff and teenagers do at TPP is enormously inspiring, it’s changed my life, but in the end It all the flows back to same thing: acting, thinking about acting, all the different mediums that one can act in, how those mediums work, etc etc etc.
I guess the greatest non artistic influence I have in my life is my sister, Sarah. We talk on the phone most days. We give each other advice, trade family gossip, vent our neurotic worries and grudges, etc… She’s a therapist, and a really good one, I imagine–and when I’m working on a character that I’m having trouble with, whose motivations are mysterious to me, I’ll call her up, talk her through the story, and she’ll almost always have great insights into the characters’ behavior: for example, she’ll say something like “he’s acting like a child of divorce, lashing out at the people who are actually on his side, trying to impress the people who are abandoning him” (this about a character in Uncle Vanya I just played this past summer.) What’s great about her advice is that she has a very clinical eye for how and why people behave, coupled with a tremendous amount of empathy for people–which not only makes her fun to talk to, but is also is an example for me as to how I want to be as an actor, in my work: clear eyed, analytic, but also generous and loving towards the characters I play, and the people I work with.
Tell us a bit about your upcoming project, East of Acadia. What will you be doing in this film?
Well, I play another angry psycho–who is also, once again, a rapist. I swear this is not a reflection of my actual personality. In fact I don’t know if would have done the movie–I’m trying to leave rapists and crazy people behind me, at least for the time being–except that the script really interested me. It’s a very ambitious story; it juggles a lot of characters, and is crammed with ideas; it’s a kind of noir/mystery/western, set in rural Maine, that explores spiritual awakening, creativity, family dynamics…The director, Brad Coley, is trying to craft an exciting story that at the same time wrestles with deep, complex themes. I have no idea whether or not he pulled it off, I haven’t seen it yet, but his creative ambition inspired me, and he got some great people to work on it–including William Sadler, who plays my father in the film, and who was really fun to act with.
What was the last thing that made you smile?
I asked my girlfriend, Rebecca, what my answer should be to this question and she said “Me!” Which made me smile. So there you have it.