Matthew Jacobs [Interview]

Welcome back to TWS, Folks! To perfectly commemorate the Memorial Day weekend being behind us, we thought we would share a wonderful interview with a damn fine Englishman! Trust me, it makes sense (or it doesn’t, either way, we are happy!). And that man would be writer, producer, actor, editor, director…..all of the things….Matthew Jacobs! I first became aware of Matthew’s work over 25 years ago, as he wrote the screenplay for the beautiful adaptation of a the series, Lassie. Of course, I was but a small boy when the film was released, so I wasn’t really aware of Matthew personally. So I thought I would do just that!
And as it turned out, Mr. Jacobs turns out to be an extremely nice person, and has done some even more amazing work beyond Lassie. Yes, Matthew’s work extended beyond just a film that was played on a loop in my doctor’s office up until at least 2003 when I stopped going. Yes, Matthew has written some pretty amazing words that would turn into classic films like Lorca and the Outlaws, which was directed by our old friend and former guest Roger Christian, as well as a couple of Bernard Rose films (Smart Money and Paperhouse), and another favorite of mine, The Emperor’s New Groove. And as we discuss below, he has also been heavily involved in a little series known as Dr. Who, which is insanely popular, with a very devote fan base. As we mentioned earlier, he has also worked extensively in the world of producing, directing, and even starring in a plethora of other projects as well.
We talk Lassie, Dr. Who, (briefly) portraying a despicable (depending who you ask. Me? Yes, truly disgusting) Supreme Court Justice, and so much more in these wonderful words from this absolutely legendary figure. So Folks, please enjoy some words from the brilliant Matthew Jacobs!
When did you first realize you wanted to join the world of entertainment? Was it an early inspiration you can remember having since your youth, or did you just happen to find yourself in this world one day?
My father was a TV and Radio actor (Anthony Jacobs), so for as long as I can remember I was inspired by him and like any young boy wanted to please him. At about the age of 11 in 1967/8 I got cast in a BBC 2 Classic adaptation of  Huxley’s Point Count Point and grew up fast, as child actors often do! I was playing a substantial little role opposite Max Adrien and Lyndon Brook for four episodes. However, even then I was more interested in what was going on behind the camera than in front of it.
From there, I was in lots of school plays and then got into The National Youth Theatre in 1973/4 where I played leading roles in a couple of shows: The Children’s Crusade and By Common Consent (which we also did as a BBC Play for Today.) However I soon found I was definitely more interested in being anything other than an actor. I LOVED performing, but almost everything else about the process of getting work and how we were treated in the NYT, I hated! The grass is always greener, eh?
So I luckily got a job as a runner for Ridley Scott Associates in 1974, and got sucked into the world of editing commercials. Both Ridley and Tony (especially Tony) were very encouraging and supported me going off to Hull University Drama Department where I trained as a theatre director, and then on to the National Film and Television School where I ended up focusing on screenwriting and directing for my MFA.
So it was a total immersion in that world right from the get go. I knew what I wanted to do from very early indeed.



What was the very first paid gig you can remember getting in this world? And where there any sort of lessons learned that you can remember from this job that still affects your work today?
My first professional gig was as a child actor in Point Counter Point. Very strange being so young and being with so many adults. My father was very strict about me turning up for the first rehearsal with all my lines learned. He was determined I would not appear to be unprofessional in any way. So “on time” was “late” and I had to deliver on expectations.
In those days you recorded each episode in one take and it was like a performance, with the cameras dancing from one set to the next. In one of my first scenes, the props people had forgotten to put a prop I was meant to show Max Adrien in it’s place, it simply wasn’t there!
Rather than stop the scene and make everyone go back o the top of the episode, I mimed the prop, and Max threw himself in front of where it would have been. Together we made the scene work. I was SO proud, and I guess the lesson I took from that was, “think on your feet, know how to turn problems into solutions!”
Corny, but I still live by that ethos.
In 1994, you were responsible for telling the tale of everyone’s most beloved dog, Lassie, in the film that will always be my own personal representation of Lassie, as I was but a 9 year old boy when this wonderful film came out. So, I am curious to know what it was like to re-imagine such a legendary tale that had been around for decades prior to modernizing the story of Lassie?
Great question, and no one ever asks me about Lassie.
Lassie is a movie I have a soft spot for because it was my first truly Hollywood Movie experience. I had done a lot of TV and smaller movies by then but this was the first mainstream studio picture screenplay that got made. It was both a baptism of fire, and a lesson I will never forget. So excuse the length here …
Barnaby Thompson, who produced Wayne’s World for Lorne Michaels, knew my work well and one day asked if I had a dog movie I wanted to make. I told him the story of my own dog who had been there for me as a little boy after I lost my mother. How we went bankrupt and went to live in Dartmoor. I wrote it up as a true short story. He adored it and said, why not change the name of your dog to Lassie and set it in America? Remember, the original story of Lassie was also written by a Brit …
Lorne Michaels and Paramount at that time owned Lassie and were looking for a way of bringing it back with a classic story that focused around a family in trouble, in the same way as the original movie had done long before the TV show. Lorne really liked my story. However when we pitched it to the studio they said no way! Too depressing! But Lorne went ahead and commissioned a script anyway for WGA scale with more in the deal if it got made. A couple of months later heads had rolled at the studio and Sherry Lansing had taken control. She read it and green lit the movie almost immediately. I was over the moon. Careful what you wish for!
A very serious director was given the script and I was flown in to convince him to do a “dog movie” … (“Dog Movies” are generally looked down on in the industry.)
I showed him Ken Loach’s KES. A very intense film that showed how you really could make a wonderful film about a boy and an animal. As soon as I did the next draft for him, the project became VERY serious. I think we may have killed Lassie, I can’t remember … Added to which, my father back in the UK passed away. Paramount and the serious director couldn’t see eye-to-eye and and I went back to the UK to be there for my father’s funeral. So rather than ask me to do a rewrite, Gary Ross was brought in to make it “warmer” and more in the direction of my very first draft – at least that’s what I was told.
Gary Ross changed the name of the main character to Matt (eeek!) and had people telling each other that they loved each other all the time, and made everyone a bit older … He is a true pro, and hopefully was being well paid. The serious director walked away and was replaced by Dan Petrie Snr, a very nice man who knew how to please everyone. They hired ANOTHER writer and started casting and setting dates. The script got worse. They fired that writer. I was given another go at the script, but I was told that Petrie disliked the amount of exclamation marks I used! (That was long before that gag was used on Seinfeld).
Okay, so if it wasn’t messy enough, the studio themselves then mashed together a script from all the drafts. Then a younger very friendly writer, Elizabeth Anderson, was brought on board to smooth everything into the lovely mushy movie it became. It was still very much my story and a lot of my dialogue, but we all agreed to share the credit three ways rather than go to arbitration as was the fashion at that time at Paramount.
When I finally saw the movie it was like a surreal nightmare of watching my childhood played out with guns and Supergirl, Lassie and a soaring score, not to mention Michelle Williams as a crush-worthy local lamb-loving shepherd. The trial poster I was sent by Barnaby Thompson and Lorne Michaels had a wonderful typo in it … LASSIE … Love … Friendship … Loyality … That’s how they spell loyalty here they joked.
My elderly step-mother came over to California and saw it in the cinema, she loved it. She was being played by Supergirl. That my step-mother loved it was all that mattered to me at the end of the day. The movie’s heart is in the right place I guess. It has built its own audience over the years, including yourself and many small children … And people in the Far East …
In 1996 you became a huge part of the wildly popular series Dr. Who, which is a franchise with a very loyal and die hard fan base when you wrote and produced the original TV series by the same name. So, what was it like to join the world of that is so beloved by Whovians across the globe? And what were your thoughts of final product that would make its way to the screen?
Here I stayed as in control of the film as I could while working for so many masters: BBC, Fox and Universal. By the time we made Doctor Who, I’d done Lassie, The Jim Henson Hour, Young Indiana Jones, and the first scripts for what became The Emperor’s New Groove plus lots of other stuff. Doctor Who was like coming home, and really was an enjoyable experience. I have been drawn back into the Doctor Who American fan world in the past few years making a documentary with Vanessa Yuille called Doctor Who Am I. All will be revealed there when that comes out next year and you can get a taste of the documentary by visiting our Facebook Page.
Last year you portrayed briefly portrayed Antonin Scalia in the absolutely incredible Oscar winning film Vice. I am very curious to know how this experience was for you?
Even though I shot for a couple of days and had the honor of improvising a duck-hunting scene with Christian Bale, my entrance was all that remained. I certainly prepared … Probably way too much! It was fantastic to be part of a big movie like that and even though I felt like I was strangely mis-cast I certainly did my best.
Recently I have done more acting in smaller movies: leading roles in Boxing Day, Your Good Friend, Bar America, and the Igor equivalent in Bernard Rose’s Frankenstein. Bernard Rose woke me up to acting again with Boxing Day, which is a really interesting little movie if you get the chance to find it.
What does the future hold for you? Anything you would like to plug to our readers?
I continue to write, direct, and sometimes act in much smaller films these days. Next up will be Doctor Who Am I as linked above, then hopefully a TV show which is going into development soon. I live happily in Los Feliz (Which actually means “the happy” I suppose 🙂  in Los Angeles … I like to support new filmmakers, coaching and teaching at universities from time to time, and I also constantly come up with new ideas. I have been SO lucky to have got this far doing what I love. I encourage people to see one of my recent films …Bar America …

Jacobs directing Bar America.

What was the last thing that made you smile?
Anthony Jeselnik’s politically incorrect dark comedy special on Netflix the other night. A master of statement … Long pause … Reversal
For example,  “I often wonder, do I have it in me to take a human life? …. …. …. Then I remember. Oh yeah … Debbie.”
Also the June gloom has come early to LA this year, stunning flowers everywhere!!!!!  (lots of exclamation marks there)
Thanks for reading.

About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

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