Photography: DANNY CHRISTENSEN Grooming: ARIANNA CAMPA
It’s no surprise that perpetually boyish Matthew Broderick is passionate about his work. Acting and entertaining is like putting on an old comfortable shoe for the veteran showman, in part because it’s a family business—his mother was a playwright and screenwriter; his father, an actor. With Broadway’s It’s Only a Play and two wrapped films under his belt—a Neil LaBute screenplay called A Dirty Weekend and an unnamed film by Warren Beatty—it serves up to a very full plate, though one that he seems happy to have. But with the play’s run ending in mid-June, he’s ready for some downtime. “What I really want is the summer off, and then to have a nice job when the kids get back to school,” he says. “The thing about performing on Broadway is I’m away when the kids go to sleep, so the summer is a great time to reconnect with my family.” Family time is fast approaching for Broderick, who counts two Emmys and is American’s darling of stage and screen—audiences can’t get enough of him.
Broderick’s latest gig, It’s Only A Play, is a Terrence McNally revival of the 1983 screenplay, adapted and updated to reflect current pop-culture figures. The play reunites Broderick with Nathan Lane, who together form the irresistible comedic duo audiences keep buying tickets to see—so much so that It’s Only A Play is on an extended run (Martin Short filled in for Lane who decamped for a few months to perform in The Iceman Cometh). Stockard Channing, Megan Mullally and F. Murray Abraham are also part of the play’s ensemble troupe.
“Nathan and I are two fairly different performers who like each other and drive each other crazy—or happy—or something!” he says with a laugh when asked about their chemistry. “I’m the playwright, Peter Austin, and I’m anxiously awaiting a New York Times critic’s review of the play along with the rest of the cast,” he says of the play’s plot. “Terrence said he watched this very thing happen once and the bad reviews tore the cast apart,” he says, revealing the inspiration behind the 74-year-old playwright’s story.
A versatile performer, Broderick easily hops from film to stage, though he finds each has unique challenges. “In a play, the show is done in sequence, whereas in film, your performance is broken up. For film, I keep myself ready for these moments of intensity—waiting all day to be called. But in a play, the challenge is keeping the dialogue lively and fresh every night,” he ruminates. “For theater it’s this intense two or three hours of work with relaxation time beforehand, which is slightly colored by the looming play,” he says, probably thinking about his later performance. “Live theater makes for a difficult lifestyle,” he reveals.
The hurdles of big screen versus live performance may be issues that Broderick balances, but he does so with an unwavering passion. This driving force may be rooted in his Manhattan upbringing, having been raised by parents who were both a part of the entertainment industry. When asked about when the seeds of acting took root, he says, “I am told that I announced that I wanted to be an actor from very young age—around 5 years old. Then at seven or eight, I acted in a play with my father. Once that became a reality, I lost interest—it wasn’t until I was getting ready to go to high school that I noticed that I was only looking at schools that had great theaters,” he recalls. “I ended up choosing The Walden High School, which had a excellent theater program at that time. But I was also interested in sports—I played until I injured my knee. After the injury, I couldn’t participate [in sports any longer], so I auditioned for school plays [instead]. By the time I graduated, I realized acting was what I wanted to do. I started to get work—my first job was in the film Torch Song Trilogy with Harvey Fierstein,” he makes clear.
Torch Song Trilogy may be his first, but the count of films since then are too many to list. They include Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which many recall erroneously as his first. His most recent, A Dirty Weekend, debuted April 19 at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. The quiet film has Broderick and his non-romantic lead, Alice Eve, sharing the screen in a dialogue-heavy movie about two people who spend a forced weekend together. “We had to learn 10 to 20 pages of dialogue each night,” he says of the Neil LaBute screenplay. “Alice and I play colleagues on a business trip whose plane is diverted to Albuquerque, where they have to stay for the weekend. Both characters have secret lives and private things that they reveal to each other during the weekend,” he says. “It’s about two people getting to know each other by looking into their pasts,” he adds about the plot. “Alice is a terrific actor and Neil was great to work with. We shot for only 15 days—basically we would eat while studying our script, trying to memorize the dialogue for the next day’s shooting.”
The second of his completed film projects this year is a Warren Beatty-written-and-directed drama that remains without a title or release date (at the time of writing), but is one to watch for. The story centers on a love affair between reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes and a younger woman in his later years. “The story takes place in California over several years of Hughes’ life, and I play one of Howard’s assistants—or drivers—or security types—I’m not sure what to call my character, but I’m the guy who teaches the underlings the ropes,” he says, adding that filming took five months to complete.
With eight weekly performances over nine months interspersed with two films, it’s no wonder Broderick is looking to reboot his creative batteries at the Hamptons—an ideal recharging station where he and his wife, Sarah Jessica Parker, own a summer getaway. “We’ve been going to the Hamptons for many years,” he says. “When I was in my 20’s, I started going there with friends. In those days I [was in a] play, and its director, Gene Saks, asked me if I’d like to go to his Hamptons place,” he remembers. There was this whole generation of show-biz people there—actors and directors. Now I’m one of them,” he muses. “I really love the beach, the farm stands—King Kullen,” he jokes about the Hamptons’ food provisions market. “We basically stay in, cook and get together with friends,” Broderick admits about his plans—keeping it simple.
When asked about future projects, he makes a silly joke to divert the question: “Well, I’m retired, he laughs, eventually admitting, “No, I’m in talks right now, but nothing is confirmed.” Broderick’s summer to-do list contains months of reconnecting with family and friends—well deserved, and just around the corner.