This is the last half of my interview with Matt who plays “Yuri” in Blue Like Jazz.. Click here for part 1. Let me just say… his responses to my questions are really, really good. These are thought-provoking insights from someone edging his way into what is for many of us an exciting but alien realm: the film industry.
Feel free to post Matt any questions you may have. This guy is my good friend—he is extremely accessible and eager to chat about this sort of stuff!
As a Christian in the film industry, how would you determine what you will or will not do on screen (explicit language, acted violence, scenes with explicit sexuality, etc)?
This is probably the question I get asked most often and it’s one of the most difficult ones to answer, only because it’s on a case by case basis. There’s obviously a separation in the characters that I play and in my personal life. I would play a killer but I’m not a killer. So you can’t rule out playing a role that in your personal life you morally object to. I’m all about telling stories, whether they’re for pure entertainment or whether they explore issues that society needs to address. If I just played good, morally upright characters I’d be severely limited in my storytelling. What I choose to do or not do is directly related to the story the script is telling – is this a story I want to tell also, is it well done, it is something I’m passionate about? If it turns out that yes, this script is something I’m behind, the story is compelling, then I’ll start to look at the actual content. Violence is a pretty easy one for me. Let’s say my character stabs someone with a knife in the film. I never actually stab someone. That was fake. It may look real on screen, but as long as the stabbing serves the story that I want to tell, as long as it makes the story more honest, then great, that’s something I’ll do. Sexuality is much harder. There is no set on earth where the director would give you a real gun and tell you to shoot the other actor. But let’s say you’re playing a sex scene and my character gropes the other actress. Well, that’s real groping. I’m really grabbing skin, I’m really kissing skin. That gets much more difficult. It may serve the story, it may be non-gratuitous, but there are certain things I’m just not comfortable with. I’m completely fine with telling a story that involves sex – it is a real and important part of life – but because I want to protect myself, my wife, and our relationship, we’ve set up a rule that helps. My wife and I always say that if we didn’t do it before we were married, I’m not going to do it with another girl on screen. That leaves room for me to tell the stories that I want to tell, but it also sets a boundary to keep our relationship safe. But like I said before, this is all on a script-by-script basis. I could be faced with the same sex scene in two different scripts and I might choose to do one and not the other. It depends on the story and if it’s something I want to be associated with.
How do you and Ellen handle marriage when you are portraying someone totally different in your acting career (which might include being in love with someone else!)?
The main thing is for me to make sure that Ellen is totally involved in what I’m doing. She may not be on set with me, but I want her to read the script, to know what scenes I’m shooting that day, for her to be involved. I have a friend who’s also a married actor, and I’ve learned a lot from him about how he keeps his relationship with his wife strong. It’s easy to become a quick family on set because you spend so much time with one another working towards a common goal. If my wife wasn’t completely up to date with what we shot that day, what I was fearful of going in to work that day, etc. it would be too easy to come home and be too exhausted to explain anything to her. My dream of having a career as an actor is equally as much her dream, so she’s involved. There also has to be a level of reassurance there. If I’m playing a serial killer, that’s not something that hard to separate from who I really am. If I’m playing some normal guy who falls in love with a girl, that’s harder. If my wife was an actress and she was on set all day with other guy pretending she loved him, I’d want some assurance when she got home. So I do the same.
I am curious about the medium and message of various art forms. What does a film do to a story that first appeared in a book—how does this newer media form of the movie affect the meaning or content of the original piece?
I don’t think changing media forms necessarily has to do anything to the meaning or content of the original, but it certainly can and sometimes does. I’m just trying to think of adaptations I’ve seen recently where I’ve both read the book and seen the film. For instance, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is obviously an expose on sexual violence towards women in Sweden. The book and film are both disturbing, and each in different ways. Fincher’s version of the film couldn’t show everything the book described, but it was maybe even more horrifying seeing what little Fincher did show. In that way I think the film aided the book’s message. I thought it was the same with The Hunger Games. The books are a pretty clear political critique and commentary on the effects of war on children. There’s this amazing shot in the film of citizens in District 11 getting blasted with water hoses, and it immediately brought up images of civil rights riots in Birmingham, AL in the 1960s. That’s something a book couldn’t do. As a society we have certain images burned into our brains, and I think it was a smart move as a filmmaker for Gary Ross to use that water hose image to drive home Suzanne Collins’ themes of political unrest and government oppression. It took no words and a shot that only lasted 1 or 2 seconds, but it had the effect of pages and pages of writing. I guess what I’m saying is that a well thought out adaptation of a story from one media form to another should only heighten or aid the original in a way the first media form couldn’t. I wish I could think of an example right now of an adaptation completely turning the original on its head, but it turns out I’m not that smart.