One of the most enduring stars of stage and screen, Matthew Broderick has been a part of American film culture for over two decades, alternating between movie roles and the stage. His latest film is “Wonderful World”, which is receiving steady critical acclaim as he stars as Ben Singer, a failed children’s folk singer, a career proofreader, a compulsive marijuana smoker, and a less-than-extraordinary weekend dad. He’s also the most negative man alive.
Floundering in all aspects of his life, Ben’s only comfort comes from regular chess games and friendly debates on game theory with his Senegalese roommate Ibou. When Ibou is suddenly struck ill, and an insensitive municipal employee exacerbates the emergency situation, Ben’s pessimistic worldview seems unequivocally confirmed.
His only recourse is to pour his energies into a frivolous lawsuit against the city for depraved indifference. But Ben soon finds that cynicism may be all a matter of perspective.
It’s a very different character from the more cheerful optimists he had played in the iconic “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “The Producers”, but the 47-year old, who is married to Sarah Jessica Parker, loves the challenges he faces at this point in his career, as he explained to Paul Fischer in this exclusive interview.
Question: This is a character that I don’t think we’ve ever seen you play before. Was that part of the attraction of doing this?
Broderick: Yes. You know, the first main attraction was, Josh [Goldin, is a really good friend of mine, who wrote and directed it, but then he sent me the script. Luckily, I loved it. I just thought it was a really nice tale, almost like a fable. Then I think the role did seem sort of new to me. I liked that there’s nothing kind of charming, or cute about him, so it has been sort of nice for me not to have to be charming.
Question: In fact he bottles up a lot of his emotions. He’s a very closed-off character who doesn’t smile. How hard is that to play?
Broderick: Well, it was hard sometimes, because there was also all this voice-over, which isn’t in it any more, which just kept saying, ” He’s the most incredibly negative person that’s ever been.” So, I was trying to somehow fit in with that. Sometimes it was not easy to match the voice-over, but the scenes were very nicely written. I have all those nice scenes with Michael, the roommate, which I just loved doing and I thought he was so good. So those took care of themselves, because I just enjoyed him. Then also, Sanaa I thought was very good, and it was fun to play romantic scenes. I don’t get to do those very often. Even the little girl was really good. I found those scenes very easy to relate to, for some reason, even though I don’t have a daughter that age.
Question: But you are a father. So, did you relate to the parental facets of this?
Broderick: Yeah. I think I’m a little sensitive to any story about a father and also, particularly one having trouble with communicating with a kid. That just always kind of gets me, because I’m always concerned about that with my own son.
Question: What are the challenges for you to be offered really interesting adult roles because there’s still this perennial youthfulness about you. And I’m just wondering, does that ever score against you, in landing this kind of role?
Broderick: I mean, my hair is basically white. [LAUGHTER] But. I think I’m thought of as a boy. Or – the hard thing, when you’ve had success as a young person, it’s hard to go from one stage to the other. That’s always a challenge, you know? So, I’m trying to get to the middle aged parts.
Question: What do you look for as an actor now, that you may not have looked for five or ten years ago?
Broderick: Well, I have to start adjusting to looking. I want more adult things, you know? I’m too old to do Godzilla and things like that. I mean, I can be the scientist who mixes the potion but I can’t really be the guy running away from the lizard any more. So, I have to find good roles about boring grown-up problems.
Question: You have divided your career between those sorts of commercial films and indie movies like this one. Do you like to try and find a balance? Do you think the studio films are difficult to come by, the good ones?
Broderick: Very difficult for me to come by lately. I didn’t mean to do this many independent films in a row. It’s frankly, all I was offered that I liked. But I’m perfectly happy to do a small film, if it’s good. I would also be perfectly happy to do a larger film someday, if I can I would love to but I’ll do whatever. I’ll have to see a little where my career goes. It’s sort of not all in my control.
Question: So do you find it frustrating?
Broderick: I am frustrated, but I try not to be too frustrated, because I just really don’t ever want to be one of these actors who’s complaining. I mean, I can complain a little. But I have been very lucky, and blessed, and I just did a play that I’m still doing that I loved doing. So, I try not to be too negative about that and I don’t want to turn into one of those people who’s always saying, ” How come I’m not playing that part?” It’s just a rotten way to live.
Question: But does the theatre continually rejuvenate you?
Broderick: Not every time, but this time it was good.
Question: What’s the play you’re doing now?
Broderick: I’m doing a play that Kenny Lonergan wrote, and it’s a really lovely play. We’ve had such a good time doing it. So, it’s been a nice little rejuvenating time.
Question: Was the last play “The Odd Couple”, or was there something after that?
Broderick: No, I did something called “The Philanthropist” between, which didn’t work very well.
Question: And in fact, “The Odd Couple” –
Broderick: And “The Odd Couple” was also not really very successful.
Question: Right. I mean, that got a lot of attention, because you two re-teamed, and there was a lot of hype, and all that. Do you think you would not do that again? That you would rather focus on not being in such an overtly commercial property like that?
Broderick: Yes. I think that people were very mad about that. I’m not quite sure why, because I’ve done Neil Simon plays my whole life and it seemed like a good fit for us, so I don’t see why we shouldn’t have. But it seemed to bring out a lot of anger. Everybody was trying, but it just didn’t come out that well. Sometimes they don’t, you know? It sounded good. We weren’t doing it just to steal money from people.
Question: Now I guess everybody still thinks of you as Ferris Bueller. Is that a battle that you’re happy to retain, or do you get tired of talking about that period of your career?
Broderick: Well for a while, it made me uncomfortable. It sometimes surprises me that that’s the only movie anybody seems to know I did. But – on the other hand, now that I’m older, I’m quite proud to have been in a movie that really lasted. It’s pretty amazing. Also, I think this year, with John Hughes dying it puts it into perspective that I feel part of something special.
Question: What did you think about his legacy, after his death? I mean, was that something that you thought about?
Broderick: Yeah, I did, a bit. I mean, I couldn’t help it. It makes you start thinking about all his movies, and how many good movies, and how many movies that really had a big effect on everything made. You know, he really sort of left his imprint.
Question: Do you know what you’re going to be doing, film-wise, after the play?
Broderick: No, I don’t. I thought I had a job, and I don’t. So now I’m totally out of work. So, I don’t know a nice way to put that.
Question: Are you looking for something else?
Broderick: Yes. I need work.
Question: Would you ever consider working with Sarah?
Broderick: Yes, I would if we found the right thing, yeah.