June/July 1996 issue
Matthew Broderick: one of the guys
By Rachelle Unreich, Detour Magazine (p.38-42)
The last time Matthew Broderick was star struck, he was nine years old:
visiting his dad, the late actor James Broderick, on the set of the movie
Dog Day Afternoon, he found himself face to face with Al Pacino.
"I was speechless," he recalls. "I'm not even sure if I'd seen any of his
movies, but I know who he was. He was very friendly. He shook my hand-like
a man-and he had very intense, dark eyes. He had movie-star eyes, although,
looking back, he probably had makeup on..."
Since then, the 34-year-old junior Broderick has worked with Dustin
Hoffman, Sean Connery, Michelle Pfeiffer. Marlon Brando, and, more recently,
Jim Carrey, in The Cable Guy. He has also romanced a series of actresses,
all of whom became more famous after they broke up. "I think i should be
a manager," he comtemplates, as we assess the list, which includes Jennifer
Grey before Dirty Dancing, and Helen Hunt pre-Mad About You.
"Helen Hunt is a huge star now," he says. "Her head is right over Times
Square where I go to work every day [in the Boardway revival of How
to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying], just happy. And
her beau [Hank Azaria] is fantastic in The Birdcage." I reassure
him that he is an even bigger star than Azaria, that Hank probably looks
at him and gets jealous of his work. "Yeah, but not enough," Broderick
SINCE MOST PEOPLE HAVE NOT witnessed his stage career firsthand--from
his debut in Horton Foote's On Valentine's Day to Harvey Fierstein's
Torch Song Trilogy to his Tony-winning turn in Neil Simon's Brighton
Beach Memoirs-- Broderick's live-in beloved, Sarah Jessica Parker,
might actually be more of a "name" than he, and he often suspects that
fans who approach the couple for a photo want her image more than his.
"I find this extremely depressing, but my Norman Maine fantasies are finally
getting realized. Have you seen A Star is Born? Do you think I should
walk into the Hudson and drown myself so I can just let her go? I don't
want to be holding her back..."
This is, more or less, what it is like in Matthew Broderick's head:
there is humor, there is self-deprecation, there is a bullshit detector
turned up to 11. When I meet Broderick at Madison Avenue's E.A.T. deli
("The only place where a sandwich will cost you, like, 18 bucks," he says,
without Hollywood's cavalier attitude towards easy spending), he exudes
so little Matthew Broderickness that he is able to sit at a table alone
undisturbed until I arrive; he is lacking in shtick and Letterman-y
anecdotes, and the belief that he is the most amusing guy on the planet.
There are no gushing monologues about himself, nor dose he have the celebrity's
annoying habit of acting like my best friend from the start. On the most
basic Hollywood level, he fails miserably: he doesn't see many movies,
and rejects the thought of moving to Los Angeles because, "I like being
able to walk around and buy coffee to-go and not stick it in my little
I am used to actors who pepper their conversations with various film
references, all of which I am supposed to know, but Broderick's conversation
is instead filled with polite questions: Have I heard of that movie? Do
I know who so-and-so is? He is accessible, curious, and genial. Halfway
through our conversation, when we have run the gamut of everything from
Pacino and Parker to the fact that his dentist once sent him a stripper
on his birthday, he loses his train of thought and asks, "Am I as boring
as I feel? Sometimes when I talk about myself for awhile, I feel very uninteresting.
It's fun at first, but then I start to wish I could be someone else for
the next 20 minutes."
In other instances, he is not nearly so coy. "I wouldn't say that I
know I'm good--that's something that goes up and down. There are times
now when I think I'm the best actor in the world, and there are times that
I think I really stink." When did the latter occur? "Last night [in How
to Succeed]. I saw two people in the front row who looked bored.
"Years ago, when I landed No Small Affair [a film he was released
from two weeks into shooting], I thought that was it, I had arrived. I
very often think I'm Brilliant, still. But I swing back and forth, sort
of like a manic-depressive. Either drunk with power or--" and here, Broderick
pauses for emphasis, "--not."
His next two movies may turn him into an alcoholic Stalin all over again.
In The Cable Guy, directed by Ben Stiller, he plays a newly single
guy who moves into a place of his own and inadvertently becomes the object
of obsession for the local cable installer (Jim Carrey) after he bribes
him for free movie channels. Shot in dark, shadowy tones, it's a black
comedy--Young Frankenstein meets Cape Fear. He decided to
do the movie because Stiller took him out for dinner, he had a fun evening,
and he couldn't think of a reason to turn it down.
Will he get to stretch his own comedic muscles while playing opposite
a scene-stealing talent such as Jim Carrey? "Maybe I won't even be in the
movie. We all used to make jokes: 'The Cable Guy, starring Jim Carrey
and the voice of Matthew Broderick...' But Jim's a good audience, too--he's
not egotistical, and he never treated it like it was his movie. My whole
role is reacting to him. They started calling me Reaction Jackson on the
set. I tried every tiny expression I could possibly come up with, and there
were about 500 of those."
The release of the movie Infinity--which he stars in and directs,
base on a script written by his mother Patricia--provides less source for
hilarity. The film has had good word of mouth; also featuring Patricia
Arquette, it's a love story between the Nobel-prize-winning physicist Richard
Feynman, who helped build the atomic bomb, and his dying wife. The project
has proved to be less a creative effort than an economical battle for funds,
and Broderick carries a cellular phone with him today specially "because
I have hear what the latest disaster with my movie is."
Its tight budget is "a constant thing," he says. "Ninety percent of
the job of directing has been, 'Well, maybe if your back is to the camera,
we'll loop in a line and then we won't have to pay you 500 dollars
for saying, "Would you like sauerkraut?"' But it doesn't look cheap, I
will say that for it." Broderick is prepared to shell out around 20 grand
of his own to ensure that a Jack Teagarden song can be used in the
film. "I said, 'What the hell?' Once it's done, I don't want to look back
and say, 'I saved a little money, I wish i had the song in the movie' Why
else do you make money, really?"
Broderick began his career in commercial hits such as Wargames, Ferris
Bueller's Day Off, and later, Project X and Biloxi
Blues; he has nearly always chosen quality roles in good movies, which
include Family Business, Glory, and Mrs. Parker and the Vicious
Circle. None of his roles have been wipeouts, although he begs
to differ: "Out on a Limb was an unmitigated stinker. I really like
the script, but something happened in the making of it that was really
hideous. I had no chemistry with that director [Francis Veber]. Every once
in a while, somebody will say, 'I loved Out on a Limb' to me, and
I will seriously cross to the other side of the street because I will be
afraid of that person."
The Road to Wellville, which took place at a spa for aristocrats
in the early 1900s, was another misguided choice. "I had hopes that movie,"
he says. "I liked the book, it was a good group of people--the director,
Alan Parker, Anthony Hopkins, John Cusack--but it seemed to have been just
basically about shit! The whole movie! It somehow escaped me when we were
making it: I didn't realize that the overriding theme was doodie."
It's the first time he's come close to swearing; he's not a man who
uses profanity easily. There's something of an old-world formality to Broderick,
which shows up unexpectedly at times. Occasionally befuddlely by the real
world, he hasn't yet learned how to turn down those special offers that
come unsolicited by phone. He cried when he watched Sense and Sensibility.
He would rather dine at Le Cirque, say, than at the latest SoHo dive. Sometimes,
his old-fashionedness creeps into his characters, too: in How to Succeed...,
he dances a jaunty little jig, while he imbibed Ferris Bueller witch
a fondness for Wayne Newton songs. Even his appearance follows suit: he
has the creamy pallor of one who lounges in ladies' sitting rooms, while
his hair, as if revolting against the modern styles, works its way skyward
during the course of the interview, until, three hours later, it has somehow
positioned itself in wayward tufts upon its owner's head.
Considering his particular guilelessness, one wonders, then, how he
dealt with the unwelcome media glare that came his way when he was involved
in a car crash in Ireland almost a decade ago. Driving on a rainy road,
his car collided with another; two people in other car died, while he was
left with a badly broken leg. Although it was a tragic accident--he was
driving slowly, he had not been drinking, he was cleared of negligence--the
incident had its imprint.
"It's hard to come up with a philosophy that fits it all together,"
he explains. "When I was a kid, my friend got hit in the eye, and he had
a cut right near it. I remember he told me, 'I'm so lucky--the doctors
said another inch to the left and I would've lost my eye.' And I thought,
And another inch to the right, and it would've missed you entirely. So
why are you lucky? I'm very lucky to be alive from that car, and it's very,
very unlucky for the woman who died, and their families, so it's hard for
me to think positively about it. I am grateful for every minute I have
on earth, but so would they have been. Once I saw somebody on television
saying this wonderful thing had happened: he was in a helicopter accident,
and everybody was killed but him, and now he had this great purpose, and
it was this really great thing. Yeah, for you. I mean, did they
all die so you would have an epiphany? I'm Jewish, but I've never been
attracted to religion, and I don't know what the hell to make of anything."
The accident has certainly offered Broderick perspective, and he tries
not to take unimportant things too seriously. He hates reading reviews,
or seeing himself on the screen, but he doesn't wallow in angst. At one
point, he says cheerfully, "Remember me in Ladyhawke? Now that's
a really bad accent. That was really inconsistent and bad." Happily, too,
he lists his faults: he's a lazy researcher, he has one leg that's skinnier
than the other (a result of the accident), he can't help goofing off sometimes
when he shouldn't. For instance, when a faux drill sergeant was hired to
train the actors for Glory, he couldn't stop laughing: "We were
in the lobby of the Sheraton hotel in Savannah, and there's a big platter
of crudities and fruit, and a guy screaming, 'Drop and give me 50!'"
His sense of confidence had been ingrained early on. The youngest son
of James Broderick and his wife Patricia, a playwright and director, he
was raised in Greenwich Village with his two sisters (now a psychotherapist
and Episcopal priest), and grew up on the sets where his father worked.
(These days, he is constantly meeting people who knew his dad, but he says,
"They're always telling me how incredibly nice he was, how he would sit
strangers down and give them long talks about how to get into acting, so
I don't think they confuse me with them.") By the time he was ready for
high school, he chose Walden for its theater department; a few years after
he graduated, New York magazine ran a lengthy story on him entitled,
"The Kid With the Million Dollar Smile."
Just as he started scoring roles, however, he received a hefty blow,
learning that his father had been stricken with terminal cancer. "He saw
Torch Song Trilogy, the play, but he didn't see any of my movies.
It was terrible, because he found out he had very bad cancer basically
a week before Torch Song opened, so for me it was never like, wow,
look at all the work i'm doing. Those two events were completely tied together."
His father helped him go through scripts and analyze their merit when he
was alive, and Matthew was clearly a good learner. His one regret: "I'm
not told that I somehow turned down Platoon, which is awful,
but I never even read it..."
His latest movies not only mark a new turn in his career, but they should
also end the incessant questions he gets about Sarah Jessica Parker (Will
he marry her? Is she pregnant?) as well as those niggling Ferris Bueller
comparisons. Of sarah, he says, "We've been going out for four years now,
and it's good. I like living together. But there's no room for my clothes
anymore...when you live with someone, take this piece of advise from me:
make sure you reserve your closet space."
As for Ferris, the character remains close to Broderick's heart, and
not necessarily because of the lines he's always quoted from it ("People
say, 'Anyone? Anyone?' to me, like, every single day"), either. "I remember
there was one scene in it which got cut out, where my girlfriend, Mia Sara,
turns to me and says, 'Can we go now?' and I really hostilely say, 'You're
not having a good time or something?' and the implication is that I don't
like people going against my plan for the day. But they cut it out because
they did a study group after a screening, and some teenage girl in the
audience said, "I don't like Ferris Bueller.' And they said, 'Why?' And
she said, 'I'm afraid he would make me do things I don't want to do.'"
With a wicked giggle, Broderick says, "I've always had sympathy for this
poor teenage girl someplace who said that Ferris Bueller might make her
do things she didn't want to do..."