Matthew Daddario may have had to hang up Alec Lightwood’s bow and quiver for good, but that doesn’t stop him from still attending Shadowhunters conventions to meet his fans. During last weekend’s Pandemonium Con in London, we once again got the chance to chat with him and talk about acting class, his first steps in the industry and what makes a new project worthwhile.
SDN: You once mentioned in an interview with 1883 magazine that you first got into acting because your mom had you do auditions to build up your confidence when speaking in front of people. Was there any conscious moment when you decided you wanted this to be your career?
Matthew: I’m not sure. I think that at the time, it was a very good lesson. I think that everybody should learn how to speak in public, it’s something that’s very difficult. You can tell that even smart, capable people – successful people – freeze up when they go up in front of groups. I was like that as well, maybe not freezing up but you get the shakes, you get nervous, your body betrays you and it’s not fair. So [auditioning] certainly was a good idea, that was a nice thing that she did and it obviously provided me with a certain level of understanding of the business in order to then later get into it.
I considered being a doctor and I considered going into business and ultimately studied finance and economics. But the decision of wanting to be an actor… I think it was always sort of a nagging belief that I wanted to, but it didn’t seem practical and I was always very concerned about my future well being because acting is not a guarantee. But once I got old enough I realized that it doesn’t really matter and taking a risk might have a higher return than if I were to continue a more traditional route.
SDN: At the convention in Paris this summer you said that the plays you were part of in acting class were among your most rewarding experiences as an actor. Do you have a favorite play from back then, and what was your role in it?
Matthew: That’s a good question. Do I have a favorite? I guess not. There’s a lot of plays that I’ve seen recently and it depends on the performance from the actor. Often it’s not the play, really, it’s what the actor does with the material.
I think that was one of the things I found so rewarding about it, you can watch these different young actors do the same scene and the first five versions you hate and think “This is so boring.” And then somebody comes in and does it for a sixth time after you’ve already seen it five times and you’re absolutely blown away and obsessed with it. It shows you what the powers of the choices you make and your individual ability are. So it shows that there’s a level, there’s different levels and it also shows that some good actors are good in some things and terrible in others; they did tremendous performances in some things and then did horribly in others. And then people who I considered to be not so great were actually tremendous in certain parts. So that shows how unusual and strange acting is as a talent.
SDN: If you could be in a movie that was made before you were an actor, which one would you pick?
Matthew: Oh man. There’s just so many. (turns to Isaiah) Isaiah, what do you think, what’s like the coolest damn role I could have done back in the day?
Isaiah: Oh man. You’d play George Carlin’s role in Car Wash. (A/N: Car Wash is a 1976 musical comedy directed by Michael Schultz and written by Joel Schumacher. Carlin played the taxi driver.)
Matthew: (laughs) Car Wash, that’s the one.
SDN: We would love to see you in a cowboy movie.
Isaiah: Young Guns, you would’ve been awesome in Young Guns! (A/N: Young Guns is a 1988 Western film directed by Christopher Cain and written by John Fusco.)
Matthew: Oh man, all the cowboy films. You know there’s all these roles that I would never want to take away from the actors that I’ve seen them in. So no, I don’t wanna take over any certain role but man, there’s so many parts you would have liked to play but you’d never do it as good as the legend–
Isaiah: You’d make a great Ferris Bueller!
Matthew: I would have made a good Ferris Bueller? He killed it perfectly, he killed it. I don’t know, I think anything cowboy related would’ve been great. I would have loved to do any of the Indiana Jones stuff… any of the swashbuckling style American stuff, that stuff is awesome, I loved it. And New York cop detective things. Corrupt cops! I love that stuff.
SDN: Is there any famous role that you would love to do yourself and if so, is there anything you would change or adapt about that character?
Matthew: No, it’s a very similar thing. I’m not taking over anybody else’s role. It’s their role, I have to create my own.
SDN: That’s fair. Is there a type of role that you would never play?
Matthew: That’s interesting. Is there a type of role I would never play…
– Isaiah clears his throat in the background –
Matthew: (laughs) I’m not sure. I think someone’s trying to tell me something?
Isaiah: No, I wasn’t, but I just realized that it sounded like I was.
Matthew: I don’t know, actually. Is there’s a role I wouldn’t play? I really don’t know. It just depends. I don’t want to do anything boring, I don’t want to do anything that is better for other people. If I get something and I know that this is not at all right for me and they should have somebody completely else doing it, I’ll say no, because it’s taking away a role that somebody else would do better. Of course you still want to try, it’s not like you don’t want to try.
SDN: Got it. Which actor/director inspires you the most?
– Isaiah laughs. –
Matthew: (laughs) Isaiah Mustafa! There’s a… let me think. It’s the things where someone does something and I’m like “Wow, how the hell did they do that?” I was actually watching Eva Green, she was doing Penny Dreadful. And in season 1 there’s this scene where she’s possessed and she’s on this table, during this séance moment. That is such a risk because you could come out looking like such an idiot, it could look really stupid. But there’s no fear, there’s no fear in her and she does it completely and you buy into it, you’re entranced.
I’ve seen other people do these possession scenes and I wanted to turn away because it was kind of awkward, it didn’t really work and it seemed silly. Not when she does it. That was really impressive, the incredible bravery of doing that and just the incredible work she did. Really, really cool.
SDN: You’ve often said that your sister Alexandra has been a big influence on your own career. How so?
Matthew: Alex was an influence on my career because she gave me the sense that I could do this. She had obviously had a certain degree of success in it and I said “Oh, it’s something that is possible.” Because it seems like such a lofty goal. What really changed it for me was when I realized that the rewarding qualities of being an actor made me want to be an actor for real, which came slightly later. It was sort of like I was trying because there was an inclination toward it, because there was something underlying – I don’t know – within myself where I was like “This is something I could do, this is something that I might want to do.” And then finding out that it was what I wanted to do was the biggest turning point, which came probably in acting class and realizing that this is something I don’t want to live without.
SDN: What makes a potential new project interesting for you?
Matthew: The writing. I’ve noticed recently that’s really what it is – it comes down to the writing. If I read something and I’m like “Oh my God, this is amazing, this is an amazing opportunity, because look how this person has created this story.” Because the story is a lot of what I’m interested in.
I like to be part of something where the story really is intelligent, is strong, is impressive and makes the characters more interesting and more interesting to play. It’s that kind of thing. Getting a great story with an interesting character and fitting into that story is such an opportunity. Such an opportunity.
SDN: Okay. So, looking back on these 3 years on Shadowhunters and its success, what advice would you give your past self before joining the show?
Matthew: Nothing. You know, you have to learn as you go along and I think that you can give advice, but I’m actually not a strong believer in giving verbal advice. I found that people, even if they say they listen, they don’t really listen to you until something happens. You can tell a kid a million times, you know, “Don’t do XYZ, don’t do XYZ.” But it’s pointless. They’ll do it and once they learn for themselves, they’ll figure it out. You providing guidance is useful because then they’re able to say “Oh, this happened, I was told this would happen… Hm, interesting. I get it.” And then you can sort of discuss with somebody who has had something happen to them, whatever it is. It could be, you know, someone spills a glass of water and they freak out about it, and you’re like “Why’d you freak out about it?” and they’re like “I don’t know.” And then you can have a discussion – “Don’t freak out about spilling water, it’s just water. Not a big deal, it’s not the end of the world. Freaking out doesn’t give any benefit to it.”
So little things like that, from something small like that to something as big as giving life advice. So I don’t really believe in giving verbal advice because I don’t think people listen. Because historically, I don’t really listen.
SDN: Shadowhunters was one of many book adaptations we’ve seen over the past few years. If you could adapt any book into a TV show or movie, which one would you choose?
Matthew: There’s a lot of books I’ve been reading recently that would make great films or TV shows. The problem is budget. With adaptations of especially science fiction books you’re getting into huge costs. I’ve mentioned in the past that the Dan Simmons books – the Hyperion Chronicles, just the first two – would make a phenomenal TV series. But budget wise, my God. And also you need incredible actors and an incredible person to adapt it.
So yeah, I don’t know. There’s a lot out there, I think that people are looking at things like the King Killer Chronicles; they’re probably looking at doing that, but the third book hasn’t come out yet. And I don’t really know how you’d adapt it using a child actor who then becomes adult, sort of a semi-adult – that’s a tough thing to do. Adapting books into shows is really hard.
SDN: When we last talked to you in Milan you said that in your opinion, acting and directing are two completely different things, although other people in the industry may say they’re one and the same. What’s something that you enjoy more about acting than directing/producing a project?
Matthew: Acting and directing being the same thing… seems like such an obscene concept to me. Directors have multiple parts. One of them is that they’re directing a set. And that’s a job, you’re like the director of a set, like the director of a plant, of a power plant – you know, a factory. Then there’s a director who’s in charge of how the show is shot and the direction of the show, which is another part of a director’s job. And then there’s the part of just being a leader in general. And then there’s the part where you’re interacting with actors and helping them with their performances. It’s a lot of different skills, it’s a whole set of skills.
The actor is playing a character and primarily should be focused entirely on that character, and working with the other actors around them. Actors also need to work with the people who are filming, the camera operators and all the other members of the crew. That’s the secondary part of the job, but primarily what you want from your actors is for them to give a tremendous performance, so that your material will sell and look good.
So I think that the two things are very, very different. And I’m having trouble sort of imagining how you could say that they are the same. Maybe a part of a director’s job is similar to that of an actor, but the two things being the same seems interesting to me. I’ll go try to find some literature about that.
SDN: Okay, time for the last question. You played Alec for three years, what did you learn or take away from playing that character for so long, both as an actor and as a person?
Matthew: I’ve talked a lot about what the character itself has taught me, but I think the one thing that I learned the most is what it’s like to work on a TV show, which is an incredible experience that’s also incredibly complex and extremely exhausting. It’s like a marathon. I mean, you spend a huge amount of time and it can become extremely wearing. And you start having to pick and choose where you put your efforts, where you put your emotion and your time because you don’t have a lot of it. It’s extremely difficult. It’s a marathon, but you get very good at it, you get very tough.
SDN: You are good.
Matthew: Not just me, other people. Other people are good at it.
We hope you enjoyed this interview! A big thank you goes out to Matthew Daddario for once again taking the time to talk to us. It was a pleasure talking to you and we can’t wait to see what you’re up to next.
In case you’re not already following Matthew on his social media accounts, you can find the links to his profiles below.
Oh… it looks like the whole team took part in creating this article!