InDepth InterView: Matt Doyle On PRIVATE ROMEO, SPRING AWAKENING, GIANT, New Solo EP & More
One of the top-tier performers of a promising new generation of young stars on Broadway, Matt Doyle has appeared in both dramatic musicals and plays in establishing a versatile stage and screen career ranging from a multi-episode arc on GOSSIP GIRL to starring in SPRING AWAKENING on Broadway, as well as the recent revival of BYE BYE BIRDIE, in addition to his most recent New York credit, the highly acclaimed War Horse at Lincoln Center. Equally at home in musicals and straight drama, Doyle's most recently released film venture is an intriguing and compelling independent feature showcasing his War Horse co-star and fellow InDepth InterView participant Seth Numrich with a stylish and intense military school-set adaptation of Romeo & Juliet titled PRIVATE ROMEO that, fortunately for all of us, also allows Doyle the chance to sing. Having studied at the Royal Academy in London, Doyle was perfectly prepared for his Shakespearean role in PRIVATE ROMEO and that training was also influential to his success in the aforementioned musicals and plays he has starred in, as he generously fills us in on many memorable moments in his career to date and even shares his most recent experiences performing in Michael John LaChiusa's GIANT in Texas. Exciting projects coming up next include a sequel to his 2011 EP, DAYLIGHT, titled - appropriately enough - SUNSET, as well as roles in theatre pieces currently in development (such as GIANT, which will be produced by the Public this Fall). Plus, Doyle and I discuss sharing the stage with the starry original cast of SPRING AWAKENING - such as GLEE stars Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff - and much, much more!
PRIVATE ROMEO is playing in selected cities now and has just been extended until March 1 in New York. Further information is available here.
Big Screen Awakening
PC: When Seth Numrich did this column he spoke very favorably of PRIVATE ROMEO, and, now that I've seen it myself, I have to say I was very impressed, as well. It's a very brave and daring film. When did you film it?
MD: Oh, that's so good to hear! I'm so glad you liked it. We actually shot it in the Summer of 2010. Seth and I actually met doing that. We were auditioning for War Horse during the shooting of that film and we found out together when we were shooting that that we would be playing cousins and that I would be understudying him as well! It was hysterical, but it was wonderful as well.
PC: You were in War Horse for a full year after that.
MD: Yeah, we were both in it for a full year - I just left on January 18.
PC: What was it like to have audiences compare it to the film version that was recently released directed by Steven Spielberg?
MD: It was great. I loved War Horse and I loved my run with it so much. The creative process was so great - working with the ensemble and knowing that we were there to create such theatrical magic was just awesome. It was one of the hardest and the most satisfying things I have ever done. It's not an easy show to get through eight times a week, but it felt so good by the end of every week. I thought that that was interesting. [Laughs.]
PC: You were certainly used to less audience-friendly material with SPRING AWAKENING given its more controversial content.
MD: Yeah. SPRING AWAKENING was my first Broadway show. I made my Broadway debut as Hanschen, masturbating onstage - not exactly what I expected as a kid! [Laughs.]
PC: I bet not!
MD: So, yeah - BYE BYE BIRDIE and War Horse have been a bit tamer than that.
PC: It seems that we have gotten even more conservative even in the last five years in general in this country. Do you think SPRING AWAKENING would be done on Broadway now?
MD: That's funny. I don't know. I think it came about right when we needed something to test the waters and break out of the mold. It was a passageway to a lot of musicals that have followed since. NEXT TO NORMAL is one example. I think that when it came along it was at the right time for Broadway.
PC: NEXT TO NORMAL also brought a contemporary sound into its score - as did BARE, which you worked on. Do you plan on pursuing BARE further? It has a very devoted fan base.
MD: Well, I think I've kind of outgrown that. I mean, I'd love to be a part of it somehow if there was a production that went up. You have to imagine: when I recorded that I was 20! When I listen to it, I'm like, "Oh, my God! What was I doing?" It was a really special thing to be a part of because it was the last musical I was involved with before SPRING AWAKENING.
PC: It's a very interesting and edgy show.
MD: Yeah, I love BARE. It has so personally affected so many people and I think that's so, so great. Recordings like that are a really special thing to be a part of.
PC: PRIVATE ROMEO addresses some similar issues of sexual awakening that SPRING AWAKENING and BARE both addressed full-on.
MD: Yeah, totally. Totally.
PC: What did the script for PRIVATE ROMEO look like? Was it the Shakespearean text with a lot of description of scenes and staging and such?
MD: Yeah. It was definitely a screenplay where it was clear where we would be - in the classroom setting and everything. We knew there would be some contemporary text - you know, it's barely there, but we say, "Hey, what's up?" or whatever from time to time - before we go full-out in to the iambic pentameter. What's exciting about it to me is that it does go there. I remember that when I first read it I was over the moon about it! I wanted to do it so badly.
PC: You were excited about the script and its possibilities?
MD: I just love Romeo & Juliet so much - you know, I think it's Shakespeare's most famous play. I went to school for classical theatre and studied all of his work, but, by the end of it, I still thought that this was his best piece. It's so beautiful and heartbreaking. It's about love and the kind of foolishness that goes with it. Now, it's tied with the uncomfortable environment that it was put into in the military academy and I was just fascinated by that dynamic. So, I loved it because it was wacky and meta and it really plays with the text a bit. I knew that we had a real process in front of us.
PC: And, after all, when would you next get the chance to play Juliet?
MD: Yeah - exactly! Exactly. I think that Juliet's part is the best in the whole thing! It's amazing. I was thrilled.
PC: All the best female roles in Shakespeare are for the under-40 set, it seems. Did you look at this as a chance to do one of the great female roles in the canon?
MD: Yes. Any professor that I studied with would have told me that that was the best role in the show - it's always Juliet. She just has the most gorgeous text - and her conflict and her struggle throughout the piece has always excited me.
PC: It's a great part.
MD: Yeah, I mean, the chance that I would get to play that and get to say some of those lines? Unless it's some all-male version where it's done the traditional way where a boy dresses up as a girl - as they did back in the day - otherwise, I'd never get the chance to play the role. So, when this came along and I got the chance, I jumped at it. I was so excited.
PC: It's a very physical and committed performance. What was it like getting into the role?
MD: Well, I had to shave my head. And, actually, I guess that was really the most difficult physical part of it. [Laughs.] I gotta be honest, the rest of it was cake.
PC: What was it like working with the rest of the cast?
MD: Seth was so, so easy to work with. From the get go, there was an instant chemistry between the two of us. We were really good friends, too, and I think it needs that - whether you are sexually attracted to them or not, there's just a great vibe going on - like I had with him - where we just clicked. The chemistry was just right there.
PC: So it was easy to go where your characters had to go?
MD: I never felt uncomfortable with him, which was amazing! I mean, in shooting it, we were kissing each other and all over each other, basically, since day one. It was such a welcoming group. Everyone was so ready to explore this and we knew that it was going to be difficult and that it was going to be wacky and not everyone was going to get it. But, we just wanted to do it because it felt right to do it. It was so wonderful. I had such a blast doing that film and I remember we were saying to each other, "I never expected to get this close to a group of guys this fast." I really, really loved it.
PC: The palms scene was very beautifully rendered, in particular, I thought. Was the staging very specifically set?
MD: Oh, thank you so much! That scene and the balcony scene we really wanted to focus on. We spent all night shooting those scenes, actually. You know, the director, Alan, just is really smart and wants to keep things as simple as possible. It starts out with little lines that ease us into the text a little more, but it was pretty organic. We shot it several different ways and I think what ended up on film really is the best one we did.
PC: It was a short shoot, correct? Three or four weeks?
MD: Right. I think that having the horror of it being not only the first kiss, but also the first gay kiss as well, and having all of their peers watching the way that they were, added to the tension and added to the dynamic between Seth and I.
PC: And the changing of the nursemaid into your roommate was a witty touch, as well, later on in the balcony scene when that character arrives into the action.
MD: Oh, I loved that! Chris is so, so wonderful. Everyone had such a great time working with each other that we built back-stories with each other about our characters. We really wanted to have that kind of relationship where it seems like we grew up together. So, we came up with this whole story about how we grew up in this cul-de-sac in Delaware together and he was actually the reason why I was at the military academy. It became all a part of our story as we were preparing to do the characters.
PC: It's a very difficult film to describe. It's probably best to just jump right in, whether or not you are familiar with the source material.
MD: Yeah, I just tell people to go in with an open mind. Just try to take it all in. What I absolutely adore about this film is that everyone is not going to love it. If you don't like Shakespeare, you probably are not going to like the fact we speak a lot of the original text. And, it's also very meta and there are a lot of twists with the text and everything. But, if you are game for it and you can embrace it, you are going to love this film.
PC: It's very challenging in some ways, but the experience is ultimately rewarding.
MD: I think that is what is so lovely about it - it does test a lot of different things. It does put the audience in an uncomfortable position and it asks a lot of the audience. I think that it is beautiful because of that. You know, somebody might be sitting there saying, "I don't get this. I'm getting out of here." And, someone else could be saying, "This is absolutely amazing. I adore this."
PC: It's a very intense experience.
MD: Yeah. It really is. We throw a lot at you! [Laughs.]
PC: Are the gym scenes meant to have a heightened theatricality as a way to stylistically bring home the metaphors and actual implicit violence in the piece?
MD: Yes. There are moments in the film where it definitely goes to a place of hyper-theatricality. It's interesting, because I think that it throws so many twists and turns at you. At one point, it feels super naturalistic - you feel like you are in a normal military academy environment. Then, next - especially with Juliet's speech near the end of the film - it has gotten so theatrical and so dark. Then, there is a song a the end! So, yeah, it throws a lot at the audience and you really never know what to expect next.
PC: Your final scene is really fantastically rendered. Were you thrilled when you saw that scene in the final movie? I think it may be the most unforgettable scene.
MD: No! I was actually mortified. [Laughs.] It was the first time that I had seen myself, really. I mean, I had seen myself in very, very short appearances on GOSSIP GIRL, but I had never really, really watched myself on film like that. So, it was an absolutely terrifying experience. [Laughs.]
PC: It's four minutes or so - and, what an impact it has!
MD: Yep - just me, delivering one of my favorite speeches ever written by Shakespeare. [Pause.] I was just sitting there absolutely mortified in the theater! [Laughs.]
PC: But you were pleased with the final film, no doubt?
MD: Oh, I was really proud of the work that we all did. That's something I can say, no matter what people say about this film I can defend the acting to the bone. Everybody is so great in it.
PC: Seth is so interesting in that he comes off much colder and austere onstage and onscreen than in real life - like a Norse god or something. He's actually such a nice, warm guy.
MD: Oh, my God! You're so right! That's so, so true.
PC: It's so fortunate you two got along so well given the incredibly deep and intimate relationship your characters share in the film.
MD: I know! We just kind of jumped into it. We were especially fortunate because the first thing that we shot together was the balcony scene and I think that was really good for us.
PC: How so?
MD: Because it added this tentative quality to the scene. We weren't really sure about each other yet, you know?
PC: That definitely comes across.
MD: I think it was just right for that scene - the scene is all about discovery. So, we were really discovering each other during that night of shooting - how each person responds and how we reacted to how far we could go with it. So, I actually see us reacting to each other when I see that scene now.
PC: How fascinating.
MD: Yeah. And, then, after that, we shoot that the scene where we wake up together in bed. So, it was like, "And… break all barriers!" [Big Laugh.]
PC: Did the shoot go further than what remains in the final cut of the film?
MD: Oh, Seth and I are hysterical because we both have done so much nudity in our careers before. As I said, I made my Broadway debut in SPRING AWAKENING j*rking off onstage. So, it's like, "Oh, if you want us to do nudity, that's fine." [Laughs.]
PC: No inhibitions!
MD: I know! I'm sure our agents would have killed us! But, Alan was very adamant about not doing nudity or anything else. He was like, "No. It's a distraction that takes away from the tenderness of a scene." You know, nobody needs to see a butt because then everyone is staring at the butt.
PC: That's so true. It can take you out of the experience.
MD: Yeah, so they just cut around the tiny underwear we were wearing. I remember right before we shot the scene, Seth came down the hallway and I came down the hallway and I was like, "Well… [Pause.]. I guess it's time." [Laughs.]
PC: It was a smooth and easy shoot, then, given your rapport.
MD: Yeah, I mean, my first love scene on film is with Seth Numrich, so that's not too bad! [Laughs.]
PC: How did the songs come about in PRIVATE ROMEO? Did you have to do a vocal audition given your big solo at the end?
MD: You know, Alan approached me right when I was cast and asked me to sing in the film. I was super-skeptical at first. He said he wanted a song to end the film and he wanted me to sing it. So, we started looking at all of these different songs and the one that we both agreed was the most right piece in terms of the lyrics was "You Made Me Love You". And, obviously, we could get the rights to it, too. [Laughs.]
PC: Song clearances being a huge hassle with some songs.
MD: Right. So, I said, "OK. That's great, but I can't do it like Judy. I don't want to end the movie doing Judy Garland, you know?" [Laughs.]
PC: Impossible to beat the best.
MD: Yeah, so, we worked with this band and I worked with them in their apartment. So, it's sort of a twist on the Patsy Cline version, but with the ukulele and a bit more contemporary feel to it.
PC: I hope they release "You Made Me Love You" on iTunes. It's a fabulous rendition.
MD: Oh, thank you! Alan suggested I could do my own version and release it myself, but I think they should totally release the version in the film as a single. I would love it if they did.
PC: Will PRIVATE ROMEO be available on iTunes or Netflix sometime soon?
MD: Yes. PRIVATE ROMEO will definitely be available on Netflix this Summer, but it will definitely be playing some more theaters first.
PC: Have you been happy with the welcome reception the film has been receiving so far?
MD: Absolutely. You can see in our reviews - some people have absolutely embraced it completely; we even got a New York Times Critic's Pick. She was totally along for the ride. But, then, you see other reviews and they were totally not. I think that is such a testament to everything we have done. This film is different and not everyone is going to get it because we are doing a lot of things that are unexpected and aren't the norm.
PC: To say the least.
MD: I love the controversy over it and I love people disagreeing about it. I think that that is a testament to a good film - something new and something exciting.
PC: And the New York screenings have just been extended to March 1.
MD: Yeah! Yeah. How wonderful is that?! People have really embraced it. There is a huge response out there. To see people reacting to it so much is exactly what I hoped would happen with it - boys reciting Shakespeare in this beautifully-shot, indie film. I remember being a teenager and I know this is something I would have been interested back then. I just love seeing the response and love seeing people get excited about it.
PC: From your PRIVATE ROMEO co-star to your SPRING AWAKENING co-stars: what was it like working with Lea Michele, Jonathan Groff and the rest of that amazing original cast?
MD: That experience was incredible. I really do owe my career to SPRING AWAKENING, for sure. I got the part through sitting on non-Equity benches at an open call. After seven callbacks and five months of auditioning, I finally ended up in the show about a month after they opened and was covering Jon Groff. It was remarkable.
PC: It was so hot when it came out, too.
MD: Oh, yeah! It was terrifying. I was 19 when I was cast and I was being thrown into the biggest phenomenon that had happened on Broadway in a long, long time.
MD: The way that people were talking about that show and the fans around that show - very different from most shows that go up.
PC: You can say that again!
MD: To be completely honest, I was just terrified! What was wonderful was that Jon was probably the easiest person to work with, ever. He is just so sweet. As you know, he is just the sweetest, sweetest guy. He is just so open and so welcoming.
PC: He really is.
MD: It was so great to experience that because it was sort of scary to just be a part of that group. It was such a phenomenon, and, suddenly, three months after being cast I was performing on the Tonys with them!
MD: It was such a whirlwind! It was something I was so kind of unprepared for. You know, I spent two and a half years of my life with that show. I played several different roles.
PC: Can you trace your journey through the ranks?
MD: Well, I was a swing at first. Then, I took over Hanschen and then covered Melchior for a bit and I ended up doing that part on the national tour. So, it was my real training, when I look back on everything.
PC: In addition to your classical training in London, of course.
MD: Yes, I did do a year in London doing classical theatre, but, if I am being honest, boy, did I learn a lot from everyone in SPRING AWAKENING!
PC: Touring the country in that show must have taught you a lot about audiences, as well.
MD: [Laughs.] Oh, yeah! It was unbelievable. I learned so much about the business. And, working with great established actors like Stephen Spinella and Christine Estabrook - it was amazing. And, also, getting to work with this incredible group of kids where we all knew we would go on to do so much more.
PC: One of the most successful young casts of a musical in recent memory, for sure.
MD: It's true - you can look at everyone from that original cast and they've all gone on to do so much more. It's a beautiful thing - everyone is out there and working.
PC: Which says a lot about the massive amount of talent assembled.
MD: It's like looking back on some of your awkward years of high school is how I look back on SPRING AWAKENING. [Laughs.] It was a sort of coming-of-age time for me, but, at the same time, I loved every second of it and I wouldn't change anything. I certainly am so grateful for it, that's for sure.
PC: Touring with the show, was there a moment where you could sense if the audience would be going with you or not?
MD: Well, let me think. [Pause.] I remember we did it in Columbus, Ohio, and people did walk out.
PC: During "The B*tch of Living" perhaps?
MD: "My Junk".
PC: There you go.
MD: Yeah. That was usually the first moment. Then, Hanschen would walk out after you have 14-year-old girls singing about, you know, boys. You're thinking to yourself, "Oh, that was sort of sexual. I wonder how far they are going to go?" And, then, Hanschen starts masturbating onstage and reaches orgasm and smells it.
PC: That's pushing the envelope.
MD: Yeah - we threw everything at you in one song! [Laughs.] So, yeah, that's usually when people would get up and leave if they were going to do it.
PC: Were there moments in the show where you felt the opposite and you really connected with an audience? That score has some tremendous moments.
MD: Absolutely. I feel like a lot of the audience, even if they were uncomfortable, they were staying because the score hits you - "Mama Who Bore Me (Reprise)" and "B*tch Of Living" - and you are just hooked.
PC: Some knockout songs, for sure.
MD: I mean, you've got these talented kids just belting their faces off and stomping - it was so exciting! That's what was so wonderful about that show - you couldn't deny that there was something really, really special going on onstage.
PC: It was undeniable.
MD: To answer your question, though, I thought that every time I did Melchior I could really, really feel the audience get engaged during the first Wendla and Melchior scene where they sing "Word Of Your Body" together.
PC: A spine-tingling duet.
MD: Yeah. Yeah. I just loved that piece so much - everything was so unexpected. The next scene and the next scene - you never knew what was coming and what emotion was going to be brought out. So, if the audience was game, they usually ended up absolutely loving it.
PC: How did you follow up SPRING AWAKENING before you got BYE BYE BIRDE? I know you did some workshops and developmental productions.
MD: Yeah, I went to the O'Neill first and did PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK. It has beautiful, beautiful music. I think the composer, Daniel, is just going to be huge someday.
PC: They do such great work at the O'Neill.
MD: Oh, they really do. It's a really great place to be. It's so fun, because you learn your music on the beach and then you go back to rehearsal. It's just this wonderful place where everyone just gets to go to summer camp for a couple of weeks and work on a really special piece and live in dorm rooms. It's so funny to see all these high-strung, New York actors decompress there every Summer. I would just love to go back to the O'Neill. I think such great work comes out of the O'Neill because it's this really wonderful environment where everyone feels safe and they can just relax and focus and write and create with each other.
PC: Do you look back favorably at your time in BYE BYE BIRDIE?
MD: Well, we all knew the show that we were in, but we all had the best time. Nobody can really say too many negative things about that experience to me because we all had so much fun together.
PC: What was your favorite part of your experience in the show?
MD: Bill Irwin. He is one of me heroes and I got to work with him and study him every day - I think he is such a remarkable performer. I have been following Bill Irwin ever since I was a kid, so to be onstage with him and just watch how interesting and brilliant and wacky he is every night was a joy. I think he's just unbelievable.
PC: Your voice was ideal for that score, as well.
MD: Oh, that's so nice of you - thank you.
PC: Are you considering a solo album to follow up your recent EP? Your voice is really suited so well to the recording studio.
MD: Yeah, we are working on the second EP right now, which will kind of complete the first collection.
PC: What are your musical influences, would you say?
MD: I mean, the music that we created on the first EP and what we are doing on the second EP is all real soul-influenced music. I grew up listening to Sam Cooke and Otis Redding - those were my heroes growing up. So, that's what we are trying to explore with the music. The first EP is very 60s soul with the horns and everything - very Otis Redding influenced. But, we are going to go much softer and a bit more contemporary on the second one. So, that's what we are doing on the music side of things right now.
PC: OUR FIRST MISTAKE was a also great chance for you to show off your vocal skills.
MD: Oh, I love Brian and Kate and "Last Week's Alcohol" was a song I had been singing for them for a while - and "Two Strangers", as well. Their music is fantastic and, obviously, so exciting because it is such a fresh perspective in musical theatre. I think that what they are creating is wonderful and I was absolutely overjoyed to do that album.
PC: So, what's the plan for recording the new EP?
MD: SUNSET - as the follow-up is titled - has no firm release date yet, but we are currently working on it. We are probably going to head down to Nashville next month to record it. Then, we will mix it and everything. It will come out pretty shortly after that. So, I am definitely looking forward it!
PC: Your last stage appearance was in GIANT down in Texas. The score is so epic and powerful - it's quite a bit streamlined in this new version, correct?
MD: Yeah, it's three hours long now - which is actually short for GIANT. It was originally four and half hours, so they have made some significant cuts to it.
PC: What do you think of this new version of the show?
MD: I can honestly say - and I have no problem saying this - I think it is just the most remarkable musical that I have ever been able to work on. I am floored by it - by the book and by the score. It is really, really stunning and really, really special. I can't wait until it hits New York - which should be in the Fall at the Public, I think. They have big plans for it. It's one of those pieces where you sit there and listen to the music and say, you know, "Are you kidding me?" It's like LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA meets RAGTIME meets OKLAHOMA.
PC: That's high praise, indeed.
MD: It has all of these qualities that you love, but, it's still so uniquely Michael John LaChiusa. He's really, really remarkable and this is just an incredible piece from him. And, Sybille's book just blows me away. So, I am just so excited about it - I could not be more excited about it. I think that Michael Greif has been so great at pushing it in the right direction and staging it so beautifully. So, yes, I am rambling on and on now because I am just so excited about it. [Laughs.]
PC: THE WILD PARTY is one of my favorite scores ever, I must say.
MD: Oh, my God! I love his WILD PARTY.
PC: Another fellow InDepth InterView participant, Aaron Lazar, appeared in that production of GIANT, as well. What was your experience like working with him?
MD: Yeah! He played my dad. I played Bick's son, and he played Bick, the Rock Hudson role. I played his son.
PC: You did the Dennis Hopper role from the film.
MD: Yeah, I play the Dennis Hopper role. I have this lovely balled at the end of the show that is so haunting and so beautiful that I get to sing to my wife in the show, Juana.
PC: Michael John's Latin-influenced music is always so amazing, as well.
MD: Oh, when he gets into the Mexican and Latin-influenced music in the show it is so, so exciting. Really, everything he is touching on with the musical styles in this score is so remarkable. I can't say enough good things about working with Aaron, too - he is such a smart, smart actor and I love working with him.
PC: Hopefully you will continue with the production to New York at the Public, then?
MD: Absolutely. Absolutely. All I know is that it is aiming towards the Public in the Fall right now. That's all I can say. [Laughs.]
PC: Will you be returning to GOSSIP GIRL at any point, do you think?
MD: Oh, gosh! I don't think so because the actor who played my boyfriend is no longer on the show. But, maybe if they can tie me in somehow. I would absolutely love to do it, though.
PC: You would fit in so well on GLEE. Have you ever auditioned? You already know a lot of the cast - Lea, Jon, Jenna!
MD: You know, I have gone in for GLEE before but it has never been the right time or the right moment. Of course, I'd love to be on GLEE - I love Lea and I love Jenna and I love Jon and I think everything that they've done on the show is great. If GLEE happens that would be fantastic. But, if not, I can just sit back and watch it and appreciate what they are doing. I am so thankful for what GLEE is doing for youth right now. Recently, they had an episode that really addressed gay bullying and teenage bullying and that is a really important issue to me. I am really glad to see that show is inspiring change. It's such a brave show - it puts everything out there. Every kind of person. It's about embracing and supporting everyone.
PC: We can't wait to see what you do next, Matt. The future looks bright! Thank you so much for this today.
MD: Absolutely. I am so glad that you enjoyed the film. Thank you so much for this, Pat. Bye.