BWW EXCLUSIVE: Mat Fraser Talks CRIPFEST, AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAK SHOW & More
Today we are talking to a spectacularly talented and accomplished performer who has excelled in many mediums as an actor onstage and onscreen as well as a high-profile proponent and figurehead for those with disabilities, the charming and thoughtful Mat Fraser. Opening up about curating this week's upcoming event highlighting many performers with disabilities titled CRIPFEST, Fraser touches upon the importance of the 25th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act and what attendees can expect from the wide range of entertainment on hand at the event. Furthermore, Fraser reflects on his unforgettable role on this season's acclaimed AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAK SHOW - which received 19 Emmy nominations just last week, the most of any non-premium series - and shares his impressive audition story and thoughts on his newfound international celebrity as a result of his participation on the smash hit series. All of that, brand new details on his upcoming projects and much, much more!
More information on CRIPFEST on July 25 is available at the official site here.
Looking back at his self-penned solo piece about his idiosyncratic journey, Fraser recounts, "Thalidomide was the name of the drug that my mother took to make my arms like this and I wrote a musical about it all called THALIDOMIDE, but it was in such bad taste that people couldn't take it, so it wasn't altogether successful! Some people liked it, though. I sing and I am a singer, so I did the whole thing myself - book, music and lyrics. I did have it ARRANGED by an orchestrator, though - I can't do everything! It had some numbers in it like 'It's Hard To Hitch Down The Highway Of Life With No Thumbs' and things like that - it was in the style of a bad taste, B-movie, you know?! All the politically correct, liberal people who saw it thought it was totally offensive and completely missed the point. Right now, though, I do a big cabaret show doing Elvis's America trilogy down at the Box - I'm an old-time crooner; it's basically. 'Why Do Fools Fall In Love?' and all of that kind of big, overblown kind of stuff. I love doing that stuff."
And, will he be singing at CRIPFEST? "Yes, I will be singing at CRIPFEST! And, my beautiful wife will be stage managing the event, even though she is a fantastic artist in her own right. We are going to be doing our classic Box version of the American trilogy - strictly for those over-18! Yes, it's a little risque. So, how CRIPFEST will work in general is that it will run from 2 PM to 11 PM and we start off with a panel and then we have a foley production of a play and then we have a very famous hip-hop dancer on crutches named BIll Shannon and then we have some stand-up comedy and a cocktail hour and then the two-hour cabaret. I've curated the entire thing with the great and helpful funding of the British Council in honor of the 25th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act and what I am hoping to do and what the goal is is to show how professional and amazing disability artists can be. It's to show mainstream arts people that, you know, 'Hey, we are at the top of our game here!' It's top, professional stuff that has been going on for 25 years and that is what I am planning on showcasing. It's going to be great - and a little bit risque, too. People might feel a little bit challenged by what they see and I think that is a good thing. I am not interested in art that does not challenge - art should make you question things and change things; that's what I think, at least."
Commenting on how he nabbed a central role on AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAK SHOW, Fraser shares, "I got the part on AMERICAN HORROR STORY because me and my wife have a production company called ONEOFUS - we took the title from the famous wedding scene in Tod Browning's film of FREAKS - and we produced our own version of BEAUTY & THE BEAST last year at the Abrons Arts Center on Grand Street. Ben Brantley from The New York Times came to see it and gave it such a great review that there was a woman in town who thought, 'Oh, how about I go see some theatre tonight?' and she read the review, went to the show, and, then, when she saw me, said, 'Wait, hold on! My buddy is casting guys like this in LA right now.' So, she gave them a call and told them about me and that's how I got the audition and subsequently the part for AMERICAN HORROR STORY. It's crazy. I remember they asked me to read a monologue from the burned face man from Season One - the part that was played by Denis O'Hare - about warning people not to go to the scary house. I also watched a couple of episodes to get the acting style right for the audition and I did the monologue and recorded it on the worst Mac camera I could use and e-mailed it to them and the next day they told me that I had the part."
Sharing his enthusiasm for the massive success of the horror anthology series, whose fourth season is the highest-rated cable series in history, Fraser says, "It's incredible! It's nuts. I get reminded of it in every five minute interval when I am out and about in America - if I go somewhere that is tourist-heavy, like 42nd St. in July, I cannot move. It's crazy. People are really psyched about it! Most people are so lovely and positive, too - they just want a photo with the guy from TV, you know?! A lot of people say that I was their favorite character of the entire season and how much it meant to them that I was in it. I realize that what it is is that as a visible outsider myself that they connect in some way with the visible outsider and they can relate to me that way. It's so thrilling and heartwarming to know that people have really taken my character to heart - it is really amazing."
Remarking on whether he had a hankering to lead a production number like several of his co-stars, Fraser opines, "Well, you know, you don't want to push your personality. I am not one of those sorts of people who comes tap dancing out of his office like Daffy Duck saying, 'Hey, look at me!' you know what I mean?! You know, I didn't come out with a top hat and a cane and say, 'Hey, Ryan [Murphy], I can do this, too!' I didn't want to do anything like that to show off. But, to be honest, I am a singer and I do sing and I make most of my money from being a cabaret performer and singing. I would have loved to have done a song, of course, but those were reserved for the principals and I was a B player - and I was totally OK with that. That's how it goes. And, I haven't been contacted about doing AMERICAN HORROR STORY: HOTEL yet, but if I had I wouldn't even be able to tell you anyway! They keep everything super-super-secret. What will be will be. I would love to work for Ryan again, of course - he is the only guy who ever trusted me and put me onscreen for that long; I hope I did him proud. Honestly, I feel in bones we will work together again, I just don't know on what. Whatever it is, I will be there for him because he was there for me."
As for what's next, Fraser offers, "I am New York-based pretty much for now and there are talks right now of an extended run of BEAUTY & THE BEAST Off-Broadway and that is looking pretty good, actually. Right now, of course, all we are thinking about is CRIPFEST. After that, we are working on writing a new show for 2017. I am hoping to get a little bit more TV acting work in the meantime, too. I have a web series that I am on coming up soon, too - it's Vimeo-backed because they are doing what Netflix and Amazon are doing and HBO has the option to pick it up if it goes really well. I'm just one of the actors in the ensemble on it and I am really happy to be doing it. Basically, my manager is working really hard for me right now and hopefully more TV will come along. Right now, to be honest, it's all about CRIPFEST, though."