Eastern Carolina Style Interviews: Matt DeAngelis of Once

Posted: January 14, 2014 by Melissa Anne Cain in All, Broadway, Interview, Theatre
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Once is a Broadway play, with music, inspired by the 2006 film of the same name. The story revolves around a young man who lives his life through music in Dublin, Ireland. The young man’s music leads him into relationships and trials that change his world. As actor Matt DeAngelis put it, “love is the central theme of the show… the love for music, the love for family, the love for your city, the love for each other.”

As a lover of theatre, it is always humbling to be able to speak with an actor about his art. In advance of the January, 21-26 performances of Once at the Durham Performing Arts Center I was given the opportunity to speak with Matt DeAngelis about acting and his role on the tour.

DeAngelis, who performs the role of Svec in Once, is also known for his performances in Songs for a New World, Hair, and American Idiot.

MAC – I am really interested in this show, because I actually teach theatre in addition to writing about it. I am really intrigued by how this show operates with so many new aspects of theatre. What influenced you to audition for this show?

Matt DeAngelis – That’s actually a funny question. I audition for what my agent tells me to audition for. I love the show, I had seen the show. Before I got it, I had seen it two or three times on Broadway. One of my best friends is in the show on Broadway so whenever he goes on, instead of one of his understudies, I would go see it. So yeah, I love the show, but basically we are all actors and we have to work.

MAC – Was this an easy transition to go from American Idiot into Once? Was that easy for you?

Matt DeAngelis – Yeah, it was a really easy transition because now I am getting paid and for a really long time after American Idiot, I wasn’t. Easy is a difficult word too. I think I always get cast in shows that you don’t necessarily… We have to be actors, but we have to be authentic versions of ourselves. I think that even though they are very different, Hair and American Idiot and this all have that similar quality to them. I think that there is an element of truth. It’s not about acting all the time, there definitely is acting. Not to say that we are not acting, because we are. I think there is a real big portion of it that is about being yourself. I think that is a through-line in all the shows I have been fortunate enough to be cast in

MAC – Would you consider yourself a method actor or a technical actor with the truth in who you are?

Matt DeAngelis – Honestly, I am the wrong to ask when it comes to questions like that. There’s an old James Cagney quote that I love. He was asked, “James, how are you such a good actor?” He said, “Well, I try my best to hit my mark, I look them in the eye and I tell the truth.” I think that is at the root of it all, I think that is what we do for a living. We have to tell people the truth. So I don’t get wrapped up in that. I didn’t move to Dublin to prepare for the role, so I’m not a method actor. I don’t really get wrapped up in the technicality of it either. I try to look at the roles and I try to see what parts of that role are like me and then I try to behave as if the scenario was really happening to somebody. I don’t think for me… I know for a lot of actors it’s different and everybody has different ways of doing things. For me, that’s what works for me.

MAC – How similar to the role are you for Once?

Matt DeAngelis – Well, he’s a little crazy and I’m a person who likes to have fun and be silly. I definitely bring elements of myself to him but mostly this role is all about me being free just to play, to just play around. In the rehearsal process there was a lot of experimenting with just how silly I could be.

MAC – You ended up pushing the director’s buttons?

Matt DeAngelis – I asked the director in the first rehearsal, we started doing one of the scenes that is really ridiculous. I said, “I want to be clear, just how far off the reservation am I allowed to go?” You give me parameters and I will work within them. I want to have fun and I want to explore, but it’s not my gig. I want to make sure I am operating inside the constraints of the director. I don’t want to step on any toes. I wanted to play and I wanted to be spontaneous and fun. But I also wanted to make sure I was telling the story and not just doing it for my own amusement.

MAC – Who influenced you the most in the show? Were in you influence most by the director or what you had previously seen?

Matt DeAngelis – Any smart actor draws inspiration and experience from everybody he works with. I have had the unbelievable good fortune of my first three professional gigs of note. My first four professional gigs of note actually have all been with Tony winning directors. I was with Diane Paulus with Hair. I was with Michael Mayer with American Idiot. I did the workshop of Last Goodbye with Alex Timbers in New York this summer. Now I am working with John Tiffany so I have been pretty fortunate there. I’d be dumb not to pull inspiration from them. I worked with Gavin Creel in Hair. He was Claude in Hair when I did it on Broadway and then I did it in London. He changed my life professionally and personally. He is such an inspirational person. I think that you learn from everybody, especially when you work with a “Theatre Superstar” like Gavin Creel or a Casey Levy or even a Van Hughes. Van Hughes in American Idiot, you learn from them. You observe them and you learn the way that they do their jobs.

MAC – As an actress, I am very jealous of all that you just said.

Matt DeAngelis – It’s all the same thing though. They are just people trying to their jobs too, just different ways of doing your job. You have to try to explore from your circumstances because it makes you a better person and a better artist.

MAC – Are you familiar with the statement “Illusion of the first time”?

Matt DeAngelis – Yeah

MAC – Do you ever find it difficult to continue with that show after show? Or, do you find something new with each performance?

Matt DeAngelis – I think it is a fine line when you are doing commercial theatre, because there is an element to it that has to be the same every time. When you are on the road the sameness becomes more important. There is this one bit in the show where I tell this joke where I never get a laugh unless I do this weird little back bend thing. I’ve learned that it is not funny without it; I don’t know why it’s funny with it. I’m a smart actor and I don’t know why it is funny with it, but I know it is not funny without it, so I do it. There are moments like that, but I think it all comes down to listening, honestly. Like, you can pretend it is the first time if you are actively listening to your scene partner. It is not about what you are saying. You saying something is not what makes it spontaneous, you hearing something is what makes it spontaneous.

MAC – When you are doing the show, how difficult is it to act, sing, dance and play an instrument on top of that “triple threat”?

Matt DeAngelis – It feels pretty normal now; I’ve been doing it for a long time now. It was hard in rehearsals but it’s not dancing, it’s moving and there is music with instruments. We are not a musical either; we are a play with music. I think those are both very important things to understand. That’s the way our creative team approached it. It’s a play first, it’s a story first, it’s music first, then add movement second to enhance music.

Matt DeAngelis – I think truthfulness is important; I just try to do it honestly. The entire company has that same goal in mind. It is not any more or less challenging, just a different challenge.

MAC – What do you believe to be the heart of the show?

Matt DeAngelis – I think there is something really special to live music. I think that is a really special thing to our show. I think that Love is the central theme to our show. And not the type of musical theatre that everybody is happy at the end kind of love. Like messy, real life love where you love somebody but the circumstances aren’t quite right. You struggle with it and you try and it’s hard and it’s scary and it’s sad and it’s tragic and it’s amazing. The love for music, the love for family, the love for your city, the love for each other; I think that love is the central theme, but not in the way people would expect.

MAC – With love being that central theme, is that what you would want the audience to take away. That unconditional loving of family and friends and music?

Matt DeAngelis – With the love in our show I think the audience should leave with an appreciation for love in various forms. Even when you are scared, and love is terribly scary sometimes, always be willing to take a chance. Also, from the other perspective, I think that you see someone who really steps into help someone in need, without knowing why, who is a stranger. The girl in our show doesn’t have any vested interest in this person when she first meets him and they end up having a relationship. She sees a person in need of assistance and she helps them.

MAC – I am fascinated with this show with how you are able to accomplish all of this and play an instrument. Personally, I was always challenged to dance and sing at the same time.

Matt DeAngelis – It is pretty special. I am very blessed to be able to do the shows that I have done in my career, have the experiences that I have had, to perform in London and have national tours and I was the lead in a Broadway show, now this. I am as fortunate as actor can possibly be. I think that this is show is truly special and I think that people are going to love it and I think that it touches people in a way that nobody really expects. And it also touches people in a way that you can’t really quantify. We say it is like a snowball. In the beginning you don’t see it coming and at the end it is just washed over you. Our director, John Tiffany, calls it the world’s slowest moving snowball. It is little moment upon little moment upon little moment and then all of the sudden by the end of the show the entire audience is just floored by the emotional experience. You just don’t really know where it came from, it just happened, because John Tiffany and Stephen Hoggett and Natasha Katz and everyone who put the show together are geniuses.


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