An Interview with Matthew Worthington – By David Stephenson

 Firstly why not tell us a little about yourself for our readers?

27 years old raised in Sheffield, Northern England. Started acting in independent film at the age of 16, moved to Camden Town in London age 19 to attend acting school (Drama Centre London). I have acted I independent film and theatre in England and Poland.

You’ve been making waves in the recent feature Encounters (reviewed here last month) – could you give us a taste of your role in that film?

I play an Albanian illegal immigrant called Mateuz. This is a man who is facing deportation and desperately trying to find a way to stay in England. My character is a good and sincere man who has to resort to using underhand tactics to further his resolve in finding UK citizenship. (There is a moral in his tale somewhere.)

Encounters is based totally on improvisation – did you find yourself having any trouble with this approach? Would you prefer a more scripted method?

Improvisational cinema is definitely an acquired taste that I am most certainly drawn to. As you have stated in your kind review there are two different ways of improvising drama. Both have their plus points. The American style in which a premise is set out from A to B and the actors have to improvise their way between these two points. Then the European dogme style used by directors such as Lars Von Trier. ‘Encounters’ used the latter. As an actor this gives you tremendous freedom to sculpt a character and at its best creates an illusion of something actually growing organically on screen. I did make a rod for my own back when I chose my character, it’s doubly hard to improvise in a foreign accent. I feared it could become quite cod. Think Dick van Dyke in ‘Mary Poppins’. Mateuz has a limited vocabulary and could come across staccato. I found however, that the frustration of trying to articulate multiple emotions with fewer words gave me the resistance I needed to feel more like the character.

Having a script to fall back on is a comfort for an actor. I have always tended to be loose with a contemporary script or screenplay. It just makes me feel more real. I have never ad-libbed whilst performing a classic. You don’t f**k with a master.

What drew you to the role of Mateuz?

When Pat asked me to do the film, he told me anything could happen. The film would be set in London and would start in a sleazy speed-dating venue. The rest is unwritten. I wanted a character that could be adapted to any given circumstance. Immigration, especially from the former Soviet Block is big news in England at the moment and well publicised. The only film I can think of that told the migrant story in London was ‘Dirty Pretty Things’ by Stephen Frears.

I wanted to have a go at a character an audience would recognise immediately on which they could put their political stances. Albanians are getting a lot of bad press at the moment. The Government says that they are fast becoming the most powerful organised crime gang in Soho. Prostitution rackets, gun running and importing illegals to work in textile sweat shops. Personally I have never been involved with these kind of guys. The Albanian migrants I have met are more like the ones you probably have, low paid workers in hotels, bars and your local McDonalds. What fascinates me is the drive that this new wave of migrants have to make a better life for themselves. With Mateuz the stakes are very high, and as the script was unwritten there could be endless scope for character development.

One thing that struck me about your performance was the ease in which you seem to have taken to it. What preparation did you undertake for the role?

Besides deciding on the character I was going to play and keeping my eye on the news, not much. I did have a back-story and a few personal scenes that I could use, but in the end the film was about relationships. I just tried to create objectives as I went along and put my trust in Pat.

The accent and mannerisms you portray seem so natural, and you’re noted for your ability to pick up on various dialects – what’s your method?

I try to get the tempo of the language. Once I’ve found that, it changes everything, the means you use, the way you walk, even the things you say. There seems to be a tragic element in Eastern European languages that gets lighter as you move further south or west. I once lived in a flat below a Russian couple, when they argued it sounded like they were raising the dead! The most important thing I believe is to ask what it is like to be a person from a different country, once that is secured the rest comes naturally.

On Encounters, you worked with director Pat Kelman – what’s his approach like? What’s he like to work with?

Pat Kelman is a brave, inspired director and a fine man. I have known Pat for a few years now. We met whilst acting in a short film together. I remember Pat walking in to do a read through and the director of that particular piece being totally humbled by how well he was informed. I remember thinking that this is the man who should be directing the film. I imagined the director thought the same. Because Pat is an actor as well as a director it was a breath of fresh air to work with him. He knows what he wants and is very perceptive as to where the plot could lead.

There were a couple of times I took a wrong turn with my character; he guided me back on track perfectly. I think it is important when working with a director like this to know what they are about. Many actors may fall into the trap of playing the obstacle rather than the plot when improvising. I am as guilty as any, but Pat has a specific style and method to protect the film from simply being about actors acting. He would give us free rein to do what we wanted but guide us subtly to a different place just by suggestion. If everyone is in the zone Pat can make very real moments happen effortlessly. Leaving everyone thinking that was great, but how the hell did it happen? There is no room for prima donnas with Pat as any ego would upset the dynamic of the drama. ‘Encounters’ is still the happiest set I have had the pleasure to work on.

You worked alongside a variety of experienced actors in a highly diverse cast for the film, including David Kershaw – what was it like working under these conditions? Did you learn any new tricks on your time there?

Sadly I did not have the chance to work with David closely as we had different story lines. I did however, monitor the whole cast as to where they were taking the plot, rather like I would a 15 piece jazz band. Everyone brought something to the table and we all did the rounds straight away to find who could have possible relationships with who and that was all on camera from the word ‘action’. I had never met any of the actors before the first day and it was great to find out through improvisation what they were about kind of like a fancy dress party without the costumes. I did learn a lot as the film progressed. The later scenes with Alexandra and Jenna were real blood and guts emotional sparring.

As well as Encounters, you have also appeared in the piece The Deserter – could you tell us a little about this film and your role in it?

‘The Deserter’ is a short film about relationships between fathers and sons. The protagonist in question is called Andy, an artist like his father who is trying in vain to come up with different work than his old man. In a nutshell, the father died an alcoholic bum and it is the son’s ambition to become a better man. Ultimately though my character discovers his fathers painting is exactly the same as his.

You also appeared in the theatre piece Maska as part of the Jelenia Gora Street Theatre Festival – can you tell us a little about this?

After leaving Drama Centre I went travelling to Poland (notice the through line here) for a little headspace with my girlfriend of the time. Some of her friends introduced me to an acting troupe that was putting on a contemporary Greek tragedy at the Jelenia Gora street theatre festival. I ended up staying for four months. The play involved a lot of physical theatre. It was great fun but even in summer it was bloody freezing.

The festival is one of the oldest of its kind in Poland – what’s it like working abroad, and how did it differ from working here in the UK? Did you have to change your technique to adapt to the new surroundings?

I have never encountered such passionate actors on mass in my life. There is very little work in Poland full stop. For an actor it is heart breaking. People there really do do acting for the love. I remember seeing an agent showcase in which there were no agents, these poor guys stood on the end of the stage with wooden signs around their necks on which was written their names, God love them. Any actors reading this in LA or London should feel blessed. Most of the Poles I met there and in Krakow were aspiring to be like or work with the late Krzystof Kieslowski. I know he may not be to everyone’s taste but he is certainly a better role model than some I can think of. Working in Poland made me very happy. I knew there was no future there for me so I was not thinking of promoting myself in any way. I just remembered for once what I often forget. How much I love the job.

 As a relatively new actor on the scene, how do you see your career progressing? What are your ambitions? Where can we expect to see Matt Worthington in 10 years?

10 years? F**king hell! To be honest with you David I won’t be progressing anywhere without a decent agent to represent me. I am currently unsigned so I have to look for work of my own back. Even with ‘Encounters’ winning so many awards, most agents will only be interested in you if you have done a few episodes of ‘The Bill’ or ‘Casualty’ (tawdry British cop shows and hospital drama). I should have signed straight out of acting school but I had piled on the pounds with drinking in London town whilst courting the business. Things are different now though. I have been in training and lost the chub, so maybe it is time to start asking around again. Damn that Guinness!

Are there any actors out there who’ve inspired you over the years? Who are your cinema heroes?

Hundreds. Marlon Brando, Anthony Hopkins, Tim Roth, Gary Oldman, Christian Bale, Juliet Binoche, John Malkovich, Vincent Cassell and any performances directed by Mike Leigh.

What got you into acting in the first place? What draws you to this most challenging of businesses?

The cinema I think. I would watch anything and everything I could then American horror movies and martial arts flicks on video. As I grew up I started to appreciate Alan Clarke, Ken Loach and Mike Leigh. After watching ‘Naked’ I knew what I wanted to do.

What challenges have you faced so far in your career? What should new actors be on the lookout for?

Being unemployed! Waiting for the phone to ring is a horrible past time.

I knew what I was getting into though; it comes with the territory. Luckily I have found good work that is flexible and pays well. If I need to shoot off somewhere I can arrange things quickly. New actors should be on the look out for positive and patient people to be around them. A good agent that understands you can change lives. Be aware of the trap of art vs. commerce. Acting is never about talent in the beginning it is all about what you look like and how you present yourself.

What’s next for Matthew Worthington?

My girlfriend Mwiza and I are taking a holiday to Croatia to check out some property. We quite fancy a place in the sun. Other than that, pay the bills, stay positive and keep on the look out for directors like Pat.

Anything else you’d like to add before we bring this interview to a close?

Sure, any filmmakers or agents who have read this and like what they’ve seen should get in contact with me. This gun’s for hire.

Many thanks xxx