By Justin Lyons
360 Magazine had the opportunity to sit down with actor, Griffin Matthews, to discuss his successful career. Matthews has been able to work on shows such as Dear White People, Ballers and The Flight Attendant, as well as co-writing a successful musical. We were able to discuss his future career plans as well as his activism in the community.
Among acting, writing, directing and other creative positions, which one do you like the best, and which one allows you to best express your own creativity?
I love acting. I love writing. But I ultimately think I’m a director through and through. The responsibility of guiding the entire vision is so exciting to me. It’s such an honor when I get to direct because every story is a little baby that needs to be nurtured properly and guided along her way. And guess what? I’m such a dad.
How has working with streaming services like Netflix and HBO Max changed the way you address your audience?
When you work on Netflix or HBO you get to really find your unedited voice. You get to be risky, controversial, imperfect, fabulous, complicated, political…I’ve been so lucky to get to work on Dear White People, Ballers and The Flight Attendant because I always felt like I could fire from all cylinders on day one. I did not need to ask for permission. I got to bring my entire self to each role. I got to curse. And kiss boys. And wear g-strings. And travel the world.
How do you use your experience acting in productions like The Flight Attendant to inform and influence your ideas on the stage?
I will always go back to the theater. I’m a theater kid. It’s where I honed my talent. So every experience that I have, I think about how I will translate that to the stage. I was lucky enough to travel the world and meet incredible people and see exotic places while we were shooting The Flight Attendant. I spent afternoons alone rummaging through the Bangkok market and got lost in the streets of Rome. I made friends with strangers and made peace with being a grown man and also homesick. As a writer, I’m a sponge. I soak up life and then look for an opportunity to let the water run out all over the stage.
How do you approach the assembly of a theatre show differently from how you approach the direction of a concert?
I approach concerts the exact same way that I approach theater. When I directed Shoshana Bean and Cynthia Erivo’s holiday concert at The Apollo, we had endless conversations about story and themes and vulnerability. All of those things make for an exciting night in the theater! I think a lot of concert directors only think about pyrotechnics, but I like to think about the heart of the performers. The message. The mission. And let all of those things spill out…and of course, we add some pyrotechnics, too!
How does your activism influence the projects you choose to be involved in or choose to create yourself?
Activism is such a sexy word these days. It seems like everyone claims to be. For me, my personal pledge is to be an activist when everyone’s looking, but more importantly when no one’s looking. That pledge always checks my motives and my ego as I navigate projects and stories that I want to be a part of it. Every time I sign on to a project, I bring my whole self, my whole truth, the parts that are great and the parts that are ugly. That’s what I’ve learned running a nonprofit for over 15 years. So much of the work is tough. It’s messy. But it’s real.
What are you most excited about with your career in the near future?
I’m currently developing a musical series with Ester Dean that will center black queer voices. It’s really exciting because I’m a fan of Ester and her work (Pitch Perfect, songwriter of Katy Perry’s “Firework” and Rihanna’s “Rude Boy”). She’s broken many ceilings in this industry as a songwriter, actor, musician, and host. We both want to create a show where young people (who look like Ester and I) will see their truths accurately and joyfully reflected on screen. I’m also directing a film called The Amish Project by a playwright named Jessica Dickey. When I tell people that I’m working on it, it can raise eyebrows because people don’t often hear about black directors working on pieces that don’t center black narratives. But here’s the thing: black directors want to direct EVERYTHING. And we can. And we will. And I’m excited to finally get my shot!
What is a creative role you haven’t taken up that you’d like to at some point in your career?
I really want to direct for TV. For some reason, the thought scares the hell out of me! There’s so much to manage: logistics, people, locations, safety, technology, performances, but I’m fascinated by it. It’s time for me to tackle that fear and get behind the camera ASAP.