Drama Desk Award winner Dakin Matthews has been performing, directing, playwrighting, and teacher theatre for over 47 years. His Broadway credits include "A Man For All Seasons" and Dakin's own adaptation of "Henry IV" (for which he received the 2003 Special Drama Desk Award). Off-Broadway, Dakin has lit up the stage in "The Cherry Orchard," "A Winter's Tale" (BAM); "Measure for Measure," "All's Well..."(Shakespeare/Park); "Hostage," and "The School for Scandal" (Acting Company). Regionally, Dakin has performed in more than 250 plays and has been seen in more than 250 television shows. On Film, Dakin has been in "True Grit," "Lincoln," and "Nuts."
Currently, Dakin is back on Broadway making audiences laugh in Gore Vidal's "The Best Man" at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in NYC (236 West 45th Street, between Broadway and 8th Avenue) starring James Earl Jones, Angela Lansbury, John Larroquette, Candice Bergen, Eric McCormack, Kerry Butler, and Jefferson Mays.
1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? Well, first off I never intended to become a performer. Theatre was for many years merely an extra-curricular activity, a social activity, really. Then--while I was a college professor, it became a supportive activity to my teaching, especially acting in Shakespeare. However, since you ask, I would say there were three performances I saw as a young man which influenced me very strongly and probably drew me into a stronger relationship with theatre than I ever planned to have.
The first was Peter Hall's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," which I saw as a twenty-one-year-old studying abroad. Judy Dench and Ian Holm were in it, along with Brian Murray, whom I actually met while on the train to Stratford--this almost exactly fifty years ago. It was enchanting, and I was enchanted. The world seemed to stop for those two and a half hours. (I later played "Capulet" in "Romeo and Juliet" for Sir Peter in Los Angeles).
The second was a wonderful comic performance of Sir Anthony Absolute in a touring production of "The Rivals," which I saw in San Francisco some years later--I was at the time an amateur part-time actor. The performer was the late G. Wood, and the performance was hilarious, over-thetop, and totally committed. I thought to myself, now that's something I could imagine myself doing someday. (I later played "Bottom" to G. Wood's "Peter Quince" at the Old Globe in San Diego, one of the highlights of my career).
The third came a year or two later, and was a performance by a young David Ogden Stiers in a small Shakespeare festival in Santa Clara, California. I had never seen such a moment to moment brilliant display of comic acting in my life. I literally fell out of my seat and into the aisle laughing. I was in awe of someone whom I to this day still consider the finest stage actor I have ever worked with. (Yes, I did also work with David--in many productions in a number of theatres over the years--including just a year or so ago in a production of "Much Ado About Nothing" with Helen Hunt in Los Angeles). In all three instances I was an impressionable young amateur actor, and they showed me what joy there could be in a life in the theatre.
2. Who haven't you worked with that you would like to? One dream came true a few years ago when I finally worked with Frank Langella in "A Man For All Seasons." I would, of course, love to work with Meryl Streep someday. (Always play with people who are better than you; it sharpens your game). But I have been very fortunate to have worked with some wonderful actors all my life, many whom you've never heard of, and I have tried to learn from (or steal from) them all. I just want to keep working--with whomever--for as long as I can.
3. You are currently starring in Gore Vidal's The Best Man on Broadway. What made you want to be part of this show and what have you enjoyed most about starring in it? Well, first off, I would hardly say 'starring'--not in this particular galaxy. And the chance to work with James Earl Jones for the first time, and with Angela Lansbury (for the fourth) was a real draw. Most of my career has been on the West Coast, and the opportunity to do such a high profile show on Broadway was almost irresistible. I had met producer Jeffrey Richards before and liked how enthusiastic and informed he was about theatre. And I've been a fan of Gore Vidal's since I was a young man, I read everything of his I could get my hands on, and still do. What I've most enjoyed is the family feeling of the cast, and particular phenomenon of this play and this performance--that the audience may come to see the stars, but by halfway through, they are completely drawn into the timeless story and the brilliance of Gore's writing and storytelling, and are applauding not so much star turns as his witticisms, wisdom, prescience, and plot turns.
4. What do you identify most with about your character "Senator Clyde Carlin"? How did you come up with the portrayal? He's not a like-able man, I think, but I like him. He's a weaselly politician through and through. He's a real type, and I suspect Gore knew more than a few of him. He's just a hoot to play. I keep a picture of Sam Ervin on my dressing table, and have fond memories of his presence and voice and tics in the Watergate hearings. But of course, Sam was a man of integrity; Clyde isn't.
5. What do you hope audiences come away with after seeing the show? Well, I would hope they are entertained and enlightened in equal measure. That they understand more about the complexities of American politics. God knows, with three acts of Gore's brilliance, beautiful sets and sound designs, and a galaxy of iconic stars, they certainly get their money's worth.
6. What has been the best part about starring in a show with such a high profile cast? Being in a hit is nice. But nicer still is to find that they are not only all very skilled performers, they are very nice people. And niceness in a cast comes, I think, from the top down--and I credit not just James and Angela, but also Jeffrey Richards and his team and the gloriously talented and very personable Michael Wilson, our director.
7. In 2003, you received a special Drama Desk Award for your adaptation of "Henry IV." What made you want to adapt this work and what did this honor mean to you? I began adapting these plays almost forty years ago. I had played "Falstaff" in "Part One" while in college-as a philosophy and theology student, mind you--and was really just discovering Shakespeare. When I found out there was a sequel, I first thought, wouldn't it be great if you could play the whole story in night. I've been working on it ever since--so it's a four-decade-long obsession.
The award not only assured me that I wasn't crazy, but validated the double life I had been leading for many years (as an actor/scholar), and re-introduced me into the NY theatre community, where I begin to suspect much of my future (such as it is) will lie. And then I got to receive it from Christopher Plummer. And it was the crown of my many years work at Jack O'Brien's right hand.
8. You have a very deep history in theatre, not only performing in it, but you have been the Artistic Director of the Andak Stage Company, former Artistic Director of California Actors Theatre, Berkeley Shakespeare Festival, and the Antaeus Company, a founding member of John Houseman's Acting Company, an Associate Artist of the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, and you were a faculty member at Julliard, where you taught Kevin Kline and Patti LuPone. What is it about theatre that made you want to be such a big part of it? Kevin Kline and Patti LuPone are very successful artists. What does it mean to you to see two of your students become so successful and to know, you were part of helping with that success? Well, first off, hugely talented actors like Patti and Kevin and Annette certainly didn't need my help to get where they are. It was an honor to work with them even then, and with all young actors whom I have considered more colleagues than students. But I am deeply committed to passing on what I know about classical acting to the next generations of young actors, and am particularly pleased when any of my students/colleagues succeeds whether in a high profile career or in any stage endeavor, because it means that I and they are both making a contribution to keeping great theatre alive. You're a successful teacher when your students surpass you.
9. In addition to theatre, you have also starred in over 20 films and 200 television appearances. What do you get from your film/television work that you do not get from your theatrical work? Well, it does pay better, and I've been able to put my kids through college. It's a different kind of acting, but it does require hard work and the development of a new skill set; and I do love to learn. More pragmatically, it gives me a somewhat higher profile, which then allows me to perhaps get stage work I could not get otherwise. (That's one of the reasons why I moved to L.A. after 25 years as a regional actor in the San Francisco Bay Area). And at least some of one's work is not lost forever with the final performance. My grandchildren will be able to see what I did for a living. And for love.
10. What have you learned about yourself from your varied career? That I have an extraordinarily supportive wife, who is also in the business. That one can make a life in the arts, as well as a living. That one must keep learning every day. That multi-tasking is possible, and sometimes necessary. That great artists often know more about human nature than great philosophers or theologians. And about myself, that whether I planned it or not, I have found the perfect profession for myself. That being an actor is something to be proud of. And that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare's plays.
11. What's the best advice you've ever received? Every day that you learn something is a great day. Admit your mistakes before someone else gets the chance to point them out. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
12. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? Shakespeare. He would talk and I would listen. Maybe I'd ask a question or two.
13. Favorite way to spend your day off? What's a day off? Okay, police procedurals--written or broadcast.
14. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? The ability to open other people's minds.