Matthew Broderick is 36 but, conceivably, could pass for 17, the age at which he started acting. The son of actor James Broderick and artist-playwright Patricia Broderick, he once studied with Uta Hagen. Broderick, who received excellent notices in the revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, was brave enough to take the plunge back to the boards. He could also afford to. Though "Godzilla" received a critical drubbing the likes of which NAT will never see and did less than mega box-office in the U.S., it was a monster monster-movie abroad. "It was a huge hit about a huge monster," Broderick says sarcastically, "and enjoyable fun. The original was no sacred cow, so I don't know why the critics got so riled."

He is contracted to repeat his role as scientist Niko Tatopoulos (who specializes in mutations caused by nuclear radiation) should there be a sequel. In the meantime, he has two upcoming films, the independent "Election," in which he stars as a teacher plotting against Reese Witherspoon, who's running for student president; and this summer's Disney live-action blockbuster, "Inspector Gadget," which co-stars Joely Fisher.

Broderick is joined in Night Must Fall by two other names: Judy Parfitt, an English star remembered for her performances in 1984s Grenada TV/Masterpiece Theater (PBS)'s "The Jewel in the Crown" [which at home won her a BAFTA Actress of the Year nomination] and such films as "Ever After," "Wilde," "Dolores Claiborne" and Maurice; and Obie Award-winning/Drama Desk-nominated J. Smith Cameron of As Bees in Honey Drown [she was Tony-nominated as Best Featured Actress for Our Country's Good] and such recent films as "The Rage: Carrie 2" and Woody Allen's "Mighty Aphrodite."

In New York and travels across country as his dad performed, the younger Broderick says he became mesmerized by the magic of theater. He did plays through high school, which eventually brought him to the attention of an agent. Since his Broadway debut in Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs, for which he won a Tony Award, and Biloxi Blues; Off Broadway, Off Off and regionally in plays by Horton Foote; and in the 1995 hit revival of How to Succeed (winning a second Tony for his portrayal of the irascible J. Pierrpont Finch), as well as numerous films, the star - famous for his boyish good looks and puckish personality - has proved equally at home onstage and screen.

The actor says he saw a dark thriller as "a means of doing something daringly different." Playing against type is something Broderick has longed to do since 1986, when we saw a dark, albeit comic, side of him in the movie "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." "Ferris," says Broderick, "is only slightly separated from Danny."

Movies are fun and, of course, they pay better than theater but, says Broderick, "My love is live theater. There's nothing like it... In most films," he says, "there's an actor to react to. But in `Godzilla,' most of the time I was making it up as I went. You're acting, but there is nothing to react to. It's a million times better when there's someone live!" For the close-up reaction shots as he "watched" a giant lizard knock over tall buildings or when you have to look that lizard in the eye "and endure exhaled gusts of fishy halitosis," he reports, "It's hard not to feel self conscious because your eyes are on whatever is not there. It's all in your imagination. When I was a kid, I did a lot of play acting where I made up the other person. That helped!"

Night Must Fall is set in '30s, but director Tillinger decided that Broderick would sport an Irish brogue instead of the Welsh accent stipulated in the script. The actor has an affinity with Ireland, where he and Sarah Jessica Parker live part of the year in Donegal, in a home where he once spent summers as his dad searched fruitlessly for his Irish roots.

Broderick explained that the fun thing about How to Succeed was getting to sing. "But, as an actor, you try to always look for roles that will challenge and help you grow. I'd like to think I got roles not because I was cute and perky but because I was a good actor. As with many actors, I feel my 'younger' work is just as good as my 'older' work,' just different. I'm not sure you get better. In fact, some actors get worse.

"I listen to directors for good ideas," he adds, "and they are capable of helping you shape your roles. You have to be careful, though, because that can also mess you up."

Broderick said he's drawn to theater because it "allows me to take the reins. In movies, there're so many elements - photography, music, editing. It's very collaborative. So is theater, but onstage, it's you and whoever else is in the scene. You use your timing and it feels so much more natural. You have more control.

"Theater is tricky, however. When you're an unknown, you've got nothing to lose. You have your focus and you do your work. If you stand out, great, but the very next time people are saying 'Now prove it. Was that a fluke or are you real?' It's a different vibe. It's a constant challenge."


Key Subjects: 
Matthew Broderick, How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, Night Must Fall, Godzilla
Ellis Nassour
Writer Bio: 
Ellis Nassour contributes entertainment features here and abroad. He is the author of "Rock Opera: the Creation of Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline," and an associate editor and a contributing writer (film, music, theater) to Oxford University Press' American National Biography (1999).
Matthew Broderick in the Spotlight