An Interview with Matt Doyle on acting, coincidences and playing Juliet in Private Romeo
by Larry Murray
Private Romeo changes the dynamics of Romeo and Juliet, but not Shakespeare’s words
Private Romeo is a modern-day adaptation of Romeo and Juliet is being released by Wolfe Video on DVD and as Video on Demand. It is available via Netflix, too. The film features an all-male cast – with no cross dressing – and it takes place in McKinley Military Academy rather than Verona. It is director Alan Brown’s fourth film, and has won honors. Private Romeo won a Grand Jury Prize at 2011 Outfest Film Festival in Los Angeles, and was a Critic’s Pick of The New York Times, which wrote that, “Shakespeare himself would spring for a ticket to Brown’s re-staging of Romeo and Juliet…performed to perfection.”
About Matt Doyle’s role
Yesterday we spoke with Matt Doyle (“Gossip Girl” on TV, Warhorse, Spring Awakening on Broadway) who plays Juliet in the film – not as a woman, but as Glenn, a cadet who falls in love with his fellow cadet Sam, the film’s Romeo played by Seth Numrich. There is much that is innovative in this film, but the words of Shakespeare remain exactly as originally written.
Matt Doyle is one of Broadway’s most versatile actors, and a singer with a rare smooth-as-silk delivery. It is also true that he is a sponge who both contributes and soaks up every creative drop in the room. You might not think of him as a logical candidate for the role of Juliet, but Doyle is equal to any task handed him.
Private Romeo takes the words of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and transplants them to present day America. The premise of the film is that while left behind at the military academy, the octet of cadets are only permitted to speak to each other by using the words from Shakespeare’s plays. Filmed before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed, it isn’t the family feuds keeping the love affair between Seth and Matt down, but long held traditions and the iron hand of military authorities.
The film also stars Hale Appleman (Beautiful Ohio), Chris Bresky (Going the Distance), Sean Hudock (TV’s “Powerless”), Adam Barrie, Bobby Moreno, and Charlie Barnett. The entire cast of the film was honored with the 2011 Outfest Grand Jury Award for “Outstanding Actor in a Feature Film.”
About the DVD
Private Romeo has a running time of 98 minutes and is not rated. The DVD will come packed with extras including Director’s commentary, Behind the Scenes Featurette, Deleted Scenes, Facebook entries, trailer, closed captions and more.
Consumers can purchase from retailers nationwide or order DVDs by calling 1-800-GET-WOLFE or visiting www.WolfeVideo.com. Consumers looking to rent or download Private Romeo will find it available on multiple Internet, VOD and broadcast platforms.
Talking with Matt Doyle about Private Romeo
Larry Murray: Before this film perhaps your most impressive accomplishment was going from understudy to the ensemble to Hanschen and then finally Melchior in Spring Awakening. It seems you have played every male role in that show. It’s something that requires incredible range and versatility.
Matt Doyle: Yes, I went on as Melchior on Broadway, and then I actually took over the part on tour, but it all started with Hanschen here in New York. I went on a long journey with Spring Awakening.
Once you got to the callback for Private Romeo they kept you there for almost six hours.
Matt: They did, yes, Alan (Brown the film director) had a great audition process and was able to work with us and see just how creative we were, and just wanted to explore the concept. We were all crammed in his apartment, and it was a chance to get to know all the other boys really well.
It seems there are no women in the cast.
Matt: I kind of had the idea that I was going to be in the film since I was kept around to be everyone’s Juliet, and that was going to be my role.
The Director, Alan Brown says in a Film International interview that it was “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” that sparked his interest in doing the film.
“It made me look anew at Romeo and Juliet, to examine it from a contemporary political perspective, and think about the issues of personal sexual and romantic desire versus institutional authority. I hope that my film will do that for audiences as well. The soldiers are neither children nor soldiers and they’re at a physically attractive age, to state the obvious. But also, they’re teetering on the edge in all ways – on the brink of adult sexuality and responsibility. But still fighting those raging hormones and the confusions and insecurities of their teenage years.”
So you ended up playing Glenn, the Juliet part, just as young men would do in Shakespeare’s day. And there were some real twists given to the classic story of Romeo and Juliet, but Shakespeare’s words were not changed, you were still called “my lady” if that is what he wrote. That’s pretty fantastic. Any other surprises?
Matt: Yes. It was fantastic. Alan contacted me right after I was cast, and said that he he just found out that I was a singer and would really like me to sing in the film. I told him that was fine, but we talked about how important it was to pick the right song. He came to me with “You Made Me Love You” and I agreed, as long as I didn’t have to sing it like Judy Garland. We went for something a little more contemporary, uptempo. We worked with a band called Bishop Allen [the Brooklyn based indie rock group whose songs are featured in the film.] They worked with me for a few hours in their apartment, and we listened to the Patsy Cline version, and then did our own contemporary spin on that, a sweet, ukulele version of the song.
Working with Seth Numrich in Private Romeo and then both of you ending up in War Horse at Lincoln Center is an amazing coincidence.
Matt: We found out while we were shooting the film that we were both up for War Horse, and what was nice is we knew we were trying out for different parts. I didn’t go out for Albert which Seth ended up playing, and I hoped to do Billy, his cousin in War Horse. So we got the parts which are adversarial, and about the same time we had to do the love scenes for Romeo and Juliet. We got so close shooting Private Romeo together that by the time we arrived on the War Horse set we were great pals, oddly comfortable with one another. And we’re like, oh, that’s just because we just spent four weeks essentially, you know, making out.
We became very close friends through this process, even as we played rivals every day in War Horse. Private Romeo helped us create a very real sense of friendship that only helped our chemistry on stage in War Horse.
But it was your schooling that helped with the Shakespeare.
Matt: Absolutely, the LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art) training was invaluable. It’s an absolutely incredible school and lots of great actors are coming out of there now. I focused on classical theatre, which is what I really wanted to do, but I hadn’t had much opportunity since returning. So it was really wonderful to do this highly original work by Shakespeare.
And being able to do Juliet in desert camies rather than drag, it really grounded the film. It ends up feeling more gritty and realistic.
Matt: The focus was on Shakespeare, he captures the essence of love, 100%. And in this gorgeous play which is still universal today, it was wonderful not only to be a part of it, but to be able to play Juliet who is one of the greatest characters in theatre. I would never get to play her otherwise.
In Private Romeo I liked how the premise changed from the rivalry between two families, to a contest between individuals and authority, freedom and conformist attitudes.
Matt: Absolutely. We really had to turn a lot of those ideas in on their head, so the film becomes a very metaphorical tale in certain places. Sometimes the text flips and its absolutely miraculous how well it fits, and at other times it doesn’t fit so well. But it was, and is, an experiment all the way through, and the viewer comes along for the ride.
I certainly enjoyed it, both for its classicism and its novelty. At the end we don’t have a double suicide, which with both characters being gay would have fulfilled the old Hollywood Code where homosexuals were never allowed to do anything but end up dead or in jail.
Matt: We did the filming about the time all those teenage suicides were taking place and bullying were in the news. Alan wanted to send out a message of choosing life, and hope rather than despair and death. To be brave, to accept the love, that it was an ok thing to do.
Was it about that time you filmed your It Gets Better video? (Video Link)
Matt: Yeah, it’s been a very, very important issue for me. It’s something I went through and my life is proof that things absolutely do get better. There is so much coming up ahead, and I am so grateful to have hung on, to be here, to have learned to love and embrace life. It’s been wonderful how the campaign to tell young students that they are not alone has made a big difference.
I was really touched by how community theatre proved to be the place where your outlook on life and acceptance was finally nurtured and developed. Back to the film, do you think Private Romeo revealed a new facet, revealed a new dimension for you to explore?
Matt: Absolutely. A lot of people don’t know that while I trained in theatre, and could sing, I realize that I sort of fell into musical theatre by accident. I didn’t come to New York wanting to do musical theatre, I arrived searching for classical theatre companies, but even in New York City there are not a lot of them,, especially compared to the U. K.
I did a lot of musicals, and loved it, but I wanted very much to showcase my classical training which I am very passionate about and have been wanted to dive into. Until this Private Romeo project came along. The film and the process leading up to it was so different and experimental and wonderful, I was thrilled. It allowed me to play with the text and work with it in a way I never expected to.
And a question about your future plans. How is that musical coming along?
Matt: (laughs) “That” musical is “coming along,” it should be announced soon, they’re preparing the casting on it right now. I wish I could talk about it, but it’s a great piece with a really, really impressive team attached to it. It will start out of town, and then reach Broadway in Spring 2013. I wish I could tell you more.
Can’t blame me for trying to figure it out – it’s been a fun guessing game. Meantime, another show, Hands on a Hardbody is wrapping up in San DIego and there is talk of it heading to Broadway about at the same time. The whole cast has gotten great notices, including Jay Armstrong Johnson who played The Pool Boy for Barrington Stage here in the Berkshires. You’ve worked with him.
Matt: Jay Armstrong Johnson is a great friend of mine and he is incredible. I am blown away by his talent. It would be great to be working near each other next Spring.
It would be great to see you in the Berkshires in the near future, too.
Matt: I would love to have the opportunity, my grandparents live in Stockbridge and they would be thrilled. I would love to get up there.
So which song shall I embed with this interview to let them hear you sing?
Matt: “If Morning Can’t Wait,” it’s an original song….
…and I think it’s really great.
So readers, here you go!
Matt Doyle is also an accomplished cabaret singer with a voice that is as smooth as honey one moment, and ka-pow! show tune spectacular the next. We did not have enough time to explore his growing popularity as a, well, crooner, but he has legions of fans on You Tube who have snapped up his first EP “Daylight.”
On June 12 his second EP, “Constant” will be released and there will be a big concert at Joe’s Pub in New York City on July 2, 2012 for those who would like their copy signed and to say hello to Matt.
There are numerous videos available to watch on You Tube, of varying quality, and we have our favorites, but that’s a story for another day.(LM)
©2012, Larry Murray