Interview – Matt Cornwell

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Matthew was born in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. After living four years in Huntsville, Alabama, he moved back to Florida and went to high school in Tampa. He graduated from Duke University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering in 2000. He received his Masters Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Georgia Tech in December, 2001. After working 2 years as an Acoustical Consultant, he quit to become a full-time actor. He has been a working actor in Atlanta since January, 2003. He and his wife, Brooke Jaye Taylor, a fellow actor, also have a hilarious, popular web series about acting in Atlanta: http://www.beckyandbarry.com. They also run an audition taping service: http://www.get-taped.com

 

When did you know you wanted to become an actor? Did you do any acting in school or college?

Sitting alone in a movie theater watching Ace Ventura when I was 14, I decided that being like Jim Carrey would be the coolest thing ever. I didn’t start acting until I was a junior in high school, and even then my main focus was still on my studies. I went to Duke for Mechanical Engineering, and took several acting classes there, but it was still a “dream”, not a viable career. Then I came to Georgia Tech to get my Masters in Mech. Eng., and got involved immediately in their theatre, DramaTech. It wasn’t until sometime in 2002 that I decided it was my career.

 

How did you go about starting your acting career? Was your family supportive?

I didn’t consciously “start” my career. I eased into it. I started with classes, then started doing independent projects, then got an agent, and suddenly I realized that I was an actor. My parents were always supportive, though I’m sure they were skeptical during those first several years.

 

What made you choose Atlanta?

I came here for Graduate School, and then discovered that there was a great market here.

 

What was your first paid gig?

After I signed with Houghton Talent in May 2002, I immediately had an audition for a Zocor Commercial. It was actually an extra role, but they needed football players, so they held a formal audition. Melissa McBride (Carol on The Walking Dead) was the casting director at that time, and I got cast in this national SAG commercial on my first audition.

 

How did you get your first agent?

By being in class. After 8 months or so of training, a classmate came up to me one day and said “Don’t tell anyone, but I work for Houghton and I think you’d be great for us. Do you have headshots?” I said “No, but I will by next week.” So I made an appointment with a photographer, and just like that I had an agent.

 

What was your training like? How do you keep your instrument sharp between projects (if you have the time)?

In college I got exposed to a variety of philosophies, but most of my training has been influenced by Meisner. I took classes every week for the first 10 years or so of my career. I transitioned into teaching classes, and still teach today. Even though I don’t actively take any classes currently (though I plan to in the near future), teaching keeps me sharp. Also, running a taping service for actors is the best cold-reading training around. I cold read DOZENS of scripts a week (for over 5 years straight), and can honestly say I’m an expert at it.

 

Are you SAG? If not, why not?

No, but this is the first year I’m seriously considering making the jump. I’ve been eligible since 2003, but non-union work has been my bread and butter all these years. However, since the tax incentive has brought so much work to town, I’ve been booking more and more union work, so I’m almost to the point where I can safely leave the non-union work behind.

 

How did you support yourself when you started out? What were your survival jobs?

At first I was stuck in the corporate job. Less than a year later, I quit that job and starting doing substitute teaching for middle school and high school. I also did freelance editing and web design. Let’s just say I was very poor the first 5 or so years of my career, BUT I was very happy.

 

Do you do anything else to supplement your income today?

I teach 3 classes a week, and I co-own Get Taped

 

What do you do outside acting (family, hobbies etc.)?

Ha. I don’t have much else on my plate right now. I used to be big into sports (mainly soccer), and I also used to draw and paint a lot. I still do some art occasionally.

 

What are some ways you stay on the industry radar? How do you make your mailings stand out?

Get Taped definitely helps us stay connected to all the major players in the industry, but honestly, kicking butt in all your auditions is the best way. I’ve never sent postcards, and don’t do any other marketing for myself. I received a piece of advice from an improv teacher years ago that has become my philosophy: “Be the actor that everyone else wants to be in a scene with.” That keeps me on the radar.

 

What do you see the future of acting being in Atlanta? What would you like to see happen in Atlanta to grow the film business/opportunities for actors? Do you see series regular roles coming here?

I think the size of the roles offered here will gradually increase over the next 5-10 years, but let’s be real; lead roles require actors who are proven moneymakers. So until celebrities start making Atlanta home, LA will always be the hub for the leads in TV/Film. I do think series regulars would be an eventual possibility.

 

Do you have representation outside Atlanta?

No.

 

Do you plan to move to LA/NYC in next five years?

No.

 

How do you handle rejection? Do you ever feel like giving up?

Each year I’ll go through at least 1 or 2 dry spells that last anywhere from 1-6 months. Those are the toughest times. No amount of positive thinking seems to help. BUT what I did discover several years ago was that producing your own content is the cure. When we started our web series, Becky & Barry, it took all the focus off of the roles that we had no control over, and gave us creative freedom to do something that has been truly fulfilling. So when times are tough, we just focus on that.

 

What do you wish someone had told you at the beginning of your career? What mistakes have you made, if any?

I am not someone who looks back at what I should’ve done. Just like in an improv scene, you just need to focus on the moment and build from there. Every decision I’ve made, and everything that has happened to me has brought me to this point, and I’m very happy with where I’m at…so no regrets 🙂

 

What advice would you give to an actor starting out?

Stop. Turn around. Find something else that will make you happy. Because if there is anything else in life that will bring you fulfillment, you should do that. This business is hard. Nearly impossible. It will chew you up and spit you out over and over again. You have to be all in to even have the slightest chance in this business, and too many people try to only put one foot in, and they wonder why they don’t make progress. And if you ever get to the point where you ask the question “How do I know if it’s time to quit?”, then you don’t have what it takes.

 

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