Dakin Matthews, Actor-Playwright-Director-Teacher-Episode #233

Feb 14, 2023 | 2 comments

Dakin Matthews is familiar to audiences the world over.  He’s an actor, playwright, dramaturge, teacher, director, translator, emeritus English professor, and Shakespeare scholar.

He’s been a leading actor in over 250 professional plays—eight on Broadway, including recently Waitress and To Kill a Mockingbird.

Dakin is a member of both the Motion Picture and the Television Academies and has appeared in over 30 feature films, including: True Grit, Bridge of Spies, and Lincoln; and over three hundred television episodes, including shows such as: The Gilded Age, The King of Queens, Desperate Housewives, The Office, and Gilmore Girls.

He’s been the Artistic Director of four professional theatre companies. His multiple award-winning scripts – adaptations, translations, and originals – have been performed across the country. Dakin won a Drama Desk Award for his Broadway adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry IV. His eleven rhyming verse translations of Golden Age comedies are currently being published by LinguaText.

He’s taught and directed across the U.S., and has dramaturged Shakespeare for the country’s leading directors. Dakin’s also given workshops in Shakespearean verse-speaking across the country and around the world, based on his handbook Shakespeare Spoken Here.

Dakin was a Founding Member of John Houseman’s The Acting Company and of Sam Mendes’ Bridge Project and The Antaeus Theatre Company.




Read the Podcast Transcript

Steve Cuden: On today’s StoryBeat…

Dakin Matthews: Go to college. Two years, four years, doesn’t matter. And don’t major in drama. Major in a liberal art or a science, political science, English history, music, anything. Anything you want. At the same time, audition for every single role in the drama department. If you can graduate with a degree in the liberal arts, which will prepare you for your future life, and you were cast in a number of plays in the drama department without being a member of the drama department, then you may have a future in theater. Then consider a conservatory. The education you get in the liberal arts will not only prepare you for life, it will prepare you for theater as well. You will learn to write. You will learn to read. You will learn history. You will learn how to research. You’ll be well prepared for theater. Your natural talent, which you’ve shown you have by the fact that you got cast in a number of plays, will serve you well when you go to conservatory, unless you’re absolutely gorgeous or absolutely handsome, then you could probably go to Hollywood, become a star.

Narrator: This is StoryBeat with Steve Cuden, a podcast for the creative mind. StoryBeat explores how masters of creativity develop and produce brilliant works that people everywhere love and admire. So join us as we discover how talented creators find success in the worlds of imagination and entertainment. Here now is your host, Steve Cuden.

Steve Cuden: Thanks for joining us on StoryBeat. We’re coming to you from the Steel City, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Well, you are likely to already be a fan of my guest today, Dakin Matthews, who’s familiar to audiences the world over. He’s an actor, playwright, dramaturge, teacher director, translator, emeritus English professor, and Shakespeare Scholar. Dakin was a founding member of John Houseman’s, the acting company, and of Sam Mendes Bridge Project. He’s been a leading actor in over 250 professional plays, eight on Broadway, including recently Waitress and To Kill A Mockingbird. Dakin is a member of both the motion picture and TV academies, and has appeared in over 30 feature films, including True Grit, Bridge of Spies and Lincoln, and over 300 television episodes, including shows such as the Gilded Age, the King of Queens, Desperate Housewives, the Office, and Gilmore Girls. He’s been the artistic director of four professional theater companies. His multiple award-winning scripts, adaptations, translations, and originals have been performed across the country. Dakin won a Drama Desk Award for his Broadway adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry the Four. His 11 rhyming verse translations of Golden Age comedies are currently being published by Lingua Text. He’s taught and directed across the US and has dramaturg Shakespeare for the country’s leading directors. Dakin’s, also given workshops in Shakespearian verse speaking across the country and around the world based on his handbook Shakespeare Spoken Here. So for those reasons and many more, it’s my great honor and true privilege to welcome the extraordinarily multi-talented Dakin Matthews to StoryBeat today. Dakin, welcome to the show.

Dakin Matthews: Hi. Thank you. It’s nice to be here.

Steve Cuden: Oh, it is a great pleasure to have you, trust me. So let’s go back in time just a little bit. You’ve been at this game in the business of show for quite some time at this point. Where did the bug first hit you? When did you first start thinking about being an actor or writer or whatever?

Dakin Matthews: Yeah, my story is kind of weird. When people ask me for advice about it, I say my career path is so weird. What happened was that I never intended to be an actor. I’m very much an accidental actor. I was always assuming that I would be a teacher. In fact, I had finished my education, and I was going to graduate school in English after taking degrees already in philosophy and theology. I was teaching algebra and religion, of all things, at a Catholic high school in the Bay Area. A colleague of mine, another teacher in high school, and I became friends. He was in the English department. I had mentioned to him that though I’d never studied drama, I used to act extracurricular when I was in college and that I had played Falstaff at Henry Four part one which was fun.

He said, well, I see that they’re auditioning for that show in a local Shakespeare festival in Marin County. Why don’t you go audition for it? I said, no, that’s silly. I just worked in school. I wasn’t even a drama major. He sort of challenged me to do it. So I did. I had never auditioned for anything, and I didn’t know quite what was involved in auditioning. So I dressed up in a blue suit and tie. The only Shakespeare book I had was the big Rockwell Kent Illustrated Shakespeare, that gigantic complete works. I show up for my audition with this giant Shakespeare book and my blue suit and my brown shoes, and it’s outdoors and it’s a hundred degrees.

I read my stuff and lo and behold, they offered me the job. They offered me Falstaff in Henry Four part one. I had never worked professionally or somewhere professionally before. So I thought about it, and I thought, well, this is not a bad idea because I was hoping to teach English. Eventually the next year I was hired as an assistant professor at a local college. I thought, well, I can teach and study Shakespeare during the academic year, and then every summer or so I could go act in some Shakespeare and get to learn more about it that way. So that sounded like a good idea. I did that for about five or six years, I guess. I acted in Shakespeare festivals in the summer and taught full-time in the academic year. Then in order to work at one of them, I had to turn professional. So I got my equity card. That was 53 years ago.

Steve Cuden: Okay.

Dakin Matthews: Then I started getting offers from theaters to work during the academic year. I thought, well, that’s not going to work out. But I went to my chairman, and I had a really good English department. I was teaching English who always considered my theatrical work as professional activity, like publishing. So I said, I’m getting some interesting offers to work in professional theater during the academic year and some of them I’d really like to do because I could learn a lot more. So I said, how about if I teach all the eight o’clock classes five days a week? Which college professors don’t do. They usually teach two days a week or three days a week. So I’ll teach all the eight o’clock classes, even if it means teaching freshman English. Then I’ll do my theater when they offer me jobs in the afternoon and evening. He said, that’s fine. I’m sure all the other professors would love it if you would take all the eight o’clock classes.

Steve Cuden: Sure.

Dakin Matthews: So I did that for about 10 or 15 more years. I would teach from eight to 12 and rehearse from one to five, perform from seven to 11 in the San Francisco Bay area. I put a lot of miles on my little Volkswagen bug. I went anywhere in the Bay Area that they would hire an actor. Eventually it came to the point where I was offered an early retirement from the university. I thought, well, maybe I’ll take it and do this acting thing for real. So that’s how it happened for me.

Steve Cuden: I taught for 10 years. I can’t even picture teaching every day and then going off and working all night. You were getting no sleep, basically.

Dakin Matthews: Not much. But I was putting miles on that bug. I tell you, I got a bug. I still have the bug, and it’s sitting in my driveway, and I think the odometer is broken. I think it’s got half a million miles on it.

Steve Cuden: Oh my goodness. So did you take acting classes somewhere or did you just do it?

Dakin Matthews: No, no, I never did. I trained. I was right at the cusp. Conservatory training was just coming in when I started out. So I sort of studied, as John House would say, the old fashioned way. You would sign on as a younger member of an existing festival or company or theater. You would play small roles and you would watch the senior members how they did it and learn from them basically. Then you watch a lot of movies and television and watch the actors that you really like and see how they do it. I learned by doing, which is the way young actors used to learn their craft before the whole conservatory movement came.

Steve Cuden: Was there a point in doing it – clearly, if you didn’t have any training, you had nothing to compare it to except each production that you were involved in – was there a point where you went and thought to yourself, do you know what? I am actually pretty good at this. This is something I can do. When did that happen?

Dakin Matthews: Yeah, what happened was I was especially fortunate that I got attached to a company and a couple of directors and some actors in the South Bay area, Santa Clara, Los Gatis area. It turned out that there was a crop of really good young actors, including, for example, David Ogden Stiers, Kurtwood Smith and Elizabeth Huddle and a couple of others. We were all in our twenties. We had a couple of directors who sort of knew what they were doing. We were all doing five plays or six plays every summer. I remember when I realized that theater would be a wonderful profession and that it was possible, even in places you wouldn’t expect it for there to be really great acting. I’ll tell this story because it’s part of what the beginning of my career was. I got this part of Falstaff in Henry Four and we were playing in Marin County in an outdoor amphitheater. I was working with one of my oldest friends, now the great Will Marchetti, who has been running the Marin Theater Company, who had been running the Marin Theater for many, many years. He was playing Hotspur and I was playing Falstaff. We heard that there was this little college production of Henry Four part one being done in Santa Clara. Our reviews came out the same day. We got great reviews, and they got kind of, oh, these college kids, they don’t really know what they’re doing. So I suggested that we get a bus, and our company all go down and watch their show. I thought that would be kind of fun to see what the kids were doing while we were the grownups. So we got a bus and we drove down to Santa Clara. They didn’t even have a proper theater. They had two onset huts in a parking lot which they called the Lifeboat because their theater, I think, which is originally called The Ship had burned down or something. So they had this temporary theater called The Lifeboat.

Steve Cuden: Right.

Dakin Matthews: We went in to see this Henry Four part one, and we were sitting in like bleachers on two sides of a stage that thrust right down the middle. We thought, oh, that was sort of weird. This show started, and it was the most magnificent production I had ever seen in my life up to this time. It was glorious. It was gorgeous. It was moving. It was muscular. It was brilliant. It was a very quiet bus ride home for me. I thought we were going to be riding home gloating about how good we were. I thought, oh, I want to do that. That’s the kind of actor I want to be.

Steve Cuden: Obviously you went off and had achieved it.

Dakin Matthews: A couple of years later, they invited me to join their company and it went more professional and moved into a better theater and stuff like that. But there were these young actors there, many of whom went on to very good careers in film and television and on the stage. I was very fortunate to be in that group. I mean, working with David Ogden Stiers, who was the greatest actor on stage I’ve ever worked with.

Steve Cuden: Is that right?

Dakin Matthews: Yeah. Bar none. There was never anyone that I thought was greater. I worked with some fabulous actors and they’re great, but David was as good as anybody who’s ever worked, especially in comedy. But he could do it all.

Steve Cuden: Well, you saying that is amazing because clearly if you look at your resume, you’ve worked with some astonishing actors.

Dakin Matthews: I have. I’ve been very, very fortunate. So that’s what I mean. It was sort of accidental. I didn’t really mean to become an actor. But every once in a while, if you see a performance that just knocks you out, you say, oh, I want to aspire to that. This is what’s possible.

Steve Cuden: For the listeners who may not know who David Ogden Stiers was just check out the television series M*A*S*H and/or check out Beauty and the Beast, the animated movie, because he’s in that too.

Dakin Matthews: Before that, for example, he played King Lear already three times. Once when he was 23, once when he was 27, which I was fortunate to be in with him. Once again, when he was in his early thirties, and he was a brilliant King Lear, but he was also one of the funniest physical clowns I’ve ever worked with.

Steve Cuden: How do you play Lear at 23?

Dakin Matthews: Brilliantly, if you’re David Ogden Stiers. I mean, I was weeping. He did that the following year. As a matter of fact, after I had first come down, I went down to see them again the following year when I was doing Shylock back at Marin Festival. David was playing King Lear and Grumio in Taming of the Shrew.

Steve Cuden: Oh my.

Dakin Matthews: He was the funniest Grumio I’d ever seen. I remember I went backstage because I hadn’t met them yet. So I went backstage to see them. I overheard someone saying, that was this fat guy in the second row who literally fell out of his chair into the aisle, and you were so funny. I said, yeah, that was me. That was me. David was the funniest actor I’d ever seen. Then two weeks later I saw his Lear and he just reduced me to tears.

Steve Cuden: Clearly, you’ve done a massive amount of theater, but you’ve also done a significant amount of on-camera work. Do you have a preference between stage and camera, or does it not matter to you?

Dakin Matthews: Well, I think I would always prefer to do theater, I think.

Steve Cuden: Why is that?

Dakin Matthews: Well, for me, theater is like athletics. If you trained to be an athlete—I’m not athletic, but I mean, in a sense. Like the famous—I forget who it is—said that actors are emotional athletes. If you train for theater, it’s the most intense exercise of your talent you can have. So film and television doesn’t give you that reward. The reward it gives you is a higher profile, obviously, and more money. In fact, the reason I started doing television and film was originally, now I’ll give you another phase of my life. Here I am having done regional theater for about 25 years. I was now at ACT in San Francisco and playing nice roles. But I look around and I see now all of a sudden, the roles that I’ve been training myself to play are going to other people. People who have left theater, gone to Hollywood, gotten themselves some cue, some profile and now are being invited back into the regional theaters to play the leading roles that I’ve been training myself to play. So I think I better go down to Hollywood and get some cue basically so I can come back to the theater and do the roles that I really want to do.

Steve Cuden: So you can become a bit of a name that is attractive to audiences

Dakin Matthews: Yeah. Somebody, not just regional, but with rather a more national reputation.

Steve Cuden: Also a high profile.

Dakin Matthews: A number of kids and I was looking forward to college fees. So I thought it wouldn’t hurt to make a little more money.

Steve Cuden: Well, as they say, in the theater, you can’t make a living, but you can make a killing. All the great actors wind up doing movies or TV at some point, because that’s where the money is.

Dakin Matthews: Yeah. Almost all. Yeah.

Steve Cuden: Let’s talk about acting in specific for a while. What do you think makes a good role good? What separates out something that’s truly impressive and attractive and actors want to play it from a lot of parts that an actor will play them, but they may not be that great.

Dakin Matthews: Well, for me it’s almost always the language because I’m a classically trained actor, and I look for not just the depth of characterization, but how that is expressed in language. For me, that’s always what’s most attractive. It’s not necessarily the number of lines or the size of the role. It’s the intensity of the language. Not just the beauty of the language, but how it just seems to capture the personality and the situation perfectly. Tony Kushner has that quality. His language is seemingly conversational, but it hits the mark so perfectly in terms of the characters and the situations they are in that the language makes acting so much easier. When the language is so perfect. Do you know what I mean? So for me, that’s what draws me to great roles.

Steve Cuden: It’s what Shakespeare says about it falling trippingly off the tongue. Yes?

Dakin Matthews: Well, to some extent it’s that strange mix of authentic human speech, somehow elevated, so that it becomes, at the same time, incredibly dense. Do you know what I mean by that?

Steve Cuden: I do.

Dakin Matthews: Let me put it this way. Whenever you talk to somebody, you have an idea in your head that you’re trying to get to them. So you use language, and you send it out there and it gets into their ear and then into their head. But you’re pretty sure that you haven’t quite got everything that was in your head into the language, into the other guy’s head. Keep trying to make the language denser and denser and denser so that you achieve more of the goal which you have, is to let the other person not only understand what I’m thinking, but almost feel what I’m feeling. Do you know what I mean?

Steve Cuden: Well, that seems to be the trick for the great playwrights and the great screenwriters, is to make the language feel real, while somehow, I’ll use the word loosely, poetic, or it has a rhythm or something about it that elevates it above common speech, but yet feels common.

Dakin Matthews: Right. I mean, nobody talks the way Albee’s characters talk. Nobody talks the way old cowards people talk. Nobody really talks the way mamos people talk and nobody talks the way Shakespeare talks. This all involves a concentration and a selection and a finesse and a perfecting of the language. Theater is the art of language in many ways.

Steve Cuden: For sure.

Dakin Matthews: Whereas film and television is visual.

Steve Cuden: Visual. Sure. I just had the great fortune to see stopper’s new play Leopoldstadt on Broadway. Oh my goodness. The language is unbelievable. We’re talking about a very, very mature writer who really knows how to knock it out of the park with words. There you have it. So, when you get a script, when you’ve booked a role, aside from the obvious, which is to read the script, where do you start? What do you start to look at? How do you develop a character? What’s your process?

Dakin Matthews: I can talk about what my process used to be, which is to study it and try to figure out what the playwright or what the screenwriter had in mind. What’s the voice that I think was in the playwright’s head that he wants me to sort of capture. But I realize I’ve been doing it. So now it’s become kind of second nature. So I now tend to pick up a script and the voice and character sort of come out of me as it were unbidden.

Steve Cuden: I know for myself as a writer, I’ve been writing for 40 plus years, and it took me maybe 20 years before I felt like I had a voice. That was my voice. Is that what you’re saying similarly, as an actor?

Dakin Matthews: Similarly, but also when I write, every once in a while, the characters take over the writing.

Steve Cuden: Definitely.

Dakin Matthews: It’s that same feeling that somehow, what I think a great actor who loves language has to do is become so flexible and instrument and so ready to become the characters that the characters reveal themselves through the language without you having to work on it very much. Do you know what I mean? That somehow you get an instinct. So if a writer is a good writer, you almost don’t have to act at all.

Steve Cuden: Well, how often do you wind up on a TV show or something—and you don’t need to name names—where the writing isn’t very good? How do you elevate it?

Dakin Matthews: Well, most of the time the writing is not great in network.

Steve Cuden: Exactly. So what do you do? How do you work that?

Dakin Matthews: I don’t try to find anything quirky. I actually try to find the simplest, most straightforward way of saying something or just saying extremely real. One thing I do know that I actually audition pretty well for stuff. I mean, there are a lot of wonderful actors who haven’t had the opportunities that I’ve had because they have reading problems, or they don’t audition well. I audition pretty well. I always memorize everything for an audition. I never go in to read. I’ve been blessed with a quick memory. So I think that gets me a lot of jobs. Then you get the frustrating thing where you show up on the set and they said, your reading was terrific. You got a great job, but we don’t want you to do anything like you did in the reading. That’s what got me the job.

Steve Cuden: Would you say that is your, for lack of a better word, trick or tip in terms of auditioning is it’s best to have it memorized when you go up?

Dakin Matthews: Absolutely. But nowadays it’s getting harder and harder because they’re giving you 15, 20, 30 pages sometimes. Do you know what I mean?

Steve Cuden: I assume you’ve gone in and done cold reading where you couldn’t memorize it. Yes?

Dakin Matthews: Yeah. I’m a really good cold reader. I’m not boasting. I’m just saying I’m really good. See, the thing is, as you can see from my library, I spend almost all my days reading. I’ve been a voracious reader ever since I was a kid. So language comes rather naturally to me so I can pretty much cold read. That’s a great blessing for an audition too.

Steve Cuden: You’re back to your notion of language being all, and you’re a language hawk. A language freak, even.

Dakin Matthews: Hawk, whatever. Yeah.

Steve Cuden: I think for me, you are a memorable actor. I remember you in parts. Is there anything that you do to become memorable or are you just being you?

Dakin Matthews: I’m rarely me. I don’t often play characters like myself. In fact, recently I auditioned for the role of an 80-year-old retired English professor who still writes papers, which I do. Which are proofread by his wife, which is also true. I didn’t get the part. I don’t have much success getting me. So I do tend to use probably too many regional accents.

Steve Cuden: I’m speaking to you now and I almost don’t know who you are because everything I’ve ever seen you in, there’s some kind of a flavor of an accent in it.

Dakin Matthews: Yeah. I think it’s my crutch and it’s my weakness.

Steve Cuden: It’s a really good crutch.

Dakin Matthews: It’s a really good crutch.

Steve Cuden: It’s a really good crutch. One of my favorite things that you’ve ever done and talk about language and great writers, truly great writers, classically great writers, is your scene with Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit.

Dakin Matthews: That was a dream. It was great working with the Coen brothers. Just the audition was funny because I auditioned on tape for it, then I got a call. I’m going to tell this story about them. I got a call. I didn’t hear anything for months. They’re, I think, notoriously slow casters I’m guessing. I didn’t hear anything. So I finally called my agent and I said, have we heard anything? Am I out of the running? What’s going on? Because I felt I had submitted a pretty good tape. They said no, nothing. Yet they want to know you’re still in the mix. You’re still in the mix. This is three months after I’ve done it. But they’d like you to do them a favor. I thought, well, I’m going to turn down the favor. What do they want? They’ve narrowed the girls down to three and they’d like you to come in and read opposite them.

Steve Cuden: Wow. Okay.

Dakin Matthews: It was me and Barry Pepper and Jeff Bridges, who was going to read scenes opposite these three girls. So I thought, well, okay. I’ll do them a favor. Maybe they’ll do me a favor. So I show up on the lot and I go in, and I have heard nothing about the casting yet. I know I’m in the mix, but that’s all I know. I walk in and I’m immediately grabbed by this woman who says, oh good, you’re here. Come on in the next room. We want to get your measurements. I said, no. I’m just here to read opposite the new girls. I’m not really cast in the movie yet. She goes, yeah-yeah. That’s how I knew that I got it. They never said a thing during the whole process. The girls all read. After it was over, we didn’t know if we were going to be asked our opinion, Jeff and Barry and I. But they sort of looked at us and asked our opinion, and we all went the last one.

Steve Cuden: She’s spectacular in that movie.

Dakin Matthews: Still nothing. Then as I was leaving, I was walking away and I just waved at one of the Coen brothers and he said, see you in Santa Fe. That was it. That’s all.

Steve Cuden: Isn’t that lovely when that happens?

Dakin Matthews: Well, yeah. The other way sometimes happens. If you’ve read for something and you don’t know if you’ve got it, but you think you’re pretty close, and then you hear a slap on your front porch and a script hits the porch, then you know you’ve got it. Or you get a costume call, then, you know. Sometimes they don’t actually call you and tell you.

Steve Cuden: It’s nice when life works out that way. You have worked on both, lots of dramas and lots of comedies. Do you have a preference?

Dakin Matthews: Well, this sounds odd, but the middle part of my screen career was almost all sitcoms and I really enjoy sitcoms. Not because the writing is always great, though I’ve been very fortunate to work on some really good ones, I think. But because it’s mostly like theater.

Steve Cuden: Before a live audience.

Dakin Matthews: You have to work fast. I mean, you come in on Monday, you read a script, you go home and come in on Tuesday, it’s a completely different script. You sort of block the whole thing and you go home and then come back in on Wednesday and it’s a completely different script again. So you really have to be on your toes. I love having to work hard. I love having to work fast. I’m what my detractors call facile.

Steve Cuden: I guess you must be considering how much you’ve done.

Dakin Matthews: I worked on King of Queens, and Kevin is one of the most brilliant farsers, Kevin James. That was just a joy working because I thought he was so good. He and what’s her name who played his wife, were both Terrific. Terrific. There were good writers on that show, I thought. That was nice. My very first long sitcom experience was a show that I did with Judy Ivey that was also for Ted Danson’s company, which was also a real joy because I worked with some people who have become lifelong friends. It was a really nice experience. So I do enjoy it very much.

Steve Cuden: What show was that Dakin?

Dakin Matthews: That was Down Home with Judith Ivey and Gedde Watanabe and Eric Allan Kramer. It was a terrific show.

Steve Cuden: Do you like the notion, you’ve memorized the lines? Of course, as you say, they then change them and change them right up to probably sometimes shooting?

Dakin Matthews: I always learn them as fast… I’ve just been very, very fortunate that after I read something maybe three times, I’m pretty much off book.

Steve Cuden: Do you like the notion of then not having to remember it again because you’re done with it forever? Or do you prefer to work on it night after night in the theater?

Dakin Matthews: Oh, I do keep working on it night after night. Yeah. You never get everything. Do you know what I mean? I always reserve a little bit, or I try to reserve a little bit, like a 5% of something. I say, I didn’t quite get that, I don’t think. Some nights you don’t get it, some nights you do, in the theater, and you say, let me see what I can tweak here to discover. Every once in a while, you’ll make a discovery because you say, oh, I was pushing that line too hard. One night I’d say, well, I won’t push it that hard this time. I’ll just take it so I’ll sort of throw it away and it was better. So then now you incorporate that in your performance. I do. I had never done a long run before I started doing Broadway. Long runs were tough, but you do have to find a way to keep them fresh.

Steve Cuden: What’s the secret to that? What do you do?

Dakin Matthews: I just try to be in the moment at all times, but also, I give myself the permission every once in a while to change things up a little bit. Not in ways that will affect the other actors, particularly. Just my own choices sometimes.

Steve Cuden: On Broadway, you’ve been in both dramas and in musicals. I mean, you did Waitress.

Dakin Matthews: Yeah. Musicals. Where did that come from?

Steve Cuden: Well, I was going to say, were you a singer prior to it?

Dakin Matthews: I sang choir for 11 years. But that’s hymns and Polyphony and Gregorian chant. No, I was not a singer. Everybody does a little bit of singing if you’re working in the regional theater. I remember I did a play called Spoke Song a few years ago. I did Brendan Behan’s The Hostage, and I did a couple of musicals in college where you didn’t have to sing that much. The first time it happened to me, I got a call from my agent saying, would you like to audition for a musical workshop in New York? I thought, why me? Who made this contact? It turned out to be somebody I’d worked with years ago at the Mark Taper Forum. I said, I don’t know. What do they want me to do? They said, well, they’d like you to just record a song. They’ll send you a song. Would you record it and would you send it back to them? They’ll listen to the tape. I thought, well, that’s not too hard, but I don’t know how to do that. They said, well, they have someone in town who will train you how to sing a Broadway song. So I went to this woman, and I made the tape. I sent it off. My agent says they want to see you in New York. They’re willing to fly you out there to audition you again for this musical workshop. Okay, why not? So I went out and auditioned again, and they actually offered me the workshop. It was with Laura Benanti and Brian d’Arcy James of all people.

Steve Cuden: Two great Broadway performers.

Dakin Matthews: They were just beginning their careers. Laura was doing the Music Man, I think, or Sound of Music, I think at the age of 18. And Brian was doing something else. I had two songs and a trio, and it was like, what am I doing here? Why am I here? The musical never went anywhere, but I had a ball. Then about 10 years later, my agent calls and says, would you be interested in doing a workshop of Rocky the Musical? I said, that is the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard. Everybody else who apparently was offered this workshop thought it was pretty dumb as well. I said, it’s the coach. It’s not a singing part. They just need someone to play the coach.

Steve Cuden: You played Mickey.

Dakin Matthews: I said, well, yeah, sure. I mean, I was between jobs. So I said, yeah, that’d be fun. So I went in and then about a couple days later they called. They wondered, do you sing? Can you sing? I said, well, I sang choir for a little bit. So Flaherty and Aarons wrote me a song. I got to sing a Flaherty and Aarons. The same sort of thing happened with Waitress.

Steve Cuden: Sarah Barish.

Dakin Matthews: Sarah Barish wrote me a song for Waitress. I’m not a singer. It’s as fluke as you could possibly imagine.

Steve Cuden: Well, Rex Harrison wasn’t a singer either.

Dakin Matthews: Oh, that’s true.

Steve Cuden: So you performed your way through it more than you were perfect singing voice.

Dakin Matthews: I sang. I didn’t sing-speak. I sang the songs.

Steve Cuden: I’ve heard it. I think you did excellent work.

Dakin Matthews: I learned some of the chorus stuff as well.

Steve Cuden: Do you come at a musical when you’ve gotten them differently as a performer than you do when you’re doing for instance, To Kill a Mockingbird? Is your preparation different?

Dakin Matthews: Not overwhelmingly, but the whole rehearsal process is so different. I mean, you have serious music rehearsals with serious musicians. That is one of the great joys of my life when I’ve started doing Broadway musical theater now. I’ve done a couple on Broadway and a couple in the encores thing. In one of them, I acted in one of the encores where Charlie, I actually had a little short song after they told me I didn’t have any song. I had a little short song. But working with Broadway performers, singer, actor, dancers, especially the ensembles, is humbling and energizing. These young people are in such great shape. They’re so multi-talented. They can do anything. They love what they do. That’s been one of the joys of my life, is working in musicals. I sang choir for many years, but I can’t sight read music, and I don’t have a trained voice. So trying to keep up with these people has been what sort of kept me, it made me feel simultaneously very old and kept me very young.

Steve Cuden: The singer, dancer, actors are actually athletes.

Dakin Matthews: Oh, yeah. Absolutely.

Steve Cuden: They have to be. They have to be in unbelievable shape to be able to do that. Just breath control alone, to sing and dance.

Dakin Matthews: Stamina. Many of them began their careers learning three or four roles because they were standbys and swings and understudies and stuff like that. During the pandemic, we really learned how important all those people were, because they were going on and playing all those roles.

Steve Cuden: You yourself, have been an understudy in a number of shows that you’ve done, correct?

Dakin Matthews: Not too many. I did understudy James Earl Jones in The Best Man. They offered me a little tiny role in the Best Man. I think it was my second Broadway show. They said, it’s a little role, but they want you to understudy James Earl Jones as well in one of the lead roles. I thought, oh, I think I’ll take this. Because I mean, how old is that guy? He is got to be in his eighties. He’s surely going to miss one matinee or two. Not a chance.

Steve Cuden: No.

Dakin Matthews: Rock of Gibraltar. But what a joy to work with him and Angela Lansbury on that show. That was wonderful. So I have had to go on every once in a while, under circumstances. That’s another story. I did not have much of a New York career all those years that I was working in the regions, except again, by accident. I’m a kind of an accidental actor in that regard. I was going to graduate school to get my PhD at NYU. I had begged John Houseman for a job, part-time teaching at Julliard, where my wife was in group one. She was in the first class to go through the drama division.

He gave me a little job teaching theater history and doing some administrative work in the office so I could make a little bit of money, and then go to my classes at NYU at night. After doing this for a couple of years, they were bringing in somebody new to do some of the academic teaching because I taught some academics at Julliard as well. He said, I’m going to form a professional company when this class graduates, but I’m one character man short. So for your third year here, we’ll have you still do some administrative work and teach a little bit, but we’d like you to sort of train with group one and become a member of the acting company when they graduate. So I was the ringer. I was the faculty ringer in that company. I played a couple of servants and an old man and had a nice role in The Hostage.

But we opened finally in New York in September of 1972. Our premier show was the School for Scandal starring David Steyers and Mary Lou Rosado and Kevin Klein and Patti LuPone. It was the jewel in the crown. About a week into the run, we were sitting around, and somebody said, we haven’t had any understudy rehearsals. I said, yeah, I know, but we’ve all been doing this show. We did it during their senior year. Well, maybe we should start thinking about it. So Sam Tsoutsouvas, who’s been a lifelong friend of mine, said, well, why don’t I understudy Sir Peter? I said, well, actually, I think Sir Peter is in my contract, so maybe I better start learning it. So that night I learned the first act and a little bit of the second act.

In between the scenes where I was running off and on as a servant, I walked in the green room and just listened to it, learned the line. They’d been in my ears for a long time. The next morning we woke up around 10 o’clock and the phone rang, and it says, Dakin, where are you? We’re home. He says, we’ve been trying to reach you. Sir Peter is out, he can’t go on tonight and we need you to go on as Sir Peter Tapsell. We have never rehearsed any of the scenes. I had only started learning the role the night before.

I said, oh, okay, well, let me learn the rest of the second act and then I’ll come in if we could have some rehersal. I pretty much knew the blocking, because I had seen the show and been in it. We could do a little blocking. Patti and I had a chance to block one scene, I think. I came in and that was the night that John Simon came.

Steve Cuden: The Great and not necessarily nice critic, John Simon.

Dakin Matthews: Yes. I went on as Sir Peter. I muffed a few lines. I hardly can remember it. It was like a train passing by. A couple of weeks later, I did the lead in The Hostage, and I got two blazingly good reviews from John Simon.

Steve Cuden: Oh, wow.

Dakin Matthews: I never wanted to do another play for him again, because don’t press your luck.

Steve Cuden: Well, he was notorious for ripping shows.

Dakin Matthews: Oh, yeah. He was brilliant and a great writer. But he was a vicious fan.

Steve Cuden: So you have also founded a number of companies, correct?

Dakin Matthews: Yeah. Well, I founded one, two, I guess. The first one I started in about 1990 when a number of us from the Bay Area had moved down to Hollywood to try to get some work in television and film. We were doing okay, getting pictures. A little bit here, a little bit there. Sometimes a little bit more. We had a kind of a small society of Bay Area actors now living in southern California, trying to get work but had all trained as classical actors and were feeling like, I’m not keeping up my skills. I’m not getting the rewards that I used to get by doing great plays. So I started a small company that didn’t really intend to produce plays but was a way for classical actors to continue to work on classical plays. It’s still running almost 30 years later.

Steve Cuden: Is this Antaeus?

Dakin Matthews: Yeah. Antaeus Company. Yeah. I no longer run it. I’m still a member, but it still exists.

Steve Cuden: How challenging is it to have a full-time career as an actor and run a theater company?

Dakin Matthews: Not that bad. Because a full-time career as an actor doesn’t necessarily mean you work every day. It means you probably work maybe 26 weeks out of the year. That would be great. I mean, if you’re a Broadway actor, then you’re working every day. If you’re working in film and television, unless you’re a regular on a sitcom or a regular on a series, you’re not working every day, particularly. We only met every Monday night, which is usually everybody’s night off, and we’d explore classical texts and train ourselves in movement or dance or something like that.

Steve Cuden: But it has become a major player in the theater world, in Los Angeles.

Dakin Matthews: In the small theater world in Los Angeles, it’s one of the major small theaters.

Steve Cuden: No question. With a great great reputation, with fabulous actors and lots of great plays.

Dakin Matthews: Yeah.

Steve Cuden: When did you decide to become a Shakespeare scholar? How did that happen?

Dakin Matthews: My first time in graduate school at California State University, we used to call East Bay. It used to be called Cal State Hayward. I was fortunate that the department that they established there was full of Renaissance scholars. So they had a very heavy emphasis on Renaissance literature in that department. I had trained heavily in medieval and early Renaissance philosophy and theology. So I pretty much knew the territory. I loved Shakespeare and I started acting in Shakespeare plays. So it sort of was kind of natural. Then when I shifted to NYU, I sort of began to especially formally specialize in Shakespeare, and it just sort of happened.

Steve Cuden: So when you eventually go on to adapt Henry the Fourth, I find that word interesting only because it’s already in English. You weren’t translating it. What were you doing to adapt it? To shorten it? To truncate it? Or what were you doing to it?

Dakin Matthews: I first came across Henry the Fourth when I was studying in Italy, graduate school in theology. The school I went to, which is called the American College, we used to put on a play every year, maybe two. It was my class’s turn to do a play. It was an all-male school, it was a seminary, it was an all-male school. So the number of plays you could do is pretty limited. Julius Caesar, we had to cut all the women out and Henry Four part one, if you cut all the women out. So I chose Henry Fourth part one to act in and direct. We did it. Then I realized that there was a part two. The education I had had up to this time, we did study a Shakespeare play every year for six or seven years.

I knew Shakespeare’s play somewhat in English, but I realized there was a part two, because at the end of part one, there’s so much left unfinished. I thought there’s a part two? So I read it. I remember lying on my bunk bed in the dorm room thinking, wow. This part two finishes the story. I wonder if anybody’s ever thought about putting them together and playing them together.

Steve Cuden: I see.

Dakin Matthews: I found out that somebody actually did that in 1630. Somebody actually did put the two parts together into one. So I thought, well, that’s an interesting… Ten years later or so, someone asked me if I would put the two parts together into one. I said, yeah, I think I’d like to. This was before computers. I mean, I was cutting up pieces of text with scotch tape rather than… No computers. So I started that, I really started that about almost 50 years ago. I started trying to adapt the two plays into a single evening, which would be about three, three and a half hours long.

I kept working at it. I brought my copy with the scotch taped stuff to New York with me when I went back to teach it at Julliard. I showed it to a director colleague of mine. He said, could I make Xerox of that? I’d like to see it. Then when I left Julliard and came back to California, I got a call from a colleague of mine who said – oh, no, I read in the paper that the Goodman Theater had announced a production of my adaptation of Henry Four. I thought, I had never heard about this. Did somebody tell me? So I began to check about it, and a friend of mine called me back and said, oh, yes, I know I should have talked to you about this earlier. He was appointed the new director of the Goodman Theater, and he really wanted it. I said, well, how did you know about it? He said, well, because we did it at Julliard the year before. I said, I didn’t know that. Nobody told me that. What had happened is that this director had directed a production of my adaptation at Julliard with the students. It was during a strike by all of the scene workers. So it was done very bare bones, and it was apparently a huge success. Script and taking it to the Goodman who wanted to do it and asked, finally he asked me, would you come back for three or four days and be our playwright in residence. I said, yeah. Okay. Sure.

Steve Cuden: What is it about Shakespeare more than any other playwright in the history of playwriting or theater, what is it about Shakespeare that makes him so malleable that you can take and bring him into the modern world, you can interpret him in so many different ways. Maybe you do. I don’t know of any other playwrights that you can do that with.

Dakin Matthews: Not many. Yeah. You can’t try to imagine taking Shaw out of his period.

Steve Cuden: Exactly.

Dakin Matthews: Some people do it with Molière with some success. I think it is not just the language, it’s his incredibly keen emotional intelligence about what makes people tick and his ability to accept people. To understand even people whom we should just hate so much that we don’t want to understand them. He ended his career with plays about forgiveness and shared humanity, basically. The great romances are really all about forgive the worst things people do. We’re all in the same boat. There will always be evil people, and there will always be some good people. The good people won’t always win, and the bad people won’t always lose, except at life.

I think that’s what it is, is that given that it was an age of extreme I mean, it was nearly a baroque period. The language could be extraordinarily difficult sometimes. The conventions of the theater. One of the advantages was that he didn’t have to worry about sets. So he wrote as if there were no sets, which means you can add sets to it. The sets were never an extremely important part of the thing. It’s what Peter Brooke calls the open space. It’s a platform.

Steve Cuden: Well, that’s the most extraordinary thing about all these texts. Compared to anything else that you read, he doesn’t describe anything. He barely describes action, and he barely describes any kind of background.

Dakin Matthews: So that is one advantage that he had. The language, of course, can be difficult, but it is still modern English. It’s early modern English, but still modern English. But given that there was so much formal pressure on him to use a certain kind of language, a certain stylization, he still cut through it all to the heart of the human heart, basically. I think that’s what it is. His characters are almost as fully rounded as people. They have internal lives almost as rich as actual people do. That’s why we identify with them. That’s why we say, I want to say I can play that part because it’s almost inexhaustible. It’s almost like a real person. There’s a mystery at the center of almost all—even little characters have little mysteries at their center. That’s what you want to do. You want to uncover that.

Steve Cuden: That makes him infinitely malleable. He just translates from generation to generation, unlike any other playwright.

Dakin Matthews: Well, it’s not infinite, but it’s pretty close. It’s not like you can do anything you want with Shakespeare. He was also an extremely proficient play constructor. He knew what he wanted. He knew what his characters meant when they said what they said. You can’t just force any meaning on it that you might want. Force any action on. He wrote really good machines. If you think of a play as a machine or a blueprint for a machine. You know what I mean? It’s really good. It really works. His plays work like crazy.

Steve Cuden: They’re like Swiss watches.

Dakin Matthews: Yeah. You don’t want to remove parts or gum up the works, particularly. It’s what I say.

Steve Cuden: When you did your adaptation of Henry the Fourth, were you concerned about that?

Dakin Matthews: I was very concerned about that. I was very concerned about having as clear a structure, that the bones were good, not just the flesh. Do you know what I mean by that?

Steve Cuden: Yes.

Dakin Matthews: The bones of the play were there. So when I decided to adapt it, I wanted to make sure that each arc that he wrote, which was completed over two plays, was still completed and nothing essential to that arc was left out. Then that each act had a specific structure that was identifiable, and you could hang the play on it. I really structured the three acts very carefully so that they had good dramaturgical bones. Just not throw any scene anywhere, but make sure the scenes still alternate the way he likes and to alternate, but they build to certain climaxes that are essential to the storytelling.

Steve Cuden: The first play that you did, you said was Shakespeare, was Henry the Fourth back then? Correct.

Dakin Matthews: One of the first plays I ever did was Henry Fourth.

Steve Cuden: So did you have an innate understanding of that language, which is not modern language at all. It’s got a certain thing to it that’s not modern.

Dakin Matthews: I came to it. I mean, I don’t say I had an innate language, but again, as I say, I was a voracious reader. I had read literature in a large number of periods. Do you know what I mean? I grew up sometimes reading Sir Walter Scott when you were 13 or 14 years old.

Steve Cuden: Oh, wow. Okay.

Dakin Matthews: I mean, because he was the adventure writer, Robert Lewis Stevenson. When you’re trained classically, you do tend to read works from different periods, different eras. It’s hard to get kids nowadays to read books out of their immediate kin, if you know what I mean.

Steve Cuden: I do know what you mean.

Dakin Matthews: It was not a chore for me to read Shakespeare. But you do have to pay attention. You do have to sort of get it.

Steve Cuden: I personally have a problem with Shakespeare. I don’t know what it is. I have trouble understanding a certain amount of it, and I have to work at it to work my way through it. It’s almost a little bit of a struggle. I know many people do have that struggle.

Dakin Matthews: It depends on the play. I have a struggle getting through some of them as well. I mean, some of them are really, really dense. The opening scene of Cymbeline. I have to keep looking and looking and looking, trying to figure out what are these people saying? Because in some places, he is writing in the language of his period and in the sort of clipped not entirely fully structured grammar of the period. So that happens. But you read something from Midsummer Night’s Dream… Those four kids in Midsummer Night’s Dream, they could be teenagers coming off the street right now. Their language is transparent.

Steve Cuden: You are also a translator. What language do you translate from, Italian? Is that your language?

Dakin Matthews: I can translate from Italian. I’ve done a couple. I’ve done some Goldoni and some Peridello. I translate from Latin.

Steve Cuden: Wow. Latin.

Dakin Matthews: I translate a little bit from Greek. I did study Greek for many years. I’m not fluent at all in written Greek. But if you give me a book of Greek and a dictionary and notes, I can work my way through a Greek passage. But the last 15 years I’ve been translating from Spanish mostly.

Steve Cuden: Spanish.

Dakin Matthews: Yeah. Golden Age plays.

Steve Cuden: Explain for the listener what the difference is between a transliteration and a translation.

Dakin Matthews: A transliteration tries to translate the exact words of the author as clearly and as faithfully as possible. A translator tries to write in his own language and the language of his readers as close an approximation of what that writer would write if he were writing in that language. For example, the Golden Age plays that I translate, which is the period from 1550 to say 1680. Thousands of plays were written in that period in Spain. Every town in Spain had its own theater, and some had more than one. There’s many more than are of Elizabethan and Jacobean plays. Very few of them come onto the anglophone market, as we say. But they’re all written in rhyming verse. Every one of them. They’re kind of standardized. They’re a little formal. The characters are not terribly deep. The plots are very complicated, but repetitive and that sort of stuff. But some of them are great, but rhyme is essential to it. So if you’re going to translate for me, you have to translate from rhyme to rhyme. If you transliterate, you’re just going for the meaning,

Steve Cuden: It won’t necessarily rhyme at all. Correct?

Dakin Matthews: It may not rhyme at all, and it may not be playable. Because if you’re translating a comedy, comic rhythms are part of the original author’s intention. Transliterate does not necessarily catch the rhythms of the original. So a good verse translator and a good play translator will try to produce a producible version of the play that honors also its rhymes. That’s what I’ve been doing for about 15 years.

Steve Cuden: That’s amazing. Correct me if you think I’m wrong, please. That a translator is actually both a transliterator and an adapter is what you’re doing. You’re adapting it so that it has a feeling of naturalness to it.

Dakin Matthews: I’m trying to adapt as little as possible. An adapter will then go in and cut certain speeches because they’re too long, conflate characters like I did for the Henry Fours. I cut a lot of speeches. I cut almost half the speeches in the two plays. I adapted characters, changed characters’ names, conflated characters, rearranged scenes. Things like that. That’s what adaptation is. Some people call it transadaptation, which is you translate. But for me, the first time I translate, I translate everything. I don’t try to do any cutting or adapting. I tried as much as possible to get the flavor of the original. Now, this is very difficult when you’re with comedy because what’s funny then is not funny now.

Steve Cuden: Of course.

Dakin Matthews: Or an illusion that works then may not work now because you don’t know who it is. So you do a certain amount of adapting. You adapt the jokes so that they still work. You adapt the illusions so that people still know. So instead of talking about a couple of Spanish lovers we never heard of, you might put in Romeo and Juliet or Pyramus and Thisbe. Do you know what I mean? So you do a certain amount of adapting. But I try to do as little as possible, though having to go into rhyming verse is very difficult because English is so rhyme poor because it doesn’t inflect. It doesn’t have endings. So it’s very rhyme poor.

Steve Cuden: Explain that. What do you mean by it doesn’t have endings?

Dakin Matthews: Well, most foreign languages, especially like Spanish, the verbs all conjugate and the nouns all decline. So they all have similar endings.

Steve Cuden: So it’s easier to rhyme that.

Dakin Matthews: It’s much easier to rhyme. English has pretty much lost all its conjugations and declensions. So you just get the word roots as they are. For example, you want to write a play about love. There’s only about 11 words, if that many, that rhyme with love as Stephen Sondheim points out.

Steve Cuden: Yes.

Dakin Matthews: So it’s the worst word in the world to have to write rhyming songs or verses about.

Steve Cuden: Yes. It’s a miracle that the English language works at all.

Dakin Matthews: I know. There’s only a couple of great periods of rhyme in the English language, and that was back in the early English when it did have endings and you could rhyme. And then in the Romantic and Victorian, when people like Browning were at Keats and Shelly and Coleridge and Wordsworth’s work. They were working really well at rhyme.

Steve Cuden: What is the difference between what you’re talking about in terms of translating and being a dramaturge on something that’s an existing English play where you’re not translating anything? What does a dramaturge do?

Dakin Matthews: Many dramaturgs have one of two jobs. They work as literary managers in the theater, which is to say they consult with the artistic director on what plays would be good in the next season. They also generally manage the new plays program, which is to say what new scripts are out there that we should be interested in. That’s sort of the traditional German dramaturg. He’s a theater administrator who is a literary expert, but also knows what’s going on in the play world, where the new scripts are. If you give him a play from the repertoire, an older play, he knows how it works, and what its bones are and what the history of it is. The second kind of person, which is what I mostly do, which is a dramaturg—I call it dramaturg—consults on a single production. Because he’s maybe an expert in that playwright or in that play or in that period. So he can do anything from supplying background material to the director or the actors for what they need to know about the background of the play. He can consult with the director about how to cut the play better, maybe even how to cast the play. In some cases he can work in the room with actors. Now that doesn’t happen very much. Usually he’s supplying background material, writing program notes, helping the director to understand the structure of the play. But I was very fortunate as I was an actor before I was a dramaturg.

So I know how to talk to actors without scaring the pants off them. I can speak their own language. So the directors I’ve worked with as a dramaturg, which has been almost exclusively in Shakespeare, after a couple of stints as a literary manager finding new plays, I’m usually available to speak to the actors during that first week of rehearsal when there’s table work. So I can unpack the language for them. Tell them what this means. My most common experience with actors after I’ve cut a play, is they come to me and they say, you cut the most important lines that my character has. It always happens. They will always go to the full script. They will find some lines. I built my entire character on those lines, and you cut those. So I have to say, okay, what lines do you want to give up so you can have those back?

Steve Cuden: Am I correct that there are some dramaturgs that will work with new playwrights, new plays to help form them?

Dakin Matthews: Yes. That other guy back there. The one who’s attached to a theater and helps run their new play program. He supposedly, or she supposedly has expertise in how plays are constructed and what makes plays work and what keeps them from working. Therefore they will help a director and a playwright find out where the strengths of the play are and where the weaknesses are, and maybe how to repair them, basically.

Steve Cuden: I have been having the most fabulous conversation with Dakin Matthews for a little more than an hour at this point, and we’re going to wind the show down a bit. So I’m wondering if you do have a single solid piece of advice that you like to give people when they’re sort of starting out, or maybe they’re in a little bit and trying to get to the next level. What do you like to tell people?

Dakin Matthews: Okay. I’m often asked by parents who have kids who are interested in being in the industry or by young actors themselves, what I advise. I first say, first of all, my career is so weird that my career path is not available to anyone anymore. So don’t worry about that. What I tell kids who are in high school is I say, my advice to you is go to college. Two years. Four years. It doesn’t matter. And don’t major in drama. Major in a liberal art or a political science, English, history, music, anything. Anything you want. At the same time, audition for every single role in the drama department. If you can graduate with a degree in the liberal arts, which will prepare you for your future life, and you were cast in a number of plays in the drama department without being a member of the drama department, then you may have a future in theater.

Then consider a conservatory. The education you get in the liberal arts will not only prepare you for life, it will prepare you for theater as well. You will learn to write. You will learn to read. You will learn history. You will learn how to research. You’ll be well prepared for theater. Your natural talent, which you’ve shown you have by the fact that you got cast in a number of plays, will serve you well when you go to conservatory, unless you’re absolutely gorgeous or absolutely handsome. Then you could probably go to Hollywood, become a star.

That device doesn’t count for anybody who’s absolutely gorgeous. If you are absolutely gorgeous or absolutely handsome, which is what, say, Kevin Kline was or Jessica Chastain is, they still went the conservatory route. They still went to college first and then do a conservatory, I think, and are now major stars. So it works. It works if you’re handsome and gorgeous to get to conservatory training, but you may not need it if you are gorgeous.

Steve Cuden: Well, you are saying something really important and incredibly wise that the expanded educational background is very important to the longevity of a career. But at the same time, even if you’re not in the specific field of training as an actor, you’re still acting, which means that’s a form of training just by doing it.

Dakin Matthews: Yeah. The second thing is, once you are started, never give up the habit of reading. Never give it up. Watch as many movies as you want. Watch as many plays as you want and do watch good movies and go watch good plays and do watch good television. You’ll always learn something by watching good actors act. Never give up reading. Don’t spend all your time on the set doing crossword puzzles and gossiping. Constantly read. Constantly expand your mind because it will expand your understanding of human nature. That’s what actors really—they have to become not only athletes of emotion, but athletes of the psyche. They have to understand what makes people tick. There’s that famous story about a kid who goes to the libraries, says, do you have any magic books here? The library says, what do you mean? The kind when you open them that the whole world in there that just suddenly appears. Yeah, we do. All of them.

Steve Cuden: I haven’t spoken to anyone on this show in all the years I’ve been doing it, who’s as deep and wide as you are in terms of your breadth of knowledge.

Dakin Matthews: Oh good. I thought you were talking about my size.

Steve Cuden: Not your physical size, Dakin.

Dakin Matthews: I say my ever do poise.

Steve Cuden: You are the breadth and depth of your knowledge. Not your physicality, which is fine all by itself.

Dakin Matthews: I’m working on it. I’m working on that.

Steve Cuden: Dakin, this has been one of the most fun shows I’ve ever done. I really have enjoyed chatting with you today. I can’t thank you enough for being with me today.

Dakin Matthews: Okay. Well my pleasure. By the way, my Henry Four is being restaged again at theatre for a new audience next year, I think in New York. I’m looking forward to that.

Steve Cuden: So everyone should check that out when it comes out. So you can actually see an award-winning adaptation of Shakespeare, which is fairly unusual to see Shakespeare adapted.

Dakin Matthews: Yeah.

Steve Cuden: Anyway, this has been terrific. Thank you so much.

Dakin Matthews: Thank you.

Steve Cuden: So we’ve come to the end of today’s StoryBeat. If you liked this episode, won’t you please take a moment to give us a comment, rating, or review on whatever app or platform you are listening to. Your support helps us bring more great StoryBeat episodes to you. StoryBeat is available on all major podcast apps and platforms, including Apple Podcasts, YouTube, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Stitcher, Tune In, and many others. Until next time, I’m Steve Cuden. May all your stories be unforgettable.


Executive Producer: Steve Cuden, Producer: Casey Georgi, Announcer: Javier Grajeda
Social Media: Mina Hoffman, Design & Marketing: Holly Reed, Reed Creative Group


  1. Myla Lichtman-Fields

    Dakin is so highly articulate and insightful. Steve has afforded the audience a wonderful insight into this American gem of an artist. Much thanks to both of you!

    • Steve Cuden

      Thanks as always, Myla, for listening to the show and for your wonderful observations and comments. Steve


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