Last week I sat down in a busy, cramped, and slightly stinky cupcake shop just west of Times Square to chat with Matthew Wilkas, the star of the new festival hit Gayby. In the film, Matt plays Matt, a gay comic book store employee who decides to have a baby with his longtime best friend Jenn (Jenn Harris) … the old-fashioned way. Wilkas is currently starring in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark as Flash Thompson, so time was short and cupcakes were definitely off the menu.
AfterElton: Want to grab anything to eat?
Matthew Wilkas: No, I’m fine, thanks. I’ve actually gotten in the bad habit of eating AFTER the show now.
AE: Why is that a bad habit?
MW: I guess because it’s so late, it’s a weird time to eat.
AE: Ah. If you eat before the show does that not end well?
MW: If I were to go on for Peter Parker I definitely wouldn’t eat before the show, for sure. But otherwise I COULD eat before the show, but my routine is just so off – my lunches are later, so I’m just not hungry.
AE: How long have you been in the show?
MW: For nine months.
AE: You play Flash Thompson.
AE: And I’m sure you know that Joe Manganiello played Flash Thompson in the first movie. Who would win in an arm-wrestling match, if, as Flashes, you had to throw down?
MW: He would definitely win. My Flash is all show. Inside, he’s just as terrified as Peter Parker is, probably. He’s just like a lot of bullies – he’s just making up for all of his insecurities by being unreasonably cruel to the little kids. He’s also, historically speaking, Spider-Man’s biggest fan. He doesn’t realize that Peter Parker is Spider-Man.
Jenn Harris and Matthew Wilkas in Gayby
AE: Let’s talk about Gayby, since we’re here. You were in the short that the feature grew out of, and you and Jenn have known each other for a while.
MW: We went to college together. We’ve know each other since we were 18.
AE: So how much of you two inspired the characters?
MW: I think situationally it has nothing to do with us, but [writer/director Jonathan Lisecki] did write it for us after realizing that we would be playing the parts – so I guess he probably could imagine us playing the parts and saying the lines – the way he wrote it, I didn’t feel awkward saying any of the lines. There was a natural connection to the character.
AE: What’s the biggest similarity between Matt the character and Matthew the actor?
MW: We’re both artistic and sensitive and shy in certain circumstances – maybe unexpectedly insecure.
AE: Are you a comic book fan?
MW: No. That all came from Jonny – he is a comic lover.
AE: And now you’re on Broadway in a musical comic book.
MW: It’s funny because there are lines in the film that I had to say about Spider-Man where I had no idea what I was talking about – but I watch the film now, and I know exactly what I’m talking about.
With Mike Doyle in Gayby
AE: You filmed almost entirely on locations in New York City. I know the Time Machine very well.
MW: Is that the name of the store we filmed in?
AE: Yes – I bought a Little Darlings poster there. What was your favorite location to shoot in?
MW: We shot the short film in this one location that was an apartment on 10th Street in an old brownstone. And something happened in the filming of the feature where we lost a location. We were already shooting in what was supposed to be Jenn’s apartment – we had already shot a few scenes in the kitchen scene and the living room, but we still had to shoot in the bedroom. And we lost the location because we were essentially sneaking a film crew into this doorman apartment building in Chelsea. We were posing as a catering crew – it was very renegade. And when they got wind of it they wouldn’t let us in anymore – so we had to scramble for a space, and Johnny ended up going back to that brownstone apartment and dressing it up as just her bedroom. And it was cool to go back there because that was where we shot the original sex scene and everything – and I think there was something really inspiring about that and fun to return to.
AE: It’s where you had your first time together. Actually, in the movie you two have sex what seems like about 300 times.
AE: Is that slightly more or slightly fewer than the number of times you and Jenn have had sex in real life?
MW: I’ve never had sex with Jenn. I could never IMAGINE having sex with Jenn. And I think that’s probably why the awkwardness of the sex scenes is so realistic, because we had to imagine it and the imagining of it made it all the more awkward.
AE: That first scene is really funny.
MW: It was really fun to film, too.
AE: Was it?
MW: Absolutely, yeah, because I think we knew – at least I knew, and I think Jenn did too – there was a sense of how funny it was, it was so palpable how ridiculous the situation was, and it made it all the more fun to play that. I think it’s different because Jenn and I are so close and such good friends. And we know each other’s sense of humors so well, and we’ve acted together so many times – I’m sure if it were anyone else it would have been very different.
AE: Jenn is a riot. I saw Silence the Musical twice and made about twenty people go to see it.
MW: It is genius.
AE: Did she ever slip into her Jodie Foster voice on set?
MW: Oh, no. But she was playing that part at night and shooting in the daytime.
AE: And you were shooting this film at the same time you were shooting this season of Dexter, right?
MW: [laughs] Yeah … right! That was hard – I was flying to Miami…
AE: How many times a day do you get mistaken for Michael C. Hall?
This is not Michael C. Hall
MW: It’s a common comment that I get. One time – Jenn and I did the Williamstown Theatre Festival for a few summers…
MW: And you know, that was like ten years ago now, I guess, and Michael C. Hall was mostly a stage actor at that time. And I was walking down the street – Spring Street, which is the main drag – and Joe Montello came up to me and was about to address me and then was like, “Oh my God, you aren’t…” and then he explained that he thought I was Michael C. Hall for a second. It’s funny. But I’m sad because you know, in the first season of Dexter his brother was a main character, and I probably could have played that.
AE: That’s true. They keep extending it and pushing it. Maybe they can work you in somehow.
MW: I could be his son in the future, maybe.
AE: So what do you do for Halloween?
MW: Well, Halloween is my favorite holiday. And I live right in the West Village, a block away from 6th Avenue, right in the heart of the craziness. But I haven’t really done anything super cool for Halloween in a long time, like gotten dressed up – but this year it’s on a Wednesday, which is my day off, so maybe I’ll do something. But it always seems like such a great idea and then it comes up and I end up doing something half-assed.
AE: Well, and you dress up in costume every day.
MW: Yeah. I think my ideal Halloween is like a suburban Halloween, with trick-or-treaters and answering the door. Or I would also love getting together with friends and watching some scary movies. I just think scary movies are so – not gory movies, like Saw, but scary movies and thrillers, I love.
AE: Saw’s not scary.
MW: It’s just gross.
AE: What’s your favorite scary movie?
MW: I think Halloween, the original Halloween. Because there’s really no gore, there’s just snippets of it, mostly it’s just imagined – that gets me. I think The Shining is genius. I think those are my top, for sure. I’ve never been able to watch The Exorcist, because I grew up in a really religious home.
MW: Yeah. So I have a really severe fear. Not that I believe in the devil at all, but I think subconsciously – I remember it was on TV when I was little, maybe for the first time. And my father was flipping through the channels and it was on and it was some really disturbing moment, and he quickly changed the channel, but I asked my mom what was happening and she said, “That little girl was possessed by the devil.” And I said, “Can that happen?” And she said, “Yes, it can.”
MW: She said, “Yes, it can – but if you pray really hard, it might not happen.” That sort of thing. From that point on I was praying myself to sleep every night.
AE: That’s pretty hardcore.
MW: It probably f*cked me up. I have no idea.
AE: Several cast members from Girls were in Gayby.
MW: Yes, and I am such a HUGE fan of Girls. And I didn’t know that Girls even existed when we were filming. It didn’t exist yet. And I think those actors are so amazing in it. It’s a dream show – I would love to be on that show, or to create a show like that.
AE: What was it like turning on Girls for the first time and seeing your former scene partner (Adam Driver) …
MW: At this point I’m so used to that…
MW: Oh, that. Eh, that didn’t phase me. I think he’s very talented, and very brave. And I think that there’s something very respectful about the way it’s done. There’s nothing cheap about it – it doesn’t feel gratuitous. It is overt and there’s nudity, but I just don’t feel it’s cheap. It’s not gonna get you off – there’s something so awkward about it. And I think there’s something fantastic about that, and unique and cool – I think Lena Dunham in a genius.
AE: I feel like there’s almost a similar sense of humor in Gayby.
MW: Jonny told me once, or I heard him say in an interview, that he and Lena Dunham had gone out to dinner one time – and I think that this was before Girls, after Tiny Furniture but before Girls – but she told him, “You should write your own TV show or movie and also be in it, because you’re a really interesting character.”
AE: There ya go.
With Jonathan Lisecki
MW: I think he’s such a great writer – obviously, such a good writer. And from the first time we read the script together it was so obvious that it was gonna be great. And as a director he’s great, too – and he’s just such a creature. It’s so impossible for anyone to duplicate him, and I think that he is an amazing performer for that reason. There’s nothing like him, and there’s something magnetic about that. He’s so unique.
AE: What was your favorite scene to shoot?
MW: That first sex scene with Jenn. I think it’s so amazing, so funny. It was my favorite scene in the film, and my favorite scene to shoot as well.
AE: I’d think that would be as comfortable as a flying Spider-wedgie. Are they a thing?
MW: [laughs] I haven’t heard about those – haven’t had one yet!
AE: Do you have a dream project?
MW: Well I write too, so I think I would love to develop a television show one day. I can’t tell you what that would be about, but it would probably be about me and my friends. And Jenn would definitely be involved in that, for me. I think TV is so awesome, because it’s hopefully a job that won’t end for some time…
AE: That’s always a bonus.
MW: And if it’s a character that you love, you get to see it through and get involved in developing it, to really create it – I love to be on the creative end of anything. That’s one thing about my part in Spider-Man – it was created already, and I came into it and had to fill shoes and sort of make it my own. But I would ideally love to be at the synthesis of something and watch it evolve. I write plays – I’ve never really written a film script of any kind. And we’re doing a reading of a play that I just wrote, and Jenn is in it, next week.
AE: What’s it called?
MW: It’s called The Not Too Distant. It’s about a guy who – it’s a comedy – and it’s about a guys who decides to disconnect from digital technology. He gets rid of his cell phone and it’s sort of what happens as a result.
AE: Does it end well for him?
MW: Um … it’s a mixed ending. It’s funny, though. It’s farcical.
AE: Are you drawn as an actor towards a specific genre?
MW: I love comedy. I think I’m good at it. And it’s gratifying. It’s not that I don’t like doing serious stuff as well – I think that the best serious actors are good comedians, too.
AE: Are there any comic actors who’s work you particularly love?
MW: Tons. I think Paul Rudd is a genius. Everything I see him in I just think he’s fantastic. Amy Poehler, love her. Tina Fey. I’m saying all of these women…
AE: Well, they’re really funny.
MW: Molly Shannon…
AE: Basically the cast of Wet Hot American Summer, plus Tina Fey.
MW: Oh, Wet Hot American Summer! Genius. I love that movie. I love the people from The State, that’s right up my alley. I love Strangers With Candy…
AE: Jimmy Tickles was in your movie!
MW: He was – Jack Ferver. He’s another creature. He and I and Jenn and Randy Harrison, who has a little spot in the movie, and Christian Coulson, who’s in the film, and Phillip Taratula, we’re all in a theater company together that we created about three for four years ago called the QWAN Company – it stands for Quality Without a Name – and together we write parodies of films, and do staged readings.
AE: Like what?
MW: We did Notes on a Scandal…
MW: And we did Black Swan. And we did them at PS 122, and Williamstown, and the Berkshire Theater Festival…
AE: Are there any in the works?
MW: Phillip Taratula wrote something called Au Con Trier, which is our tribute to the Lars Von Trier movies. We also wanna potentially do The Bodyguard or The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.
MW: We also wanted to take The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and Single White Female and combine them and make Single White Cradle.
AE: Well, they are basically the same movie. So you’ve made several gay rom-coms…
MW: I’ve done little spots here and there.
AE: Are you drawn to gay stories specifically, or have those just been the projects that have come along?
MW: I think it’s just the people that I know. It’s definitely not something that I want to get “stuck” doing – and I hope that’s not going to be the case. Because that would be boring. But it doesn’t mean that I’d turn something down because it’s gay – I would never do that.
AE: Well, a lot of people do.
MW: Yeah – I mean obviously I don’t do that. I mean, I may reach a point. I don’t want to put things down, but I’m not drawn to exploitative … I never wanted to be a sex object, or just “the shirtless guy”, I’ve always wanted to be more than that. So if I ever read a script where that’s the case, unless there’s some substance to it or something interesting about it, that’s the thing that I don’t want to do.
AE: You don’t want to be a himbo.
MW: Yeah. Exactly.
AE: Do a lot of those roles come your way? Especially in gay movies?
MW: The reason that I love Jonny’s film … the fact that I’m gay and the fact that it’s in the title, and the fact that my character’s gay and the fact that it’s a story about a gay man and gay people, but it’s not about the struggle of being gay. It’s not a sob story or anything like that – that fact is there, and then we’re going to tell a story regardless of it.
AE: Have you had any concern about being “out” as an actor?
MW: Well absolutely – I don’t think that that problem has gone away. I think that it’s really a big deal when people are auditioning you for something, or even when they’re just thinking of you for something. It’s always been in the back of people’s minds. And I think it does get in the way. I can’t cite specific stuff, but I think it is unfortunately still not going to be easy.
AE: Is there anything specifically that compelled you to decide that it wasn’t going to be an issue for you?
MW: I’m just not a good liar. And I don’t feel like – if I had to lie about it or felt that I ever had to lie about it, that would just make me so uncomfortable.
AE: Does this tie back to The Exorcist?
MW: I don’t think it’s about that. I think it’s just – it seems like so much work, just to imagine it. And the burden of it… it exhausts me just to think about it. I don’t know – acting is hard enough work as it is, why would I want to give myself that extra burden?
AE: And it’s a tough business.
MW: It’s not going to make it easier for me, but …
AE: You’re gonna be fine.
AE: I was hoping that you were gonna bring your vintage Jordache jean jacket.
MW: Oh yeah! How do you know about that?!
AE: From Twitter.
MW: Yeah – I named it Brett. Jenn and I both bought jean jackets on the same day together. Because jean jackets came back last year! I don’t know if you remember that. So Jenn and I are both like, “We want jean jackets” so we found this one store in the Lower East Side and we both found the perfect jean jackets. And they’re both not the regular jean jacket that you find – not the Levi’s thing – mine has crazy vents on the side, it’s hard to explain, and Jenn’s is like, billowing …
AE: Oh no! Does it have elastic bits?
MW: No – mine does, but hers doesn’t. It’s way cool. It’s hard to explain, but…
AE: Why did you name it Brett?
MW: Because it looks like Brett would have worn it, in 1987, maybe? I don’t know. Maybe in Teen Witch?
AE: Don’t drop Teen Witch on me. “Top That!”
MW: Ooohhhh! [laughs] Love that. Teen Witch, I had a friend who was obsessed with it who made me watch it. “Top That!” is one to remember.
AE: Anything else you’re working on these days?
MW: If you like the film, Jenn and I have a Youtube channel with a bunch of crazy videos. If you like us, you can go and check out our videos. It’s under my name – we have a bunch of videos.
AE: I will have to check it out. What’s Jenn’s most annoying quality, by the way?
MW: Oh. Ummm … I don’t know.
AE: She has to have hundreds of them. Everybody does.
MW: Oh, absolutely. She absolutely has hundreds of annoying qualities.
AE: I’m sure hers are at least very funny.
MW: I think her most annoying quality is that when she’s hungry, you know it. If she has low blood sugar – I’m the same way, actually, and I think we share a lot of the same qualities. If I get low blood sugar I’m no longer there for you, and I get angry.
AE: Oh – you get “hangry”?
MW: Yeah. Jenn is also impeccably neat.
AE: That’s terrible.
MW: I’m the opposite, actually – I’m not that at all. Oh – and she leaves the longest voice messages. And it’s stuff like, “Hey, Matt. How’s it goin’… Um … just wanted to see how you are – Oh my God! There’s this amazing – I’m looking at the most amazing plate right now. In this window, there’s the most amazing plate, you need to see this plate.” And then she just goes off on tangents forever.
AE: And then it cuts her off and she calls back and picks right up where she left off?
MW: Oh no. It never cuts her off.
Nor would we. Big thanks to Matthew for taking the time out of his busy jean-jacket-shopping schedule to not share a cupcake with me, and best wishes to him and the rest of the Gayby gang on the film, which opens this Friday in select cities (check out this exclusive clip for AE readers). Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go re-watch The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.