Actor discusses working with Danny DeVito, how he celebrates Christmas, and that Ferris Bueller guy
Few actors make the tough transition from teen star to adult one. For Matthew Broderick this move has been nothing short of effortless. First capturing attention as David Lightman in WarGames, Broderick solidified his status for generations playing the title role in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and continued to make interesting acting choices, most recently starring in the stage and screen versions of The Producers.
In his newest film, Deck the Halls, Matthew Broderick is embroiled in a feud with Danny De Vito. They play neighbors who clash over Christmas decorations in their snowy New England town. De Vito's outgoing and free-spirited Buddy Hall embarks on an outrageous project to light up his house so that it can be seen from outer space. But Matthew Broderick as the stuffy, snobbish Steve Finch tries to put a stop to his plans, adamant that they are bringing down the tone of the neighborhood. A fight ensues and it looks as though the holidays will be ruined - unless the bitter rivals decide to stop fighting and call a cease-fire.
What kind of person is Steve Finch, your character?
Matthew Broderick: I enjoyed playing this role because Steve Finch is a husband and father - it was fun to play a dad, I haven't done that very much. Also my character is funny. I am very square and I get to wear stupid sweaters. I have been the chairman of the Christmas committee in a small town for years. I am in charge of decorations and I like Christmas to be tasteful and done exactly the way I want it. I am very traditional. Everything is disrupted and my life turns upside down when the house across the street from me in our cul-de-sac is sold to Danny DeVito (Buddy Hall). He decides to go crazy decorating his house with thousands of glowing lights and I can't stand it.
He sounds a little controlling and obsessive?
Matthew Broderick: He is controlling and he gets obsessed with winning his manufactured battle with Danny De Vito and that makes him actually lose control completely. Danny is spontaneous and free spirited and I think he releases something in my character. Danny's Buddy is the kind of person Steve wants to be in a way, he would like to be relaxed and free enough to make his house bright and fun. But he has always been too rigid. Buddy has an ease about him that makes my character very jealous, because I am watching everything develop with his decorations right across the street. Everybody is coming to look at his display. So I want to destroy it.
What was it like working with Danny?
Matthew Broderick: It was lovely, He's so charming and interesting and hilariously funny and easy to work with. Danny is very loose as an actor and we could be spontaneous and do some improvisation, we didn't always stick to the script. It was very enjoyable to confront Danny all the time as we fight with each other. The film was nicely written with funny scenes in which we try to resolve our conflict - he sells me a car in one scene, we have an ice skating race, we get to go down a big slide together and at one point we get to lie naked in a big sleeping bag together in the back of a van - just to give you an idea.
How much do you enjoy physical comedy like this, it seems to come naturally to you?
Matthew Broderick: The film is for families and children so you don't want to overwork anything. It is all about just relaxing and jumping in. I like comedy, I don't know that it's easier than anything else, but it is something I have a feeling for. I do enjoy it and the skating race was particularly fun, because before we started shooting, they asked me if I would like to take some skating lessons. I was excited, I showed up and there was an Olympic trainer, a speed skater and we had the whole rink to ourselves, an hour a day and I trained for a few weeks. I really enjoyed it. It was a great opportunity to work with an expert. I did have a stunt double for some of the shots, it was the stunt coordinator's son who was a hockey player, so he was very good at getting in exactly the right spot, he was a much better skater than me. Anytime you see a really dangerous maneuver it his him skating, but a lot of what you see on screen is me.
Do you think people really get obsessed like these two men?
Matthew Broderick: I do think people go crazy at Christmas, I don't think I am like that though. The ones who go crazy are usually people who like to think they are in charge, people who think they are the bosses and like to control everything, so they cannot stand other people getting the glory. Buddy Hall comes to town and people start to call him "The Christmas Guy" which is basically my whole reason for living and when Buddy takes that away from me. I just can't take it, I can't stand it.
What was it like working with Kristin Davis, who plays your wife and of course starred with your real wife, Sarah Jessica Parker on Sex and the City?
Matthew Broderick: I have known Kristin for a long time and it was easy working with her because it wasn't a big romantic movie, that might have been different. She's so sweet and good. She's a great actress and I have liked her so much for years, so I was very happy that she wanted to do it. I've never worked with her before and Sarah said she'd be great and she was.
What singles this Christmas film out do you think?
Matthew Broderick: I think it has a very nice feeling to it, a simple sentiment and a good message. The film points out that Christmas is not about lights and spending money, there is a special feeling to the holiday, it is all about the Christmas spirit and good will. That is important at this time of year and the film looks at how we can get that feeling, it is not about Steve's very controlled method of organizing Christmas, or Buddy's over the top decorations. In the end, the Christmas spirit is more of an internal thing about families coming together and celebrating and caring for each other. I also like the film because there are a lot of laughs and that is particularly important at Christmas, because it is always stressful when you have your entire family around you - at least I think so.
What was it like making a Christmas film in the summer heat in Canada?
Matthew Broderick: It was hot and it did not feel Christmassy, you have to pretend to act cold. In a way it would have been much easier filming in the freezing cold in the middle of winter, but that is the magic thing movies do. We may have been feeling hot and sticky and uncomfortable in our thick sweaters and gloves and coats, but the film ends up looking like a little town in Massachusetts in December, cold and festive. It was amazing and fascinating watching the crew pump out the fake snow and build a huge tent that covered two houses, so we could shoot in the daytime and we didn't need to shoot every night. The nights in Vancouver are very short during the summer.
What is a typical Christmas for your family?
Matthew Broderick: A typical Christmas for me revolves around family as well as eating enormous amounts of food. We've only lived in our house for about four years, so it's all a little bit new and having a four year old, Christmas really revolves around him and what he likes. My wife has an enormous family, a lot of brothers and sisters, so they come over and my family comes over and we just juggle going to different houses. I think it is similar to what everyone does. I always think that Christmas is a lot of work. It means decorating, cooking, seeing people, I find it a lot of trouble.
Do you enjoy Christmas shopping and entertaining?
Matthew Broderick: I sometimes enjoy shopping if I find a good gift for somebody, of course I never buy outfits for my wife - ever. It is great to buy something good for my son, but he has a lot of stuff. He loves Scooby-Doo at the moment. He's obsessed so I can get anything at all connected with Scooby-Doo and he will love it. We splash out on entertaining at Christmas, we definitely like to have nice parties and good champagne and that is our biggest indulgence.
Do you have a favorite Christmas memory from childhood?
Matthew Broderick: I have various snowy memories, I remember clearly getting a wonderful red bike and I remember a train set that my father set up the night before Christmas not knowing that I had secretly seen him doing it. So that was my first major acting role - having to open the box in the morning and act surprised and say "Oh my God a train." It was funny. He didn't catch on.
Do you decorate like Steve or Buddy?
Matthew Broderick: Neither, but I love decorations. Growing up, my father always had beautiful lights from the forties, old Christmas lights and I remember opening up the boxes and lighting the house. When I was a kid, we also made our own decorations for the tree, which was fun. My mom was a painter so very creative and I have very good memories. People don't do too much in New York, you do the inside of your house, your tree and you hang lights in your window. When I was kid you hung lights on your fire escape. I should make a disclosure though - I am half Jewish but I have always enjoyed Christmas. It is more than a religious holiday I think, we see it as our winter family holiday. We don't know how to do Hanukah really! We get the candles out and do our best.
Christmas in New York must be fun?
Matthew Broderick: I love Christmas in New York. It is romantic - with Central Park and the horses. I love to walk around New York at this time of year. It is always exciting. You walk along 5th Avenue and take a look at the big tree and watch the skaters and eat chestnuts. It is all clichéd stuff but it's all real and wonderful. People bump into you in the street and they are a litter bit nicer."
You have been successful on stage and in films for so long. Were you prepared for the impact Ferris Bueller's Day Off would have on your career, when that became such a huge hit and a classic?
Matthew Broderick: I had already had a big hit on Broadway with Neil Simon's play, Brighton Beach Memoirs which meant I was quite well known in New York, but the film Ferris Bueller's Day Off really changed everything and took my career and life to another level. I remember feeling "Wow" when I was at a huge screening of the film in New York one evening with my family. We sat in the back of a packed theatre and the audience went absolutely bananas and it really felt like a big moment. It was great, but I felt it was all bigger than me, the movie was catching on in some extraordinary way that was beyond anything anyone had planned for and everyone knew who I was. I think people love that that film including new generations who see it on TV.
What are your goals and challenges at the moment?
Matthew Broderick: I'm always looking for new challenges and I don't have a plan, I just try to pick the best things I can and I don't always pick right. Work is always challenging, I try to do things I'm not too good at. Having a kid is also very challenging and I'm sure I'm only at the beginning of that. I know that when they get to be teenagers it gets dreadful!
Deck the Halls opens in theaters November 22 from 20th Century Fox.