Having seen 2019 present opportunities like starring in season three of Netflix’s hit series Dear White People and HBO’s hit sports dramedy Ballers opposite Dwayne Johnson, writer, director, activist, and actor Griffin Matthews has shown that he is an undeniable force, captivating audiences through his scene-stealing performances.
This year, we saw Matthews star in HBO Max’s highly anticipated drama series The Flight Attendant, opposite Kaley Cuoco. We chatted to him about his audition process, inspirations, staying creative during lockdown, 2020, and positive representation in the industry.
Personally, how has 2020 been for you? 2020 has been a great leveler. It has personally brought humility and perspective for me as a Black gay man, artist, and father. Within all of the madness of 2020, I shot The Flight Attendant for HBO Max, spent three months locked in my house with my husband and 2-year-old son, built a “gay” chicken coop, grew a garden, spoke out against racism in the American theater, had a second baby, virtually premiered The Flight Attendant, and now…I’m back on lockdown in my house.
What was the audition process like for your character Shane Evans on The Flight Attendant? My final audition was a chemistry read with Kaley for all the producers and writers. It was actually a magical experience because Kaley and I had instant chemistry. Like we were old friends! We were laughing and sharing stories in between reading the scenes. It was just so easy. It’s like going on the best date, leaving, and then getting in your car and praying that the other person felt the same way.
For anyone who hasn’t seen the show, how would you give a brief idea of the storyline without giving it all away? The Flight Attendant is a story of how an entire life can change in one night. A flight attendant (Kaley Cuoco) wakes up in the wrong hotel, in the wrong bed, with a dead man – and no idea what happened. The dark comedic thriller is based on the novel of the same name by New York Times bestselling author Chris Bohjalian.
Do you remember your first reaction to reading the script for this show? I was like: “how are we going to make a murder mystery funny?” Shane carries so much of the humor and I was constantly reminding myself to root the humor in the drama. Kaley Cuoco is giving the performance of her career. She is crying and laughing and screaming her way through this crazy maze of a story. Every time we stepped on set, I said to myself: it’s playtime!
What was it about the show that made you want to be a part of it? I loved Shane as soon as I read the role. He was complicated. He was gay. He was specific. He had secrets. And the opportunity to tackle Shane and this murder mystery alongside an incredible cast felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Shane really takes a journey from who you meet in the pilot to who you come to know by the final episode. We had a lot of conversations behind the scenes about making sure that Shane felt like a whole person apart from Cassie’s madness. I wanted him to feel like he had a life outside of her. I wanted him to feel complicated and nuanced and full of heart, love, and humor. I’m excited for people to watch him navigate the murder and discover his secrets.
How would you say your life differs now compared to before you started in highly anticipated shows like Ballers and The Flight Attendant? Truthfully, my life is pretty much the same. Obviously, I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to work on some incredible shows that have given me a platform, but I don’t ever like to paint an overly glamorous reality. I still audition. I still get rejected. I still study. I still struggle with my self-esteem and identity. I’m still a parent of two young kids in the middle of a global pandemic so I’m tired all of the time! But I love my job and I love that it allows me to continue to investigate humanity (mine included). I call myself “a blue-collar” actor. I’m still climbing. I’m still dreaming. And I’m still going.
What other sorts of projects would you like to be a part of in the future? I’m currently developing a musical series with Ester Dean that will center Black queer voices. It’s really exciting because I’m a fan of Ester and her work (songwriter of Katy Perry’s “Firework” and Rihanna’s “Rude Boy”). She’s broken many ceilings in this industry as a songwriter, actor, musician, and host. We both want to create a show where young people who look like Ester and me will see their truths accurately and joyfully reflected on screen.
I’m also directing a film called The Amish Project by a playwright named Jessica Dickey. When I tell people that I’m working on it, it can raise eyebrows because people don’t often hear about Black directors working on pieces that don’t center Black narratives. But here’s the thing: Black directors want to direct EVERYTHING. And we can. And we will. And I’m excited to finally get my shot!
What other ways have you managed to stay creative during the past few months? The most creative thing that I’ve done was to put down the work. Focus on life. On health. On my family. On surviving this madness. Artists need to refuel and the pandemic forced me to take a beat. Re-evaluate what’s important. And now, I’ve never been hungrier to share post-pandemic stories that center Black queer narratives.
Who or what inspired you to get into acting? So many of my childhood arts teachers in Pittsburgh: Mrs. McCabe, Mrs. Goldsmith, Mrs. Friedrich, Mrs. Miller, Mrs. Denmon, Mr. Pontiere, Ingrid Sonnichsen, Billy Porter (who’s also a Pittsburgh native and was my adjunct professor at CMU), and so many others. The unsung heroes.
They saw me when I was too young to even see myself. That’s why arts educators are so crucial. Without them, I would’ve easily gone sideways.
In light of the BLM movement, how important would you say it is for people to watch content such as Dear Amy Cooper: Broadway Is Racist? My husband is white. Both of our sons are biracial. It’s been an insane moment for us, as parents and artists, to dive into difficult truths about this country and our industry. My husband has watched me suffer in silence for years about the racism I have experienced. He’s heard me screaming behind closed doors. Seen me followed in stores. Had neighbors treat me like an outsider. He’s seen me undervalued and underpaid. And now that the BLM movement has really taken off, he’s seen me heal and find peace, and find my voice, and find my purpose. And I’ve seen him find his. As an ally. As a father. As a friend.
So many of our friends are involved in interracial marriages/relationships and they are having the same hard but necessary (and beautiful!) conversations! It’s the only way we, as a nation move forward: through honest dialogue.
What would be some positive changes that you would like to see? Well, we’re seeing some already. Two words: Kamala Harris. She’s a game-changer for women and people of color. I’d say she’s a game-changer for everyone!
As far as our industry goes, I really want to see more doors open for Black queer storytellers. I’m tired of seeing only one version of gay men. White. Muscles. Usually, masculine. I’m happy that they’ve been represented…and they should continue to be represented! And also, we need to see more versions of us. We need to continue to push the boundaries of who we are and what we can be. Onscreen. And behind the scenes.