“If there’s something you enjoy doing just as much, then do it. If you have to do it, you’ll find a way to do it.” – Matthäus Stocke
Matthew Stocke got his equity card almost 30 years ago and has been making a living as an actor ever since. With roles in Broadway shows Titanic, The Full Monty, The Boy of Oz and The Wedding Singer, he was “the happiest person in the world,” he told me. “I’m so incredibly grateful to have spent every day of my adult life doing exactly what I want to do.”
After appearances on Broadway in Pretty Woman: The Musicalhe is now playing in the adjacent tour version Adam Pascal and Olivia Valli, where he plays Philip Stuckey, the show’s “bad guy.” “I haven’t played many villains in my career and it’s so much fun.”
In this interview, he talks about the show and his role, touring during COVID, and his advice on “hanging on” as an actor. These are edited excerpts from that conversation. You can watch the full interview in the video below or on YouTube.
I don’t think anyone needs to know the plot of the show, but let’s start with who you’re playing.
Matthew Stocke: I play the bad guy Jason Alexander Character from the movie, a guy named Phill Stuckey, who is Ed Lewis, our protagonist, his consigliere. I like to refer to myself as Tom Hagen for those of us of a certain age who do what he wants. I make him money; he makes me money And for 90% of the film and 90% of our play, Phil isn’t a bad guy, Phil is just doing his job. But then of course everything goes squirry.
But it’s a really fun role to play. I haven’t played many villains in my career and it’s so much fun. I use the word delicious when I’m doing interviews and it’s just… It’s really fun and my fellow actors are great. And as far as heavy lifting goes, I’m on stage 14 minutes.
They were in the original Broadway performance of the show. Will you be asked to be on the tour or will you have to audition again?
Matthew Stocke: Part of the almost 30 years of activity in this business is that the director, Jerry Mitchell and I’ve been good friends for a long time. He was the choreographer of a show I did on Broadway in 2000 called The Full Monty. Before directing, he was and is a much sought-after choreographer. So I’ve known Jerry for 22 years and one of the things that often happens in the business because it’s such a small company is when projects are being supervised and developed there aren’t any auditions. The directors, who have been around for a while and have worked with a lot of people, will just handpick groups of people to come in and read new musicals to develop the work, like how musicals and plays are developed. You just keep making new versions of the scripts and the scores while sitting around a table. Sometimes you get up and act out a few scenes until you get into the workshops where you actually start doing numbers and things like that. But it starts with readings.
So in 2016 he asked me to take part in the first reading of this version of Pretty Womanthat was actually the first reading afterwards Gary Marshall died. Which is just heartbreaking because he was such a good guy and really led this project from the very beginning.
I was involved in the first reading where Patrick Wilson played Edward. And then we did several more readings and workshops from it until we did the first actual production in Chicago in the summer of 2018, which was our pre-Broadway test. And Jerry just took a lot of us with him.
It sounds kind of bizarre, but when you get to a point in your career where you’ve worked with a bunch of people, where you’ve been lucky enough to do a bunch of projects with the people who put these things together, sometimes you don’t actually audition. You basically get on the ground floor. And then every time they did a new production of it, I expected to get the call saying, “Yeah, you don’t.”
Certainly with the hustle and bustle of the world over the last two years to be able to do the Broadway production before the pandemic and then if you come out of it being asked to do this tour and also to be nudged , because I undercast that role on Broadway. So when I was asked to play the role on tour, I didn’t hesitate, I loved it.
The show is a musical. But your character, from what I’ve read, doesn’t have any songs or doesn’t sing at all?
Matthew Stocke: no It has changed a lot over the years. Initially, Stuckey had a few songs and it became very apparent as the show developed that they were kind of superfluous. Basically all they did was just point out what a jerk this guy is over and over again, so they felt like that was going to fall into place, and it has.
And there was a song at the beginning of the second act of the Broadway production, but by the time the new version of the script came out, we were putting the tour together and that song had been cut. I didn’t cartwheel because I sang for a living, but at the same time it wasn’t a necessary song at the beginning of Act 2 and the beginning of Act 2 moves at a much better tempo now, it gets right to the point , on which the exhibition of the show begins.
And honestly, I don’t necessarily miss singing on tour just because there are so many things that can affect how well you sing when you’re on tour, not the least of which is COVID of course, which I’ve had twice, but other things. We live in hotels and theatres, some old, some new, week in, week out, are all dusty and moldy to varying degrees, and you travel, you fly every week.
The possibility of catching some kind of infection outside of the COVID world is incredibly common. So there have been times when if I had had a big singing role on the show I probably wouldn’t have been able to do the show, but given my workload it gives me an opportunity not to be vocally with myself on best and still making the show. Where other people, if it’s not 100%, it’s actually quite challenging.
You’ve mentioned this before, but what’s it like touring and being on a show in times of COVID? I saw a Hadestown a few weeks ago where two of the leads were out. What about you or the company as a whole?
Matthew Stocke: We have incredibly strict protocols that are obviously based on CDC recommendations, site recommendations and things like that. We’re obviously overwhelmed and pumped up and all of that stuff.
We’ve cobbled together shows since the start of the tour, we’ve had a few surges. We were in Columbus in March and had nine people out there. Somehow our stage managers and our dance captains cobbled together a show. We haven’t, and I’ll knock on my back, we haven’t canceled a show since before Christmas. We were very, very, very lucky, but… And testing, while an annoyance, is basically to mitigate big numbers. If you have one or two people that’s fine, you can have up to five or six people, then you have… you’re really busy.
The funny part is that I hang out with so few people that there have been nights when I’ll turn around and see someone and say, ‘Hey, how are you? Didn’t know you were playing that role tonight, interesting.” But yeah no it was challenging but those in charge gave us all the tools we need to make it successful and it was incredibly successful.
You said you made a living from acting for basically 30 years?
Matthew Stocke: I moved to New York 27 years ago, but yes, I got my equity card almost 30 years ago.
What advice would you give someone? How were you able to keep this career going for so long?
Matthew Stocke: Certainly a combination of things. Number one, you have to want to make it worse than anything else in the world, and I tell students all the time, if there’s something you love doing just as much, do it. If you have to do it, you’ll find a way find doing it.
I entered this career round and third because A, I’m a 6’1, average looking white male, and even in Hamilton There is a role for me. So it’s like there’s always work for someone who fits my physique. I’m a baritenor, I’m kind of… And I’m not saying that in a self-deprecating way, I’m pretty average looking, I can fit in any show. You can put wigs on me, I can wear fat, I can get skinny… There are many ways for someone in my situation that can put me ahead of the curve.
I have a certain God-given talent, thank God, but I busted my butt, I went to Carnegie Mellon, which opened a thousand doors for me. Of course, I had to work my butt off to get into Carnegie Mellon and then survive. But I still rely on my training 27 years later. I feel like I was ready to be a pro, which is not the same as being an actor. I had a lot in mind.
And besides, I would not be denied in any way, shape or form. I knew I would. Back then I would have stepped on my grandma to be successful. I also had some of the friends I mentioned earlier, two of the guys I graduated with were Patrick Wilson and Christian Boerle. And Christian has some Tonys and Patrick has some nominations for all sorts of things. So I don’t mind being the least successful of the three of us. We’ve all been incredibly blessed, but we’ve pushed and supported each other, and it’s important to have that community around you. I was the child of a single parent. My mother supported me, she gave me everything I needed to be successful. I was lucky, all the culmination of support and tools I needed was there, then all I had to do was go through with it.
It’s a tall order, it’s a tall man, and neither can you be afraid of getting kicked in the jewels a few times, it’s going to happen over and over and over and over again. You have to accept the uncertainty, you have to accept being poor because every once in a while you get a great gig and you make a lot of money and then you don’t do shit for two years and then you lose everything.
And you must be fearless about it, you must love what you do more than fear the unknown. I may play ticket for a living man. I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’m the happiest person in the world.
Another thing that helps is to get creative and find other ways to pay the bills. I’m a photographer and I make a really nice living with my part-time job, but I’ve also worked very hard to create this brand and make it this way. Things that complement your career.
But it’s a tough hitter. I was the happiest person in the world. I’m so incredibly grateful that I’ve spent every day of my adult life doing exactly what I want to do and thankfully I’m still here doing it.
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