“It’s easy to get in your head and something throws you, and you forget a line, and then it’s just off the rails, and then you walk out the room wondering, ‘What the hell just happened?'” – Matthew Alan on Auditions
Matthew Alan was cast in the first season of Hulu’s Castle Rock, but after bad break – he literally broke his foot a couple days before filming – he had to bow out of the role. But, as fate would have it, the second was about to start filming and the casting directors wanted him for the even bigger role of Chris Merrill. “It was just a reminder to me to just let things happen the way they’re supposed to happen,” he said.
In this interview, Alan, who also stars in the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, talks about his role in Castle Rock, how he found acting and how he is able to “get out of” his head for auditions.
Can you tell me first of all, who do you play?
Matthew Alan: I play Chris Merrill, which is kind of a memorable family within the Stephen King world. And Chris Merrill is the younger brother to Ace Merrill (Paul Sparks), which the big fans know from Stand By Me. So, he’s a little more level headed than Ace, and you’ll see him make efforts throughout the season to keep everybody happy, to keep everybody together, and keep all of the drama out of Castle Rock up to the best of his ability.
Did you watch the show before you got the part?
Matthew Alan: I saw season one, and I loved season one, and I originally auditioned for season one as well. And kind of a funny story with that. I was supposed to play one of the prison guards in season one, and about three days before filming was supposed to begin, I broke my foot on another job and I had to pull out. And I was devastated because I was so excited about this new Stephen King Castle Rock series. So, I was devastated. And then fast forward a year later and somehow I got another opportunity in season two.
It’s a chance to play a Merrill family member, and to play Tim Robbins nephew at this point. So, things worked out in this crazy cool way and I get this even better opportunity in season two.
It’s a terrible story, but it’s got a great ending.
Matthew Alan: Yeah. I mean at the time, if you would have told me, “Hey, it’s going to work out, okay?” I just, I couldn’t hear it at the time because I was drowning in my own misery. But it was just a reminder to me to just let things happen the way they’re supposed to happen and you can’t really control it and that’s not always a bad thing, you know?
I’ve had things like that happen to me before, where a part gets written out or something like that and they say, “Hey, we’ll call you back.” Did you think, “Oh yeah, sure. Yeah, you’ll call me back, whatever.”
Matthew Alan: Yeah. I mean it’s tough because at the time you think that an opportunity like that’s just not going to come across again. And so yeah, it was hard to remain open minded at the time. But where I’m at now, I will gladly break both my feet next time. If this is the way that it could work out, you know?
But anyway, in response to the very first question, yeah, I watched season two. I was a big fan of it, and I just thought the acting, and the directing, and the writing, it was just fantastic in season one. And this is going to be a cool continuation of that world, but whole new characters, whole new stories.
I know it’s a totally different season, but is it kind of cool to be on a show that you love?
Matthew Alan: Yeah. It really is. Especially because it’s still such a new show that a lot of people are still discovering it. So yeah, it’s very, very cool. Very exciting.
This guy seems to be a far cry from your 13 Reasons Why character.
Matthew Alan: Oh yeah, they have their differences.
Was that something you were looking to do, to try to change it up a bit, or it’s just kind of like luck, whatever you get?
Matthew Alan: I mean, it was just the way the cards fell for these two characters. But the one thing I have always loved to do, is to play as different of characters as possible. I like the weird ones and I like… The bad guy is always fun to play. The great thing about Chris in Castle Rock though is, he’s in this dark world, but his intentions are good. So, it’s a cool kind of take on both sides.
Does he get sort of seduced by, I guess, the dark side?
Matthew Alan: I mean, that’s a great question, but I think in that world it’s hard not to get seduced at some point. But, I do think it is possible. So, I think we’ll just have to see what happens.
You went to college at Western Kentucky University?
Matthew Alan: I did.
Did you study acting there?
Matthew Alan: I was studying to be a teacher at the time. And I had actually started a master’s degree and I was working in speech and debate, and public speaking, and writing and English, and that was kind of the direction I was going. But then I kind of just fell upon this play that I fell in love with at the time and just kind of changed gears entirely.
Had you acted prior to that?
Matthew Alan: I hadn’t done anything. I had done, like I said, some public speaking. I was a part of the speech and debate team in high school. I don’t know if you’re familiar, that’s like speech and debate and interpretation, so I would say it’s a branch of acting. But I’d never actually performed until that play that I found.
What was the play?
Matthew Alan: It was called The Laramie Project. And so I read that play and that’s when I was like, “Oh, I like the idea of actually performing and acting for a career.”
Where did you move after graduation?
Matthew Alan: So, I ended up not finishing grad school and I ended up enrolling at the Academy of Dramatic Arts, out here in LA. I went there for a year and that’s kind of where I got my feet wet in the whole Los Angeles acting and audition world.
What was your first big job?
Matthew Alan: I got to play a bad guy in the final season of Veronica Mars, in one episode.
Oh, so you went down to San Diego?
Matthew Alan: So yeah, I worked in San Diego at the time. That was my first TV job and it was very cool.
When you get an audition, what are the first couple things you do? What do you do to make you feel as comfortable and prepared as possible in front of a casting director?
Matthew Alan: I mean, I feel like for everybody it’s obviously a different approach, and a different story. For me, I just have to familiarize myself with the scene, and the dialogue, and the text, and the direction. I like to just read it over and over and over as many times as possible, just to be as familiar with it as I can in such a short time. So, that’s the first thing I do is just read it over and over and over again.
And then when you’re on set for something like for Castle Rock, are you getting prepared as much as you can the night before? Or are you able to, especially since you are getting to know the character as you go through it, able to pick things up on the day?
Matthew Alan: Yeah, I mean I think each one is different, of course. And each experience is different. But with Castle Rock, I was lucky enough to work with a lot of directors that were willing to let us find our characters along the way, and offering suggestions, and really create it along with them. So, that flexibility, was really nice. Because we weren’t set in one way. We could discover things along the way.
What’s been your worst audition?
Matthew Alan: Oh man, I’ve had so many bad ones, I don’t even know where to start. Let me think. I want to give you the worst one I can think of. I know I’m going to hang up and remember one that was even worse and want to tell you that.
I mean, I’ve had so many where I just… for me the shorter the amount of lines and sides, the more anxiety I get over it, and the bigger chance, for me, of forgetting my lines, of blanking and freezing. Early on, I remember that happening a few times, where it was maybe three or four lines, and it was like everything just stopped in my brain. And even the thought of looking down to the script at that point was just a novel idea. So, I would just freeze, like a deer in headlights, with three lines.
And so early on, for me, just overcoming all of the head games. For me, it was such a big head game. For the longest time I was trying to just focus and do the work that I want to do and then get out. And for me, it was just overthinking everything, and my brain just almost locking up at times. So, I feel like I have multiple handfuls of those kinds of auditions early on that all probably rival for most embarrassing.
Those one or two line auditions, man, they’re the worst.
Matthew Alan: Yeah, yeah. But that was the game for me, to kind of get over that head game. Because I get in my head… My biggest problem as an actor is being far too in my head and just overthinking so much. And I find myself forgetting the organic aspect of things, where I could so launch into that zone and that hole, and then my brain stops working, my memory starts and stops working, and then you just find yourself just like, “bring it back, bring it back.” So, it just took me the longest time to get that focus without completely just blocking out everything, and not allowing anything organic to happen.
Was there anything like specific you did to do that?
Matthew Alan: I mean I still have it. I struggle with it all the time, but I just… It’s weird to say because it doesn’t sound like it sounds, but I just stopped caring as much. I still care massive amounts, but it’s almost, I stopped or I’ve gotten better I should say, at just… By not caring. I mean, not everything in the world relies on this one audition. I do my best to try to balance things a little bit more, and that way if I have a bad audition or if it doesn’t work, the balance is still there. It’s not everything is riding on every single audition.
So, I kind of trick myself sometimes and maybe do something right before an audition that’ll get my mind off of it, so I can kind of go in. Otherwise I’ll spend the first three, four hours right up to the audition, just thinking about it, thinking about it, thinking about it. So, I’ll work out right before, or I’ll take a jog, or I’ll just do something that will take my mind off of it, so I can go in regrouped and refreshed, and hopefully something a little more organic happens.
When I, like you said, try to trick my brain about not caring, then I feel like I do so much better.
Matthew Alan: Yeah. I know people explain it in better ways than I can, but for me it just feels like a better balance for me and my brain to go into a room and do the work that I know I can do and that I worked hard on for the audition to go in and do. But you know very well that it’s so much easier said than done. It’s easy to get in your head and something throws you, and you forget a line, and then it’s just off the rails, and then you walk out the room wondering, “What the hell just happened?”
But, I just try my best just to go in, I’m not a talker before auditions, a lot of people are chit chatty before, and I’m not trying to be rude, but for me, it’s for myself to just stay on point, but not like get thrown by… Because I’m easily thrown. So, for me it’s just to protect my audition more than anything. I just sit there, and maybe listen to some music or just breathe a little bit. It’s funny how often I forget just to breathe. I’ll take a deep breath right before my audition starts, just to remind my brain that it’s just an audition, you know?