Blog Post from: The Acting Center LA

Featuring: Eric Matheny – student, teacher and co-founder of The Acting Center LA.


It’s amusingly appropriate when actor Eric Matheny uses a gun metaphor to describe working with director Clint Eastwood.

“There’s a phrase people use when learning to handle fire arms, which is ‘Fast is smooth and smooth is slow,’” said Matheny, who plays Doc Ferguson in Eastwood’s new film “J. Edgar.”

“And that’s what it felt like (on the film’s set) — fast is smooth and smooth is slow. You’re just moving step by step, getting it done until it looks beautiful.”

Matheny was in town for the Oct. 14 special screening of “J. Edgar” as part of the Carmel Art & Film Festival.

Playing former CIA director J. Edgar Hoover’s personal physician, all of Matheny’s screen time is opposite the film’s star Leonardo DiCaprio.

Matheny spoke with “The Beat” in advance of the film’s screening. Below is an excerpt.

Q: What was the vibe like on the set?

A: One of the things I do on the side is renovate houses. And it’s like going on the set of one of the houses I’m working on. The contractors and the builders, we’re all friends and we’ve all known each other for a long time. We’re just getting the job done and making something beautiful. And really that is what it feels like on the set (with Eastwood). It’s like we’re just getting the job done, making something really beautiful and having a great time doing it. It’s very relaxed and yet also, I have to say, very focused. It’s all about getting it done and a making it a very smooth thing.
Q: Was there pressure on you to really bring your A-game and really stay focused for the shoot?

A: Absolutely. My first day on set, I was standing in the parking lot and (actor) Armie Hammer, halfway in his old person make-up, comes bounding up to me like a golden retriever. Just so excited and happy.

He’s like “Hey! You’re starting today?”

I was like “Yeah.”

He goes “Oh my God! Can you believe we’re in a Clint Eastwood movie?”

I’m like “I knooww! I’m freaking out.”

And he’s goes “‘Me too!”

You come with everything you’ve got. And yet, it’s so funny because when you come with all this, you can’t help but put pressure on yourself in those situations. And just the way you come up on set and (Eastwood) kind of looks at you. The way he looks at you, you just kind of think “Oh, this is going to be fine. I don’t need to freak out. Clint’s here. It’s going to be fine.” And you just sort of let that go away and you just get to work.

Q: You shot all of your scenes opposite Leonardo DiCaprio. What was it like sharing the screen with him and working off of him?

A: He’s a great actor. That’s sort of a given. We all know that from his movies as well. I have some friends who are friends of his. I didn’t know him before the shoot, but I’d heard he’s a really great guy and man, it’s really true.

The way I like to work is, when the scene starts, I’m another person. I’m in a different time, and I’m just going to live and see what happens and deal with the moments that are thrown me. And when you’re working with someone like Leonardo DiCaprio, he really throws you some beautiful moments. Looks and gestures and intensity that really gives you something to play off of. He’s a very giving actor in that way.

He and Clint and I, in one of the scenes, we were talking, along with Dustin Lance Black. And Leo says, “Oh, there’s a line in here, maybe Doc Ferguson should say something to me.” And Clint’s like “Oh, what would he say exactly?

Then we start talking and I improvise a couple of lines. Then Clint improvises a couple of lines. Then we find the right line and Clint’s happy with it and is like “OK, let’s do it.” And it was just really collaborative.

Q: What’s it like being part of such a hot Hollywood commodity?

A: It’s super exciting, honestly. I’ve been working in town for a number of years — little films and guest spots on television shows and what not. But this is the type of movie where every actor wants to be part of something like this.

It really has opened a lot of doors for me, just being affiliated with these kind of artists and just really humbling and lovely. And it’s exciting. There couldn’t be anything more exciting than to be in a project like this.

Q: Does it feel like you got chosen to be on the Hollywood All-Star team?

A: Yeah, exactly. A little like I get invited to the varsity party.

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