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Matthew Bennett - Head Shot

Interview: Canadian TV’s “that guy” takes on new role

Matthew Bennett is the “that guy” of Canadian television. You know, the dude who whenever you see him on the small screen you yell, “It’s that guy!” That’s Bennett. Most recently spotted on the Toronto shot U.S series The Strain, he portrayed Daniel Rosen on Orphan Black (and met a bloody end at the hands of Helena), he has a recurring role on Murdoch Mysteries as U.S. government spy Allen Clegg. Other roles include spots on Rookie Blue, Flashpoint, The Listener, Cold Squad and Stargate SG-1.

The veteran actor laughs when he discusses the similarity in the roles–in almost all he’s worn a suit and acted like a jerk–but gets serious when the topic of being a working actor in Canada comes up. Gigs for guys like him, even with roles stretching back to 1991 under his belt, don’t come every day, meaning seeking out other creative outlets.

Enter Straight Kill Films, a company he and fellow actor Matt Wells have teamed to create. As the Toronto native tells it, the duo want to offer the opportunity for fledgling actors and actresses to get into the business by appearing in their feature film Straight Kill. Not only that, but they’re looking for people to contribute to the soundtrack, the makeup, the costumes … everything. In short, Straight Kill will give those involved a crucial leg up to a career in the Canadian television and film industry while building a community.

We got Matt to reflect on his career, where he thinks the Canadian television industry is headed, as well as give us the details on how people can get involved in Straight Kill.

On your Twitter page, you describe yourself as a “professional that guy.” Was that something you’ve noticed over the course of your career?
Matthew Bennett: It’s funny, it’s actually something that I realized just recently. When you’re involved in the business it’s sometimes difficult to get some perspective on what people see. I think it was about a year ago when Cold Squad was in re-runs. I was flipping around the channels and I would literally see myself three times in an hour on different shows. That’s when it clicked in: ‘Wow, I have this body of work that I hadn’t recognized.’ I was always looking at something else.

Not a bad resumé of recent work, with roles on Orphan Black and Murdoch Mysteries and going back to Battlestar Galactica.
I’ve been very fortunate. And when you go back and look that them, the roles have a common element to them, and I guess that goes with being ‘that guy.’ I usually end up in a suit and doing things that aren’t too great. And I usually end up dead too. [Laughs.] I am a master squib taker at this point.

Why do you think you’ve gotten these types of roles?
I think it’s a number of things. I think it’s certainly my delivery. I’ve always, I’ve felt, been known as an actor who can handle dialogue. When I was in my 20s there were these guys in their 30s and 40s who would go out for what I called ‘Captain Exposition parts,’ where you advance the plot through straight exposition and they would usually come in these chunks of dialogue. And I became known for being able to do that.

I think that I look right in a suit, I can handle the dialogue and I guess there’s just something about me that says ‘death to all those around me.’

Which type of role do you like better, the recurring or the guest star?
I realized when I was on Cold Squad that the best role was the guest star because the main storyline revolves around you. Recurring you may not have as much to do in the episode but it’s great to come onto a show and establish an audience share and get known for that. I’ve been very surprised by the reaction to Murdoch Mysteries and the number of people who come up to me about it. He’s such the bad guy, and the bad American to boot.

clegg

But are those roles tough because you never know when the next gig will be coming along?
Absolutely. I’ve been doing this for 22 years and I’m unemployed right now. That’s the reality of the job and it is very difficult to adjust to. I’m not really sure what’s happening in Toronto right now but I do know that not a lot of us are auditioning. It creates a great deal of stress. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of work.

I’ve seen the industry change a lot over the last several years. Canada is not producing the volume that it once did. Distribution is changing. They are trying to figure out what works and being very careful about what they do make.

Is there light at the end of the tunnel? How would you fix it?
I don’t know how long this model can continue. You look at Amazon, where they are making TV now, Netflix. The specialty channels really seem to have a stronghold on good product and product that is being rewarded on award shows. I don’t know if any networks in Canada are going to make House of Cards. I haven’t seen this country take risks like that. It seems to be a lot of similar shows that come out of this country, you know. Models that work.

But the business is changing and people are moving away from the cable box and watching more TV on their computers. That changes access. You could create your own TV show and distribute it to the world. You don’t have to go through the traditional mechanism anymore.

Speaking of non-traditional mechanisms, you and Matt Wells are certainly doing that with Straight Kill Films.
I think so. It was this idea I had a couple of years ago, the idea of building an audience first. If you look at the analytics of any film or television show you create the project and then aim for that 18-34 audience. But our idea was to build the audience and then shape the project around that.

In the YouTube clips you both talk about community and Toronto. How are you getting the word out there about involvement in Straight Kill?
We’ve hired a woman named Sarah Dawley, who has experience with social media while working for Bell Media. She’s working with us. Our website is up and moving forward. We’re launching on Sept. 6 and we’ll be targeting high schools and universities and building the audience share. We’re also looking for talent. One of our ideas is that there are a lot of actors in this city and not a lot of them get work. There are some exceptionally talented people who I feel will never see the camera. That’s just the system. I have been fortunate enough to get through that gauntlet and to have a career.

This is a world-class city that I think needs to be presented on a world stage.

You set Straight Kill in St. Jamestown. Can you talk about that area a bit?
It’s in the Sherbourne and Bloor area, and it was built in the 1960s to house young professionals that were going to be working downtown. It was an idea that never really took off. It encompasses nine city blocks and has 17,000 people living in it. You enter St. Jamestown and you are surrounded by high-rises. It’s an amazing and unique pocket and when you walk through there is is absolutely  a community unto itself. There are a lot of new Canadians, a lot of working-class people … there is a whole mix of people.

Now, if you go two streets east of Sherbourne, behind the subway station there is a tunnel. If you go through that tunnel there is a pedestrian bridge over Rosedale Valley Road that takes you into Rosedale, which is one of the most affluent neighbourhoods in the country. St. Jamestown is one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the country and they are literally a stones’ throw away. That’s the placeholder for this film, two kids from very different cultures and they need each other to survive.

OK, so what happens on Sept. 6?
The script is done and we’ve had investor interest. We are looking for the leads for this film–two male and two female–and the majority of the other roles. The older generation characters will be anchored by known professionals. We are also looking for soundtrack. We’ll be hitting the high schools and universities to look for opportunities there.

Head over to Bennett and Wells’ YouTube page to find out more about Straight Kill and how you can get involved.

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