A Few Minutes With...Mat Simpson

With talent and determination beyond his years local actor Mat Simpson strives to make a difference...


"THERE'S something about embodying another person that I find completely fascinating," confessed local actor and U of A student Mat Simpson, when I Heart Edmonton asked him what he enjoys about performing on stage. "Where do they end and you begin?"

Good question. In fact, that's just what I wondered myself when, on day two of the 2010 Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival, I sat in the audience of Tom Blazejewicz's Fortress Mentality, in which Simpson, 19, starred.

Even before the show started, before we even got to our seats, Simpson--who was offered the part just two and a half weeks prior to showtime--had gotten into character, pacing the improvised stage at Planet ZE with some book in his hands, and stacks of others at his feet.

It was the young lead's engrossing presence that quickly enticed us, or at least myself, into Blazejewicz's look at isolation, at solitude in a world without society.

By all accounts, Simpson must've been at this for years, a polished young thespian with loads of experience under his belt, no? Not exactly, as I soon discovered.

Actually, Simpson didn't even get into the theatre business until the middle of high school, when he was asked to audition for a Grade 11 one-act play. "They wanted me to audition because they heard I was good, which makes no sense at all, considering I had never acted before.

"I got the role, loved it, and have been doing it ever since."

Fast forward to today, and Simpson has wrapped up his first year in drama at the University of Alberta, and will begin the Bachelor of Fine Arts program next month.

"There's something about embodying another person that I find completely fascinating..."

"I went straight from [Strathcona Composite] high school to university because I knew exactly what I wanted to do and, fortunately enough, here I am, exactly where I wanted to be."

In his spare time Simpson also dares improvised comedy with Rapid Fire, Edmonton's longest-running improv theatre. Simpson, who was nominated for the 2009 Mayor's Youth Award, is also working on penning his first play, "a one-man show based around the concept of digital communication," he explains. "It's evolved and changed a lot over the summer, but I believe I have a pretty solid concept now and just need to do some more writing."

Who knows? Fringe 2011, perhaps?!

In addition to his theatre habits, Simpson has only recently taken to the lens, too. Earlier this summer the young photog took up photography, and clearly has an eye for the art. You can check out some of his shots below, or by clicking here.

Now, let's get to know this eager young actor a little more. Let's spend a few minutes with...Mat Simpson!

Before you got into theatre, what did you plan on studying in university? I never really knew. There was a brief moment where I wanted to go into architecture, because I enjoyed the design aspect of it, but that came to a screeching halt when I saw my first layout drawing. Everything is measured down to the centimetre and is perfectly parallel and scaled, and something about that sickened me. I wanted to take the lines and curve them and mess up the rigidity of the drawing. It sounds sort of weird, I know, but I also get sick when I listen to the blues while driving, so....

What do you enjoy about performing? There's something about embodying another person that I find completely fascinating. Where do they end and you begin? Is it possible to completely embody a character? I don't know, but I hope to find out. I love performing because I love having a direct effect on people. After the show I can go out into the lobby and see what my work has done. Whether it has inspired, cheered, or bored, I can find out immediately, which has a certain satisfaction to it.

What do you find more challenging, remembering a script or improvising? Improvising. It's becoming less challenging as I learn more, but improvising isn't exactly easy. A typical scene will involve me coming up with my own dialogue on the spot, getting a general grasp on the arc of the story and pretending to put dishes into a dishwasher all at once. That's a lot more challenging than pure memorization, but it can also be a lot more fun. Improvising at Rapid Fire Theatre has been an amazing experience and I can't wait to continue the journey in the fall.

Can you list your three favourite movies of all-time?
I) Fight Club: Fight Club is amazing. I love Fight Club. Fight Club rocks. You love Fight Club. I love Fight Club. Everyone loves Fight Club. Except Mike Robertson. But he just doesn't like the author of Fight Club. So basically, Mike loves Fight Club.

II) I Love You, Man: SO GOOD. Paul Rudd mixed with Jason Segal is a lethal combination that'll punch you in the gut with giggles. You need to watch it. Go. Now. Watch it.

III) The Devil Wears Prada: You might be asking yourself: 'Is this a joke?' Well...not really. This movie is my crack. It's a guilty pleasure of mine that I sometimes get cravings for. I mean come on, it's a story of self-discovery, failure, success, and fashion starring the beloved Meryl Streep. You can't go wrong.

If you had to choose an actor whose career you'd most want to parallel, who would it be and why? I just love Paul Rudd. I mean he's one of those guys who actually went to school for acting and did theatre before making it big in film. I think his work is highly respectable and his sense of humour is extremely entertaining. As I mentioned above, 'I Love You, Man' is definitely one of my favourite films. Every time I watch it there's something new to laugh at that wasn't there before. There's just something about him that's very human and down to earth. He's not just another pretty face.

On a more local level, Chris Craddock recently became quite an inspiration to me. The quality of his writing and performing in his Fringe hit 'Bash'd' (co-written and performed by Nathan Cuckow) hit me hard. He is a phenomenal writer and performer that carries himself very respectably.

Another local actor who has been inspiring me for the past few years is Jon Lachlan Stewart. That man approaches his work with such passion and excitement that it's hard NOT to be inspired by him. He's only 24 and yet already has a successful theatre company (Surreal SoReal Theatre) with co-artistic director Vincent Forcier, which was built upon several of his own written works.

I first saw him perform at the 2008 Edmonton International Fringe Festival in his one-man show 'Big Shot', which has influenced my own theatrical choices since that day. One aspect of Jon that I really appreciate is the work that he does with the younger theatre community. People like me! He truly wants to help with the growth and development of young actors, writers and directors, which is something that has affected me directly in a very positive way. His brilliant work has given me hope, inspired me to create, and provides me with a career model that is filled with success.

What was the last CD (or iTune) you bought? The last album I bought was Christian Hansen's 'The Super Awkward Album'. I recently began recognizing some of the amazing artists that we have in Edmonton and have been obtaining as much of their music as I can. Christian Hansen definitely sticks out for me, with his very intriguing tone of voice and untypical (what an awkward word...) lyrics. I think everyone should check out his music that he has created both solo and with the band Christian Hansen and the Autistics. Their dance-pop tunes make me "Pump it. Pump it REAL good." But be careful, it's addicting.

If there was one thing you could do to improve Edmonton, what would it be? I would probably use inception to place the idea in everyone's mind that Edmonton rocks. Because it does. Or at least it can if everyone believes so. A lot of people that I talk to hate Edmonton and I don't think there's enough valid reasons to dislike it so strongly.

It's got a lot going for it. For example, look at all the festivals we have had this summer! There has been Nextfest, Freewill Shakespeare Festival, Capital Ex, Heritage Days, Folk Fest, and the International Fringe Festival (to name a few), all jam-packed into three months! There's a lot of fun to be had there! Sure, I think we would all enjoy a shorter winter, but the bitter cold only makes us enjoy the summer that much more. Edmonton, just like everything, is what you make it. Let's make it great!

Whyte Ave or Jasper Ave? Whyte Ave during the day. At night, both of those places become places that I don't want to be. I'm not a big bar star (mainly because I'm a cheap ass mofo) and the party scene is a huge money grab. A good house party can be loads of fun at an affordable rate. House parties are also a lot safer. Both Jasper and Whyte Ave seem to be getting more and more dangerous as the weeks pass. I saw a guy the other day, just a block north of Whyte Ave, wielding a hammer. Not cool. Not cool at all. So if you ever find yourself walking down the street with a hammer in your clenched fist, do us all a favour and put it away. Edmonton could use less weapon-wielding night crawlers.

Where (in life) would you like to see yourself ten years from now? I don't really have a specific vision of where I want to be, but I do know that I want to be acting or involved with theatre in some fashion. My number one goal is to make a living off of my art. I don't think that going into the arts should be a sacrifice, but should simply be another option. I find it extremely humorous that the $20 bill has 'could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts?' printed on it, and yet the first budget that the government cuts is the arts. I guess we must not know each other that well. I would like that to change.

But back to the topic. Where I am in ten years really depends on what happens in the next three or so. I think that'll change and grow a lot as I go through the BFA and I may come out the other end with different values and desires. I think that at some point in time I want to try my hand at films, if not just for shits and giggles. I also have this strong feeling that I NEED to live in Vancouver at some point in my life and yet, strangely enough, I have never been there. I just hear so many great things about it and it's on the coast, and it rarely snows and they have a transit system that works...it sounds phenomenal. Then again, I also enjoy Edmonton. I'll probably move away at some point, because change is healthy, but I can definitely see myself spending many years in Edmonton. Because it's my home.

And finally, in honour of Rapid Fire Theatre, here are some rapid fire questions:
I) PC or Mac? Mac.
II) Coke or Pepsi? They both satisfy me in the same way.
III) Xbox or Playstation? Playstation.
IV) Cats or dogs? Dogs. Big. Burly. Dogs.
V) Canon or Nikon? Nikon.
VI) Blonde or brunette? Hot.
VII) Boxers or briefs? Boxer briefs.
VIII) SNL or MadTV? Rapid Fire Theatre :P
IX) Sun or Journal? Journal.
X) Aniston or Jolie? Jolie rocks my world.

Thanks, Mat!

Below is a video clip that Mat wanted to show us, created by some of his cohorts over at Rapid Fire Theatre.

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