Heather Matarazzo's indelible mark was left on the indie movie scene when she starred in Welcome To The Dollhouse as the total outsider middle schooler when she was just 11-years-old in 1995. Since then, she's gone on to star in The L Word, Hostel 2, and The Princess Diaries and campaigned for acceptance and visibility with LGBT organizations as an out actress.
Advocate Editor Diane Anderson-Minshall spoke with Matarazzo about her role in the new movie Mangus! from Ash Christian (the acclaimed gay director of Fat Girls). Avaiable on DVD now, Mangus! stars two irrepressible actresses LGBT viewers can’t get enough of: Jennifer Coolidge (who went all lesbo in Best in Show) and Matarazzo. Ryan Nelson Boggus leads the indie incredible cast as a kid who desperately wants to continue a family tradition by playing Jesus in his school play. But when life kicks him down, his friends and family (Matarazzo is his sister in the flick) — and a few other legendary gay icons in cameos, including John Waters and Leslie Jordan — help him rally back again.
Check out some of Matarazzo's most exciting excerpts from the juicy interview:
The Advocate: Mangus! is about a kid who desperately wants to play Jesus in the high school musical, but the movie doesn't feel religious in any way.
Heather Matarazzo: Yeah, it wasn't meant to be religious at all. The filmmaker is Ash Christian, and he’s a really big fan of, and his heart is in, stories about small towns and character-driven pieces that deal with idiosyncrasies and the like, so this was just a version of that.
I think the film has a campy absurdism to it that John Waters's fans will enjoy. Is that a tough style to pull off?
No, I don't think so. I feel that if you're good at your job regardless of what that job is, the tonal quality of any film, whether it be campy or serious or straight comedy, that shouldn't really matter. And the truth of the matter is, when you get to work with really great people like Leslie Jordan or Jennifer Coolidge, it's very, very easy.
Your character is a 20-something bleached-blond lesbian named Jessica Simpson. Tell me how you envisioned her.
She is pretty much a girl who is suffering from an identity crisis. She's trying to make her way in the world, and she thought, Well, let me try being a lesbian for a second and see how that works out. I envision her being high-class white trash — or at least she thinks she is — and she thinks she has a grander view of the world than perhaps she actually does. At the end of the day, she has a heart of gold, and for all of her rough edges, she is still pushing that wheelchair and still trying to help her brother to achieve his dreams.
You have a very funny sex scene with a girl in an ice cream truck. Were there any more of those scenes that got left on the cutting room floor?
Nope, that was the only one.
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The beloved Jennifer Coolidge played your mom in the film.
It was my second time working with her. We did The Women together on Broadway in 2001-2002. Ash and I, from the beginning, really wanted her to be a part of this project, and luckily she said yes. And it was a great reunion and we had a lot of fun.
Your films have really crossed a lot of genres, from Hostel 2 to Princess Diaries to Mangus! Do you have a film style that you're more drawn to?
I just follow the storytelling. At the end of the day, it’s just the biggest thing for me, when I read a story, when I read a script, is it something that I feel challenged by, is it something I'm horrified by, is it something I'm inspired by, is it something that I'm judging? It's those kinds of scripts that get me excited. It's the scripts where I'm reading 30, 40, 50 pages in and I'm absolutely bored to death and everything I see is on the nose that I say no to. And there are fewer and fewer scripts out there that are really telling any kind of truth. [Screenwriters] are pandering to the idea of what they think is going to be a good film as opposed to really being more concerned and excited about by sharing a story that they really want to tell.
I love that with Hostel 2, as a torture film there's so much to be said about it from like a feminist perspective, but when you look at a lot of the people's online comments online they say, "Heather Matarazzo has a rocking body!" How do you feel when you hear stuff like that?
[Laughing] Well, it's better than hearing, “She should wear a potato sack!” But the truth of the matter is, it’s always nice to be appreciated — whether it’s my physical form, my gift I have as an actor, producer, or writer — it doesn't really matter. I'm always grateful for the appreciation.
You were always attracted to girls but said you didn't really have a name for it until you became aware of gay people when you did Welcome to the Dollhouse when you were 11. Did that experience frighten you?
No, it was exhilarating. To be able to finally put a name to something is always exciting, it’s always exhilarating, and that was my experience. I'd rather know than not know ... as human beings, we're always trying to figure things out and get to, like, the root and put a name on it. Being able to find out that I wasn't terminally unique and I wasn't some weird freak, I was like, Oh, this has a name. It has a name.
Very few people got to do that at 11.
Yeah, especially in the mid ’90s. I feel like today it’s a lot different — resources are available that I feel weren't available to me you know when I was that age. I'm also very grateful that I got to have the experience of having personal relationships with these individuals as opposed to just having it be on some computer screen or in front of a TV. I actually got to see in real time, in my face, on a daily basis, like, Oh, my gosh, I identify with these people on so many levels. And it gave me, really, that reassurance that I was not alone. And you can go to any website you want to, but ... at least for me, I need that face to face time. I crave that human contact, like being in the same room, and I don't know that a website would suffice.
Right, I think one of the things that we're seeing right now with so many teen suicides, there are kids who have hundreds of Facebook friends or Twitter followers, but that’s not the connection that helps these kids feel better. The technology doesn't always help as much as one would hope.
Yeah, and the truth is, I feel like we live in a real fear-based society, and whether you're gay, straight, black, white, Christian, Muslim, it doesn't really matter. For myself — and I know thousands of other people feel this way — that [feeling that] this is too good to be true and therefore it’s not so. I feel like we live as though life is meant to be endured — Well if something really great happens to me, when is the other shoe going to drop? And always in that fear and always in that apprehension, and I feel it's not a gay/straight thing and an acceptance thing, it's a fear versus love thing. That's the basis for me of human emotion. I'm either operating from a place of fear or I'm operating from a place of love.
And are you aware of this at the time that you're experiencing emotions?
I feel like every day is an opportunity for me to learn and grow. Self-reflection has been really good for me. I had gotten to a point in my life where something had to give, and what had to give was the way that I thought and the way that I viewed the world. So I actively sought out the change that I wished to be, because no one else was going to do it for me.
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You officially came out when you were 21, back in 2004, in Hollywood. Do you feel like it has impacted your career?
Jeez, you know, again, I don't know. The truth of the matter is, I feel like it’s kind of an irrelevant question because ...
Because you don't care?
Not really because I don't care, but more of like I might have a different answer for you if my career was my life. But my career isn't my life. It's a great vehicle for me to be a service to the world and demonstrate the gift that I have been given, but it's not my life.
So if it went away tomorrow, would you have regrets?
I don't think that I would have regrets, because that just means the universe has something else for me that I'm meant to be doing. It would just feel like, OK, I'm really excited to see what that is, and I'm really excited to see what that's going to look like.
That's a really evolved perspective. I think a lot of people aren't there yet.
And the truth of the matter is that it comes and it goes. Here’s the deal: I've wanted to be an actor since before I could speak. Pretty much my first words out of my mouth were like Madonna’s “Dress You Up” in 1984. My mom just told me this story of me pointing to the TV and saying, “I do that.” It's the only thing that I know how to do. It brings me some of the greatest joy, and on top of that, that joy has evolved in finally being able to receive compliments from strangers on the street.
Getting to actually stand in my own light and get to see an experience, not in a grandiose way or a way that is filled with ego, but in a right-sizing way that, yes, I am able to claim and see from my experience from others, that I am being of service to them and they are being of service to me. So if it was the deal that I was still doing this because I wanted to be rich and famous, I might have a different answer for you. But the truth is, I don't think I was given the passion or the path I was given to all of a sudden have it disappear.
Your fiancée, Caroline, remembers calling her mother and telling her the day she met you, "I just met my future wife." What do you remember of the day?
That it was magical, that it was beautiful, like something that I had never experienced before. You don't know until you know. Like a second beforehand, I didn't know ... that my life was going to change. I talk to so many people that say, "When am I going to meet someone?" and I really had to get away from the idea of that. I was able to be happy and free whether or not I was in a relationship. That the idea of the relationship and being in a relationship wasn't what it was all about. Getting to actually be happy with myself, that I didn't need to have another person, and it wasn't until I got to that point, just feeling so comfortable in my own skin, I was open enough to recognize her when I saw her.
Do you have a date set?
We're both really, really busy, so it's that kind of thing that it's going to happen when it's meant to happen and not a moment before.
Years ago, when I was editor at Curve magazine, we worked with The L Word on a script about one of our editors giving Jenny’s new book a very bad review. It was your character, Stacy Merkin, who I say ended up playing me on TV. What was the response to that character?
People hated her. They absolutely hated her. It was one of those things where I think it's so funny how characters can be either glorified or vilified. And I was a little surprised that she was so vilified. But then also other individuals that hated the character of Jenny, loved her. It was great working with Mia [Kirshner, who played Jenny]. She was wonderful and it was a lovely, lovely experience.
What’s next for you?
I'm working with a writer right now to bring a TV series [together]; we're going to start a pitching soon. It’s based on Diane Hanks's memoir called Summer Camp. She's a writer I have had a relationship with for a long time and her memoir is absolutely amazing. Her story is absolutely riveting, one which I think is timeless and universal, and I’m really excited to watch it come to fruition.
Check out the complete interview on Advocate.com.