Dakin Matthews deeply understands the actor, although his journey has been anything but traditional. “I never intended on being an actor. I fell into it by way of teaching,” Matthews says. “I was teaching in the Bay Area and stumbled onto stage as a way to better understand the (Shakespearean) text I was teaching my students.” For twenty years, Matthews drove upwards to a hundred miles a day teaching his morning classes at Cal State Hayward (now Cal State East Bay) then off to rehearsals and performances in the evening. “I kept getting opportunities during the school year that were taking me away so I decided to give this acting thing a go,” Matthews humbly mumbles.
Matthews’ gentle demeanor is loaded with the most intelligent charisma. He spouts off names of playwrights like Alarcón and Tirso and I nod in agreement acting like I know who they are. His love of theatre is palpable and after spending an afternoon with him I am more intelligent. Matthews never studied acting. His theatre knowledge came from making a conscious decision to make theatre a priority in his life and career.
In 1990, Matthews approached Gordon Davidson, who at the time was the Artistic Director at The Mark Taper Forum. “Gordon always liked to have a company of actors who worked in repertory at the end of the season. I said give me a little bit of cash and let me see what Lillian Groag (a local actress and playwright) and I can put together.” Matthews says. They called their experiment The Antaeus Project, and for a solid year the invited group of 35 actors dedicated every Monday night to reading classics and talking about how a repertory company might work within the walls of the Taper. For the following five years, Matthews and his new-found collaborators produced countless readings, workshops and productions. “Eventually, we just found ourselves ready to move on and so we did, re-naming ourselves The Antaeus Company,” Matthews says.
Since then, The Antaeus Company has held onto many of the unique ideals they spawned in the early days at The Taper and since have found a thriving home—and a series of new artistic directors– in the NoHo Arts District of Los Angeles. “We’ve produced many shows over the years and are busy fundraising for our own space which we hope to launch soon,” Matthews says. “I tell young kids who are coming to Hollywood that the most important thing you can do for yourself is find a creative home, a place where you are creating, stretching, and learning all the time. I am lucky to have found that with Antaeus.”
But as Matthews’ unique actors journey continues to unfold, his Los Angeles roots are spreading. “New York is calling more and more and I will be there for most of next year,” Matthews says. He has a very busy year booked, starring in All The Way at ART with Bryan Cranston as LBJ and written by founding Antaean Robert Schenkkan; then he’s bouncing over to Lincoln Center to dramaturge Macbeth for Jack O’Brien’s new production with Ethan Hawke. And after that possibly a big Broadway show. “I’ve been primarily a California actor for most of my career and loved it, but let me tell you there is nothing like performing in Central Park or walking into a Broadway house. It’s very special.” Matthews humbly grins.
As Matthews smiles, his genuine humility is pushed aside for just a moment and an innocent excitement surfaces that I’m not sure he wants to reveal. At 72, Dakin Matthews feels like one of LA’s best kept secrets; and as he launches off to New York, I am reminded that in order to truly understand the actor journey you have to be happy right where you’re at. Mr. Matthews seems very happy indeed.