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What Matthew Rhys Is Doing When He’s Not Playing A Gay Type-A

Powered by article was written by Hannah Booth, for The Guardian on Wednesday 2nd March 2011 22.00 UTC

He may be a Hollywood actor starring in a glossy TV drama, but Matthew Rhys is still an ordinary Welsh lad at heart, worrying about the Six Nations. The tournament is not, however, a big concern in Los Angeles, where he has lived for five years. “It’s not that they don’t get rugby,” he says. “It’s that they have absolutely no idea it exists.”

Rhys, aged 36, has been out west working with Sally Field, Rob Lowe and Calista Flockhart on Brothers and Sisters, which airs here on More4. His portrayal of Kevin Walker, an acerbic, gay California lawyer, is one of the best things about the show – an articulate family drama that occasionally threatens to tip over into sentimental mush. Often, Kevin alone brings it back from the brink.

But it’s Wales that exerts the strongest creative pull on Rhys. It informs almost all his other work, from his portrayal of Dylan Thomas in 2008’s The Edge of Love, to a recent pilgrimage he made across Patagonia on horseback with descendents of the region’s original Welsh settlers; he documented the latter in a book published last year. And now he’s starring in Patagonia, a new film out tomorrow.

The part came about through a remarkable coincidence. While out on his gruelling trip through Patagonia, the spectacular geographic region located in Argentina and Chile, he bumped into the Welsh director Marc Evans, who was scouting for locations. “I thought I was going mad,” says Rhys. “Marc’s wife Nia [Roberts, who also stars in the film] ran up alongside me and said, ‘Hiya, Math.’ I almost fell off my horse.”

Rhys plays Mateo, an Argentinian of Welsh descent who comes between an unhappy couple. In a parallel story, an Argentinian grandmother visits Wales, where her mother was born; she’s accompanied by a young neighbour, Alejandro. The film also marks singer Duffy‘s not-half-bad debut, as a student who catches Alejandro’s eye. “We were filming in the desert,” says Rhys, “and had to bunk down in a concrete barn. But there was great camaraderie – we got arseholed on cheap red wine every night.”

Why do Welsh stories exert such a pull? “We’re sometimes treated like the stupid cousin, so I’m always drawn to characters that make you feel good about being Welsh,” he says. “This was a great opportunity to play a rare character for a Welshman. The challenge was to play someone who speaks a very different type of Welsh, influenced by another country and language.”

Rhys first picked up film and TV work while still studying at Rada. After graduation, major roles included Benjamin in 2000’s acclaimed West End production of The Graduate, opposite Kathleen Turner, and the lead in the BBC’s lavish dinosaur epic, The Lost World. After a comfortable five years of Brothers and Sisters, he is starting to crave this variety again.

“It’s nice to have some security,” he says. “You get used to that life. But it’s a bit like an office job: I go to the same place every day, park in the same spot, turn up in shorts and flip-flops and then put on a suit. Part of me misses the variety that comes with not knowing what you’re going to do next.”

He has also started to take more creative control, directing episodes of the TV show. He now has five episodes – three in the current series – under his belt. “I find it gratifying. Everyone turns to you for answers and you think, wow, I have an opinion on how this looks, what happens, the tone. And being treated like a grownup is nice.”

Despite being based on the other side of the world, Rhys is a passionate supporter of UK arts causes, publicly bemoaning the demise of the Film Council and even backing a campaign to save a threatened theatre in Pembrokeshire. But he isn’t hurrying back to the UK. “So little film or TV drama is being made in the UK that I do see myself [in LA] for a little,” he says. “Ultimately, you have to go where the work is.”

So what’s next? “It’s weird how your perspective changes,” he says. “At the start of your career, you think, ‘I just want to do cutting-edge work that makes people think.’ Now, I would do a blockbuster in a heartbeat.” What changes? “Just awareness of what we do. Don’t get me wrong, I take it very seriously and work hard. But at the end of the day, we’re entertainers.”

• Patagonia is out tomorrow. Brothers and Sisters is on More4 on Thursdays. © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

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  • Ian

    No problem with him as an actor but I am sick to death whenever there is a gay couple on a tv show that the network has to explicitely always have to ‘defuse’ the sexuality of the characters by stating that for sure one or both of the actors in question are in reality heterosexual.

    They’ve done it now on Brothers & Sisters, Degrassi, & Glee for starters.

  • Tommy Marx

    I actually look at it the other way, Ian. I’m glad that they are finally using openly gay actors to play openly gay characters. Yes, gods forbid a straight actor playing a gay actor doesn’t make sure the entire world knows he is straight. But on both Brothers & Sisters and Glee, we also have gay actors who are open about their sexuality when asked.

    What I’d really like is when a character like Math’s is described as an acerbic California lawyer with no mention of his being gay. Now wouldn’t that be a new world?

  • randy

    His character on Brothers and Sisters I find to be very annoying. He’s neurotic and whiny. And the lover is so sickly sweet I want to throw up. Then there’s the gay uncle – Saul – who no one ever suspected of being gay, and now is the biggest gayest queen since Quentin Crisp. And taking up with Miss Richard Chamberlain to boot! While I certainly applaud television for writing in gay characters, why are they so streotypical? The gays on Modern Family just drive me nuts. The straight actor plays that big gay guy sooo flaming, it’s unwatchable……There, I said it.

  • Adam

    The thing is that knowing a show\movie\book has a gay character is actually a reason I will look into something. I had no interest in seeing Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, but when I found out that there were quite a few gay characters, I became more interested. It’s just as much a marketing ploy (that works on me) as it is a desire to segregate the character (if not even more so.)

  • Qjersey

    I’m on team Scotty. Lick.

  • kayla

    I love Brothers and Sisters! Randy do you actually watch the show? I guess people have different sensibilities, and my sensibilities are definitely attuned to all the drama and fluff of B&S! Je l’adore!

  • Oprah

    [email protected] i second your opinion- Whole heartedly. LOL Especially, on the point of Saul, the gay uncle degenerating downward to sissyfication. He started off being as heterosexual as any man in the show, then came his sudden gay outing, suddenly and slowly he becomes feminine and flombayantly ‘gay’. Really? The last time i watched the damn boring,stereo-typical show was when Saul was testing for HIV. I was like- really? really?. LOL

    Frankly, i wish Brothers and Sisters concetrated on Calista Flockhart, lamely named ‘Kitty’.(the unrefined name grew up on me though, i ended up embrassing it with a reluctant heart, and regulated nerve) At least, it was authentic and very cosmopolitan.I wish they had stuck with the idea of Kitty being this hot republican who had a talk show, and who was opinionated which enhanced her sexyiness? The idea was fresh and fantastic, even for a cynic like myself. They ruined it further by bringing in heartthrob Rob lowe, who yes he is gorgeous, but not gorgeous enough to take the light away from ‘Kitty’. Dont even mention Sally Field and the rest of the whinning family–the most annoying portrayal of an upper-crust jewish family ever. But if i had to choose which character i detested most–the award has got to go to ‘scotty’, the boyfriend of the gay brother–i cant decide which is more annoying,his cutesy’ wanna be wardrobe,(which borders on a teenage bambi fashion,not for an apropriate late 30s grown up man) or his insistence to play a heterosexual female wife on the screen.

    My nerves and health has improved so much when i stopped watching the Brothers and Sisters– i cant praise enough.

  • kayla

    @Oprah: Umm…what season are you on Kitty’s husband, Robert, is dead and Scotty is no longer a boyfriend but a husband!

  • Oprah

    Kayla—really? Great. :) My congratulations to Mr. And Mrs Gay Walker. *eyes rolls*

  • Riker

    The first couple of years were wonderful when Jon Robin Baitz was in charge. Now he is gone, and it has slowly has gone downhill into this truly absurd season. Why cant they stay with a plot line? Where are all the fun actors like Wettig? Love Sally, but she’s looking majorly bored this year. They need new ideas. And Tommy can go back to Mexico. Please!

  • Ian

    @Riker: The show is completely ridiculous now, it has seriously jumped the shark. All the family members magically come up with completely new career paths for themselves every season, and aren’t even consistent in their personalities. The first season Kitty was the radio jock and now her mom is the radio jock, Sarah hated that her husband was a musician and not career minded and divorced him and then now is happy that she is engaged to an artist (consistency anyone??), gay Kevin at first had a serious snit for an entire season and stuck his nose up at the thought of adoption then the following season **poof!** all of a sudden is FOR adoption, etc. etc.

  • Jeffree

    @Randy:, & @Riker:; Agree that the show has gone downslope. Too many zigs and zags in story line & characters. Uncle Saul was probably the most interesting role on the show, but the stereotypical gay thing has got to stop.

    Matt Rhys & Rachel G both are fine actors (& do flawless American accents), but neither character is given much to work with. We DVR the show & forward through it in about 15 minutes hoping there will be some hope the plot will settle down & start making some sense !

  • Ian

    @Jeffree: I’m constantly bummed that Rachel Griffiths had one of the greatest, meaty, and well written characters of all time with Brenda on Six Feet Under, only to a few years later get stuck on a silly nightime frothy soap drama.

  • Jeffree

    @Ian: I agree with you on Rachel G. & on 6 Ft. Under —one of my favorite shows ever. The writing on that show was so much better than B&S. Their characters were much more believable & consistent. Also, your point on B&S jumping the proverbial shark is right. They’re losing longer term viewers and don’t seem to be gaining too many new ones.

    Funny that Patricia Wettig, a very good actor, managed to be on two of what used to be my “must see” shows (B&S, Prison Break) and that both programs seemed to lose their way after a few seasons. I don’t blame her for that of course, but the shows need to better use the talent they have.

    I’ll skip commenting on Ugly Betty for now, lol.

  • jon

    It’s MR. Richard Chamberlain Lady Randy.

  • Ian

    @Jeffree: What made 6FU so great was that it was a story with a definite beginning, middle, & end all plotted out beforehand by the creator & writers so that character progression was believable. Unlike B&S (or as I like to call it bull&sh**) where events, character arcs, career paths, etc. are simply made up it feels like on an almost episode by episode basis. That’s the problem with too much of american tv, too many programs are only worried about how long can they stretch out the seasons so they can stay on the air 7-10 yrs and are far less interested in GOOD storytelling and having the entire series be like a good book with a PRIOR plotted out beginning, middle, and end to that story. That’s why shows like Alias, Twin Peaks, & Lost all fell apart at the end because the creators admitted they only plotted out the first few seasons then made up the rest just to try to keep the show on the air.

    The UK has it right with some of their shows, far better to have a GOOD show that is only 3 series/seasons long then a show that has a good start but then after 5-7 seasons we are left asking that the show has gotten SO bad and why did we ever watch it in the first place?

  • GetBalance

    The gay charactors on BnS are anything but stereotypical. Nor do I see Kevin as syrupy or Scotty as whiney as a basis for their charactors. Yeah it was a bit melodramatic when kevin fucked around and Scotty found out but that’s about it.

    And stereotypical? Modern Family is certainly and boringly stereotypical. But kevin and Scotty could be right off the cover of GQ, Men’s Workout or be Playgirl Centerfolds, with personalities being the total antithesis to annoyingly stereotypical swishy gays.

    I applaud the fact the gay characters show a real honest definition of everyday gay guys who aren’t affected with overdoses of disorganized estrogen. Comparing BnS to Modern Family is pretty rediculous. Total apples and oranges.

    I can’t agree with you on this one Randy. I think you missed a beat somewhere.

  • GetBalance

    and the names on that trist must be reversed to protect the innocent. ;)

  • GetBalance

    The names of the charactors must be switched to protect the innocent. Hey I submit it’s Margarita Sunday. ;)

  • holly

    omg i love brothers and sisters. could watch it for hours. i love kevin and scotty, but its always been kevin for me love him <3 Matthew Rhys ox

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