Matthew Broderick stars as a onetime children's folk singer in Wonderful World.

Matthew Broderick

Interview with the star of Wonderful World

Jan 09, 2010 Web Exclusive
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In Wonderful World, Matthew Broderick plays Ben Singer, a former children's folk singer whose staunch idealism has led him down a dark path to disappointment and despondency. Ben's negativity turns everyone in his life--from his wife and daughter to his coworkers--away from him, with the exception of his Senegalese roommate Ibou (Michael Kenneth Williams), who believes that magic exists in the world. Broderick spoke to Under the Radar about his role in Wonderful World and his longstanding friendship with the film's writer/director Josh Goldin.  

 How did you become friends with Josh?

Josh Goldin and I did a movie, like 20 years ago, that ended up being called Out on a Limb, that was a very unsuccessful big-studio movie that he wrote, and it came out badly. We were all miserable, but Josh and I became friends through it all somehow and always stayed friends. And he's continued to be a writer, and finally he wrote a script that he thought would be right for me. So, he suggested it, and I read it and liked it. He did all the work, basically. He managed to get financing, and I helped too. And then it just developed. 

He says that Ben is based on him, but because he wrote the script with you in mind, I was curious if you recognized any parts of yourself in the character.

I guess somewhat, yeah. We had similar childhoods, in a way. We're both New Yorkers. He lived by Columbia, and I lived in the Village--which are sort of similar--in the same period. So we both have-- I don't like to say bitterness, I'm not sure what the word is, but we don't trust The Man. We're children of hippies. We're just when hippies were ending. I don't know what we are, but we're sort of similar and we're grumpy. I don't see him as negative, personally. Maybe I'm blind. But what I do see is how he's extremely funny. He's one of my funniest friends. So we laugh a great deal when we go out and eat. 

Ben is a negative guy, but there's nothing malevolent about him. It seems that his idealism has taken him down the wrong path.

Yeah.

You mentioned some of your similarities with Josh, and in the film Ben talks about America's preoccupation with the bottom line. You and Josh are in a business that is so concerned with the bottom line, it must be difficult maintaining an artistic idealism.

Yes, it is. But it's a mixed thing, 'cause you're like, "I don't like everybody [insisting] their things have to make money." But, on the other hand, I do want people to want to see things, and they are spending money to see it. It's an art form that's meant to be shared in public. But yeah, I don't want to sound like Ben, but all these big corporations owning and giving notes on every script, it gets hard to do anything original. But this is on a very small scale. I think it's very clever the way he wrote a story that could be done cheaply, for lack of a better word, without compromising. I think it's the right size for what it is. It's not like we're making a big epic with not enough money. The budget and the movie all seemed to fit right.   

What was shooting in Shreveport like? Did you and the other cast members become a close-knit group?

Yes, to some degree. We shot for 21 days, so it wasn't like a summer camp. I was there the whole time, but most of them came and went. But I certainly got to know Josh--Well, I already knew Josh very well, but we lived across from each other at some extended housing development on the side of a highway, so [laughs] we had to pay extra to park under an awning. We had our quiet little lives. You can hear music and go to clubs. There was some good food near the river. And it's a small place, Shreveport, and you can tell it used to be much bigger. It's a little bit of a ghosty feeling, some of it. But that said, everybody was so nice to us, wherever we shot. And the producer, one of them, was from there, and all the crew members were friends and they all worked together all the time, so the atmosphere was really delightful. 

I know that labor laws restrict how much a child can work, but I was curious if you had much time to bond with Jodelle Ferland, who plays your daughter.

Sometimes they would have to send her home, and I was always jealous, 'cause we worked crazy hours. But she's very bright. Kind of shy at first, but really not. And she was an absolute pleasure to hang around with. She was at that age where she's like a kid and a grown-up all at the same time, and very cute. We just thought she was adorable. Now she's about to be a big star, from what I understand.  

Last week I saw the TV broadcast of The Kennedy Center Honors. Nice job on your tribute to Mel Brooks.

Oh yeah, thank you.

It seemed to be a pretty emotional moment for him.

Yeah, he said it was. The whole evening was pretty emotional. I was very happy to have a chance to be there to tribute him. And also to watch the Bruce Springsteen stuff and, all of it, it was quite a night. I met the president. It was pretty exciting. 

Who are some of your musical heroes?

When I was growing up, Springsteen was certainly one of them. And Bob Dylan. And then I got into jazz when I was in my late teens and early 20s. And I like Louie Armstrong and Duke Ellington. Then, a little bit of show music, just 'cause of all my friends. You know, Fred Astaire, Ethel Merman, Gershwin.

In the press notes for Wonderful World, it says that Margaret will finally be released this year, is that right?

This year? I don't know. I really hope so. I know they're trying.

You shot that over four years ago, right?

Yes.

It's such a terrific cast. Can you tell me anything about your part in the film?

I don't have a very big part. I play a teacher. The story's about a young girl, and I play one of her teachers. It's a wonderful movie, but it's very large. It's long and complicated and really beautiful. And, for very complicated reasons, they don't seem to be able to finish the last 10 percent of it somehow. And it just goes on and on and there's lawsuits and all sorts of things now. I wouldn't give you correct information. I don't know exactly.

You recently finished The Starry Messenger off-Braodway with [Margaret director] Kenneth Lonergan, right?

Yeah, Kenny's my best friend since high school. We speak every day, probably.

So he doesn't seem optimistic about Margaret coming out soon? 

I don't know. Now people have to agree to things legally. There's all sorts of obstacles. I stopped asking about it. I just try to pretend it's not happening. 

How was it doing the play?

It was great. It's a wonderful play, and I had a great part. We had a little bit of a rocky beginning, which got in the paper, but we ended with very good reviews, and I think we're going to do it hopefully in England in the spring. We have a producer who wants it there, so I'm hoping we get to do that.

www.wonderfulworldfilm.com



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