Matt Letscher is the definition of a renaissance man. One of the hardest workers in show business, he established himself as a familiar face in the world of film and television. The genres he explores through acting are as eclectic as the characters he brings to life on screen. The way he breathes life into the characters and makes them jump from the screen appears effortless, which is a mark of a true master of the craft. In one of his most exciting projects to date, Letscher joined the ever-expanding DC Universe as the diabolical Eobard Thawne, also known as Reverse Flash, in The CW’s “Legend’s of Tomorrow” and “The Flash.” A fan favorite, the role will impact the timelines of both critically acclaimed series.
Matt Letscher’s considerable talents are not confined to the screen. As an actor, one of his greatest passions is the theatre. He cut his teeth early onstage at Jeff Daniels’ Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea, Michigan with an undeniable stage presence that presented him with a wealth of opportunities. In 1998, he made his Broadway debut in the world premiere of Neil Simon’s “Proposals,” where he originated the role of Ray opposite Ron Rifkin and Kate Finnegan. He toured with the show nationally, which was one of the many highlights of his theatrical career. Even with his onstage success, he remains grounded and his relationship with the legendary venue where his journey began continues to this day. As an accomplished playwright, his farce “Sea Of Fools” was produced by the Purple Rose Theatre in 2007. This was followed by a production of Letscher’s “Gaps In The Fossil Record,” a winner of the prestigious 2015 Edgerton Foundation New Play Awards.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently had the pleasure of catching up with Matt Letscher to discuss his latest role as Eobard Thawne (Reverse Flash) on The CW’s hit “The Flash,” his incredible journey as an actor, the lessons he learned along the way, and what we can expect to see from him in the near future!
Let’s start where it began. How did you get involved with the arts early on in life and what made you choose this path as a career?
That’s a good question. When I was really young, in elementary school for example, I loved writing. I really loved writing and when people asked what I wanted to be when I grew up I would say I wanted to be an author. I just loved writing short stories and everything about it. Over the years, I kind of drifted away from it for reasons I don’t fully understand but there came a time in high school where I felt a need to find a place where I could express myself a little more freely, to find my tribe, so to speak. That is when I started doing theater in high school. I loved it and I knew instantly it was something I was right for but it really wasn’t until I took a workshop with Uta Hagen, the summer after my freshman year in college, that I pretty much knew I was going to be doing this for a living come hell or high water! That workshop with her transformed the way I thought about acting, the theater and the artist’s role in society. It’s been a done deal ever since then!
Was there a moment where you had reservations about taking the plunge? Was there a fallback plan in place?
No! I was completely delusional from the start! I was utterly convinced that it was going to happen no matter what! I think most people need to have that kind of delusion going into it! [laughs] You need to completely deny the odds you are facing and just know that it’s going to work out. There is nothing wrong with having a Plan B and there is certainly nothing wrong with educating yourself in other areas. I think that is a rock of good actors and artists in general. But in terms of what I was going to do professionally if acting didn’t work out? I honestly could not tell you where the hell I would be right now! If somebody told me today, “You can’t act anymore.” I would not have a single usable skill for the world! [laughs] It’s just what I was kind of put here for, I think.
Who were some of the biggest influences on you as an artist?
I had a lot of highly influential teachers like my high school drama teacher and some professors in college, but that first interaction with Uta Hagen, who is one of the great American acting teachers and a legend in her own right, was transformational for me. Soon after I graduated from college, I worked with Jeff Daniels at his theater in Michigan called The Purple Rose Theatre. He is a playwright and I was acting in a play that he had written. That started a long relationship with him and the theater that’s lasted for 20+ years. I have done multiple shows there and they have also produced multiple plays of mine. They are, in many ways, my artistic home and my touchstone for the right way to do things. That has been a place I have found to be incredibly fertile and good for me. Those are two people right off the bat who I can think of who influenced me a great deal. I have been so fortunate to work with so many great playwrights, writers, directors and other actors over the years. I feel like you take a little piece of something from everybody and I have been lucky in terms of the catalog of people I have come in contact with. I have been more than lucky! I have been really, really fortunate.
Building a successful career is no easy task and I’m sure your path can serve as an inspiration to many young artists. What’s the secret to longevity, if there is one, in this industry?
I think there are probably a few basic things to keep in mind when it comes to longevity in this industry. I don’t think you can approach your career with the idea of longevity in mind or with the idea that you can expect a certain arc to occur. I always say, “However you think your career is going to go, it’s just not.” That’s just not how it works. There are a few things to keep in mind. One is to always be getting better. By that I mean, always be bettering yourself and always be learning new things; not necessarily about acting, movies or TV but about the world. Expand your base of knowledge, not just book knowledge but people knowledge by meeting different people and going to different parts of the world. I think that is a hugely important foundational aspect of an artist’s life. That is number one. Number two is to be kind. Be kind to the people around you. The people you are working with and the people who are, quote, unquote, under you and the people who are above you. For the most part, everybody is doing their best. Everybody is doing the best they can and if you are in the business of storytelling, it means you are in the business of collaboration and teamwork. In order to get the best out of everybody, I think everybody needs to feel valued and I think that starts with kindness. For young actors, I think that is really important to keep track of. I think some young actors have this idea that by being demanding, or nice guys finish last, or something like that, and I don’t think that is true. I think in addition to making the best product, this kindness kind of amplifies over years. People you worked with a number of years ago will remember you as professional and someone who not only knows what they are doing but is nice to work with and that, in-turn, leads to longevity in a career.
You are part of the DC Universe now with your role on “The Flash” and “Legends of Tomorrow.” The series is a fan favorite and one of the hottest shows around at this point. How did you get involved with the project?
I am thrilled to be a part of it! I got offered the role of Eobard Thawne from Andrew Kreisberg and Greg Berlanti, who I had worked with on a television show, called “Eli Stone,” a few years back. They came to me with this role. I am unfamiliar with the DC Universe and I was not a comic book guy. I didn’t have any thoughts about them one way or the other, so I needed to be educated by them as to who this guy was, his role in this universe and the importance they felt he had in the universe. Once they gave me the rundown, it was very exciting! I also have a couple of younger boys who watch these shows, so the idea of doing something that they would really be interested in is unusual to say the least. Usually, they could not be less interested in what I’m doing! [laughs] To have something that actually carries some level of credence was part of the selling points!
I imagine not being super familiar with the character was a bit of blessing. What did you bring to the character of Eobard Thawne that wasn’t on the written page?
A lot of what we are tasked with, especially when you are playing a psychotic super-villain, like I feel this guy is, is sort of tracking how they got there. I do feel he is psychotic or has had some kind of psychotic break. You look to find what is motivating them. That is what makes this universe and the comic book universe in particular so rich; it is so full of backstory. No matter which character you are talking about, whether it’s The Flash, Batman or anyone else, there is so much to draw on when it comes to character. For Eobard Thawne, it has been fun exploring that and getting to the nut of what is driving him and what led him to this place to begin with. Once you have that depth of understanding of the circumstances surrounding the relationship, it makes playing the scenes that much more enjoyable and makes the scenes that much more complex. That has been the most fun part for me! It has been a lot of conversations with Andrew, a lot of work on set and Grant [Gustin] is a really, really good actor and takes his job very seriously. It is nice to work with somebody who is that invested in what is going on!
You mentioned how this character probably had a psychotic break. Not insinuating you are a psycho but are there elements of your personality we might see shine though in this character![laughs] He is starting to develop some dark, gallows humor, which I think is something that can definitely be attributed to me at certain points in time in my life. I’m not one to shy away from that kind of humor and it is something I find attractive in him. We are uncovering more and more of that as we go along and that is pretty fun!
There is a great team of people coming together, both in front of and behind the camera, to make this show great. What have you taken away from the experience and what have some of the highlights been along the way?
It is a great team of people! One of the real highlights is that you go into a show like this and your first impression is that it’s an action show about superheroes and there are a lot of special effects. The focus tends to be on the flashier parts of the show, pardon the pun. Once you work on it for a little while, you realize you are working with some very fine actors and writers and the focus is really on the more intimate aspects of the world. The Flash is a very intimate show in a lot of ways. It is a family show in a way, and it is a show about family. A lot of this family happens to be metahumans and happen to have superpowers that both complicate their relationships, enhance them, and destroy them. At the root of it all is this search for family and the search for home. I love that about it! Obviously, I think that is really universal and part of what makes them so watchable.
What were some of the bigger challenges you faced on the series so far?
Probably the main technical challenge is just getting in my Reverse Flash suit! It is a complicated process, I’m not going to lie! There are a lot of parts, the leather is very tight, there are a lot of zippers that have to be zipped and there is a special tool that gets me in and out of the suit! It’s a chore! They have managed to reduce the time it takes to get me in and out of the suit to about 10 minutes but it is definitely not the most comfortable thing I have ever acted in! [laughs] However, it is the coolest looking thing for sure!
Whether it is this character or any other, what is your process for fleshing out a character in your mind before you step on set?
It’s always the same. It doesn’t matter if you are talking superheroes, 25th Century or 18th Century, you are still telling a story. You are still playing a person with a very specific need, there are obstacles to fulfilling that need and there are a set of given circumstances that affect every given action that you take towards fulfilling that need. Your job as an actor is to identify and clarify all of that stuff before you get to set because once you get to set, you don’t have a lot of time to work and talk things through. You need to settle as much of that as you can for yourself, so that when you get there, you can just work and explore what is on the page. Like I said, whether you are a superhero or a Civil War soldier, it’s the same process.
You have come a long way in your career. Looking back, how have you evolved as a performer since the early years?
I feel like the biggest sign of any evolution for me is that I am a little more relaxed. I’m definitely much more relaxed than I was before. I don’t think I quite realized the importance, especially when you are working on a film, of being relaxed. Tension is the enemy of everything when it comes to being filmed! If you are trying too hard or if you are acting too much, it shows up. They say the camera doesn’t lie and it really doesn’t. It’s really beneficial to your performance that you are completely at ease with the situation you are in, which doesn’t mean you can’t be in a tense situation. The ability to relax, breathe and allow something else to come through you on camera is a lot harder, I think, than people realize. I worked with Tony Hopkins very early in my career. I got to watch him work and see his process. It is very much about relaxing and allowing the camera in. In order to do that, you have to do a lot of work beforehand to make sure you’re not thinking too much and distracted by other things. For me, those are always the most watchable actors. Those are the ones that come across with the greatest confidence, those that are able to just relax.
Your talents aren’t limited to the world of acting. I wanted to touch on the series you created, “One and Done.” What can you tell us about what went into the project?
“One and Done” was a web series that I wrote, directed, produced and starred in. I had an idea with my writing partner to write a story that was very close to home. We wanted to write something that was personal and familiar. A lot of the characters in it are based on us or anecdotes that we know from other people that are our colleagues. It is about four guys in their 40s who were high school friends and basketball teammates that decide to reform their high school basketball team and enter a highly competitive tournament. We had a Kickstarter campaign that funded part of it and then the rest came from private funding. We shot it completely on our own and ended up executing a pretty good, funny, seven-part series that I am really proud of! It was the first time I had written anything that was episodic in nature and I wanted to try that too. It definitely wet my whistle in that regard! We are really looking to the next thing we can do that is in that same realm. Writing is something that has become more and more important to me in the last half dozen years or so. It’s sort of been my refuge in a way, meaning while you are waiting for the acting work to roll in, you can always be writing and working on something else. I have written plays that have been produced, we did “One and Done” and produced other things as well. The goal is to do another season of “One and Done” but there is also a feature we have been working on that we want to get produced over the next couple of years. It is based on a pilot that we wrote years ago called “Gentrification,” which of course deals with exactly what it sounds like — the gentrification you see happening in certain neighborhoods around the country. It’s very much an important story to tell at this time, so that is my focus at the moment.
Where does that leave you in regard to your work as a playwright? Do you have anything on the back burner there?
I don’t have anything that is going to be going into production any time soon but I have plays coming out of my caboose at the moment! [laughs] There are a handful that have either been completed or are close to completion. My relationship with The Purple Rose Theatre is the primary source for me at this point. The play that was most recently produced, “Gaps In The Fossil Record,” is being looked at by several companies right now. I definitely want to continue to foster that aspect of my life.
All your hard work is inspiring. What is the best lesson we can take from your journey so far?
Wow! The thing that always resonates with me is to enjoy it while it’s here. Don’t worry too much about what you think should be happening, what didn’t happen or what you hope is going to happen in the future because you have no control over any of that! Enjoy, appreciate and engage in the work that you have in front of you at the moment because it can all go away really quick! That is the biggest lesson for me anyway!
Final question for you — Are there causes you are involved with that we can help shine a light on?
Great question! There are ton of great causes out there. For our family, we have always placed a lot of focus on what is happening with the environment. There are several organizations in the Santa Monica area like Tree People or Heal The Bay, which do a lot of great work in terms of not only cleaning up the damage we have done to our environment but fostering a healthy environment afterwards. I would suggest people look to both those organizations to see the good they are doing! They are really helping our world, which really needs it right now!
Awesome, we will certainly help spread the word! Thanks so much for your time today, Matt! We wish you continued success!
Thanks, man! It’s been a lot of fun and I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me!