Matthew Broderick, the Irish American star of “Wonderful World,” which opens next month, has been a famous face since he starting winning lead roles back in the early 1980s. Married to Sarah Jessica Parker the couple are tabloid staples but appear to carry it off with aplomb and remain real people.
Broderick is certainly grounded and opinionated on many issues. His new film “Wonderful World” has an immigration subplot that results, as it often does in reality, in heartache for all involved. I asked him what does Broderick feel about the undocumented himself?
“Generally speaking, I think there’s no way to lock everybody out or throw them out, and people should admit that and make many more people legal it seems to me. I like immigrants, I’m from immigrant stock, and I think we should be letting them in,” Broderick says.
“Maybe I’m naive, but I don’t live in Arizona and I’m not paranoid about people from other countries. I go to other countries when I can. I hate the idea of a wall being built in America. It reminds me of Germany or something. I really don’t think there should be a big wall in the continent of America, if there’s any way to avoid it.”
Married to Sex and the City’s Sarah Jessica Parker, one of the most iconic actresses in the world, the two stars live and mostly work in New York City, where between their acting gigs they’re raising a 7-year old-son and twin daughters (the girls were born through surrogacy earlier this year) and still finding time in their busy schedules to get away from it all.
One of the places they go is Donegal in Ireland each year for their annual vacation. It’s something he’s been doing since he was a child.
“I go there once or twice a year and I hike and walk around and visit. I used to fish, I don’t bother with that anymore but I do ride horses part of the time,” Broderick says.
“My parents when we were kids went there on a trip – my father’s Irish – but he never knew any of our relations. So they took a trip to Ireland once and just drove around, and for some reason they loved Donegal and they kept going back year after year.
“Then they bought a house and the next summer they brought all of our family over. Very few people ever bother us over there.”
Last week Broderick was holed up at the Crosby Hotel in downtown SoHo in New York promoting his latest film, the acidly funny “Wonderful World.” The Crosby Hotel itself is a well-known celebrity haunt, and sure enough Daniel Day-Lewis comes darting from the entrance toward a waiting limousine (he’s in town for the New York premiere of his musical film “Nine”). In this upscale neighborhood no one blinks an eye when they see a movie star, although one passerby stops Day-Lewis’s to hawk a quick autograph.
“Wonderful World,” which opens January 8, is a rueful comedy about learning to appreciate all the things you have instead of all the things you want, which in America is still an original message.
In the film Broderick plays Ben Singer, a failed children’s folk singer and a bi-weekly dad to his reluctant young daughter. Struggling in just about every aspect of his life, Ben’s only creature comforts are smoking joints and regular chess games with his opinionated Senegalese roommate.
If none of that sounds particularly gripping right off the bat, it might be wise to add that this small but thoroughly charming film about an ordinary Joe has real heart, and Broderick’s performance is flawless.
“When the movie opens I think we’re catching Ben at a moment of despair,” Broderick tells the Irish Voice. “His divorce is not that old. He has to go to his ex-wife’s house to pick his daughter up, and it’s still not pleasant for him to run her.
“Besides that he doesn’t have much money, his career has fizzled out. He has some real challenges, this character, and it’s not just that he’s grumpy or about his personality. There are some unhappy things in his life. And through what happens to him in the movie he sort of works his way out of the hole a little bit.”
It would be hard to justify spending an hour and a half with such a sad sack character if nothing good came of it. In fact Broderick gives a lovely, nuanced performance in part inspired by his writer and director friend, Josh Goldin.
“Somebody asked Josh if he had ever considered having my romantic interest in the film (played by Sanaa Lathan) come back to me, and he said, ‘Oh you mean those things that happen in movies that don’t happen in real life? Like the girl comes back to you? That wouldn’t happen.’ And Josh is every bit as bitter as Ben, the character he wrote,” Broderick says.
“So the ending can’t be too happy or it would strain belief. It’s happy enough, and that’s how you feel at the end, he’s better off than he started.”
In the film Broderick has a tense relationship with his onscreen daughter, but how does his onscreen parenting contrast with his own parenting techniques?
“I don’t have any parenting techniques for one thing,” says Broderick with a wry grin. “I’ve always, unlike W. C. Fields, enjoyed acting with children. Particularly Jodelle (Ferland) in the film, she’s so good. She was such a pleasure to work with. She’s a very grown up person and at that age where she’s grown up and still a little kid.
“And I guess having kids I’m a little more interested in that part of the story definitely. Anything about a father and a kid becoming distant interests me a lot. The play I’m doing now, “The Starry Messenger,” is all about that.”
Fatherhood and the sometimes difficult business of being one is a subject Broderick often returns to in his work. “I think my character’s very wounded by life and he’s in danger of passing it on to his daughter,” Broderick says. “His mother is very aware of it too and keeps yelling at him. She even asks him at one point, ‘Don’t you ever ask her how her day went?’
“And that’s what he slowly learns to do. There’s another scene where he’s supposed to pick his daughter up and he’s told she’s not home. But as he turns to drive away he sees her hiding by the window, which must be a terrible feeling for him. My son will never do that,” Broderick adds with a laugh.
At the moment Broderick is starring off-Broadway in “The Starry Messenger,” playing another middle aged man with a quiet case of the blues.
“The play was written by a friend of mine (Kenneth Lonergan) and he’s a great writer and I think it’s one of the best work I’ve done. I don’t mean to sound like Sharon Stone. (Broderick suddenly imitates Sharon Stone talking to CNN): ‘Larry, it’s the best movie I’ve ever done.’
“I don’t mean I’m the best in it. I mean that it’s one of the best scripts I’ve ever been involved in.”
Asked if he’d ever consider acting alongside his famous wife he laughs and says, “We haven’t actively sought out a script where we act together. We did a musical together, “How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying,” years ago. We weren’t even married yet at the time,” Broderick says.
“I could see it happening but we actually try to work at different times if possible. I don’t know if I would do a walk on in ‘Sex and the City 2’ and I’ve never heard of a cameo part. I had a couple of chances when the TV show was on but I was never free at the right time.”
Along with all the faded illusions of middle age in his work, it’s good to know that Broderick and his family have get away from it all Christmas plans this year.
“We’re not going to do anything special this Christmas except be around and get a tree. We go to my wife’s family’s house usually and it’s just a huge crowd of people.”
Now that does sound wonderful.
“Wonderful World” opens on January 8.