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Friday, January 9, 2009

"Survivor" Fan-Fave Finalist Matty Whitmore on Tribal Muumuus, Mrs. Roper and His Plans to Survive Hollywood

Check out the new cover story on Retroality.TV!

Preview (much, much of his interview is at www.Retroality.TV and www.Retroality.TV/features.html):

You still handled it all like a TV pro. Which must come natural to you, considering your grandparents are James Whitmore—who just yesterday showed up on my TV screen in The Shawshank Redemption—and the wonderful Audra Lindley, known the world over as Mrs. Roper in Three’s Company. Was Audra your biological grandmother?
Well, she was married to grandfather during my whole early childhood. She wasn’t necessarily my natural grandmother but she was my grandfather’s wife, so she was my grandma.

What do you think she would’ve said about your Survivor experience?

Well, my grandfather, who’s still alive, just thinks it’s too bad that all the contestants couldn’t have scripts. He’s an old-school guy and he believes in the craft of acting. I think initially they’d both definitely be turned off by it, because it’s reality TV and it doesn’t require skills or craft, according to them. But according to (my family) now, the feedback has been positive. I think they’re happy with how I played the game, and I didn’t really embarrass the family necessarily too bad.

You have quite a family legacy to uphold. Was it tough for you to go onto Survivor knowing people would be expecting certain things from you, given your heritage?

That was tough for me, and that’s why I didn’t notify anyone out there that that was my heritage. I kept it under wraps because my whole life I’ve been judged because of that. People create their judgments without really knowing me. That’s why I held that in.

Was it your goal to be a sort of everyman on the show, let your Hollywood background kind of fly under the radar, and play a solid game free of preconceptions?
You know what, I never really saw Survivor prior to going on the show. I saw snippets of the first season when it first came out and was kind of a novelty—like, look at this wild show. But I’m not really a TV watcher; I’m really a kind of physical guy and outdoorsman kind of guy. I never really knew about the show. I was at a Whole Foods market in Santa Monica, and the head casting woman approached me when I was with my girlfriend and asked me if I’d ever thought of being on the show and if I was interested. I told her I hadn’t thought of being on it but I was definitely interested. I gave her my number and a month later I was in Africa.
What I was advised to do was stay under the radar and what I learned to do out there was stay in the moment and not project into the future or reflect into the past—because that’ll get you into deep trouble in Survivor. So I tried to just stay in the present and stay with the task at hand. That’s the only way I would play it, and if I had to do it again, I would do the same thing.

Both of your grandparents could be called survivors. They’ve had long careers on stage, film and television, and they kept working when many other actors fell by the wayside. And certainly Audra—after Mrs. Roper, she took that wig off and she was a chameleon on stage and on screen.
The funny thing is people don’t realize that (Mrs. Roper) is not my grandma. Her hair in real life wasn’t even close to that big, red ‘fro Mrs. Roper wore. In real life, she was a lot different than that character. That character was great, but my grandma was such a talented actress.

Do you feel acting is your destiny?

Yeah, it’s something I’d like to pursue. I’m gonna keep doing it. The thing about acting is it’s all about perseverance. It’s about showing up next year. It’s all about staying power, and I’m not going anywhere. I live on the west side of Los Angeles, I have forever, and I’m not going anywhere.

Audra had an amazing sense of comic timing. Did you get the value of a sense of humor in part from her personally?
When she was playing Mrs. Roper, she was just carefree and as humorous as can be. That’s what she wanted to world to see, and I really appreciate her for that, because that’s what we need to see. But she also had the ability to come home and be a mother and a stable force in the home. That was also breathtaking.

One last thing. The wrap you donned during the last few episodes—you wore it as kind of a skirt or kilt—I thought, man, that so looks like one of Mrs. Roper’s muumuus.
(Laughs.) That’s funny, man. That muumuu was given to me. I won a Gabonese feast. We got flown to a Gabonese village and had drinks and were fed and had dancing. It was one of the most fantastic nights of my life.

Maybe your grandma was watching you from above and made sure you got that prized relic.

I believe wholeheartedly that she’s there still.