We had the good fortune of connecting with Matthew Monaco and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Matthew, why did you pursue a creative career?
From the day I was born it seemed like I’ve always known what I’ve wanted to do with my life. It all started when I first watched Toy Story. It was not only the first animated film, but it was the first film I ever saw on the big screen. We all remember that classic scene where Woody and Buzz Lightyear go up with the rocket and start flying or as Buzz would say “Falling with style” and as soon as Woody said the famous quote “To infinity and beyond” I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. I want to see myself on the big screen. When I was in kindergarten, my elementary school put up the famous musical Fiddler on the Roof. I was blown away. For an elementary school they did a really good job keeping the source material for this important story. After school, I came home and said “Mom, we have to go back to school. You have to watch Fiddler on the Roof.” My mom clearly knew what the musical was. She saw it on Broadway, the movie version, and we also come from a Jewish background so this musical means a lot to us. My mom took me back to school to watch it and I was blown away again. I couldn’t stop singing If I Were a Rich Man. To this day I still sing it and it’s one of my favorite songs. When I was in fifth grade I came home and told my mom that I wanted to go to a performing arts school. That’s exactly what I did. I went to a performing arts school in middle and high school, I joined two community theater groups Tampa Bay Family Theater and The Acting Studio, and I graduated from the conservatory and BFA program at the American Musical Dramatic Academy in New York and Los Angeles. Performing is my passion. I absolutely love taking the audience through an incredible journey outside of reality and making them feel better. Behind the camera and offstage I am very shy and introverted, but as soon as I’m on camera and onstage, there’s a huge spark filled with absolute joy that I bring playing a different character and it makes me so happy. My uncle recently told me “The way artists think of the world differently is absolutely beautiful”. It truly is. This is why I chose this career. I want to see myself on the big screen and go to infinity and beyond.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I am an actor/writer. I have other special skills but those are my forte. When it comes to acting I love doing comedies. It always brings me joy to hear people laugh. I’ve been told that I am naturally funny and have good comedic timing. I mostly play the shy, awkward, quirky, goofball types and I enjoy every minute of it. They are good parts for me. I recently got done filming a web series called Eight Ball which is a Drama/Romance. The character that I played was very challenging considering I don’t act in a lot of Dramas, but after doing this, it gave me the belief that I can be in dramatic films as well. I’ve also been told that I can be a character actor. I really embrace that. There’s a lot of great character actors out there, especially in comedies. I’ve always been interested in being a casting director. When I was in school, we read many different plays and we had to pick actors out there in the business and who we would cast. My teacher was always very impressed on how I casted the right people for the roles. That’s another thing I would like to do. I’ve also done a tiny bit of directing for stage and film and a tiny bit of editing.
Besides doing tons of acting, I’ve been writing all my life. I wrote stories all throughout elementary-high school. I always loved getting my school work done early so I had time to write stories in my journal. When I got into college I knew that my writing was terrible. I took many classes to get better at my writing such as The Hero’s Journey, Screenwriting/TV Writing, and Short Film Script Development. In my Short Film Script Development class, my script Third Wheel was chosen by the faculty to be made into a short film and I couldn’t believe it. I was excited to film my script on my last semester. It also gave me the belief that writing is another skill that I can have. Since graduation I’ve done a lot of writing to help myself practice. I wrote a couple of short films/movies, a few episodes of a TV series I came up with, speeches and a full-length play. Check out Third Wheel on YouTube!
What sets me apart from others is that I’m on the autism spectrum. My autism has been with me all my life but I was officially diagnosed at 17. Throughout my life, people never believed that I was autistic because I “speak so clearly”. Yes, I do speak clearly, but people who are on the autism spectrum struggle with things differently. The things that I struggle with is being a picky eater, sensory issues to loud sounds and social interaction. Eye contact is very difficult for me until I get more comfortable. There have been stories that have been made based on autism from time to time, but now the world has progressed and I think now is the time for us to tell our stories and to let the world know that we are unique individuals. One of the things that I’m most proud of is I recently wrote a monologue for a Monologue Slam at Loft Ensemble that talks about being on the autism spectrum. I’ve also continued to take that character and write scenes for him for practice. We have many stories to tell.
As much as I’ve been performing all my life and loving every minute of it, it hasn’t always been easy both acting and personally. I wasn’t the most popular person in high school and I also had to deal with my parents’ divorce. That’s why I’m glad to have joined The Acting Studio because I was able to get a lot of opportunity there and performing always helped me cope. Outside of acting, as much as I loved my drama class in middle school, my middle school years were not a good time. I experienced a lot of anti-Semetic remarks for being Jewish and everyone thought I was weird and awkward because of my autism. Overcoming these challenges took a really long time. And I mean a really long time. I didn’t care and stopped caring about my Jewish identity after my Bar-Mitzvah and always tried to fit in and feel cool so people wouldn’t make fun of me for my autism. When I was in school in New York, it took me awhile to talk to people and I guess some of my classmates thought that I wasn’t interested and I later admitted that I was on the autism spectrum. They finally understood and everyone thought it was really brave for me to say that. It’s also taken me a long time to embrace my Jewish identity. I denied it throughout my childhood. I started to embrace being Jewish more when the Covid-19 pandemic happened. During these hard times, it gave me so much time to think about who I am and who I’m meant to be. I’ve learned a lot about my ancestry, especially my Great Grandma and her parents’ story about escaping Kiev, Russia, went through England and went on a boat to come to America to escape Antisemitism. It inspired me to be brave and embrace who I am. I’ve learned so much about myself I never knew. Now embracing my faith, I made a special announcement that once this pandemic is over, I am ready to go on my Birthright and visit Israel. Today I’m still learning more about myself and the acting business.
My mom recently told me “Please never forget where you came from”. That goes for everyone. That helped me embrace myself even more and I don’t think anyone should ever be afraid of who they are and where they come from. That’s the lesson that I’ve learned. Embrace who you are and never be afraid of who you’re meant to be.
I was blessed to grow up with a lot of Jewish heroes and it warms my heart to this day to see Jewish people still telling stories. We still have so many stories to tell. I will also be in my second play with Loft Ensemble called Code Pink which opens July 10th-August 8th and I’m very excited! Tickets are available at http://www.loftensemble.org. For me, what I want the world to know is the subject of Jewish culture and to learn more about the autism spectrum. As passionate as I am about performing and now embracing who I am, I believe I have beautiful stories to share to the world.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
This is easy. I may be an introvert, but I’m an adventurer. I love traveling to different places. I was lucky enough to be out of the country four times in my life. The places I visited were Mexico, Canada, England (I have family there) and France. I have many friends who are adventurers, especially my friend Ethan. If he were to come to California, I would take him to so many places since he’s never been here. We love going to the beach so I would take him to Malibu beach and go to Point Dume. That’s the spot I always go to. It’s a beautiful area and that’s where they filmed the final scene in Planet of the Apes. Ethan also likes to run so he would have no problem hiking. I would love to take him to Runyon Canyon Park. It’s a great hiking place and a beautiful sight to see. I always love going up there. My whole life we’ve always watched and went to the movies together so I would love to take him to the Chinese Theatre to watch a movie on the humongous IMAX screen, while also showing him the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the Handprints and Footprints. Another thing I love to do on Hollywood Blvd. are the wax museums. The Hollywood Wax Museum and the Madame Tussauds. I’m sure he would love to see the different movies and celebrities made out of wax. I’ve also seen many filming productions in Burbank and would love to show him the outside of Warner Bros., Walt Disney Animation Studios, Fox Studios, etc. I’ve also been to many filming locations such as the E.T. House, Randy’s Donuts from Iron Man 2, Ferris Bueller’s house from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, etc. I’m sure he would enjoy that. We also love theme parks. Universal Studios Hollywood is only a metro ride away, which thankfully saves a lot on parking and I’m sure he would love the small but beautiful landscape that the park is in and would love the Universal Studios Hollywood Tour. Although, we would need a car to get to Anaheim, I would love to take him to Disneyland along with my roommates. I’ve been to every single Disney park in this country, but he’s never been to the Disneyland resort. It would be fun to go to Disneyland and maybe get a hotel for one night and then go to Disney California Adventure the next day. That’s what I call a fun week long trip.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
There are many people that I have to thank. First, I would like to thank my parents, especially my mom. My dad gave me the gift to perform, but my mom gave me the motivation. I’m blessed to have parents that have supported my decision to become an actor. Not once did they ever say “Make sure you have a backup plan” or “Do you know how difficult life is going to be for you”? They’ve always supported me in the shows and films that I’ve been in and always told me to strive and keep on going no matter how hard or competitive this business is.
I would like to thank my friends that I’ve known throughout my life. I have a beautiful support system in California and I thank all the friends that I’ve made out here, especially Ryan, Danny, and Paul. I would also like to thank my friends that I’ve known throughout my childhood, especially Ethan and Jordan. My two best friends who I’ve known for 23 years. I am blessed to have wonderful friends like them who I have so much in common with. The friendship still grows strong today.
I’d like to thank my middle school drama teacher Mr. Tyler Leavitt. Middle school was tough for me and every time I entered into his class I felt like I was able to be happy in school. He saw the hard work that I put into the shows, which led him to give me a lot of main rolls in plays we were putting up or plays he wrote. I got to perform in a festival in front of a huge crowd. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I would always come in prepared and he would know that I would always be off book. I also joined his community theater group Tampa Bay Family Theater (TBFT). I haven’t seen him in so long, but if he’s out there reading this, I hope that he knows that he was one of the greatest teachers I ever had. Nothing has changed since middle school. I’m still going after my dream.
I would like to thank another community theater group that I joined and made my high school days the best. The Acting Studio run by Victoria and Daniel Watson. Me being that shy 14 year old walking through those doors and Victoria asking me “Can I get you to talk”? It took me almost a year for me to talk to people and they mostly did musicals and I never felt comfortable singing. Then I performed my first show there, which was Godspell and the rest is history. I made many beautiful friends there, I took singing lessons, and performed in many shows such as Godspell, Chicago, Into The Woods, A Very Potter Musical, Cabaret, You Can’t Take It With You, and Summerstock shows. They believed everyone deserved a chance to shine and they served a really great purpose in my life filled with memories I will cherish forever.
I would like to thank Loft Ensemble the theater company that I became part of in North Hollywood. I’m blessed to have made my stage debut in The Little Match Girl before the pandemic happened. I can’t wait to continue to create more art together again and meet more artists. Thank you for making me feel welcomed.
I would like to thank all the beautiful artists that I’ve met on the set and behind the scenes of the web series Eight Ball and a huge shoutout to the creator Dante Martinez. We all have these moments as actors where we feel like we’re not good enough. Then again we put our foot through the door for another audition. That’s exactly what I did and I was blessed to book the part and be part of this amazing web series. This will definitely be one of the highlights of my career. Eight Ball has eight episodes and five of them are streaming on YouTube now. Check it out! It’s fantastic!
I would like to thank the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Pixar Animation Studios for creating movies/tv shows that I will never stop watching. Thank you for encouraging me to tell beautiful stories and to never stop trying.
There are many actors that I look up to but I would like to thank my top five heroes that I’ve always looked up to throughout my life. Adam Sandler, Jim Carrey, Tom Hanks, Robin Williams, and Dustin Hoffman. Thank you for making me laugh, thank you for making me cry, and thank you for making me believe that I can be just like you one day.
Last but not least, save the best for last, I would like to thank my Bubbie and Zaide. Yiddish for Grandma and Grandpa. I love them both with all my heart. They always kept the glue together. My Bubbie always had a way to make everything better and my Zaide always encouraged me to never give up. I hope both of you will be right beside me when I see myself on the big screen. I love you.
The photo of me in the suit, the credit goes to Shauna Garrett