Matthew Montgomery was nicknamed “The Wonder Freshman” for his acting talent and ability to snag major roles in virtually every production. Today, a little more than ten years later, Montgomery is one of a handful of openly gay, consistently working film and theatre actors along with the likes of Sir Ian McKellen, Nathan Lane and Neil Patrick Harris.
Montgomery has caught many a queer eye via leading roles in such popular gay-themed vehicles as Gone But Not Forgotten, Long-Term Relationship, Back Soon, Socket and last year’s bittersweet romance Redwoods (all are available on DVD). He is currently starring in Pornography: A Thriller, a creepy murder-mystery that debuted at last year’s Outfest and will be released on DVD in July.
I recently enjoyed a leisurely, wide-ranging chat with the 32-year old Montgomery over coffee in West Hollywood. The actor, who often appears nude in his films, is even better looking in person … despite keeping his clothes on! He laughed and quickly turned red when I reminded him of his “Wonder Freshman” moniker.
“The funny thing,” Montgomery told me, “is that I’m back at USC now, finishing my Bachelor’s degree in theatre.” He dropped out of college after two years, and eight years later decided to return and complete his studies even though he is a successful, working actor.
One wonders what Montgomery’s professors would think of Pornography: A Thriller. The actor states: “It’s kind of a mind f**k of a movie, which is what I said to myself when I read the script and what really attracted me to the movie.”
Montgomery plays Michael Castigan, one-half of a contemporary gay couple that gets caught up in the mysterious, decade-old disappearance of a legendary gay porn star. The film is disturbing for its suggestions of sexual violence, and is potentially confusing to viewers who don’t pay close attention. It is similar in tone and style to such David Lynch productions as Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive.
“There aren’t a lot of films out there like (Pornography) — particularly in the gay genre — that push the boundaries and try to think outside of the box,” Montgomery explained. “I was really attracted to the challenge of telling a story in a non-linear way, both from an acting standpoint and from a visual and cinematic standpoint.”
Pornography marks the debut of writer-director David Kittredge, for whom Montgomery has nothing but praise. “For David’s first feature film, he could have easily gone the romantic-comedy direction or tried to tell any kind of easier story, but he chose to take a chance on something that could potentially be polarizing for an audience. I really appreciated that.”
While I believe Pornography: A Thriller can be interpreted as a negative critique of the gay porn industry, Montgomery disagreed. “Some of the criticism that we’ve received is from people who said it’s very admonishing of the porn industry or of people who watch porn in general. Actually, I think the industry of pornography is just the backdrop of the film, and it’s really about how the lines can easily get blurred between fantasy and reality. I think the porn industry here serves as a very universal metaphor.”
I inquired as to Montgomery’s thoughts on another of his movies, Socket, in which he plays a gay man who becomes sexually aroused by electricity. He replied: “The thing that I really loved about Socket is that it was such a blatant metaphor for drug addiction in our community, and I felt that (director) Sean Abley really did such a great job of transcending that into a sci-fi metaphor, something which hadn’t been done before.”
Montgomery gives his two best performances to date, in my opinion, in the soulful romances Back Soon and Redwoods. In the former, he plays a man who becomes an unwitting host for the spirit of a dead woman reaching out to her bereaved husband. As the men grapple to understand their metaphysical situation, they become involved with each other sexually.
“It’s a really bizarre premise,” Montgomery reflected. “That was the second film I did (after Long-Term Relationship) with director Rob Williams. He came to me with the script and I read it and said ‘What is this?’ It was really kind of the opposite of our prior film together, which was a very light, funny, romantic comedy that didn’t take itself too seriously. Back Soon was very much on the opposite end of things, more supernatural and much more serious.”
Montgomery has become involved as a producer of several of Williams’ movies, including Back Soon, 3-Day Weekend and last year’s hit Make the Yuletide Gay. Largely in response to popular demand, they are now in development on Make the Yuletide Gay 2, which will reunite many of the original cast members.
The actor-producer is also prepping three other upcoming films, Role/Play, Finding Mr. Wright and Sticke Figures, the latter of which Montgomery has also written. In Role/Play, Montgomery and his real-life partner, Steve Callahan (who also appears in Pornography: A Thriller), will star as an out gay activist going through one of California's first gay divorces, and a closeted soap-opera star recently outed, respectively. Hiding out from negative media coverage, the two men meet at a secluded Palm Springs resort, where they soon find common ground as they explore the fickle nature of fame in the gay community and the issues facing gay celebrities in the media.
Montgomery and Callahan have also been acting together on the stage in recent months as part of the international tour of Terrence McNally’s controversial play, Corpus Christi. Callahan plays Judas to a gay Jesus, and Montgomery is the apostle Bartholomew. Tour information, including upcoming performance cities and dates, may be found at the official website of 108 Productions.
“It’s a really incredible play,” Montgomery says, perhaps primarily to those who haven’t seen it. “They are also filming a documentary on it.” He is particularly excited that Corpus Christi will be making its West End premiere in London in July, featuring this cast. Montgomery and I joked about whether his West End debut would qualify him to finally complete his college studies. “Can I get some school credit?” Montgomery laughed. “How about a degree? Doesn’t that get me a degree?”
With or without his Bachelor’s, Matthew Montgomery’s star is clearly on the rise in the GLBT independent film industry, the theatre world, and beyond.
For more information about Matthew Montgomery, visit his official website.
on DVD from Amazon.com.
Interview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.