Rachel Matthews is Hollywood’s newest acting obsession, with a heart of gold to match the emotional range she exhibits in each of her roles. She fell in love with acting on stage as a young child, which catapulted her to a life beyond her wildest dreams. The rising star has been featured in Batwoman, playing the Robin Hood-esque Magpie, and the Hulu adaptation of John Green’s Looking for Alaska, where she plays Fiona. Most recently, Matthews can be seen in Disney’s animated feature Frozen 2, where she plays the fun-loving nature warrior, Honeymaren. Matthews talks with us about all things Frozen 2, her journey into acting, and how nature plays a vital role in her life.
Children have a natural affinity for nature and the outdoors; it’s when we grow up that we need to be reminded of how important preservation is and that we have the power to make sure that happens.
Recently in your W Mag interview, you mentioned that theater was the “gateway” that led into your acting career, what was it about theater that trapped your attention? What was the transition between theater and TV acting like?
I’ve been performing ever since I was a little girl, whether I was putting on shows for my family and friends or sitting in front of my mirror talking to myself, I was constantly creating different characters and alternate realities. I remember in the second grade, I had a teacher who looked at me and called me a “freak of nature,” I took it as a compliment, smiled, and said “thank you.” A couple of years after that, I joined my local theater company and found other freaks like me and never looked back. I had finally found a community and space that made me feel like I belonged, it was the greatest feeling in the world to feel understood and accepted. I mean, that’s what we as humans are constantly striving to feel, right?
The transition from theater into TV acting felt pretty drastic for me at first—I refused to even watch myself on camera for the longest time because nothing made me feel more uncomfortable. Just the presence of a camera in a room frightened me, it felt unnatural. The techniques used for film acting were also a massive adjustment for me, but thankfully I was able to receive incredible training while at NYU. I attended Tisch for Musical Theater and ultimately switched over to the film/TV acting program so I could graduate with a well-rounded education on both techniques. I am still learning so much every time I get to be on set, there is so much to take in and all of it excites me.
Talk us through your thought process while rehearsing a role. Are there certain mannerisms, styles of performance, or techniques that have transferred from your days as a theater performer?
I’m such a perfectionist when it comes to prepping for jobs. I spend so much time with the script and getting to know the ins and outs of my character. I like to gather as much information as I can and then create an entire backstory (if it already isn’t given to me). A technique I used while doing theater that I’ve carried over to my work today is journaling. I like to journal as my character, whether it’s a letter to someone or just everyday thoughts, I like to get into the mindset of whoever I’m playing. It’s also really fun to look back at all the different excerpts from projects throughout the years.
The audition process is known to be terrifying and polarizing. How do you feel about the audition process? Have you ever felt pressured to change yourself according to the feedback you get at auditions?
Honestly, I’ve grown to love auditions, but it wasn’t always like that. When I first started auditioning a couple of years ago, I found it to be crippling. I have such bad anxiety, and I noticed that auditions would really bring out the worst in me. I absolutely felt pressured to conform to this idea of what I thought these casting directors wanted. It wasn’t until I stopped catering to the pressures of the industry that I started gaining traction. I started working so much more when I stopped caring so much about what I thought people were going to think of me.
Magpie, the villain you play on Batwoman, is a very multi-layered character, in that she effectively is doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. How do you feel about the morality of your character, and those sort of grey-area characters in general? Is she someone that you felt was interesting to play and gravitated towards immediately?
I relate to characters that are inherently broken. I loved being able to play the antagonist in Batwoman, to come in and stir the pot was very fun. Most of life is a grey area, so when I see roles that reflect that it’s attractive to me. Most great villains see themselves as the hero, and Magpie thinks she’s helping Gotham in her own backward and chaotic way.
Looking for Alaska, the adaptation of the John Green novel (I just started reading it, and it’s amazing), has just made it to Hulu. What is your favorite part of your character, Fiona, and is there anything people often get wrong about her?
Fiona is an extension of Jake’s world–Alaska’s boyfriend–as he navigates college. As Jake’s best friend, I think Fiona is meant to represent everything that Alaska isn’t, which promises to be problematic but ultimately isn’t. I think some people can misunderstand her true intentions which are really just to be loving and supportive towards Alaska. But maybe I’m biased because I love Kristine Froseth so much.
Let’s talk about your new role in the Disney movie Frozen 2. First of all, did you grow up watching Disney movies? Who is your favorite Disney princess, and why?
Oh man, Disney movies shaped my entire childhood! I don’t think there is a Disney film I haven’t seen. There was a period of time where I dressed up as Minnie Mouse every single day and refused to wear anything else. I would have to say Ariel was my favorite Disney princess though. I grew up in California and spent most of my time in the water; whether it was the ocean or a pool, so I really identified with her. She also made me laugh all the time, I loved that she came up with her own words. My mom has a video of me when I was two years old in my Ariel costume and red wig sitting on a rock in our front yard singing, “Ah ahh ahh.”
How did you land the role? Was it something you wanted to audition for, or something your agent presented you with? Talk us through the process of auditioning and getting the role.
I was never actually supposed to get an audition for Frozen II, the whole thing was a random stroke of luck. Someone from my team contacted Disney casting for a different project, but that role had already gone. However, they mentioned they were casting Frozen II and described Honeymaren, and my rep immediately thought of me and sent over my materials. I had an audition with Jamie Roberts the following week. I had never even gone in for a voice-over audition before. I walked into the Disney Animation building feeling like a little kid. After I did my monologue and sang, Jamie told me in the room that I’d be returning for the director/producer session; I could’ve just died right there I was so excited. About two months later, I went in for Chris Buck and Peter Del Vecho and the other heads of Disney Animation and left feeling good about the audition. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d actually land the role.
How did you first find out you had booked the role? How did you react?
I remember the day like it was yesterday. I had just finished volunteering at a kid’s summer camp where I lead the music class. We sang Disney songs all morning from Coco to Frozen. I got a call from my manager right when I got home and immediately fell to the floor crying tears of pure joy. I truly couldn’t believe it, I genuinely thought someone was pulling my leg, so I just kept repeating “Are you serious?! Are you actually serious!?” As priceless as my reaction was, my parents finding out tops it all. I posted a video of their reaction on my Instagram (you really should watch it if you haven’t seen it yet).
What was it like working on a Disney film? Are there any particular differences between acting on-screen or in a theatre versus voice acting that were surprising to you?
Well for starters, every single person involved with this project is beyond lovely. I’ve established life long relationships with some of them. It’s actually crazy to me how nice everyone was throughout the process. I felt the love and support from all the creatives every single step of the way.
The two couldn’t be more different! For one, you can just roll up to the studio in your PJ’s because you don’t need to worry about being on camera, which is a huge plus for me. It’s all about physicality and being able to utilize your voice to get your emotions across. Another huge difference was not getting the script ahead of time. Usually, I have time to prepare and go over my lines but for Frozen II, I would show up to work and act out whatever was put in front of me. They had to be so secretive with the material that everything stayed in the room.
I found the process to be exhilarating. I had to be present and alive in the moment. It was so fast-paced and spontaneous that I didn’t have time to judge my performance. It helped that it was easy to trust the Disney Animation creative team, working opposite Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee was a dream come true.
Your character, Honeymaren, is a nature-loving member of the North Huldra tribe. Her message is one of peace and harmony with nature. How important do you feel this character/message is for children and adults alike in this world?
Very important, especially now, particularly for adults. Children have a natural affinity for nature and the outdoors; it’s when we grow up that we need to be reminded of how important preservation is and that we have the power to make sure that happens.
Are there many similarities or differences between you and Honeymaren? Are there any aspects of her that you were able to craft yourself? Do you feel as divinely/supernaturally connected to nature as she is?
I very much relate to Honeymaren! I’d like to think we are similar in many ways. For one, she has a very close and loving relationship with her brother Ryder as do I with mine. She is also not afraid to stand up for her beliefs. Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to watch much television, just the Discovery Channel, so I became obsessed with nature at a young age. My brother and I spent more time outside exploring and catching bugs than almost anything else. We recreated our own Jeff Corwin show. To this day, the times I feel the most relaxed and centered is when I’m outdoors.
If you didn’t know already, I hope you know that the internet is obsessed with Honeymaren; everyone seems to love her so much! What is your reaction to all of the love Honeymaren has received?
I am beyond thrilled! When Chris Buck first showed me the original sketches of Honeymaren, I knew she was going to be something special. I’m so glad people are receiving her in such a positive way. I absolutely adore her!
With all of the attention you are bound to get from Frozen 2, how do you plan to leverage having a public platform? Are there any topics you feel interested in speaking out on or are passionate about?
Absolutely. There are so many, but one I recently became an ambassador for is an organization called Saving Innocence. They provide escape and restoration services for child victims of sex trafficking in Los Angeles. I became aware of them a couple of years ago and have been in awe of what they’ve been doing ever since.
Are there any things that help you feel grounded in this crazy industry?
Yes, my family and friends. They really are my rock and I can’t imagine doing any of this without their love and support.
Are there any other film aspects you would like to delve into i.e. writing, direction, singing, producing, etc. ?
Yes! All of it? I don’t know! I definitely want to direct and produce. I’m actually producing my first play right now. We have our first reading this week and it’s going to be hectic and amazing and I’m so excited for it all.
What would you describe as your dream role in any medium (film, TV, theatre, animation)?
I don’t know, that’s a tough question! I’ve always fantasized about playing Hedy Lamarr in a biopic. If any producers are reading this, let’s talk.
What advice do you have for young girls right now?
Read more books. You’ll learn more about yourself and the world through books than from the internet or social media; your time is too precious to spend it all on one app.
STORY ISABELLA VEGA
PHOTOS KEVIN SCANLON
HAIR DIMITRIS GIANNETOS
MAKEUP SARAH USLAN
STYLING AMANDA LIM