An interview with Matthew Wayne Roberts and Kelly Love ("The Prodigal Son")
First of all, Matthew, congratulations on your Best Actor Award for your incredible performance. Before we dive into your creative process, can you please tell us how you became a filmmaker, and what makes you excited about acting?
Matthew: Thank you so much! For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved storytelling, performing, and doing puzzles. As a kid, I played around with telling stories on the page and acting on the stage. As I grew up, I started putting these things on camera and found that to be a truly unique style of storytelling. I attended Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, IL where I was a cinematography student for a couple years, and then got very involved with the Theatre Department as well. And I realized writing a story, dissecting a character, or editing a film is all just one big puzzle. Gotta make those pieces fit to tell a cohesive, compelling story. I’m just fascinated and in love with the creative process. Every bit of it. Especially with acting, there’s a unique opportunity to explore the life of another, fictional or not. Piecing together that puzzle, using my own life experiences as well to connect somehow with the goal being that I wish to build a believable character so that the audience may also connect and become invested enough to care one way or another is what makes acting a truly unique form of storytelling.
Kelly, you're originally from Glasgow, Scotland, where you started acting at the age of 16! You then moved to LA at 19 years old. What a journey! How did you start out in LA, and how did you meet Matthew?
Kelly: Well I was lucky to gain a place at American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Los Angeles and decided to push myself out of the comforts of being at home. My intention was never to stay, but it’s fair to say, as well as a few other factors, Matthew was a huge influence for me staying in LA LA Land. We met when we worked together at Cazt Studios. What started off as co-workers, led to being friends, to dating. What can I say? He's a keeper.
Can you tell us a bit about your work with your production company, ToeNale Productions, what kind of content do you work on?
Matthew: It really started when I was a kid. I was always taking my dad’s video camera and making little movies, often forcing my friends to be a part of them. What it has grown into is due to this partnership with Kelly, and we just want to work on original content that challenges us, or even allows us to do some things that we may not otherwise get the opportunities to do. So much of this industry is chasing parts, or waiting for the right part to come along. We don’t necessarily want to sit and wait or those opportunities. Whether it be a genre piece, drama, horror, comedy, or whatever it may be, we are big advocates of creating those opportunities for ourselves, as well as our wide network of creative friends. So I guess not much has changed since I was a kid.
In your opinion, what does it take to make a great team?
Kelly: I would say knowing each other's strengths and weaknesses plays a huge role. For example, I tend to take on more of the Pre-Production side due to my strengths of organization, communication, dealing with contracts etc. And Matthew deals with all Post-production as he is great at doing social media, festivals and putting final pieces together. Also knowing when the other one is being overwhelmed and taking over when needed. I can’t tell you how many times I've gotten stressed and Matthew will tell me to take a break while he works on it for me and vice versa. It’s a huge advantage that we are married and a team in life because I would say that is our biggest appeal in ToeNale Productions. We are a great team.
Matthew: To add to that, knowing when to get out of each other’s way is just as important.
What would be your dream project to make?
Matthew: Anything, really. It sounds typical and cheesy, but getting to do anything, especially at our current level without an abundance of funding, is a dream come true. We want to do more of these short films, feature films, episodics, a podcast, maybe a rock opera? It’s getting to a point that all of these things are not dreams anymore. They’re goals.
Kelly: I would love to do a feature thriller! We have so many ideas, too many to be honest. Budget is always the biggest issue and we’ve been so lucky so far with people giving us locations, their time, and talents. So we have always said when the time comes to do our first big feature, we would have a good budget to do us justice. Like Matthew said, it’s not “if” anymore, it's “when.”
Last year, you produced a long-form short film called 'That's My Time', which was nominated in the Actors Awards competition for Best Ensemble, Best Supporting Actor (Matthew Wayne Roberts), and Best Actress in an Indie Film (Kelly Love). What are your tips for achieving great performances, and good chemistry between the actors?
Matthew: We are fortunate enough to not have to audition actors - at least not yet. Like we mentioned, we have a wide network of creative pals, especially fellow actors. The people we work with are people we know personally, as well as professionally. Everyone who has been on camera for or with us, whether it be THAT’S MY TIME or otherwise, are there because we approached them, or they eagerly volunteered. When that’s the case, seeing the part as a “job,” or “work” kind of goes out the window and everyone wants to put their best foot forward simply because they want to be there. And when that’s the case, people tend to do their best work. And as director to actor, it’s just a matter of communication. Also, on all of our sets, we have a “No Jerk” policy to keep the drama for the camera, or go home. We like everyone to get along on our sets. It makes for a more pleasant, creative, and more productive experience. When everyone’s happy to be there, we all get the best out of each other.
Let's discuss your latest project, The Prodigal Son, for which you won Best Actor (Matthew Wayne Roberts). What was the inspiration for the screenplay?
Matthew: From a writer’s standpoint, as well as an actor, I’ve always enjoyed the villainous characters with their own stories and who aren’t just bad guys for the sake of being the bad guy. It’s just more interesting that way. Hannibal Lecter as opposed to a mustachioed Whiplash in all black clothes, tying the damsel to the railroad tracks. I like to explore the thought process behind their choices and actions. And that’s what I wanted for Mr. Straight in this microfilm. And on that note, knowing we may never get to expand it into a longer piece, the challenge was also to effectively convey the broader story in the sub-five minute scene.
Matthew, when you wrote the screenplay, did you already know you were going to play Mr. Straight? How did you prepare for your role?
Matthew: Yes. I was given the task to come up with a strong character and scene that would stand out. This character was the one I gravitated towards immediately and got excited to play around with it. As far as preparing for the role goes, Jamison Jones, the director, and I brainstormed a few drafts of the script over a number of weeks, adding to and taking away. Where it started was similar to, but not exactly where we ended up. And the scene and these characters were better for it. And we rehearsed a handful of times over Zoom online due to being during lockdown time. And when it came to the day of filming, we were way ahead of the game. Small adjustments here and there, and we were able to get the job done efficiently.
Kelly, you also have an extensive career as an actress, but we'd love to know more about your role as an executive producer on this project. Can you take us through the production process, and what were some of your responsibilities?
Kelly: I started with getting a solid team together. I feel that makes or breaks a project. We always bring people on that either we have worked with before, or came fully recommended from people we trust. Then making sure everyone is up to date with every step as we go. We filmed during the peak of COVID, so I had to be sure everyone was getting tested to ensure we had the safest set for everyone involved. Then on the day I was in charge of making sure we stayed on time, crafty and food (Very important) was to everyone’s liking, and of course making sure we stayed COVID safe at all times. This was definitely one of the hardest projects I’ve produced, but it was very rewarding in the end.
How did you recruit director Jamison Jones? Is that the first time you're collaborating with him? What was it like to work together?
Matthew: Jamison and I have actually known each other, and I have worked with him for a few years now. He is my acting coach, and the idea to work with him as director was actually Kelly’s brilliance. It just made sense. Jamison does a really good job of knowing how to get the best work out of me. And it helps that he has had an extensive career, knowing his way around a film set.
Kelly: Yeah Matthew always talked so highly of Jamison, so it made sense to bring him on board. Jamison and I adapted well to each other as far as professionalism goes. We learnt how we worked quickly which in the end benefited everyone involved.
What were the main challenges you've encountered while making the film?
Matthew: I think time was the biggest hurdle. We were actually filming two other, completely different micro-scenes that same day. It was roughly fifteen pages in eight hours, which is almost unheard of to accomplish. I even had hair at the beginning of the day! This little film was right in the middle of it all, but also seemed to go the smoothest.
Kelly: I would also say filming under COVID guidelines made everything very difficult. There were things you had to be strict on, and we wish for everyone to relax and have fun on our sets. But unfortunately we had to be the “bad guy,” sometimes which wasn’t fun, but necessary in order to keep everyone healthy and safe.
Both of you have many acting credits to your names. What were some of the most memorable roles that you've played?
Matthew: I actually just wrapped my first lead role in a feature length film this past October. I went out to upstate New York and Pennsylvania to film MOONWATER with a wonderful group of driven, creative people. I’ll never forget it. Also, any time I get to be a goofball. That’s more my forte.
Kelly: I would say any horror role I’ve done will hold a place in my dark heart. I love horror, so those are the roles I get to geek out on while making.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Matthew: Celebrating the ten year anniversary of you asking me this question (Thank you, Mitch Hedberg)! But seriously, the hope is to continue doing what we are doing, but perhaps on a bigger scale and a more consistent, regular basis for a living.
Kelly: If I could be doing what I am doing now in ten years, I would be so happy. Working as an actor and creating projects with my husband with ToeNale Productions. That really is a dream come true. But maybe in a house with more dogs.
Matthew: Oh, that would be great.
What are you working on next?
Matthew: We actually have a few projects in the works. We just did the same for Kelly, where we filmed a few micro-scenes. They turned out great. And we’re narrowing our focus onto one of them we’ll likely push for considerations in the new year. And then we also filmed another short film during the time of the COVID lockdown, but with very limited resources and no money. We did it with just the two of us and only one other person in person. And then we worked with three other actors doing only voice work, or submitting self-shot video sent over to us. And that was a real challenge. It’s a sci-fi drama piece, and Kelly tried her hand at directing it and working the camera. And then beyond those, we’ve always got ideas brewing to make more stuff down the line.
Kelly: Yes our short DRIFTING is the definition of an experimental short and we are really looking forward to seeing how people react to this complex storyline and character. Matthew again did an incredible job with this role. Just hope people don’t judge my directing as it was a challenge. Mainly because directing is not my favourite thing to do, but also it was sci-fi - which anyone who knows me will tell you, I’ve never
even seen Star Wars. That should explain it. But we have a few micro shorts which I got to act in coming out soon, directed by the brilliant Adam Chambers. Will it have the same success as THE PRODIGAL SON? We can only cross our fingers.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Matthew: 2 + 3 = 5.
Kelly: Yes, my husband loves a pun.
Where can our readers follow more of your work?
Our Instagrams are:
ToeNale Productions: @toenaleproductions
Kelly Love: @officialkellylove
Matthew Wayne Roberts: @m.w.roberts