Interview: Enjoying the Journey
Matt William is the prime example of what it means to be multifaceted in every aspect of his craft. Knowles, also known as MaTai, is an actor, model, and singer set to star as Rawa in one of the most expensive Chinese film production to date, Asura. He will also be seen playing Jet in the upcoming action-thriller, Bond of Justice.Both films are expected to hit cinemas later this year.
Prior to his acting career, Knowles lived in South Carolina where he was a star player for the Clemson Tigers. Suffering from a knee injury prevented him from chasing his aspirations to join the NFL; however, his passion in volunteering led him to the town of Duyun, within the impoverished Guizhou province of China. In China, he went on to be the first non-Asian ever to study acting at the Beijing Film Academy, where he received a full Chinese Government scholarship. He has been in numerous primetime sitcoms, including Love Me If You Dare and Red Sorghum. Cliché caught up with Knowles to discuss his daily life, acting career, and more!
BY T’KEYAH HAYES
Cliché: What inspired you to start acting? Matt William: I used to act and sing when I was little, but it wasn’t until I was in China that I really became serious about it. I started doing acting in my spare time after I was signed by my agent because they never expected to meet a tall white former football player speaking and singing in Chinese.
Acting was a big change from the humanitarian work that originally brought me to China. I immediately knew that I loved acting and my passion for it only has grown. I guess you can say China inspired a lifelong passion.
How would you describe your experience being an American actor in the Chinese film industry?
It’s been a roller coaster ride. One of those fun ones with flips and twists. I’ve really enjoyed the success I’ve had working in China. I’ve seen so many different and beautiful sides to the country and been a part of the industry’s tremendous growth over the last few years. I’ve had a variety of roles and have generally been able to steer clear of purely stereotypical roles or productions. And I’ve been able to be a part of some of the most beloved projects in Chinese history that have been seen all over the world such as Red Sorghum and Deng Xiaoping. It’s not always easy to be in another culture, especially China, but I have loved the process of learning how to do things in a new way, at a new speed, in a very different but fascinating part of the world.
Currently, you are studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London. How has studying overseas impacted your life and career?
My studies in the MA Acting program at RADA have allowed me to grow immensely as an actor and an artist. In the past I studied acting in both Beijing and Los Angeles and so when I decided to study my MA I wanted to find the best place in the world for growth. That search brought me to yet another new culture and city – London. It has been an incredibly enriching experience to study at what I consider the best drama school in the world. It has opened my eyes to the depth and richness of art. It has also opened the doors for me to be a part of the amazing theatre culture in London. Look for me on the West End in the future!
Before becoming an actor, you were a star player for the Clemson Tigers. Did you ever think at that time that you would go into acting at any point in your life or were you solely focused on joining the NFL?
At that point pursuing acting had probably never crossed my mind. I was determined to play college football and after that, to go to the NFL. When I walked on to the Clemson Tigers football team I had never played football in my life. But by the end of spring practice I was awarded the most improved defensive walk on award, and I got into my first game that very first season. I was well on the way to accomplishing my goals but during my senior year I suffered a career ending knee injury. It wasn’t until a couple of years later, after finding myself in backwoods China doing humanitarian work, that I found my passion for acting and for the first time considered dedicating my life to it.
Working overseas, how do you keep in contact with family and friends back home? Do you visit often?
It’s hard to be away from friends and family so much. It can get really lonely out there when I am just flying back and forth. I try to go home a few times a year. I also make it a point to go to the big family or life events such as weddings. A lot of times your extended family only sees each other at those events anyway, so you fit right back in. I also have made it a point to focus more on maintaining relationships and making memories with my close family and friends.
I remember last time I was home I held my one year old niece in my arm and sang her to sleep for over 1.5 hours. When I finally put her in her crib I stood up and looking down at her knew that I would never forget that memory!
Your next big productions, Asura and Bond of Justice, are releasing in movie theaters this year. How do the roles you play relate to you and your experiences?
In Asura I play the demigod Rawa, the Chinese equivalent to Hercules. For this role I hit the gym and gained over 30lbs of muscle. With my training in football while at Clemson and my experience with Men’s Health and fitness modeling, I know exactly what to do to change my body into any shape I need. In Bond of Justice I play the role of Jet who is the main hitman for the Yakuza mafia in LA. In real life I am probably an overly nice guy, but for Jet it was amazing to be able to play the exact opposite of that, a cold hard killer.
If you could work with any directors or actors on future projects, who would you choose and why?
Ever since I saw Pan’s Labyrinth I’ve wanted to work with Guillermo del Toro. I think that movie is absolute genius! Also Spielberg is a legend who I would love to work with someday. As far as actors, I would love to do a film opposite Tom Hanks. He has been my favorite ever since he did the movie Big. I find that I learn very fast from anyone I am around, so I would love to surround myself with the best. Tom also just seems like a genuinely nice guy.
What are your future plans moving forward in your career?
I plan to continue to pursue film on an international scale. China, the US, Europe. I am excited about continuing my career in the Chinese film industry, but I am currently in talks over a few projects in Hollywood. The next few years are going to be really exciting!
If you could offer advice to any aspiring actors and actresses, what would it be? Chase your dreams. Work hard. Get a bit better everyday for the rest of your life.
Don’t give up. And make SURE you enjoy the journey!