Matt Bush made quite an impression in “Adventureland,” as Figo, the impish, nut-punching co-worker and torturer of Jesse Eisenberg’s character. He’s now making impressions in a less throbbing manner. Bush has a wonky, out-there leading man June two-fer, appearing in both “Piranha 3DD” and John Stalberg’s “High School.” In the former, he’s a shy guy whose balls finally descend as he swings into action to help his longtime crush (Danielle Panabaker) battle a piranha invasion at a water theme park. The the latter, he plays Henry, a straight-laced, would-be valedictorian who, after first sampling marijuana, teams up with estranged stoner pal Breaux (Christopher Marquette) to try to throw the test results of a mandatory drug test for the entire school, and thus preserve his academic standing. For ShockYa, Brent Simon had a chance to speak to Bush one-on-one recently, chatting about both films, his own adolescent success with the ladies (or lack thereof) and whether he needed to conduct any chemical research for his “High School” role. The conversation is excerpted below:
ShockYa: So does a movie like “High School” require any chemical research on your part?
Matt Bush: I think a lot of us were educated, to some degree. [laughs] I’ll leave it at that, maybe.
ShockYa: Psycho Ed (played by Adrien Brody) is a character that stands a chance of going down in the annals of big screen history as one of its classic stoner characters. John talked about wanting him to show the dark side of marijuana. Did you know anyone as far gone as him?
MB: Oh no, not as far gone as him. I certainly knew a Breaux or two, but not a Psycho Ed. He’s so intense. It’s funny, obviously, but there’s that level of danger that he brings — you feel like Henry and Breaux might not make it out of there uninjured.
ShockYa: John mentioned he’d cast Michael (Chiklis) and Adrien first. Was that a big part of the movie’s appeal for you?
MB: It was bizarre. Sometimes you read a script and people are “attached,” with quotes, and so you’re like, “OK, yeah, yeah, yeah. They’re a part of this? We’ll see, I’ll take that with a grain of salt.” But I read it and laughed out loud, and thought it was really freaking funny, so maybe they really were doing this. But regardless, this is very funny on its own. So I think it speaks to John and the quality of the script that he was able to pull together such an accomplished cast.
ShockYa: What was the apex of your own high school mischievousness?
MB: I was a good kid. it’s weird. I don’t know why — if it was because I was afraid of what would happen if I got in trouble, or if I’m afraid to disappoint, to a degree — but I always had this crazy respect for authority, like I was really afraid to break rules. One day my senior year there was an assembly and I was going to cut the assembly with my best friend, and I had a friend who was a girl write the note pretending to be my mom. You don’t understand how big a deal this was for me. I was shitting bricks, just playing hooky for an afternoon — not even a whole day, just the afternoon. So I definitely didn’t get into any high school trouble.
ShockYa: Do you have any siblings? The first child always kind of breaks the parents in.
MB: I do have a younger brother, actually, five years younger, and he was a little more laissez faire with the rules thing, and still is to this day, like, “Hey, it’ll all work out.” My brother certainly didn’t get any sort of the focus I did.
ShockYa: One of the interesting things in “High School” is the relationship between Breaux and Henry — that drift that can happen between middle school or high school friends, and how your friendship base totally changes.
MB: Oh yeah, for sure, because what classes you’re in dictate who your friends are going to be. Freshman year you get that schedule, homeroom to eighth period, and you’re making friends fast the first day and those friends you might keep for a while. And the kids that you were friends with in middle school, if they’re not in those classes then you just start losing touch with them. And that’s a part of what happened with these two characters.
ShockYa: You have such an outgoing personality — was that performance instinct part of your adolescence?
MB: I did theater in high school, just regular high school theater stuff, and my dad is a magician (as well), so I did magic shows with him and had some stage experience. And I enjoyed that — having the butterflies and performing. So when I got older, and was like a senior in high school, I thought, “Well, maybe I can try something on camera.” So I started doing commercials, and I had a campaign for a while. Then I thought I’d try my hand at TV and film for a while, and that kind of kept on going from there.
ShockYa: What was your experience on “Piranha 3DD”?
MB: Have you seen it? What did you think, be honest?
ShockYa: Well, I hadn’t seen the first one so I was totally lost. [mutual laughter] But I thought it probably suffered, comparatively, from limits in budget and time.
MB: Look, it was a life experience shooting that, and doing that film. [laughs] We spent three-quarters of our couple weeks there in Wilmington (North Carolina), at Jungle Rapids, the water theme park. That was our HQ for quite a while.
ShockYa: Your character is stuck pining for this girl who’s kind of oblivious to his love. Did that ring any bells from your own high school days?
MB: Totally, man. [laughs] Look at me! I’m 5’4″, five-four-and-a-half on my toes maybe. I was very skinny. Fortunately I was very well liked, I wasn’t picked on — people for whatever reason didn’t hate me — but in terms of women I was always the one who was like, “A back massage? OK, yeah, sure, I can give you a back massage. Tell me about your guy troubles!” [laughs]
ShockYa: Friendship alley, in other words.
MB: Yeah, I was friend zoned a lot.
ShockYa: You’ve done some other genre films, like “H2.” Is there an interest there, do you like those kinds of movies? Or is it just casting as broad a net as possible, professionally?
MB: I think it’s fun to kind of try on a bunch of different hats, and genre films specifically, because they’re unique and often in their own little box(es), so it’s cool to jump in there. From a fan’s perspective it’s cool to have horror fans and say hey to them, and then you have a film like “High School” that’s a stoner comedy. And maybe those fan groups bleed into each other a little bit, but you have a whole other group of movie fans that are going to see that movie too. And in the fall I have a movie with Clint Eastwood called “Trouble With the Curve,” so that’s another group of people. It’s a smaller role, but it’s totally cool to have that experience.
ShockYa: I was going to ask you about “Trouble With the Curve.” You’re done filming, right? What was that experience like?
MB: I only worked with Clint, which was cool. There are very few legendary iconic actors, and he’s certainly one of them, so to get the chance to not only meet him but then work with him, my mind just exploded. He’s not directing, he’s just starring in it. I’m going to butcher this, it’s not exact, but I think it was Sean Penn who said said he’s one of the idols that lives up to his reputation, and it’s so totally true. He doesn’t let you done. Clint’s character is an old-school baseball scout, so he goes through all the local papers to see about high school players, and my character delivers him his food and things all the time. It was a fun little part.
ShockYa: You have a nice little body of work that people can look at, so I imagine there are some offers of things but you’re also still auditioning quite a bit, and that’s a totally different skill set than delivering a performance on the day of shooting. What’s your level of comfort like with that?
MB: You’re right, it’s a totally different skill set than acting, because when you’re on set — it sounds bizarre, since there are a thousand people around with lights and what not — it’s in a weird way more intimate because you’re playing out a scene. If we’re at a table (like this) there could be cameras here, but you ignore them because you’re trying to make it as real-life as possible. Auditioning, it’s you in front of a blank wall with a half dozen to maybe a dozen people depending on the situation, and a camera. And you’re reading with someone that isn’t necessarily an actor themselves. And they may be 12 feet away from you sometimes, so how are you supposed to [establish] an intimate conversation with someone that far away?
ShockYa: So I doubt you’ve gotten this question from anyone else, but what was your experience like on Kenneth Lonergan’s “Margaret”? That film finally saw daylight last year after a massive delay, and its release sparked a passionate following amongst some critics and hardcore indie cineastes. #TeamMargaret was even trending on Twitter for a while.
MB: Oh man, that was my first film, literally. I think I was there for maybe two or three days and I was so green. We shot that in New York, (and) I was still in college so I took the days off and took the train there (to the set). We shot that in… 2005, I think, maybe 2006? I have fond memories, I guess. I was just so happy to be experiencing it.
Written by: Brent Simon