Although he’s just 27 years old, actor Jason Matthewson has already amassed buckets of acting experience - on stage, TV and in films. His latest project, ‘Black Ice’ is set in Donegal. It’s a taut action thriller exploring the county’s street racing culture, and it doesn’t pull any punches. The film opens at cinemas nationwide tomorrow, Jason talks to the Democrat about the film and about how his acting has brought him from the shores of Lough Swilly to Dublin, LA and London
A native of Rathmullan, Jason’s parents are Shaun and Vera Matthewson. He is the eldest of three boys - his younger brothers are Shane and Christopher. Jason started his acting career at the tender age of six in local productions in Rathmullan, where he attended St Joseph’s Primary School. He recalls “I always knew I wanted to be an actor from as far back as I could remember.” It was while attending Mulroy College that his acting really kicked into gear.
In addition to acting, Jason used to do a bit of work as a DJ and he knew Frank McCarron of FM Entertainments. “I was at his house one day and Frank was on his way out the door to go to a Letterkenny Music and Drama Group (LMDG) meeting for South Pacific. He invited me along and I got a part in the chorus.
“Not long after, I got involved with Letterkenny Musical Society as well. They were staging the panto, Robin Hood, which was a massive success.”
One thing led to another and Jason was soon a very busy actor, playing Dermot Flynn in Children of the Dead End, directed by Plunkett Ferry; appearing in Arsenic Old Lace, doing shows with the Lifford Players and touring the country with a play called Flight of the Earls, which, Jason notes, “had nothing to do with the Flight of the Earls!”
One of his most memorable experiences on stage in Donegal was working with David Grant at An Grianan Theatre. “He directed a play called The O’Neills: it was one of the best stage productions I was ever involved in and one of my best stage performances, I think. The next year, I played one of the Rude Mechanicals in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, also directed by David.”
Alongside gaining all this experience on stage, Jason studied acting, at The Gaiety School in Dublin and at the North West Institute in Dublin.
Then, one day, he realised just how busy he was. “Patrick McBrearty, one of my best mates, and I were doing so may plays - I think we did 13 in one year - that I decided to take a step back from theatre to focus more on TV and film.”
He went on to play a series of small part on TV - in programmes on BBC, ITV and TV3.
In June, 2009, Jason decided to go one step further and he moved to LA.
“It was one of the biggest learning curves of my life, going from Letterkenny to Los Angeles,” he says, “but I wouldn’t change a thing.”
“Through a contact, author Kyle FitzHarris, I ended up working for a guy called Patrick Stack in Out of Pocket Films, which is based in Sony Studios. I got my visa, spent a year there, and came back when my visa ran out.”
Jason was delighted to land a role in the latest film by Johnny Grogan, director of Last Bus Home and Mapmaker, and Brian Leyden. And it was a definite bonus that the story is set in Donegal.
“I got a call from an agent, they sent me the script. I loved it.
“I met Johnny and the production team and I got the part. The story is set in Donegal, even though the film was shot in Sligo and Leitrim. Danny Connaghan and I are the only Donegal actors in the film. It was nice to shoot a film and not have to worry about my accent for a change.”
Writer/director Johnny Grogan comments: “Having Jason and Danny on board grounded the film in the place where the film is set. Needless to say, not all our actors were from Donegal and the other members of the cast were often to be seen sidling close to Danny and Jason in an effort to tune into their accents, not least our leads Jane McGrath and Killian Scott who hail from South Dublin.”
“The decision to set Black Ice in Donegal was inspired by both the connection that the county has to cars - not just the more thrill-seeking side, but also the widespread passion that is to be found for cars in the county. I’m thinking about the Donegal Rally and the way that young men in particular are to be found spending hours under cars fixing them up and modifying the mass produced into something more individualised.”
While ‘Black Ice’ is set in the world of street racing, Jason says it’s a lot more than “just a car film”.
“It’s got a lot of heart as well. I think the film will absolutely have universal appeal, even though there are probably little bits that will resonate especially with people in Donegal.
“The film is really about a first love, about Alice, what happens to her and how she deals with it.
“We are all very aware that a lot people have lost their lives and families have been destroyed because of the street racing culture. This film certainly doesn’t glamorise it. In fact, the tag line is ‘with black ice, you have no control’.
“The film also reflects the end of the Celtic Tiger and when that all fell apart. It’s very topical. ‘Black Ice’ is a film that operates on a lot of levels. You can go in with your popcorn and drink and just enjoy it but it’s more likely that the film will make you think.
“My character was often the moral compass for the group, the one who defused situations a lot. Even though he’s not the eldest, he would have been the one the others tended to look up to. It’s a great role.”
Jason’s back in London now. His next film projects are ‘Blacklist’ in London and ‘Nor the Moon by Night in Hawaii’.
He says his main ambition is do keep working on quality projects that he can be proud of. “When you watch a film or your favourite TV show, you can be taken away into another world, forget all about your problems be happy. I really believe that is important and I feel honoured that I can be a part of that.”