First came Ferris Bueller; fifteen years later came Leo Bloom, and in between came a slew of other movies that will forever be defined by Matthew Broderick’s eternally boyish, round-as-a-South Park-character face.
Broderick currently stars in Then She Found Me, the directorial debut of Helen Hunt, a longtime friend. Hunt plays a thirty-nine-year-old teacher whose hopes for motherhood are put on hold when her husband (Broderick) strays. She finds better love in the arms of a single dad (Colin Firth), but things get complicated when her rowdy birth mother (Bette Midler) enters her tumultuous life after giving her up for adoption years before.
Broderick has a five-year-old son, James Wilkie, with Sarah Jessica Parker, whom he married in 1997. Occasionally regaling us with his dry humor, Broderick spoke to Babble about playing a delinquent husband on-screen, being a devoted father off-screen and pining after an elusive Mighty Mouse role. – Mina Hochberg
Your character isn’t quite ready to be a father yet. What do you think his hang-ups are?
I guess he’s like anybody. It’s scary to be responsible for somebody. And I think he’s not with the right mom. He thought he was. I guess you could find fault with the fact that after he leaves her he keeps sleeping with her – heh, heh. You’re not supposed to do that, I guess.
Are you comfortable seeing yourself on screen?
I don’t really like to watch myself much. I don’t find it very valuable. I guess I’m self-conscious about it. In plays, I never have to watch myself. I just do ‘em. So that’s kind of how I like to do movies, too. I sort of just pretend it’s a play.
Can you empathize with Colin Firth’s character at all: Being alone with your child, finding a problem, an ear infection or whatever, and having to run off to the doctor?
Oh yeah, there’s nothing scarier than when you’re alone. I’m better at it now, but when he was very little, the first few times I was alone with him – I’m not the most organized – that’s when you start to think, “Okay, do I have everybody’s number?” All those things that I usually don’t bother with, I really bother with. But then you get used to it. Now I’m fine alone with him.
You did Bee Movie, Lion King, and you’re doing The Tale of Despereaux. What do you like about doing animated features? And if you could play the voice of any animated character, who would it be?
Well, Mighty Mouse, of course. [Animated films] are nice. They’re like a little vacation. You don’t have to worry about looks and cameras. There’s a tape going, and you just do as many takes as you want.
Having a kid, do you try to do projects based in New York?
That certainly helps. I’m still happy to travel, but yeah, everything changes. I used to never think about that, but now I do. Like if something is six months out of town in the middle of the school year, I would definitely have to think very carefully about that. I like traveling. I miss that. But now with school, I like to be around junior as much as I can.
How do you feel about him going into your profession?
That’ll be up to him. I wouldn’t be surprised, by his personality, [if he does end up acting], but that’s totally down the line. He’s five years old, so he certainly should take his time on that decision.
First he has to go through the fireman stage, and then ball player.
Yeah, actually, he has a whole order of things if they don’t work out. There’s ball player, fireman. Astronaut is the main one at the moment. Maybe a baseball player, but he wants to know if he gets to pick his team or not. I told him you don’t usually get to pick your team.
What’s your favorite thing to do as a family?
I like when we just don’t have too much to do. I like to let the day unfold in its own way. That usually happens when we’re on a trip, because at home there’s a lot to do. It’s very nice to waste a day with him.
Do you and Sarah balance projects so that the two of you aren’t filming something at the same time?
That hasn’t happened very much – not from any great effort, it just hasn’t ever been a major problem. But that definitely is a factor. It’d be awful if one of us was working in one city and one in the other for months on end. So far we’ve avoided that.
Having a kid, does it change your acting at all? Not so much the types of roles but just kind of relearning spontaneity or the joy of playing?
Maybe a little bit. I think there are parts of life I’m more aware of now that I can draw on. But I’m also probably less prepared and have less sleep than I used to have.
Has your son seen Ferris Bueller?
I think he’s seen some of it on TV. I don’t think he’s seen the whole thing. He’s much too young for that. I don’t think he’d understand.
Does he realize it’s you in movies?
In Bee Movie [co-starring Jerry Seinfeld] he did. There were not quite enough explosions in that. One plane blew up and that helped. And he liked Jerry’s bee more than mine, which really upset me. But it was okay.
Did he think they were real bees, or was he old enough to know better?
He knows they’re not real, that bees don’t really talk or any of that stuff. In some ways I think everything is so mysterious to a four-year-old that the movie’s just an extension of how strange everything is. I see these special-effects movies with him sometimes and I think, “Well, everything looks like that to him.” Like a plane must look like that to him. What does a little kid think of a car on the highway? Or the moon following you at night in a car? They think it’s following them. They’re so stupid. It’s not following them. The moon is not following your car.
No. I don’t think it is. I’m not a hundred percent sure.
Is there a dream role you’re longing to do?
Well, Mighty Mouse I’ve already brought up.
Any desire to make Mighty Mouse happen for yourself?
I think in all honesty Mighty Mouse requires an opera singer of some kind. Didn’t he sing opera? Yeah, I don’t think I’m right. It’s a dream.