It can't be easy playing a good guy on a show full of badasses, but for three seasons now, Zach Roerig's been holding things down as Matt Donovan, Mystic Falls' most decent and emotionally conflicted human being. A joke I fall back on in my recaps is that Matt is like the human version of comfort food: He's just a solid guy who tends to be there in each character's time of need. And, you know, he occasionally looks like creamy, golden mashed potatoes. (Quick question: Is this racist?) Anyway, I kid because I love: Matt's actually a crucial element in Mystic Falls, and this week Roerig nicely took a few minutes to provide some insight on the subject.
Considering this show's mortality rate so far, is any part of you surprised that Matt hasn't been killed off yet?
Yeah, I mean, that that was definitely a fear for a while. Am I gonna get killed off? But then I just sort of started seeing the importance of my character and being okay with that and humbling myself, because I think Matt is kind of like a big piece of humble pie for Mystic Falls. He just kind of brings a realness, you know, in the viewer's eyes. Like you're watching all these crazy things going on that you know in your mind are not real and can't be possible, then you see a real guy with real problems navigating his way through all of this and doing it with just the purest intentions and best heart.
He's like a grounding influence.
Yeah, definitely, I feel like Matt's definitely a grounding influence on the show.
Matt's kind of a quintessential good guy, an All-American teenager, but as an actor do you ever wish that you could be a little more evil or over the top like your co-stars?
Yeah, I mean definitely it might be fun to explore darker areas, but I'm not terribly envious of the other storylines, like "Oh, I wish I could do that, I wish I could do that," because I'm content with what I'm doing and I'd be very unhappy to think like that. So I've really just kind of humbled myself with who Matt is, why he's important on the show. And also in the past in my career I've played a lot of jerks. And Matt's the only guy I've ever played who has 100 percent through and through been a good guy.
So it's actually sort of nice getting to play a good guy?
Yeah it has been nice. I think at this point though it would be nice to kind of play Matt being fed up with all the crap that's happened to him and his friends and everything that's all kind of generated from all the vampires being in this town.
It seems like this season Matt's definitely starting to become fed up with what's going on. Is that how you've been approaching the character lately?
Yeah, I've been using this analogy: Matt's a football player. He was the team quarterback and he's now becoming a part of a different, very unique team. Like, you always see the Salvatore brothers teaming with either Caroline or Bonnie or Alaric— Everyone's got a purpose. And now Matt's kind of found himself as a member of that team, and while Matt might be daring and a bit courageous, I don't think he's reckless. I think he learned a valuable lesson from his little swimming pool incident. He's definitely a mortal. And so I think Matt's just going to have to figure out how to be the best asset on his team.
He hasn't typically had the same amount of screen time as some of the other characters, but a lot of his scenes this season have been really emotional. Is that something that kind of comes easy for you? Can you just turn it on?
I've worked with girls who can literally just look away from you and then turn back around crying, and I was like, "Holy..." How do they do it? I mean it's not like that for me, but you know, working on a television show in its third season, whether I'm working all the time on screen with these actors or not, we've all become very rooted here in Atlanta together and we're all pretty close at the end of the day. So when you're that connected with a person in a scene and staying in the moment, I think it just makes it much easier to get to those emotional levels.
Before I ever watched The Vampire Diaries, I knew you from Friday Night Lights, where you played Tyra's pill-poppin' cowboy boyfriend. That show was known for its more handheld, organic style whereas TVD is more locked-down and storyboarded. Do you have to adjust your performance based on how something is filmed, or do you just do your thing and not worry about the cameras?
Well sometimes you really do, especially on our show because we are kind of a locked-in show and we do a lot of close-ups, a lot of tight shots, so it kind of does in some ways limit your movements, stuff like that. Whereas Friday Night Lights was so completely opposite. That show threw me for a loop when I first started because I had never worked like that. You know, there was no blocking, there was no dress rehearsal, it was just like, "Go! We'll film it!" You know? With improvising, just the whole bit. I at that point had just come off of As the World Turns and a few other jobs, but that was definitely a much different working environment. Then I came to love it, it was a good way to spend 12-14 hours.
And I've heard Friday Night Lights filmed pretty fast. Do you ever miss that speed?
Yeah, I definitely miss the speed of it in the sense— It seemed like everyone was always having a good time. And everyone has a good time on our show and we love our jobs, but sometimes those long days and grueling schedules can kind of kill people's morale, so I would say Friday Night Lights' schedule had a much better effect on the crew's morale.
I know future storylines are pretty much still being worked on or they're under wraps, but are you able to tell me anything about how Matt will factor in as the season goes on?
I can definitely say that fans can expect to see Matt and Elena kind of rediscovering a new friendship, sort of developing it within their old one. How close that friendship goes I'm not completely sure yet. I think you can definitely look to see Matt playing a role in everything, just being a team player.
You can be honest. Is Matt homeless? Does he eat out of dumpsters?
[Laughing] I think Matt probably divides his time staying at home and in the Mystic Grill stock room.
Does he sleep there?
I think he does some nights, yes definitely. You know, those nights where he's working late and his truck doesn't start, where else is he gonna go?
The Vampire Diaries airs Thursdays at 8pm on The CW