The handsome and innovative Matt Zarley is about to release his brand-new album on February 10 titled “Hopeful Romantic.” The release combines his musical theater background as well as his international songwriting abilities and is supported by his original short film, also called “Hopeful Romantic.” The film co-stars George Takei, who is best known for his role as Mr. Sulu in the series and movies of “Star Trek.”
Zarley has enjoyed an amazing and diverse career in the entertainment field since age 12, when he began doing TV commercials. At age 19, he made his Broadway debut in “A Chorus Line” and continued on Broadway in such productions as “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and The Who’s “Tommy.”
In addition to theater, Zarley has appeared on TV on “The Drew Carey Show,” “Fame” and such Disney TV movies as “Cinderella,” “Geppetto” and “Annie.”
Aside from TV and theater, he is a world-renowned songwriter, and additionally the first gay man in “People” Magazine’s “Hottest Bachelor” issue in 2002, allowing for openly gay men to be featured in mainstream publications.
Zarley was one of the sweetest, most sensitive and special people I’ve ever had the honor of interviewing. He poured his heart out about my topics and was honest and candid, confessing many of his heartfelt, personal circumstances. If you are already a fan of his, you will love this conversation, and if you aren’t yet, you will certainly become one.
You have a brand-new album launching on February 10. I’m told that it has a message.
It does have a message. It didn’t really start out to be that, but it evolved to a much broader project than initially planned. I guess like most songwriters it’s autobiographical. But yeah, it turned out to have a message once I decided to turn it into a musical, but yeah, really it turned into a short film and became…it had more continuity, I guess you could say, than just a regular pop album.
So what’s the message?
The message is that all of us have been through heartbreaks to some degree. I was in a relationship in the very beginning of writing this album, and we broke up suddenly, completely without warning. It broke my heart more than I’ve ever, ever felt in my life. But, in the end I realized that this person brought out something in me that I never knew possible…corny as that might sound, but it’s true. That’s what “Hopeful Romantic” comes from, that I’m hopeful that the person is out there, and I believe it is. If I didn’t meet that person I would never have known that.
That’s so sad.
It was at the moment; now I’m fine. Those lessons that we’re all supposed to learn along the way as we get older if we keep making the same mistakes until we learn our lesson, I guess.
Yeah, if we ever really do…
I learned a really valuable lesson in that relationship. I mean, it was only a year long, it was relatively short, but it was very impactful. I’m completely convinced that that came along in my life to create the project. That’s so corny. You know, I hear myself say that, but I know that it’s true. It played such an important part, and it really affected me so deeply. The breakup was so devastating. Then I created this thing that I’m really proud of, and the film, which I’m so proud of. I think everyone involved…it was like a labor of love. Everyone sort of related, because everyone has sort of been there. It’s really just putting something out there that everyone can relate to regardless of your sexual orientation or your gender, your age—we’ve all experienced it.
How and where will people be able to see the film?
How we’re doing it right now, the director and the other producer and myself have decided to do the film festival circuit, cause it would bring me as an artist a lot more exposure. The downfall of doing that is it can’t be released really commercially, so we’re sort of through the bulk of that process. We just started the festival rounds. We just won a really big festival here in LA. We won Best LGBT Short. It’s going to be screening here in LA live on Valentine’s Day. I’m really excited. We’re doing video previews online on YouTube, giving people a taste of what the film is like. Most of the film will be on YouTube by the time the film comes out. So I’m just telling everyone just to go on YouTube, on my YouTube channel. I would say 3/4 of the film is on there already.
Well, I heard the album, and it’s really amazing.
Oh, thank you so much. You know, I’ve been doing this a long time. I think you have to get to a point where you start to not worry about what people think. You just wanna put something that is the most honest thing out there that you stand behind, that means a lot when you hear that people enjoy it.
You’re a songwriter, an actor, a dancer, a producer. You’ve been on Broadway, on television. Is there anything that you haven’t done that you still wish to accomplish?
Honestly, I’m developing a TV series that I’ve kind of been milling around in my head for several years now. I’m finally kind of developing it. That to me is like the end all if I can get this project going. I would feel like I’m really doing what I’m set up to do, I guess. It’s interesting because I love singing, I love performing, but what I’ve learned about myself, especially on this project, slowly in the past few years, I absolutely love producing. I love creating, and I don’t necessarily have to be “the star.” I’ve gotten to the point where I enjoy it. I love creating something from nothing. To me that’s the biggest reward. If this particular product that I’ve been developing for a while comes to fruition, that really will be the greatest achievement, because I think it’s a really interesting idea, and it hasn’t been done yet, and it’s really relevant right now. Hopefully that will happen.
I’ve been working on this short film; it’s an unconventional thing. Working with George Takei too is just such a privilege. The whole thing was just so much work. I’ve never worked that hard in my life, and I loved every minute of it, I really did. The creative process of it, that’s what I really loved. If you would have asked me five years ago [if] that’s what I would have enjoyed the most, I would not have said that. Maybe that comes with age. I don’t know what it is; it’s so rewarding. And when you see something that’s in your head—and I’m sure you feel the same way as a writer—when you see something inside your head, and then it comes out, and you’re like, “Wow, it really works!” When people enjoy it and become affected by it, it’s like, “OK, I’m done.”
What’s the funniest or most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you live?
Oh, God. At the time—I look back at it now, and it was no big deal—but at the time it happened, it was mortifying. I was 18 years old. I was doing “Cats,” and my tail fell off. Right when I’m downstage, right in the center—you couldn’t hide it. To me at the time, that was mortifying. It was my first show. But nothing like crazy humiliating has happened to me thus far.
Losing a tail is pretty traumatic. I have to ask you this because, years ago, I used to write for a Star Trek magazine, and I wrote the best-seller “The Star Trek Medical Reference Manual.” So what was it like working with George Takei?
Everything you think it’s gonna be.
Oh, that’s really cool. I’m glad.
I had never met him prior to this. We had a mutual friend who’s a director in New York. George has been developing a musical for the past several years, and they did a tryout in San Diego, which was a huge success. It’s going to Broadway. It’s basically George’s life story. I don’t know if you know much about him.
I used to, years ago.
He lived in an internment camp for four years.
That I did know.
So a lot of the story is about that. His life story is remarkable. The person that he has become, the person that he is, is remarkable, especially considering what he’s been through. He is one of the loveliest people I’ve ever met. I cannot say enough good things about him. He’s what you want him to be. You know, we had not met until he walked on the set that day, and he only worked for one day. The moment he walked on he said, “Oh, so you’re the master?” He was like, “Aren’t you the renaissance man?” I instantly clicked with him. He has a gift. He feels like somebody you’ve always known. He’s very, very serious about his work, which I did not expect. I mean, he can be fun and witty, but I didn’t expect him to be so serious, so committed to what we were doing. He really loved the project. He took me aside and said that it was beautiful and that he was proud to be a part of it. I can’t say enough. I love him. Have you seen his documentary?
Oh, you have to watch it. Oh my gosh, it’s amazing. Brad, his husband, is amazing, and their dynamic is hysterical. They’re really sweet. He’s hotter than ever. He’s a very special person.
Are you planning to do Fire Island anytime soon?
I hope so. I did Broadway Bears on Fire Island. They did it on Fire Island for three years, and I did it every year. I closed it. I haven’t been back since I did that, but this summer I’m going to P-Town. I’ve never, ever been.
I made a decision a month ago. I started planning now. I mean, really, it’s pathetic. The guy that plays my love interest in the short film, who’s one of my dearest friends, he lived in P-Town for three years, so I think we might actually go there together. I submitted my film to P-Town Festival. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. So if we get in, that would be ideal.
What would your name be if you were a porn star?
Pick two celebrities to be your parents.
Jane Fonda and George Takei. Why not?
You’re in a store window naked and you’re holding up a sign. What does the sign say?
“Getting Better With Age.”
You’re a new addition to a box of crayons. What color are you?
What’s the one thing you’d want your fans to know about you?
I think most people know that I’m a huge dog person, but that wouldn’t be it. Something that they don’t know? I think a lot of people think I’m in this relationship with a boyfriend all the time, and it’s not true. I’ve been single since I broke up with my ex. I’ve been single and haven’t really dated anybody.
Is that by choice?
Not really. People have this misconception of people. They think you’re busy or popular or whatever, when in reality they’re home by themselves. … A lot of the time I’m home. Maybe part of it is by choice, because I don’t go to the clubs anymore. I don’t really do that. LA is a notoriously difficult place to meet anybody, like New York.
New York is easier.
Yeah! But that might be a misconception to a lot of my fans. I guess another thing that they may not know is I’m incredibly critical of myself. I’m like my biggest critic, and I get my feelings hurt really easily.
So everything that may be negative about me, I’ve already thought it out.
And where would you like to be in 10 years?
I would love to be doing new types of media entertainment, like this musical short film. I would love to be creating new ways of entertaining people. I love the idea of being able to tell a story through music in a way that hasn’t been done before. I would love to create more projects like this. In 10 years I’d love to see this series idea having been on the air. That would be the biggest dream ever.
Well, I just know your new album and film are going to go viral.
Oh, I hope so. I’ve never worked on something for so long.