Edit: Thank you to screenwriter Mike Le for correcting my knowledge of Patient Zero. I had Natalie Dormer and Agyness Deyn confused!
It should never be my best kept secret that I love Matt Smith. But I am trying to hold back, like it's not OK for me to unabashedly love this actor. It's not the critical fan reaction to his tenure as the Doctor, which I attribute to opaque plotting choices on behalf of the writers. Do I think he'd yell at me and call me mad for letting other fans know he is highly crushworthy, or that he'd just throw a gym bag between us and quickly have to be somewhere else? At worst, I'd have more time and material to write a missed connection sestina.
Since his departure from Doctor Who, what sort of persona is he developing? The good news is he’s exploring a wide range of roles to avoid being cast as a professorial adventurer all the time. I wish I could have seen his stage performance as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, but many other roles will be out on DVD and Netflix eventually.
He has the grace and subtlety of a classic Hollywood actor and a complicated personality that belies hidden depths. That complexity is why he was cast as The Doctor, sort of a new Pertwee/Davison hybrid with limitless energy, boyish curiosity and a burden of experiential wisdom. If I watch long enough, he'll either reward me with an unexpected joke or he'll convince me that something I'd never thought of is of grave importance and everything now hinges upon my comprehension. Contrariwise, he’s great at present leading the robot army in Terminator Genisys-- no longer limited to twee historical characters and science heroes, he is proving he can be cool in movies with broad international appeal.
Note: Why can't I find press kits for any of these films except for Terminator where Matt Smith as Skynet was a pre-release secret?
The latest casting announcement is for upcoming Netflix series The Crown, in which he plays the Duke of Edinburgh. I am not sure what to make of this one yet. It's set in the post-war UK and is about still-living members of the British monarchy and Parliament. The Duke of Edinburgh married Elizabeth II right after WWII and I feel very undereducated about this part of British history up to the point where Prince Charles married Diana. The show is supposed to span several decades like Downton Abbey or Mad Men, and there may be more than one actor playing both Elizabeth and Phillip. This would seem to be the only new role that is not at all villainous (other than Collins in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, also a period piece) and not for a young audience. At least it's for Netflix so I can see it!
In his second to newest role in Patient Zero, the last man on Earth speaks ZoMbEzE! Matt Smith is now Hellblazer's John Constantine starring on The Walking Dead in a world where the walkers and biters speak Papa Midnight’s voodoo language maybe? I hope this linguistic device led to the development of a character like Heston's scientist in Omega Man, "a man doomed to understand nothing until there is nothing left to understand."
Varied undead pontifications might have redeemed the soul-crushing tedium that was the near silent growling horde in I Am Legend. Zombies are, after all, really vampires with rabies. Giving them a highly developed culture and eloquent dialogue makes their loss of human compassion all the more vexingly compelling.
The ultimate tragedy is to be the last man with compassion outnumbered in his quest to restore empathy to an apathetic populous. With no stone unturned in a search for meaning in a life rendered meaningless, I hope Patient Zero comes full circle to this sort of sophic despondency sinking to oblivion. Or, if it's just action and survival bloodshed, I want to believe that Smith will be like Vincent Price in The Last Man on Earth, while playing molotov paintball as Heston in Omega Man. We can have a finely nuanced yet action-packed zombie movie. I can have my generation's more philosophical Omega Man.
Aside: I now realize that a tragic but low key ending is the correct way for a zombie movie to end, but most of them don't have enough joyous early "victory" or philosophic reflection to make the ultimate futility of survival stay with the audience until the next zombie film or video game. I’m nostalgic for Night of the Comet, which stops for a mall makeover and ends with teenagers repopulating the Earth. I hope there is at least one joyous moment like that in Patient Zero, in the same way that my other favorite zombie movie, the 1970s remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, makes you believe in love before Donald Sutherland's final blood-curdling scream ends all romantic hopes in Union Square. We have to care about Agyness Deyn's character as the wife in Patient Zero for her cure to be more than a mere achievement trophy. Otherwise, she's the dog AND the wife in I Am Legend and we're just waiting for her to die. That isn't fun, not even with Rifftrax commentary!
Even more fun may be had if Patient Zero has zombeze-fluent cultists like Omega Man and they are answered by a hero with cool dialogue like in They Live and Smith is going to be all, “I am here to write prescriptions on psychic paper and kick ass, and I am all out of psychic paper. Get out of my way; I have a wife to cure who is actually going to be there at the end of the film for female Whovians to be jealous of because this is NOT I Am Legend and THIS time the scientist gets the girl. Did I mention I shoot large guns now? Large guns are cool.”
There is all the more love but possibly less violence in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which features Matt Smith as the pedantic twit William Collins (the clergyman Elizabeth Bennett can't be bothered with however much money he has). I am jubilant to learn that Mr. Smith is playing the Doctor's polar opposite for whom money, station and religious fervor are enough while fictional narratives are completely useless unless they are morally improving. Before his death, I see opportunities for comedic potential not limited merely to popping his stiff 19th century shirt collar.
Circumspectly, I have no way of comprehending my future level of sadness when Collins dies in the film because I haven’t read the “With Zombies” version of the novel and always thought the parody to be entirely unnecessary. I read Pride & Prejudice in high school at a critical time when I was learning to assert myself and was first attracted to witty female characters who weren’t afraid to insult anyone who condescended to them and kept them trapped in a patriarchal society except via monetary inheritance, which is now the only thing that stands out to me about the original book. Maybe there do need to be zombies, if the economic system and a comparison of 19th century feminism in the US and UK are the only things that stand out to me other than the line “Mr. Darcy, you are such a card.”
I cared least about Terminator Genisys until its release when I found it the easiest of these to see and a delightful return to everything I loved about the first two Terminator movies. I wrote a thorough review of it here, the gist of which is that it turns upside down all the relationship dynamics we know from the first two Terminator films, gives Sarah Connor more empowerment to save herself, and from her choices will lead to so many more story possibilities. Matt Smith as Skynet here is good casting following the Doctor Who story “A Nightmare in Silver,” and I can imagine this Terminator film is what would happen if an innocent resistance soldier were made Cyber Controller instead of The Doctor. I love the contrast between what I’ve seen in other stories and what happens in this one, and I love how dependent it is on seeing other movies. Sometimes a strong female character, a former Timelord I like, and a sandbox game of rearranged story bits are enough to freshen up an old series. I hope we get further explanation of how Matt Smith’s Alex came to be Skynet in the next chapter of this timey-wimey thermonuclear war, whether mere soldier or welcomer of our cybernetic overlords.
Lost River happened but didn’t play anywhere near me, and all the leaked photos on the internet seem to be gone with the underwhelming critical reaction at Cannes. I’m keeping a mental note to find it for rental eventually because the one scene I saw had a disorienting soundscape amidst gritty urban setting that felt sort of like a Harmony Korine film. I laughed so hard Bully repeatedly saying “Look at my muscles,” growing giddy at the possibility of eventually finding out what the context is for this broadcast. Despite critical reactions, I am prepared to love this movie and particularly (the?) Bully. The fantasy elements of the plot were eluding me when I looked it up, but I’ve been to Detroit and am curious about what fantastical myths can be woven in. The possibilities of an underwater world make it conceptually the most interesting of these films and therefore the one I wish to see most. Soarse Ronan’s character is absent from the trailer like she may be as well kept a secret in this film as Matt Smith’s Synet in Terminator Genisys. If Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut largely doesn’t work but I see one new idea executed and have a better idea of Matt Smith’s range as an actor, that’s all I wanted from this one. I wish I could see it.
In the US we mostly see the Doctor, but adventuring time lord is only the median point on a continuum from his delicate reserve in period pieces to energetic action and a lot of experimental theatrical roles in between that I can only guess about, like his codependent cross-dressing gigolo in Fresh Kills for the Young Writers program at Royal Court in London. Was Arnold in Fresh Kills a Hedwig? An American Gigolo? A Glen or Glenda? I may never know. But I do know that Mr. Smith is always quietly pushing himself into new emotional adventures. He won't just be The Doctor and a confusing "American Psycho" Google image search that suggests he is secretly Dexter and had to listen to way more hours of Duncan Sheik's music than is safe for one's sanity.
My speculation about most of these roles that I haven't seen is likely way off. I am most excited about their variety and the purpose of this article has been to get excited about stories I haven't seen yet.
About the only type of story I can find no evidence of in his history is a screwball comedy, completely light-hearted and with no higher purpose or the burden of knowing about suffering in the world. But I wouldn't put it past him. Matt Smith is fearless.