- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 15, 2003

His guileless face notwithstanding, Matthew Broderick, has fashioned a sneaky career. He has no Oscars. He can't "open" a film. And he probably won't make People's 50 Most Beautiful issue anytime soon.
Yet the 40-year-old actor has prospered as a stage and screen actor for more than 20 years now. He has two Tony awards. He seems to be in the early stages of a surprise second career as a musical comedy star at a time when the musical is starting to be cool again. His affable everyman screen persona has become familiar enough that some of the finest writers and directors of his generation have figured out how to reap big dramatic dividends by turning it inside out. And he keeps landing dream roles in dream projects across generic state lines.
All that and Sarah Jessica Parker, too.
The sneak.
Matthew Broderick is an inspiration to mediocrities everywhere.
The sneakiness should serve Mr. Broderick well in his latest role, the cunning charmer professor Harold Hill in ABC's remake of Meredith Willson's classic musical "The Music Man," airing tomorrow at 7 p.m.
Discussing his career and how audiences react to him during a recent phone interview, the actor sounded realistic and self-aware.
"They don't see my name and come flying to the theater, but they do know me," says Mr. Broderick. "I have no more surprise tactics."
Realism and self-awareness are useful when it comes to making career choices. Maybe that's why, from the iconic teen film "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (1986) to the Broadway smash "The Producers," Mr. Broderick for most of his career, at least has shown impressive discernment in his choice of roles.
It's not that he makes safe choices, either. Playing professor Harold Hill, for example, a role the late Robert Preston made all his own, doesn't sound like a great idea.
"I just thought, what a good part, and I'd be chicken not to take it," Mr. Broderick says of his starring role in the three-hour film. "It's such a great piece of writing … that it seems it should be done again and again, even though it's been done perfectly."
A decade ago, Mr. Broderick would have been an odd choice to anchor a revered musical. A succession of dubious film choices, including 1993's "The Night We Never Met" and 1994's "The Road to Wellville," left his career on the ropes.
A few more of those and Mr. Broderick might have gone the way of Andrew McCarthy, say, or Jon Cryer.
Instead, he rallied, displaying unsuspected showmanship in the Broadway revival, "How to Succeed in Business Without Even Trying." Later, he turned up in a pair of widely praised independent films: the darkly satirical "Election" (1999) and the deftly written and quietly shattering "You Can Count on Me" (2000). The two films couldn't be less alike, but Mr. Broderick plays somewhat similar roles in both: Matthew Broderick-like characters who get in over their heads.
Mr. Broderick says he tends to opt for work he hasn't attempted before.
"I always was concerned about getting in a rut or being seen as being able to do just one thing," he says. "After I did 'Ferris,' I did 'Glory.' I've always wanted to have a long career."
Of course, if it were enough simply to "stretch" and make "risky" choices, then Michael Keaton wouldn't have turned into the international symbol for the concept, "When bad roles happen to good actors."
Mr. Broderick credits his theatrical training, and reassuring input from his parents, for some of his success.
Father James Broderick (star of the '70s drama "Family"), who died in 1982, "didn't have all the opportunities I did," he says.
"He was very shrewd with me about not panicking about what other people think of you," he says. "He did Broadway shows that closed within a week. It never kept him down. He could always get up again. That had an effect on me."
Mr. Broderick recalled being despondent early in his career over a string of rejections. His father's counsel still sticks with him.
"He said, 'If they don't want you, why do you assume they're right?'" he remembers.
From the beginning, Mr. Broderick has been able to home in on good material. He has playdar. And he's had it since he first appeared as Neil Simon's youthful surrogate in the playwright's quasi-autobiographical "Brighton Beach Memoirs" in 1982. "Coming across Neil Simon at the age I did was a huge help for me," says Mr. Broderick.
Off-screen, Mr. Broderick is part of a Hollywood power couple with "Sex and the City's" Sarah Jessica Parker. The pair welcomed their first child, James, late last year.
The actor hopes "The Music Man," along with the big screen's "Chicago" and 2001's "Moulin Rouge" rekindles the nation's love affair with the musical.
"Somewhere in the '60s, audiences decided it was not OK to be riding a bus and just start singing," he says of the musical's gradual decline. "And lately, it's all right again. I don't know why."

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