Matt Ashford's learned
that there's noting wrong
with being trouble-free
Search for Tomorrow)
By ANDREA PAYNE
Matthew Ashford has had a "great life" and that's
caused him concern. "I come from a big family. We were
happy, healthy and all that good stuff. So there was a time
in my life when I was afraid because I hadn't starved at any,
that I was not going to be a good actor," he says seriously.
"Other people I know — their parents are either
dead or divorced. They've had major traumas in their lives
and it makes you grow up faster and gives you a better view
of the world."
It's taken awhile for the young Search for Tomorrow
star to come to grips with his life. "Experiencing trauma
is not the point at all," Matthew says now. "I had
an acting teacher try to explain that to me once and I could
not relate to it. He said, `Listen, tragedy is every day.
Tragedies don't need to be huge. We don't need to hear about
your dog getting run over or your grandparents dying. Tragedy
is a very tiny thing and if you are in touch with it, that's
fine.'" With time, Ashford learned that good acting "just
takes some moments of reflection and concentration to realize
the components of what the character's feeling and to realize
that in your own life, there are places where that happens.
Everyone feels loss, everyone feels a certain type of anger,
a certain type of jealous."
At 24, Ashford is young, healthy and handsome. With his short
brown hair, blue eyes, purple and blue striped rugby shirt
and worn Levi's, Matthew looks as though he belongs on the
pages of The Preppy Handbook, but his thoughtfulness
belies such stereotyping. His 6'1" frame has caused him
to be mistaken for a football player, but Ashford's no jock.
At one point he jokes, "I'm an actor because I never
wanted to go out and be a football player, but I would play
at being a football player."
Matthew is of Irish descent, has seven brothers and sisters,
and as born in Davenport, Iowa. And it was his three sisters
who introduced him to acting, he says. "I was a lump
sitting home one day and they were going to these junior theater
classes and workshops and they said, `Matt, why don't you
come with us?' So I went and enjoyed it and began to go back.The
next think I knew, I was involved in the junior theater in
Iowa and when we moved to Virginia, the same thing happened
again." After graduation from the North Carolina School
of the Arts, Ashford moved to New York City, where after being
spotted in a showcase, he was signed by ABC. He had only been
in the city for a month before joining One Life
to Live as Drew Ralston.
on the show because they liked really liked me. The character
of Drew really didn't exist before that in the writers' minds.
I thought it was great that they were writing me this character.
But a soap opera is like a big puzzle," he theorizes,
"and my piece just didn't fit.... My being on sometimes
meant me coming and going,`Boy I'm tired. I've been working
hard.' I'd come out and play the whole scene lying down on
the couch." The role, he says, "was just death for
me." The character was finally killed off and Ashford
notes candidly, "By the time I went, I was ready to go."
Although Matthew was prepared financially for unemployment,
he hadn't planned to be out of work. He was up for a role
in The Hamptons, a 1983 summer replacement
series. However, his contract with One Life to
Live had not expired and the part fell through.
Leaning back in his chair, Matt says thoughtfully, "That
was very hard on me because I was going to go straight from
one show to another show. It seemed that life was great."
Despite the disappointment, Ashford notes, "What I ended
up getting was a truer sense of myself in relation to this
business. I learned that things don't always work out,"
he says intensely. "Sometimes you are out of work and
have to look for it.... I knocked on doors and I pounded pavement
all summer. I auditioned for plays and began to get a better
sense of what was going on with me, Matt. I had come right
to New York, I became Drew Ralston. Strange as it seems, I
never had a chance to realize that yes, I am an actor trying
to get a job. This experience gave me a grounding sense."
After five months of unemployment, Ashford landed a part with
Esther Rolle in A Member of the Wedding.
"It was my first true theater role," Ashford grins.
The play ran for a month and then Matthew auditioned for another
play. At the same time, he was planning to make a trek to
Los Angeles to look for work. Matthew was having a difficult
time trying to decide whether to go after the "big bucks"
in L. A. or stay and do a play that meant more to him as an
actor. "As I was thinking about that, the part on Search
for Tomorrow came up. I thought it was a very
interesting character, someone I could relate to. Someone
I could do something with. There's a lot to say with this
character and I don't feel I've been disappointed yet."
McCleary is the younger son trying to live up to the standards
and ideals of his brother Hogan, Matt offers. "Hogan
is a writer, he's a war veteran, an all around good guy, and
Cagney's not. He hopes to be. He wants to be that way, but
you see the end result and you just want to be there."
Matthew's talking from experience now. As the young Ashford
son, he says, "Competition with brothers and sisters
is something that often is understated. We all had to get
good grades because the brothers got good grades. The parents
set standards and you had to follow them. As the parents get
older, they start to get more lax with the younger kids and
then the older ones say, `Well, wait a minute. I want to make
sure that he or she gets the benefit of your strict training.'
And so they get real tough on the younger ones.... It's a
rivalry and a tenseness that takes years and distance to clear
While Cagney works through the conflict with brother Hogan
that Ashford's resolved with his own siblings, Matt's learning
to be comfortable with his life. "I'm very happy right
now," he says with a smile. "I'm very happy with
this job and the way it's fitting into my life and the fact
that it's not running my life — it's becoming a part
of it." Asked about his professional goals, Ashford avoids
the "pat" answers young performers give when asked
about their future aspirations.
"They all say,
`I want to do stage and movies and everything. That's a real
pat answer, a real easy answer. What it real comes down to
is, `What kind of actor do I really want to be?' I've already
begun to feel for fellow young actors because you're so scared,"
he admits. "You may be on a national soap opera, but
one thing being on soap operas suddenly made me realize that
everybody's on a soap opera, who cares? Look how many people,
young actors are on soap operas. Everybody wants to be in
movies, on television, but you've got to say, `I'm different.
I don't care about what I am going to be doing at the end
of this cycle, I don't care about going to California and
becoming rich and famous. I'm worried about what I'm doing
In his spare time, which isn't much, Matt, besides taking
acting classes, is an avid reader. An awareness that he'd
let his interests fall by the wayside, led him to rekindle
his love of writing and bicycling, and he has taken up roller
skating. Ashford's also a mimist (he performed on the streets
of New York) and an amateur cartoonist. He's got a girlfriend
of "distance and space" whom he's been dating for
a long time. "I see her every now and then when the moon
is full," he says.
For Matt, concern about the present has replaced his preoccupation
with fretting over his lack of tragic experience. "I'm
beginning to just be comfortable with myself and to stop worrying
about what's going to happen later." He's looking forward
to getting older, Ashford says pensively. "I want to
have a growing awareness of others and their needs and of
[Photo Matt (Cagney McCleary) &
Terri Eoff (Suzi Wyatt)]