On the new CW drama series Cult, investigative journalist Jeff Sefton (Matthew Davis) has learned to live with his younger brother Nate’s obsessions, including his latest rant that a hit TV show intends to harm him. However, when his brother mysteriously disappears, Jeff takes Nate’s paranoia seriously and beings to uncover the dark underworld of the TV show centered on the cat-and-mouse game between a charismatic cult leader (Robert Knepper) and the detective (Alona Tal) who was once a cult member, and its rabid fans. The only person who seems willing to help Jeff with his investigation into this double world is Skye Yarrow (Jessica Lucas), a young research assistant for the show, who has also started to grow suspicious of the increasingly dark happenings surrounding it.
During this recent exclusive interview with Collider, show star Matthew Davis talked about transitioning from The Vampire Diaries, why Cult appealed to him, whether he’s ever bummed that he only gets to play one character on the show, the relationship between Jeff and his brother, whether Skye is really an ally for Jeff, how viewers should always be looking for hidden clues to the mysteries, how he loves being #1 on the call sheet now, and his own personal relationship with social media. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Collider: Was it nice to know that, even though you hadn’t quite finished with The Vampire Diaries yet, you already had Cult lined up and wouldn’t have to go through a mourning period because you’d be getting right to work?
MATTHEW DAVIS: Yeah, it was great! It really was a beautiful segueway, for sure. I felt very blessed. If I had just been out in the rain, after The Vampire Diaries, without somebody to turn to, it would have been hard. It was a blessing, for sure.
Alaric had a great storyline and send off, but it still must have been pretty sad to say goodbye.
DAVIS: It was sad. We became so close with each other. We were like a family. So, anytime anybody leaves, it’s heartbreaking.
What was it about Cult that attracted you to it? Did you like the fact that it didn’t have a supernatural element, but still had a dark tone?
DAVIS: Yeah, I liked very much that it was not supernatural and I also liked that it was dark, suspenseful and psychological in nature, and that it posted the question of the influence of television and fans and the cult of personality, and the influence of charisma over followers. It had a lot of interesting, intriguing potential when I read the pilot.
You’ve had some of your own experience with fans who get very passionate about a show that you’re on. Do you think it’s a thin line between passion and obsession?
DAVIS: I think that if Hollywood has a problem, it constantly underestimates the intelligence and integrity of fans. You can be passionate about a show, but I don’t think that people are obsessed to the point where it’s so manic that they lose themselves and they lose a sense of their center of morality. I think it’s good to be passionate, and I think it’s even good to be obsessed about a show. Why not? I think it’s great! I don’t think people really get lost in it. If a show is good, it helps people learn about themselves, in some way and in some function. Whatever the genre is, if it’s executed well, audiences grow and learn from it, and that’s where their passion and enthusiasm comes from. But, I don’t think there’s ever been a real case where fans were controlled because they have so much obsession about a show that they lose all sense of reality and therefore become pawns in somebody else’s game. I don’t think that ever really happens. Hopefully not. We’ll see.
Was this a pilot script that you found yourself reading a couple of times, in order to figure out what was happening?
DAVIS: I did, just in the very beginning. Once I understood that there was a show within a show and I understood that distinction, then it made sense.
Are you ever bummed out that you only have one character?
DAVIS: Yeah, it would be great to have a couple characters to play. But, I wouldn’t be surprised if, at some point, the show is so meta that we step back and realize that Jeff and Skye (Jessica Lucas) are characters within another show, and you’ll actually see us as actors. From an actor’s perspective, I’m grateful for the part and I love Jeff. However, I think Alona [Tal] and Robert [Knepper] had more fun, in the sense that they could play these campy characters within the show, and then they had the opportunity to step out and be the actors. It does give you more dimensions and more stuff to play with, which is great, as opposed to just being Skye and Jeff, who are relentlessly searching for these missing people in their lives.
On a show like this, does it help that you’re playing a character who’s pretty much as in the dark as you are?
DAVIS: It does. It’s interesting. When you’re just doing it and the pace is so quick, and you’re in the forest and you can’t see the trees, sometimes I would get the sense that I’m just playing the scene. But, when you step out of it, and can get outside the forest and see it, I was much more at ease. So, not knowing what’s happening, from script to script, as an actor and as a character, lends itself to the same tension and anxiety of not knowing what’s happening. You want to know because you’re tired of feeling crazy and not knowing what the fuck is going on, but at the same time, that’s probably what’s most necessary for the character.
DAVIS: I think what’s happen is that, as brothers, they lost their parents early on, in some tragic accident. That put Jeff in the role of being the father figure and caretaker, and his younger brother, Nate, was always a troubled youth, always getting in and out of these predicaments that were ultimately frustrating to Jeff. I think that Jeff felt that he didn’t ask to be in this role. He didn’t ask to be a caretaker of a difficult kid. He ultimately sacrificed his life, in many ways, to support the two of them, to the best of his ability. But, as they’ve gotten older, Jeff got to a place where he was tired of indulging his brother’s dramas and dysfunctions. He just wanted to live his own life, free of his brother constantly bringing him problems. So, the pilot opens up with Jeff basically saying, “Listen, I don’t want anymore of this crazy shit that you keep bringing to the table. You need to grow up, be a man and do what you need to do, but I’m out.” And then, his brother goes missing and that compels him to realize, whether through guilt, love or necessity of some sort, that he has to find his brother because he’s the only person his brother has. He’s compelled to save his brother out of this brotherly need to save him, and much of that is guilt-ridden, I’m sure.
What do you think it is that connects Jeff and Skye, and will she continue to be as much of an ally as she appears to be, in the pilot?
DAVIS: There are definitely moments where both Skye and Jeff are questioned, in terms of what their relationship is and what their agendas are. But what you learn, early on, is that they are actually helping each other. They become tight-knit partners, throughout the rest of the season.
How much interaction will Jeff have with the actors playing the characters on the TV show within the show?
DAVIS: Not as much as I’d like. My biggest regret is not having more scenes with Alona [Tal] and Robert [Knepper]. Robert is such a great actor. They both are great actors. For me, personally, I wanted more scenes with Robert because he brings such gravity to what he’s doing. I wish I had more scenes with the both of them, but unfortunately, I didn’t.
Is this the type of show where viewers should always be looking for clues in what’s going on?
DAVIS: I think so. It definitely sets that up. Where they are visually, I don’t know. I was kept out of that. But, I know the directors were definitely given notes to put the messages in, here and there. That’s part of the draw of the show, and that’s part of what the inside show is about. There are hidden messages within the show.
Will Jeff be searching for his brother throughout the season?
DAVIS: Yeah, that’s the driving long-season arc.
Do other mysteries come up, along the way?
DAVIS: Certainly, without a doubt. While he’s searching for his brother, that long-distance arc takes them through a series of incredibly bizarre twists and turns that result in this cliffhanger season finale, which resolves a lot of the initial questions, but poses even bigger questions for Season 2.
DAVIS: It’s definitely a relief to get along with people. As long as everyone is pretty laid back and doesn’t bring a lot of diva bullshit to the table, you’ll find that you will have a great experience. And no one really did that. We were bonded together early on, and had a great experience. It was a blessing to segueway into a different unit of people that carried the same values of The Vampire Diaries. It’s a different group, but it’s still familial, communal, loving and supportive. I’ve been working now for 13 years, and you get used to feeling like a gypsy. If things don’t click, you get used to just being on your own, too. I feel very adaptable, one way or the other. And I actually find that the less I worry about it, the better the experience becomes.
How has the adjustment been, moving to #1 on the call sheet? Was that something you easily adjusted to?
DAVIS: I loved it, to be quite honest. I’m one of those people where, the more responsibility I have, the better I become. The more I rise up to it. The less responsibility I have, the more I can easily devolve. So, I felt that the pressure and the responsibility was beneficial for my soul. And I learned so much, on so many dimensions, as a result of it. If I’m ever fortunate enough to be in this position again, I’ll bring a wealth of knowledge that I’ve gained from this experience that would be great to apply.
Are there any characters that come into the show, who are allies for your character?
DAVIS: There are a whole slew of great guest stars that come through, that assist both Jeff and Skye, and they’re played by terrific. The great thing about each episode is that we get to introduce new guest stars who are dynamic, awesome and really cool. That is definitely a strength of our show, for sure. It definitely expands. There are definitely allies, along the way, and there are definitely antagonists that try to keep us from discovering the truth.
DAVIS: It is weird, but I found it to be incredibly refreshing. Prior to that, I felt like I had no control of my voice, as an actor, or of anything. I just felt like a slave to this business, and I wasn’t very good at it. In fact, I became a very rebellious, self-destructive slave who was ultimately cutting his nose off to spite his face. Initially, I had started doing theater, where the actor has a direct relationship to the audience. So, moving into film and television disconnected me. When you do a film, you start to get the character, and then it disappears for a year before it’s released and you get feedback. Television is interesting, in that the pace is quicker and you can see your work more quickly. And then, with the added social media aspect, you can access that relationship to the fans directly and you have control of the content of what you say, your perspective, your opinions and your ideas.
For me, I felt that same connectivity through Twitter that I felt when I was doing a play with the audience. That’s a nourishing circuit of energy, for me, personally. For me, Twitter has been a creative writing project, more than anything. I don’t write under my name. I don’t use it necessarily as a platform to promote Matt Davis and what Matt Davis is doing. I have a pseudonym (@ErnestoRiley) and I write creatively underneath it, which gives me a lot more freedom. It’s been as much a creative writing process than anything, and a way to be able to relate to the fans more like a writer than an actor. I think it’s awesome to be able to be on a show, and then to write your own fan fiction about that show, in a completely different parallel reality. That’s been an awesome experience. You can do weird things like that. S is a micro-platform that is essentially your own network and your own programming. You can program whatever the fuck you want, you don’t have anyone overseeing you, and you don’t have to answer to anybody. It’s just raw. You can be completely mundane and boring about it and post, “I wiped my ass this morning and ate a hamburger,” or you can promote music, writers and art that you like, or your own ideas and concepts. You are your own curator, and I like it, in that respect.
Cult airs on Tuesday nights on The CW.