The gay best friend is a tired cliché and a lot of film and television scripts don’t know what to do with them. Normally, the friend would be there at brunch to deliver sage dating advice while dropping a quirky quip or a “Yasss, girl” before never being seen again. On HBO Max’s The Flight Attendant, Griffin Matthews is allowed to give us such a fully realized character that we wonder what he’s up to when we aren’t stumbling over the mess left being by Kaley Cuoco’s character. He isn’t interested in playing a simple character brought in for laughs.
Matthews has a theater background (he graduated from Carnegie Mellon University) so he knows how to fill every line with meaning. Even if he is included in a montage of moments (like when the flight crew is questioned by police), he knows how to make every line count. Shane also strikes down misogyny in its track in a memorable scene when a young man refers to his friend as a bitch. “We don’t call women bitches. That is a phrase used for delinquent fuckboys and sometimes male politicians,” he snaps.
Keep an eye on both Shane and Griffin. They are both going to surprise you.
Awards Daily: I love how playful and fun this show is. Even in the episode where the flight crew gets off the plane and they are set to be interrogated, Shane has so much fun with it. He’s speaking Russian and he is so into it despite it being this super serious situation.
Griffin Matthews: That’s so true. That was, I think, the second thing we filmed of the entire series. They sat us down in that room and it was the first time that we were working with Merle [Dandridge] and Nolan [Gerard Funk]. At that point, we didn’t have all the episodes and we were still figuring out the show. We didn’t know all the secrets. It was a scary day on set. I had one line and then they were like, ‘Say that line and go!’ and I started on the Russian. When I was at Carnegie Mellon, I did a play where I played an African refugee who spoke Russian and I had to learn that.
GM: Yeah. (Laughs)
AD: So if you’re learning about the secrets as you go along, you’re just as much in the dark as the audience almost. What made you want to be a part of this twisty series?
GM: In my chemistry read with Kaley, right before I walked in, the casting director said, ‘You know you have a secret, right?’ And I didn’t. We didn’t get full scripts. We only got our scenes. That little whisper about a secret changed my audition, and it changed the feeling I had about it. I realized what was on the page was what I was choosing to show you. There was a deeper thing going on even though I didn’t know what it was. It was a reminder that people have secrets and they hold onto things. For me being Black and gay in this industry, that doesn’t always give us the best shot at juicy roles; it felt like an amazing opportunity to dig in, to make a character as complex as we are in real life.
GM: This was also my first adult role. I feel like I always play teenagers and college kids. I had to do this because I’ve never gotten to do it before.
AD: I wanted to talk about the relationship between Shane and Cass because I get a sense that they were closer and then they kind of drifted apart. There’s a scene where she meets Shane and Jada at a restaurant and Shane kind of hangs all over her, and while Shane and Jada are seen together a lot, I wanted to know what you two worked on in terms of that relationship.
Griffin Matthews: That was a lot of talk with Steve [Yockey] and then me and Kaley behind the scenes. We talked a lot about the nature of our relationship and what does she want from him and what he wants from her. We knew that funeral scene was coming and that it was going to create drama for them and spill out as the series goes. It was very calculated in the writing and performances to explore the relationship between them. What’s interesting is that we shot it like a movie, so it was all out of order.
GM Yeah. For instance, we shot stuff for the finale before we shot scenes for Episode 4. We were always trying to calibrate each other and figure out where we were for the scene.
AD: That’s impressive, especially since this series has so many different twists and emotional beats to it. How much did you want Shane to watch and be conscious of Cass’s behavior? I’m sure he knows something is up.
GM: When we are all on the plane early in the season, and Shane, Megan and Jada know something happened with 3C. Everybody—her lawyer, her brother—knows she’s a fuckup. I don’t think there’s anyone who doesn’t think something is up.
AD: I really like the episode where Shane and Cass go to the funeral and Shane hooks up with the cuter cater waiter.
GM: Michael with an M.
AD: Yes, Michael with an M. I feel like if this show were made 10 years ago, we wouldn’t have that flirtation between you or we wouldn’t get that brief glimpse of you making out on the dance floor with that guy. I wanted to know about how conscious you wanted to make those visible to the audience.
GM: I am the most conscious, and I never pretend that I wasn’t. It was something that we definitely talked about.
AD: That makes me happy.
GM: Oh my gosh, yes. We had to talk about it. A lot of the time, when you sign up for a show, you don’t have all the information and you don’t have all the episodes or the scripts. There’s conversations about what Griffin, as an actor, is willing to do. We had a lot of talks around what it means for Shane to be on the dance floor making out with boys and then what it means for Griffin to do these things. We also talked about it with the actors who come on set and do these things with me in the scenes. It was all being done with a lot of care and the actor who plays Michael—his name is Jared [Reinfeldt]—and I spent two days getting to know each other. We are in the middle of a lot of moments right now including #MeToo and Black Lives Matter and that includes the queer movement. We just spent two days talking about being gay and he’s a theater kid and we have mutual friends and that helped us get to those moments like when we are in the closet or flirting in the courtyard.
AD: That has to be rare, right? To be afforded the opportunity to build that chemistry on screen.
GM: That’s part of the visibility, though. Visibility isn’t just what happens in front of the camera but also what happens behind it. It’s not just seeing two men kissing on screen. That’s half of it. It’s also about they are treated off screen and how they are treated in the casting process to make them feel comfortable. On the page, all it said was, ‘They go into the closet and they’re ripping their clothes off.’ Jared and I talked about what we were comfortable with. It’s a moment where we should be sharing their real truths, and now we are buddies. I get so many messages on Instagram about Michael with an M. You cannot imagine how many I get. (Laughs)
AD: People are crazy.
GM: People are crazy. He is literally a supermodel. It makes me laugh because it was a fun two days and it’s such a short blip. People are obsessed.
AD: It is brief, but I imagine that moment might mean something to people. I’ve never seen Ballers but I didn’t know you were on it. Now I want to check it out. I saw a giant picture of The Rock on the inside of a sports store and I wanted to ask about being a part of that show.
GM: You mean, was it the most masculine set I’ve ever been on?
AD: (Laughs) I could probably ask if everything was made out of leather and stone? Or did you have to flex to get on set?
GM: My first day on the lot was fight training because we shot a fight for 12 hours. We did all of our own stunts and we had to train for an afternoon. I had just come from playing D’Unte on Dear White People where I am the most gay and on Ballers we get into a fight because we are flirting with girls at a bar. Let me tap into that other side! Truly, what was amazing was everyone respects the hell out of The Rock. He doesn’t have to do that show, and he keeps it alive. The experience of having to do a fight scene for that long is, and I don’t mean to pull the gay card, but it’s not something that gay actors really get to do. Especially for someone like me. I’m skinny and I’m not a muscle-bound guy, so to get to work with those actors in that world was amazing. Russell Brand is a genius. I’ve never been on set with someone that quick.
GM: His mind is brilliant. I spent a few days on set with Russell as we shot those episodes, and it’s a master class in spontaneity. Remember when he was a veejay?
AD: And people wrote him off quickly. You’re making me want to watch the show.
GM: He’s a theater kid.
AD: I didn’t know that.
GM: That’s why he’s a genius. The director tells us to go and he would say the craziest thing, but it would be in line with the scene. It’s incredible. I can gush about him forever.
AD: You’re going to be directing The Amish Project.
GM: Do you know that show?
AD: I don’t, but I remember when that incident happened.
GM: I saw the play years and years ago and fell in love with it. I’ve been such a fan of Jessica [Dickey], and whenever it happened, it was the early days of school shootings. I thought it would be an isolated thing and now it’s so common. The way the case rolls out is very poetic and beautiful. Growing up in Pittsburgh, I had Amish experiences in Lancaster, and you’d see these people living their lives. You’d think that they wouldn’t be affected by this violence but they are. What happens inside the Black Lives Matter movement is that filmmakers and theater makers want to direct other stories. We want to tell every story.
The Flight Attendantis available on HBO Max and the finale drops on December 17.