Although he's a recognizable face on both Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies and Mysteries, fans of actor Niall Matter (pictured above) will see him as never before in his latest project, Rip in Time, co-starring Torrey DeVitto. The film is a clever and witty re-imagining of the famed Rip Van Winkle fable (about a man who awakens from a 200-year slumber to find himself in the future), which required Matter to undergo a serious, and hairy, transformation, rendering him almost unrecognizable (see photo below). "Honestly, it was that transformation [for the film's beginning] that really helped me form this character," he explained during an exclusive interview with MediaVillage. "Once [I saw myself] transformed into that person, with the hair and the beard, then standing up for the first time and looking in the mirror with all that and the wardrobe, it instantly took me back to his time period and made falling into the character very easy.
"The first time we did it, it took about an hour and a half to transform me fully," he continued. "Then the hair/make-up team got more familiar with the beard placement, as it was all done in separate pieces and different layers, all placed to look real. Then the hair; there were a lot of different pieces involved in that too. But from there, seeing it all together with the wardrobe, I knew how a person would carry themselves, and because of that, I tried to carry myself throughout the film that way. Even when Rip was [eventually] in modern clothes, I kept the posturing and the body position similar to how it was in his historic wardrobe."
The film's fantasy element marks a departure for Matter, who is revered for his contemporary leading man roles. And while he's still the leading man, the opportunity to play one in a completely different genre was something he couldn't pass up. "It was just way too good of a script," he recalled. "This really is a character-driven performance, so I reveled in that. I do like to look at myself as a character actor, not that there's anything wrong with being a leading man as it's a great thing and a great way to make a living, but it's really fun to sink your teeth into a character and get to do it for a company I love working for!"
Beyond the visual transformation required to portray Rip, in his performance Matter perfectly embodies the child-like wonderment of a Civil War-era man discovering 21st-century technology. "I was trying to see the world through a child's eyes," he explained.
"My kids are very excited to see it," he continued. "It's because of them I have a first-hand experience of watching a child discover something for the first time, and what I wanted to embody within Rip. There are so many moments throughout this movie where there are things he wouldn't automatically know. Our director, Jess Harmon, was perfect for this as she let us explore, and at times go off the already wonderful script, and ad-lib. That led to some funny moments I hope make it into the film. The whole experience was just a joy."
Helping Rip through his 21st-century journey of discovery is Sarah (DeVitto), a benevolent farmer. While she can't quite believe his fantastical tale of being from the past, she goes above and beyond to aid him. "I hadn't worked with Torrey before," Matter said. "It would be a dream to find myself working with her again. I was flabbergasted at how talented she is. My character is such a character, and there was so much acting involved on my part, it kind of felt like there was a weird juxtaposition on set because [her character] is so grounded. It's because she's so talented, it often felt like she wasn't acting. I never wanted to distract from the realness of her performance when playing such an outlandish [guy]. But we found the perfect balance. Working with her was an absolute pleasure. I felt like we'd been friends forever."
It appears Matter has another friend forever in Hallmark. When I told him that this film marks his 23rd project for the company (over both Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries), the actor couldn't believe it. "I'm shocked!" he declared in closing. "Still, it kinda makes sense, as they've reached out to me consistently for five or so years now. But I haven't had an opportunity like this before. I hope the relationship continues, and they do more in the fantasy genre, as this was so much fun and something they do so well."
Rip in Time will be telecast Sunday, May 22 at 9 p.m. on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.
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