Matt Doyle: Geek Chic

Matt Doyle can’t keep his secret identity under wraps any longer. He’s a geek.

Eight years ago, when he arrived in New York from London, where he had been studying classical theater at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts, he rocked a Euro mullet, skinny jeans, and three piercings in his left ear. This is the Matt director Michael Mayer met when he cast him in Spring Awakening.

Mayer knew that this “wafer-thin” hipster was also perfect for another musical he was working on: Brooklynite. Doyle’s the first one to admit that he’s a huge comic book fan just like his character Trey Swieskowski, a math whiz who runs his late parents’ hardware store with secret dreams of becoming a real-life superhero and joining the Legion of Victory, a cohort of six superheroes who rule Brooklyn.

However, it’s been five years since Doyle started workshopping the show, and during that time he’s cultivated a “leading man image” for himself. He’s strayed from the graphic tees and skinny jeans in favor of khakis and button-ups, and he gained a workout addiction, building up 25-30 pounds of muscle over his slender frame. His new look has earned him roles in shows like The Book of Mormon, Bye Bye Birdee, and War Horse, and a gaggle of fangirls and fanboys who hang on his every Instagram post.

Mayer took one look as this clean-cut actor, a world away from the nerd he met years ago, and was concerned. With the production approaching at the Vineyard Theater, where the show runs through March 29, he told Doyle, “I need the old Matt.”

“The transformation back has been really fun,” says Doyle, who has had to wean himself off his obsession with Joe Manganiello’s Evolution workout in favor of more cardio. “I’m buying graphic tees again. I’m wearing my skinny jeans again. I’m throwing things together that I probably would not have done since high school and since my time in London. It’s a new way of expressing myself, and I feel like I’m getting in touch with a younger side of myself and also just a truer identity in the end. Because I’ve been working so hard to create this different guy, you know?”

On a cold and windy February evening, Doyle is all smiles on a break from rehearsal, and he greets me with a hug and a warm hello at Grey Dog near Union Square. His tailored wool coat conceals his return to hipsterdom, with his shaggy, newly trimmed hair hiding under a beanie by Scotch & Soda, one of his favorite stores in the city.

Brooklynite’s a particularly momentous occasion for Doyle not only because he’s been working on the show for so long but also because it marks the first time he’s originated a role by himself. He played the title character in Jasper in Deadland Off Broadway last year, but he wasn’t involved in the workshops and readings the way he has been with Brooklynite.

“I have had the most amazing time replacing in shows,” Doyle says, citing The Book of Mormon and Spring Awakening. “But for so long I’ve been craving to create something from the ground up, and so to get to do that is really, really special. I’ve put a lot of myself into this character. I feel very, very attached to it, and it feels like it’s the closest thing to me that I’ve ever done because it’s been built around me. And it’s an experience that I think every actor is really hoping to have when they come to the city.”

It doesn’t sound like the character is much of a stretch, as Doyle will gladly compare notes on his favorite comic books growing up. He’s more of a Marvel than a DC guy—“This will make sense to comic book people,” he says to my confused face—and loves Captain America and the Avengers. He’s also a big Guardians of the Galaxy fan. “They nailed the movie,” he adds.

Doyle spent most of his childhood in the California Bay Area, and he got bitten by the theater bug in middle school when a teacher, Marilyn Izdebski, asked him to audition for her community theater. Doyle was struggling with bullies and fitting in, and when he played a farmer in Oklahoma!, he met a bunch of people who were “weird like me.”

“I felt like I found a community of my own and something that I was really good at, and I fell madly in love with it,” Doyle recalls. “I decided around 13 or 14—in the way that you do when you’re a kid—I was like, ‘I’m gonna do this with my life.’ I just like made the decision then and never questioned it.”

After Doyle attended LAMDA, he was supposed to attend Carnegie Mellon but ended up being cast in Spring Awakening and the rest is history. Now he boasts a pretty impressive slew of fans, many who harken back to his Spring Awakening days, and his constantly growing following has led to the success of his side career as a singer/songwriter.

He writes songs with his collaborator Will Van Dyke, who arranges the melodies Doyle writes, and he enjoys songwriting because you don’t have to be good at grammar to write a song. However, he is slightly concerned that some of his fans have his lyrics as tattoos.

“I really hope they don’t regret that!” Doyle says with a laugh. “I hope they don’t look back and go, ‘Oh this guy can’t write.’”

Doyle has a tattoo of his own, a quote based on a Juliet line that says, “My bounty is as boundless as the sea, my love as deep. The more I give to thee, the more I have, for both are infinite.” The quote is on his left bicep, and he immediately quashes any idea that he got it as a result of a recent break-up. (“That’s hysterical and so false,” he adds.)

“The reason that I got this on myself is because anything that I love and anything that I get passionate about, I give everything to,” Doyle explains. “It can be a flaw of mine, as well, I get too attached. That’s just how I like to live life. I feel like, you know, we’re only here once so you might as well give everything you’ve got.”

Doyle openly admits that he gets very obsessed with things he loves, whether it be theater, working out, or his dogs. “They’re like my kids!” he exclaims of his two pups — Jacob, a daschund and maltese mix, and Laila, a Carolina dog he adopted. “I want a third so bad, but I can’t!”

He recently moved to Jersey City and even leased a car — a black Toyota Prius C — to get out of town more. Before rehearsals for Brooklynite started, he and his sister drove a few hours upstate to go hiking. In his spare time, he also enjoys exploring the city and visiting one of his favorite restaurants, Piadina in the West Village.

A young man approaches our table and taps Doyle on the shoulder, “Hey, Brooklynite was great! I’m sorry to interrupt, but I wanted to say thanks.”

“Thanks! I really appreciate it,” Doyle says with sincere shock, seemingly not used to being recognized.

“I saw it twice actually!” the man adds.

“Awesome!” Doyle responds. “Thank you so much, man!”

While Brooklynite brings Doyle back to his hipster roots, he does relate more to the clean-cut, leading man look. He’d choose J.Crew over Urban Outfitters and dresses “like a frat boy on Easter,” as an ex put it.

He has been shopping more around town to fit in with his character, mainly going to thrift stores, and he cannot contain his excitement about the graphic tee he got at the Museum of Natural History with the Periodic Table of Elements on it.

And he has a some shopping to do today before he’s called for that evening’s performance. As we leave Grey Dog and walk down University Avenue, he reluctantly confesses that he’s going to pick up a remake of an old Zelda game for his Nintendo 3DS at Game Stop.

“You’re going to see how much of a geek I am,” Doyle admits shyly.

Let your geek flag fly.

Suiting by Ted Baker-London and Sandro
Dress shirts by Thomas Pink and Hugo Boss
Shoes by Cole Haan
Additional items by Alexander McQueen, RRL and All Saints