Matthew Settle in 'Chicago'
Rufus [on 'Gossip Girl'] is sort of a sensitive Mr. Mom.
If, like us, you spend Broadway’s night off riveted by the R-rated doings on Gossip Girl, you’ve probably heard that dreamy dad Rufus Humphrey, otherwise known as actor Matthew Settle, is spending his hiatus playing Billy Flynn in Chicago. The eagle-eyed Chicago casting team spotted Settle at a benefit performance honoring Wicked’s fifth anniversary, then tapped him to make his Broadway debut as Roxie’s dashing lawyer. Just before his April 19 debut, the charming southern actor (born in Hickory, NC; raised in Pigeon Forge, TN) chatted with Broadway.com about making his professional stage debut—and his theory about who Gossip Girl really is.
Are you excited about making your Broadway debut?
I’m thrilled. I went to theater school but never really got the chance to do theater, and it’s always been a dream of mine. This feels like a new door opening.
What’s been the biggest challenge in learning the role of Billy Flynn?
Getting the dance steps, and putting everything together. It’s a new discipline for me! I’m not nervous. I’ve seen the show about six times, and I’m excited about bringing some depth to Billy. I’m sure everyone who has done it has their own unique take.
You get one of the best entrances in any Broadway musical.
It is, right? It’s like, “Is everybody ready?!” It’s so much fun.
Surrounded by great-looking women...
You can’t ask for better than that!
I bet it’s going to be fun to play someone with a swagger because Rufus [on Gossip Girl] is not a swaggering character.
No, no, Rufus is sort of a sensitive Mr. Mom. He’s become the housewife almost. It’s going to be a departure from what I’ve been playing on television, for sure.
So, what’s going to happen on the rest of this season of Gossip Girl? I’m sure you’re going to reveal all the secrets to Broadway.com readers.
Uh huh, that’s what I do. And then they call me and say, “Um, you want to keep working here, right? You signed a non-disclosure guarantee.”
Sometimes. The last episode we did was a “red” episode with the pages printed on red, which means they can’t be Xeroxed. The producers have a lot riding on it, so it makes sense to have us sign confidentiality agreements.
We know you’re going head to head with a Baldwin! [William Baldwin, as Lily van der Woodsen’s ex.]
Right. He creates this exciting dynamic, a little love triangle. He’s going to give Rufus and Lily a run for their money.
You mentioned Rufus being sensitive. That’s what the audience wants from you, isn’t it?
It does seem like that. He’s the moral center of the show. What’s great for me is that I’m a father now [of one-year-old daughter Aven] and I find it helpful to play a character who has a degree of patience I wouldn’t necessarily have. You can’t play a character without having some of it rub off. Right now, Rufus is trying to keep his daughter [Jenny] on the straight and narrow.
That girl needs to be shipped off to reform school!
Who knows what will happen? Just watch the end of the season.
On many teen shows, the kids are written as being smarter than their parents.
You know, it’s funny: They make it like Rufus is always the last person to hear anything—he’s the last one to get the jokes. I have this backstory going that the reason he plays dumb all the time is that Rufus is Gossip Girl. It makes the show more fun for me to think that.
Genius! You grew up in North Carolina and the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. Why don’t you have a Southern accent?
Since I’ve been in an actor, I’ve lived in Italy, in London, in Stockholm—I had the fortune of working in different locations. If you live someplace long enough, you acquire slightly different systems of thought, and it influences your outlook on life. I just slowly adapted the way I speak.
Were you always a singer?
I sang in the choir. [Settle’s father is a Baptist minister.] I was in a band for a while. It definitely wasn’t my aim to come here and sing, but I’ll take it! It’s a challenge, and I like rising to the occasion.
I bet the teenagers in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, were not acting like the kids on Gossip Girl!
No. But I think the universal theme is that kids are always looking for identity. No matter what world you grow up in, you find similar dynamics.
How are the young actors on the show keeping their heads on straight?
They’ve got good support systems. As much as the tabloids like to make them out to look like rock stars, they’re just normal kids.
You’ve been in the tabloids lately yourself [with rumors that Settle is dating his onscreen wife, Kelly Rutherford, after their marriages broke up]. Has that been weird?
Yeah, but that’s just what happens when [actors] go through divorce and it becomes public. People want to define things so there’s something to talk about. I don’t take it seriously. And it’s press. Don’t they say there’s no bad press?
Roxie Hart would certainly agree!