The kid gets in the pictures
Matthew Zhang, 11-year-old actor
When he’s not busy playing Ping-Pong or video games, El Dorado Hills resident Matthew Zhang spends a lot of time in Los Angeles where he takes improv-comedy classes, performs stand-up comedy, and hits up film and TV auditions. This month, the 11-year-old actor squares off against Jason Bateman in the new spelling-bee comedy Bad Words, scheduled for limited release on March 14, and opening in theaters nationally on March 28. Zhang, whose résumé includes various sitcoms and cartoons, has only been acting for three years, but he’s already got designs to write a screenplay. You know, just like any other preteen.
What was it like shooting Bad Words?
It was really fun to work with Jason Bateman. [I was] on set for two days, and then [Bateman] wanted me to add some stuff to [my part], and he gave me a sandwich. I really don’t want to give anything else away, though.
Fair enough. What else have you done?
I had a recurring role on Back in the Game with James Caan on ABC. It was really fun. That was my first big TV show, and there were a lot of other kids on the set.
Is that cool when there are a lot of kids to hang out with while you shoot?
Yeah, we hang out, [but] some of us have to do school and homework. I do independent study, and that usually takes three to five hours a day.
History. It’s entertaining, not boring. I like to read. I like the Harry Potter series, Holes and Chronicles of Narnia.
Do you have any other hobbies?
I play a lot of Minecraft. I also play Ping-Pong when I'm at home in Sacramento.
Are you a Kings fan? Or do you root for the Lakers now?
I like tennis—I used to play; I don’t really like basketball.
Do you like spending so much time in L.A.?
I like L.A., because the weather is always so warm, but that’s about all I like. Well, I like the acting.
But you like Sacramento better?
Yeah, it’s not so populated here. It’s more relaxing. At home, we have a pool and a home theater, and [our house in El Dorado Hills] has an amazing view of the mountains. It’s a million-dollar deal.
You’ve probably met a lot of famous people—who was your favorite?
I saw Jackie Chan at a movie screening once, but he was kind of in a hurry.
What actors do you admire?
Jackie Chan and Chow Yun-Fat and Russell Peters. Also, Jason Bateman—I love Arrested Development, but I'm probably not supposed to say that because I'm only 11. I really liked Will Arnett, too, in The Lego Movie.
You’ve done voice-over work for a new Nickelodeon animated series Bad Seeds. What’s that like?
Voice-over acting is really relaxing. You go in, and it only takes 40 minutes and then you’re done.
Why stand-up comedy?
I love being funny. I saw Russell Peters’ stand-up material, and thought, “I want to be just like him.” Now I [do] improv and also perform my own material.
How do you develop your jokes?
If I accidentally say something funny, then I’ll write it down. Sometimes I write stuff down and then forget about it, but find it later, and it’s not so funny. I think 50 percent of the stuff I say is probably stupid.
I’m really interested in writing scripts. For now, I want to be an actor—I don’t know if I’m smart enough to be a director.
I’m sure you’re smart enough—what about college?
I want to go to the [University of Southern California in Los Angeles] and study acting and screenwriting.
Your brother Michael is an actor, too, right? Did you follow his lead into the profession?
Yes. He has a movie called Space Warriors, and he was also in The Avengers. But we both started acting at the same time, actually.
Is there sibling rivalry?
Not really. Sometimes we go for the same roles, but it just depends on what the [filmmakers] want. He’s 15, and I’m 11, and sometimes there are roles that fit one of us better.
So, you’re not competitive?
No, we both get the money, so it doesn’t matter who gets the part.
Who’s the better actor?
Well, everybody’s entitled to their own opinion, but I’d say I am.