We Are Marshall
Matthew's new film, We Are Marshall, is the true story of a tragic accident that tested the spirit of an entire town. In Huntington, West Virginia, Marshall University's "Thundering Herd" football program was more than a sport—it was the heart of the community until one fateful night in 1970. While traveling home after a game, the chartered jet carrying the football team, coaches and some fans crashed less than a minute before landing. All 75 people on board died.
As the community copes with the tragedy, the school administration debates whether to shut down the team or start from scratch. Matthew plays Jack Lengyel, the new coach who believes he can beat the odds and rebuild the team.
Matthew says the film has a real emotional impact on him—he tears up every time he watches it. "I've seen it now five times, and I've quit trying to keep it from getting me," Matthew says. "It happens every time."
Playing Jack Lengyel—a father, husband and football coach—also helped Matthew feel closer to his own father. Matthew's dad Jim, who passed away in 1992, once played for the Green Bay Packers.
Matthew says he channeled his father throughout the film, especially in an emotional scene where Jack speaks to the new team at the gravesites of those killed in the crash. "A coach of kids in college is sometimes a father figure...sometimes needs to give you a swift kick in the butt, sometimes needs to give you some tough love," Matthew says. "You've got to handle each individual differently when [they're] kids because you're more of a teacher than a coach. I got to know my pop real well through this."
The wounds are still fresh more than 30 years after the crash. Matthew says some residents told him it was "kind of weird and kind of spooky" to be filming a movie about it in town.
In fact, Matthew says many residents didn't want to bring the football program back at all after the crash. Eventually, the town was won over by Matthew and the film crew because residents realized they were there "to do the story justice."
Matthew says that some people who haven't attended a Marshall football game since before the crash have now returned to the stadium. "They're taking the field. I'm really honored," Matthew says. "This is the most gratifying experience I've had as an actor."
"There's no rule book for how do you deal with [grief]. We all do it our own way."