Before he discovered Toronto Film School, Matthew McDonald had hit perhaps the lowest point in his young life.
“I had graduated from university with a degree in History and Political Science, but had no idea what I wanted to do with that, so I was working full time at an awful job that made me miserable, and I was super overweight,” said the 26-year-old Hamilton native, who was recently named valedictorian for TFS’s Acting for Film, TV & the Theatre graduating class.
“Then one morning I had the stereotypical ‘moment of clarity’ that I wanted something more.”
McDonald parlayed that moment into movement – quitting his job, going on a diet, taking up exercise, and last, but not least, signing up for acting classes at his local theatre.
It was there on the stage, he said, that he found his true “obsession” – acting.
“Movies have always been a huge passion of mine, but it never occurred to me that I could be an actor until a few years ago,” he said, crediting his theatre acting teachers for motivating him to pursue an education in his craft.
“Acting has now become my biggest passion by far. It takes up 90 per cent of my time and I couldn’t be happier with that.”
After enrolling in and dropping out of a different acting program at another college because he found it “really limiting,” McDonald discovered the Acting for Film, TV & the Theatre Diploma at TFS.
“I fell in love with the premise: film, television, and theatre – it sounded like exactly what I wanted,” he said. “…I wanted the diversity of learning to act on stage, as well as in front of a camera.”
Fast-forward 18 months, and McDonald is now on the verge of graduating from TFS at the top of his class, after completing his training in the Stanislavski Method under the guidance of TFS’s faculty of working actors whose own resumes boast roles in such acclaimed series as The Handmaid’s Tale, American Gods, Orphan Black, and Taken, among others.
While the Acting for Film, TV and the Theatre Diploma at TFS allowed McDonald and his classmates the opportunity to explore all facets of the entertainment business – from the foundations of acting for the camera and stage, to movement and improvisation, to voice-over, screenwriting, pitching, producing, directing, video editing, auditioning and career management – he said the biggest lesson he’s taking away from his time at TFS is that “life is like a mirror.”
“Whatever you put into it, it gives right back to you. I started at TFS with the mindset that this program would have my full attention for 18 months and I worked really hard. It was all I did,” he said.
“It was the first time I ever put any effort into school before, and the opportunities I’ve received in turn because of that have honestly changed my life.”
The biggest change McDonald has seen in himself over the course of his acting studies at TFS, he said, is the degree of confidence he now has in the fact that he’s on the right path.
“This is what I’m meant to do. When I was in university I always questioned what I was doing, and if it was what I really wanted,” he said. “I even worked at a museum, but I would never introduce myself as a historian or anything like that, but now there’s no hesitation: I am an actor.”
Even though his time at TFS has come to an end, McDonald said he has no intention of slowing down. His post-graduation plans include bulking up his demo reel in the hopes of landing an agent in the near future, working with some fellow TFS alumni on a few short films, as well as pursuing one of his other passions – singing – with some upcoming musical collaborations.
Reflecting back on his own time at TFS, McDonald said the single-most valuable piece of advice he could give incoming students would be to “put yourself out there.”
“This is a very competitive industry, and you want to have all the opportunities you can,” he said.
“It starts with you. Get involved with other students, collaborate, network, do anything you can to make yourself known and get yourself work. If you can’t find work, make your own – just put yourself out there.”