MATT BERRY PLAYS MEN WHO DO NOT fit in this world, who are either too dumb to know that or too self-involved to care. He’s the cruel, fatuous hangman—also named Matt Berry—in Snuff Box and the witless, talentless actor Steven Toast in Toast of London. In FX’s What We Do in the Shadows, he’s a sex-obsessed, murderous Victorian vampire who is absolutely serious at all times, especially when he’s being very stupid. “Escapism is so important,” Berry tells me at a plush hotel bar in Manhattan, where he’s attending Comic-Con to promote the third season of Shadows. “I’m more than happy to be part of something that is utterly pointless and stupid. With no sort of social hammer whatsoever. Nothing at all.”
It’s true—much of Berry’s work is superficially goofy, full of big silly gags and juvenile jokes about sex. Claiming that as his entire appeal doesn’t fully capture what makes Berry such a compelling performer, though. All of his roles, many of which he writes himself, have an instantly distinctive quality: the utter commitment of buffoonery played straight with the occasional flourish of strange, elongated vowels that can turn any word into a hilarious oddity. He plays these imbeciles with so much unblinking stolidity you can’t help but search for a hint of knowingness, some sign that he’s winking. You know there’s a smirk, but you’re not sure how you know it because Berry betrays nothing. He’s not trying to convince anyone he’s being funny.
Berry is not tall, and in life he is much quieter and more reserved than his noisy screen roles. But there is a familiar intensity, especially in his dark, deep-set eyes. He is sitting on a dusky-pink sofa and wearing a denim jacket, red bandanna, black T-shirt, and jeans. His fingernails are painted black; the polish is chipped.
This bar has try-hard polka dots on the walls and gives the impression that it would love to be photographed. The actor creates the opposite feeling, and he tells me that if I look back on this interview and decide there’s nothing worth writing about, I should feel free to just skip the whole thing. “When actors, people that are an extension or an exaggeration of themselves in their performances, do a lot of interviews, you’re not left with much at the end of it,” he tells me with a shrug.
Berry is not a household name, especially in the U.S. In part, that’s because he is so reluctant to make the U.K. panel-show circuit, to participate in the fame shortcuts that would help launch him to leading-man stardom. In the U.K., he thinks, it is still possible to be a little standoffish if someone’s work doesn’t aim for broad appeal. If he were more ubiquitous, there would be more pressure to fit a particular mold. “And I wouldn’t be able to continue to do what I want,” he says.
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