He played a snail during his first acting role. That was in the second grade. Now, viewers can curl up on their couches in the evenings and see Matt Long doing his latest work on a network TV show.
The Winchester native recalls when the seed was planted and his love for acting began to grow.
“My mom sewed me this snail costume that was super cool,” he said. “It was at the little outdoor stage at College Park, down at bottom of the hill. That’s where we did (the play).”
He better remembers his fifth-grade play, “This is Your Life, Santa Claus.” It was a take on the 1960s show “This is Your Life” with Ralph Edwards.
And in the eighth grade, he acted in “The Homecoming.”
“That set me up to when I went to be a freshman (at George Rogers Clark High School),” he said. “I think I jumped right into theater arts. I met Vanessa Rogers, who was the most influential person in my life in high school besides my parents, especially when it comes to my career now.”
He tried out for “Oklahoma!” and grabbed the role of Ali Hakim.
“I tried to do everything really big, and got a lot of attention for it, and I really enjoyed it,” Long said. “I tried to get a lot of laughs for it. I tried to do as many plays as I could, and I was known for that.”
Long also became a regular in Leeds Center for the Arts’ productions. The theater had undergone a renovation in the early 2000s, so it also served as the location for GRC’s shows at the time.
“I was in ‘Godspell,’ and that was my first time onstage with adults,” he said. “(Leeds) is a real theater. It made me feel like a pro actor from the very beginning. It gave me more confidence. It had a paying audience, and it felt like the real thing. Looking back on it, it gave me more confidence to believe in (myself). That’s the thing you need more than anything in this business: to believe in yourself.”
Long racked up quite a collection of performances while in high school, participating in shows like “Bye Bye Birdie” and “Calamity Jane.” He continued acting in the children’s plays with Leeds, too.
As president of the drama club, Long was close to Rogers, who handpicked for him for “The Music Man” his senior year.
“It was big for me,” he said. “It really felt like it was mine. That was the first time I knew (acting) was for me. Everyone seemed to really enjoy it. It was a huge confidence boost for me.
“My time at GRC and my time acting in Winchester absolutely laid the foundation for me to go on and be successful in college and professionally as an actor, when I started working in 2004. I haven’t done anything else.”
Along with others who inspired Long growing up, like Steve Crosby, who directed the music in the shows Long was in, Winchester residents were instrumental in building that confidence for him to pursue acting beyond high school.
“They always showed up to see the plays,” he said.
He attended Western Kentucky University where he walked into success. He immediately auditioned for “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” and got the part of Linus; landing a mainstage role as a freshman was a huge deal. Though he was known for his musical performances in high school, he realized singing wasn’t his strong suit.
He used his time in college to really grow in his craft, focusing on becoming a better actor and learning how to connect to a character.
“I’d never really connected to a role in a real truthful way,” he said. “I hadn’t had a personal moment with someone on the stage, a real honest moment with someone. That was what my college career became about for me. I started to be as simple and as honest as I possibly could be. It was difficult for me at first. It took some time.”
After graduation, Long got a gig performing in productions with the Williamstown Theatre Festival and moved to New York in the fall of 2002.
After getting noticed by some agents and managers in the festival’s showcase, he began auditioning for movies and TV shows. It was then he also joined forces with Bob Glennon, who still acts as Long’s manager.
“He believed in me. We’re the closest of friends still,” he said. “After you believe in yourself, you have to have people who believe in you, and push you out there. So many people want to do this. If you don’t have multiple people pushing you that extra mile, then someone else will get the job.”
It was his second pilot season he booked a role that holds a special place in his heart: Jack on “Jack and Bobby.”
He’d flown to Los Angeles to do his first screen test for Jack, and just like his first role in college, he found quick, exhilarating success.
The pilot got picked up in 2004, and that’s when he moved to L.A. to work.
“One (role) that’s always been so special to me and always will be, was my first job as Jack,” he said. “I learned everything I know about TV from that job. I had no idea what I was doing. I learned on the job basically. I loved that story, and I loved him.”
Though it was a critically-acclaimed show, it received bad ratings and was canceled after one season.
“That was a huge heartbreak,” he said. “It was almost like I lost a friend when it was canceled.”
He went on to play in the movie “Ghost Rider,” which he filmed in Australia. He had dinner with Nicholas Cage, worked with a motorcycle trainer during the day and had the time of his life while shooting the movie, which helped him get through the difficulty of his show’s cancelation.
“That’s what pulls you through all the in-between times when you have so much self-doubt and negativity,” he said. “That’s what keeps you going. It’s just the best job in the world.”
He’s also snagged roles in “Sydney White,” “Mad Men,” “Private Practice” and a show called “Graves,” where he worked with Nick Nolte.
“It was a really cool experience to spend so much time with him. He’s such a story teller,” he said.
His most recent work is on the NBC show “Manifest,” a drama surrounding passengers on a commercial airline who land after a routine flight, but find several years have passed and they have been presumed dead after the plane seemingly disappeared.
Long plays Zeke, who he said isn’t at all like the characters he usually plays. His roles have mostly been the cool, attractive guy, but Zeke’s character first appears disheveled and reveals a dark and troubled past.
“It’s so refreshing for me,” he said. “The cast is really fantastic. I did the last five episodes (of the first season). Provided we get a second season, I’ll be a regular. They’ve welcomed me with open arms. I’ve been looking for something like this. It’s a great show with a great character.”
He also enjoyed being back in New York again, where “Manifest” is filmed. If the show is renewed for the second season, he will be back there again this summer.
Now with a wife and daughter at home in L.A. and a huge job opportunity on the horizon, Long said he was fortunate to get to do so much during his youth in Winchester.
“With the high school musicals every spring and Leeds putting on shows, it seemed like a lot of opportunity to get involved and continue to be on stage,” he said. “I continued to build that belief and skills and being comfortable on stage, and thinking of myself as a good actor.”
And he credits his success to Rogers and his family, who still reside in Winchester.
“My parents really encouraged me to do it. I thought I’d go into forestry or recreation. I loved to go camping and backpacking and still do. But my parents and Vanessa encouraged me to try this,” he said. “I’ve supported my family, I’ve done a lot of traveling around the world. I’m very blessed.You only live once. You don’t want to be 50 years and say ‘What if I tried?’ You only get one life, and you’ve got to try.” §