From The SFX Archive - Matt Smith's Heroes And Inspirations

In tribute to the departing Doctor, here's another chance to read Matt Smith's Heroes And Inspirations interview, originally presented in the January 2011 issue of SFX...

Everyone knows that the Doctor is powered by curiosity, an innate sense of cosmic justice and a frankly courageous love of the bow-tie. But what fires and inspires Matt Smith, the flesh and blood behind the tweed and magic?

On a muggy late-Summer morning the Time Lord’s human proxy meets SFX in a room that hides among the fruit stalls and vinyl emporiums of Bertwick Street. He’s dressed in a fashionably distressed t-shirt and equally dilapidated boots that seem purpose-built for pegging it across alien rock formations. There’s a copy of Neil Gaiman’s script for the new season in his hand, and he’s feeling mischievous about the fact. “If you’re lucky I might give you one word,” he teases.

He curls himself into the sofa, his long, lean limbs falling into the first of some increasingly strange yet languid shapes (at one point he tilts his head to an angle that Picasso might have admired). He’s here to talk heroes and inspirations, and we ask if he’s had a chance to prep or whether he intends to wing it.

“I’m of the wing it Doctory variety,” he declares, with a familiar smile.


I have to start with my dad. Without wishing to sound cheesey, he really is the greatest influence on my life, even now. Just as a man, as a man of style and grace and all those things… there’s no one that I trust or value more than him. When I was playing football he would always tell me if I was bad or good or whatever, and it’s just the same with acting. I ring him up after every episode and we talk about it. Last year, I’m stood on a beach on my first day of Doctor Who , going "What the --- is going on?" There’s a TARDIS in front of me, and a sonic screwdriver that I’d never used, and all these people going "Well, go and be the Doctor, then!" And you’re like [big gulp] "Oh, alright, ok!" I rang my dad up and said "Dad, I’m screwed… what do I do?" And he said "Son, you’re a fabulous actor, but you’ve got to grow a pair and you’ve got to step up."



Music’s definitely something that inspires my imagination. The courage that music gives me! Arcade Fire, all their stuff, that big sound. If I’m waiting to do a scene where I’m facing a Dalek, I can put a big, euphoric Arcade Fire song on and think "I can fight an army. Come and get me!" It’s the same with Weird Fishes and Radiohead. Just the execution of those albums and the craftsmanship. Music is a craft that I can’t master in that way, and when I see people who are able to do it… It’s just understanding the parallels of a different artistic discipline, and what goes into making someone brilliant as a painter or a musician or a filmmaker or whatever, and that can make your own performance more fulfilling, because you see how they have to practice every day to make their things better. And so I practice my words more and more, I practice my lines ten times more the night before, so I’ve got that same dexterity that Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead has.



Rio, in terms of spirit and the people I met, and the colour of the city and the way they embrace football and music, and the food, and the energy. The people are totally open and kind, and they smile a lot; they have spirit and they’re welcoming. And the fact that I fell in love there a bit, and fell in love with it… I’ve never been as excited as getting on a plane to Rio, and as disappointed going back. And I guess all those feelings about that place are the things you can draw on for inspiration. I went for carnival, and just took thousands of photos, and I look through them whenever I feel remotely blue or unnecessary.





Just for the record I have to mention Steven Moffat. In terms of time and structure and dialogue and humour and everything, he’s the best I’ve ever worked with, and I’m sure will be in the top three I will ever work with. The rapidity and the craft with which he produces these scripts is quite heroic, I think. I definitely feel as though he’s writing more and more for me. Undoubtedly, actually. Which is really rewarding, to have a writer of that calibre writing for you. No disrespect to some of the other writers that work on the show, but they might take six or seven drafts – Steven does two. But it takes a long time to do the first one. He’ll write 20 pages and then he’ll delete 25 pages.



It’s moments that inspire me as much as anything. Walking around London with my iPod, walking over Waterloo Bridge to the National Theatre every day. Just going to work at the National in the Summer, down the Southbank, getting a muffin from Eat… that was bliss, it really was. My sister lived here when I was younger, and it was this other world. It was somewhere where the lights were different, and the energy was different. And I could get food past 12 o’clock, and I went for eggs benedict at Balans late, with my sister, and was just utterly blown away by the concept of eggs benedict at that time of night.



Rap’s been a big influence on me. I listened to it religiously from 15 to 17 or 18. Seamus Heaney was asked who he thought was the great poet of the past 10 years. And do you know who he said? Eminem. I like the invention of rap music. Just listen to Illmatic or any of Biggie’s first couple of albums, or Eminem’s first couple of albums. Somehow it just spoke to me at that time, whether it was playing football, whether it gave me confidence and courage to do that. And it’s quite rebellious. Teenagers are rebellious, aren’t they? I just loved it. At the time I was listening to it there was great drama to it – Tupac and Biggie were trying to kill each other. So you had to pick an allegiance. I was East Coast, some people were West Coast. When you went to school there was something to talk about. All of that stuff is enticing. I look at the rapidity with which I have to get through language, all the line learning, and my love of poetry as well, and that all comes from rap music, it all comes from Nas. Having listened to and learnt rap songs by heart, it’s probably all stood me in good stead. Thank you Nas!

Nick Setchfield

Nick Setchfield
Editor-at-Large, SFX Magazine

Nick Setchfield is the Editor-at-Large for SFX Magazine, writing features, reviews, interviews, and more for the monthly issues. However, he is also a freelance journalist and author with Titan Books. His original novels are called The War in the Dark, and The Spider Dance. He's also written a book on James Bond called Mission Statements.