Mathew St. Patrick Biography
Grew Up in the City, Escaped Harsh Realities, Sought the Actor's Life
When Mathew St. Patrick was a boy, he escaped from the rough streets of his neighborhood by watching film after film in the all-night theater near his home. Watching the actors on the screen, he often thought, "I can do that." Although all too often he felt that no one else had confidence in his abilities, St. Patrick held on to his belief in himself. He weathered hard work and violence during his childhood, homelessness and poverty at the start of his career, and criticism and rejection from casting agents. Though he was finally rewarded with an important and groundbreaking role in an award-winning television series, St. Patrick has continued to reach for new goals. Laughingly describing actors as "professional rejects," he has continued to take risks by seeking new acting projects, as well as beginning to write scripts himself.
St. Patrick was born on March 17, 1969, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and grew up with two brothers and one sister. His mother, Brenda, was an elementary school teacher, while his father, Curtis, was a salesman and entrepreneur. St. Patrick's father started several different businesses, and, from the age of nine, young Mathew began to work with him, doing such jobs as selling hot dogs from vending carts.
Grew Up in the City
Though Mathew spent much of his free time with friends playing tackle football or stick-ball in the city streets of his neighborhood, he also valued the time he spent with his family, especially getting to know his mother's grandparents. He loved to sit and talk with his tiny, frail great-grandmother and his quiet, affectionate great-grandfather. Though his great-grandmother called Mathew her favorite, she never hesitated to correct him and teach him manners. From his gentle great-grandfather he learned the value of a positive attitude, and from his great-grandmother he acquired his stern look, which masks a spirited sense of humor and fondness for laughter.
His mother's father, Charlie Queen, owned a pool hall in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia. A much-loved longtime resident of the area, Queen was dubbed "the mayor of Germantown" by his friends and neighbors. Young Mathew spent many hours in Queen's Pool Hall, first learning how to shoot pool, then winning against men much older than himself.
While St. Patrick was developing his skill at pool and sports, he had little confidence in his abilities in school. Though his experience working in his father's businesses had helped teach him math, he did not read well and his teachers did not offer him a great deal of help. When his seventh-grade geography teacher criticized him and his family in front of the class, St. Patrick began to forge a determination to prove him wrong.
Escaped Harsh Realities
Young Mathew's view of the world outside the bleak streets of his neighborhood came from the films he saw at the all-night movie theater and from the magazines he read. He spent many nights at the movies, watching black men like himself acting in films like Mother, Jugs and Speed (1976) and Cornbread, Earl and Me (1975). As he watched actors like Bill Cosby, Laurence Fishburne, and Keith Wilkes, he began to see a way out of the neighborhood streets that too often proved to be a dead end for young black men.
Often uncomfortable in school, St. Patrick had never learned to read well, so at first he just looked at the sports and fashion magazines that he enjoyed. He admired the successful players, many of whom had come from similar working-class backgrounds, and he admired the sophisticated people pictured in the fashion magazines whose stylish clothes seemed to symbolize their success. Their stories interested him, so he painstakingly taught himself to read, hoping that he could learn more about worlds different from the one he lived in.
Though St. Patrick tried to stay uninvolved in hoodlum activities, it was hard to stay out of trouble in his neighborhood. He was beaten up regularly, often just because he was not involved with local gangs. By the time he graduated from high school, most of his friends were in jail and others had already been killed. St. Patrick began to fear for his own life if he did not get away.
His father had an old Air Force friend who lived in the suburbs of Chicago. In 1987, shortly after his graduation from high school, Mathew St. Patrick left his home in Philadelphia and headed for Chicago. Seeking a career either in sports or fashion, he rented a room from his father's old friend and began to look for work. The results of his search were disappointing. Though he got some runway modeling work, he was turned down by a major modeling agent because he did not have the standard look required for modeling. While he attended a few college classes and worked as a carpenter, weight trainer, and Coca-Cola salesman to pay the rent, he continued to look for a way to break into a more creative and profitable field.
Sought the Actor's Life
In 1994 St. Patrick was cast in a small role in a local independent film. Though he eventually ended up playing the lead in the film, he had differences with the filmmaker, making it a difficult work experience. The film was never completed but St. Patrick had finally found the work he wanted to do. Within a week he headed for Los Angeles, a major center for film and television work, determined to prove to himself that he could make it as an actor.
St. Patrick's introduction to Los Angeles was not easy. For the first year-and-a-half he was often homeless, sleeping in friends' porches and garages while he took jobs as a bartender or personal trainer and tried to find acting work. He took acting classes and conquered his fear of improvisation, that is, acting without a script by making up actions and words on the spot. He "crashed" auditions to which he had no appointment. Once, when he heard about casting for a film called Eddie, starring Whoopie Goldberg, he went back to see the producers three times in an effort to get even a small part. He had little success, though he did develop a good relationship with a commercial casting agent who cast him in several commercials.
St. Patrick was beginning to doubt that he would ever succeed when a friend suggested that he try working in live theater, both to develop his acting skills and to appear onstage where his abilities could be seen by those who could cast him in films or television. He had recently had a very discouraging experience in an acting class when a visiting casting agent had told him that, with his muscular body, bald head, and black skin, he could only ever expect to be cast as a criminal. Angered at being seen only as a stereotype rather than a full human being, St. Patrick determined to take no more acting classes. Instead, he wrote a monologue casting himself as an attorney, arguing a case for a mother who was in danger of losing her children. Taking his friend's advice, he took this powerful monologue and auditioned for the West Coast Theater Ensemble.
Appeared on Stage and Screen
Founded in 1986, the West Coast Theater Ensemble is a respected, multi-ethnic theater company which has produced many award-winning plays. Before St. Patrick performed his audition monologue, he made a secret decision that if he got into the company he would quit his non-acting jobs and concentrate all his energies on his acting career. He was accepted into the troupe and two days later auditioned for his first play, a basketball drama called Full Court Press by Chicago playwright Donald Lewis.
St. Patrick won the lead role in Full Court Press. A talent agent who saw his opening night performance agreed to represent him, and sent him to audition for a role in the film Steel Sharks. St. Patrick was cast in the film as a Navy Seal sniper, already proving wrong the casting director who had been so sure he would only play gang members and bank robbers.
Once he had his first film role, St. Patrick's career seemed to take off. He was cast in another film, a military drama called Surface to Air, and won the role of police lieutenant Marcus Taggart on the ABC soap opera General Hospital. In 1998 he moved to New York City to play another soap opera law enforcement official, Adrian Sword, an FBI agent, on All My Children. St. Patrick's determination not to play only negative stereotypes like criminal roles drew notice from those watching him on television. In both 1998 and 1999, he was nominated for an Image Award by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
While working on General Hospital and All My Children, St. Patrick continued to audition for new roles. He performed in a number of episodes on major television shows, including Moesha, NYPD Blue, and Diagnosis Murder. In 2000 he had the opportunity to audition for the role of Keith Charles, a gay police officer on a new HBO series called Six Feet Under. The series was to be a quirky, gothic drama about a family-run funeral home. Keith Charles would be the partner of David, one of the mortician sons in the Fisher family. St. Patrick was cast in the role of Keith and returned to Los Angeles to begin work on the new project.
Six Feet Under captured the public imagination immediately. Funny and offbeat, it also had a grim and slightly gruesome side, as it showed the nuts and bolts of the funeral parlor business. Along with being a look at an unusual line of work, Six Feet Under was also a family drama, and viewers were captivated by the day-to-day lives of the Fisher family and their friends and lovers. Michael St. Patrick immediately drew notice for his work portraying Keith Charles. Along with a Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series, the show won an award for Outstanding Drama Series from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Media Awards during its first season in 2001.
The GLAAD award was a testimony to St. Patrick's sensitive portrayal of a complex gay character. St. Patrick is not gay himself, and at first had misgivings about identifying himself so closely with a gay character. Mainstream society, and especially mainstream African-American society, has been slow to accept gay and lesbian lifestyles, and St. Patrick was apprehensive that these homophobic attitudes would affect his career. However, he remembered the black actors he had watched in films during his childhood. Some had made difficult choices in order to play socially important roles, as Sidney Poitier did in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967). Inspired by those who had gone before him, St. Patrick decided that if he was to play a gay character, it was important not to play a gay stereotype. Having been stereotyped himself by those who made assumptions about him based on his black skin and muscular good looks, he did not want to participate in stereotyping another group of people.
The success of Six Feet Under has continued through four seasons. Among the awards that the show and its cast have won every season was a National Leadership Award from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, presented to Mathew St. Patrick in 2002 for his development of the role of Keith Charles.
Never one to stop after a single success, St. Patrick continues to expand his career. Along with continuing to seek out acting roles that interest him, he is involved in charity work. He is an active member of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and the Best Buddies Organization, which promotes friendship between those with developmental disabilities and those without such disabilities. He has also begun to work on creating his own film projects. Through his own hard work, the young boy who taught himself to read with magazines is becoming a writer.
Though somewhat uncomfortable with the public attention thrust upon him by his sudden fame, St. Patrick takes his position as a role model seriously, viewing his success not with self-satisfaction, but with a sense of responsibility. Not only is he a parent, guiding the growth of his young son, but he has also kept in touch with many of his old friends from the neighborhood, offering support and encouragement to those who did not escape from the damaging effects of the poverty, violence, and racism of the inner city. "My advice is to not get sidetracked by things that don't matter," St. Patrick said to Back Stage West writer Pamely Bock. "Keep your focus, be very open to possibilities, and set some concrete goals."
Steel Sharks, 1996.
Surface to Air, 1997.
Full Court Press, 1996.
General Hospital, ABC, 1997.
All My Children, ABC, 1998-2000.
Six Feet Under, HBO, 2001–.
Back Stage West, August 29, 2002. p. 6.
"Mathew St. Patrick, as Keith Charles," Six Feet Under, www.hbo.com/sixfeetunder/cast/actors/mathew_stpatrick.shtml (September 7, 2004).
"Mathew St. Patrick," IMDb, www.imdb.com/name/nm0820783/ (September 7, 2004).
Information for this profile was obtained through an interview with Mathew St. Patrick on October 14, 2004.
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