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Young Performers
A pirate ship lifting up from the sea while someone jumps onto it from a cliff in 'Peter Pan & Wendy'

Image credit: Disney / Still From Peter Pan & Wendy

Young performer Noah Matthews Matofsky on playing ‘Slightly’ in Disney’s ‘Peter Pan & Wendy’ and how his mum and agent have supported him on his journey.

Spotlight member Noah Matthews Matofsky accomplished every young performer’s dream when he was cast in a Disney film. Disney’s Peter Pan & Wendy, a live-action adaptation of the classic animated film, saw Noah playing lost boy ‘Slightly’ alongside Jude Law as ‘Captain Hook’ and Alexander Molony as ‘Peter Pan’. 

Noah’s casting was especially exciting as he became the first actor with Down syndrome to have a major role in a blockbuster film. 

We had the chance to speak to Noah, alongside his mum Kathryn and his agent, Sue from Zebedee Talent, about the casting experience for Peter Pan and Wendy, advice for young performers and their parents and the excellent work Noah does for Down Syndrome UK. Here’s what they shared:

Hi Noah! How did you first discover your joy and talent for acting?

Noah: I always loved to dress up as different characters. We had a dressing up box here at home, and I love making costumes for World Book Day. Apart from the school plays, this was actually my first ever acting job. My grandad is a performer in the band, so maybe I can take after him. I also do modelling, which got me used to being in front of cameras.

How did Noah’s representation with Zebedee come about?

Kathryn: Somebody had pointed out an advert for a child presenter on a kid’s TV show, and I thought we’d give it a go. He got down to the final two and just missed out because they thought he was a bit too old, and we thought maybe we should get an agent. Then somebody mentioned Zebedee, so we got in touch and it all went from there.

Sue: I remember when Noah first started and we put him forward for a job for F&F, didn’t we? A modelling job. They wanted to see a self-tape. And how old was Noah? 10? I just remember seeing the self-tape. It was just a personality tape, and he just absolutely smashed it. Bearing in mind it was his first tape, I said to Kate, “He is going to be a star.” Because I was so impressed with his speech, how confident he was.

What sort of help and support does Zebedee provide to young performers and their parents? 

Sue: Although we’re an inclusive agency, and we are sort of a specialist agency, we do work in the same way as a traditional modelling agency. But, obviously, because of the nature of the people that we represent, we do have to make sure that we provide as much support as possible. 

Any kids that come to sign with us, we’ll just run through what they can expect from us [and] what we expect from them. We manage expectations the whole way. 

Once talent is signed, we provide as much support as we possibly can. We provide regular meetups [and] social events. We’ve got a Facebook group, we have a drop in Zoom every week for our talent where they can always just, if they’ve got any questions or they just want to say hello or have a chat with us, they can join that Zoom every week as well.

We like to think we are approachable and we’re on hand. And when they’re working as well, we try and provide as much support as we can. We always try and remain flexible as well. It’s really important for us – our ethos is we just want our talent to get themselves out there, get themselves seen and we want them all to get as many opportunities as possible in the industry.

Can you tell us about the audition process for the Disney film, ‘Peter Pan and Wendy’? 

Noah: When I got a call, it was exciting. We spent nearly a year making self-tapes and I kept getting through to the next round of auditions. The whole family got involved! I really, really wanted a part and when I finally met David Lowery, the director, we really bonded over the film Lord of the Flies.

Could you tell us about the process of suggesting Noah for the role of ‘Slightly’?

Sue: The brief came through on Spotlight, of course, and we just did what we always do. Our usual process is that we submit all our kids that fit the brief. So, regardless of their disability, difference or anything like that, we will just submit. 

We put Noah forward and it was so brilliant to get an email from the casting director to say that they were interested in him and that they would like to invite him to self-tape. We then put Noah in touch with an acting coach and had a few sessions there to help.

We were just so excited that one of our kids got this amazing opportunity. We just wanted to do everything we could to ensure he got the part.

What was your reaction to hearing Noah had gotten the role?

Kathryn: It was so unbelievably exciting! They’d been waiting till it was a decent hour in the morning to call me and let me know. It was still about seven in the morning and I was up north with my mum for her birthday because everything was in lockdown.

We were so absolutely thrilled and overjoyed for him. And then came the stress of realising that it was six months filming in Canada in the middle of COVID, and the year that my daughter was doing GCSEs. So we knew we had to make it happen, but it was incredibly stressful to split the family up completely for six months.

We just took a leap of faith and thought we’re going to make it work. So I took him for three months.

Noah: And then my dad looked after me for the last three months.

It must have been amazing to work on a Disney film! What was your most memorable experience when you were filming?

Noah: I have an awful lot of stuff to say. I made lots of new friends. The other lost boys were great. We all lived in the same apartment in Vancouver with a pool on the roof. So after hard days of filming, we would all go and have fun. The food on set was very amazing and nice. Also, even though you’re still making a big Disney film, you still have to do your schoolwork!

Noah on the set of ‘Peter Pan & Wendy’ / Image credit: Kathryn Matthews

What would be your number one piece of advice for anyone who’s new to the industry?

Sue: If you want to get the most out of it and just embrace as many opportunities as you can, be really flexible, be really adaptable. Take on all opportunities that come your way, be them paid or unpaid. Do whatever you can to get in front of casting teams, so always attend all castings. Just grab every opportunity. 

You never know what might come up. You don’t know what’s around the corner. You may go for a casting and meet a casting team and not be successful in that particular part, but invariably the casting team will remember you and keep you in mind for potential other future roles.

Do you have any advice for self-taping?

Sue: Do it at a nice time when you’re relaxed, calm and not too tired. I think, sometimes, parents rush, but actually it’s better just to do it at a time that’s better for the child, because you want to get the best out of them. 

Make sure that you’ve got really good lighting, really good sound and that you have a plain, light background behind you. Just make sure you read the instructions [from the brief] very, very carefully. If you are unsure about anything, contact your agent.

Don’t rush it. We want to get it right. That could be your only chance to make that impression. It’s all about first impressions, so you want to do your very, very best.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started out in the industry?

Kathryn: I think that the biggest shock for us was that there’s no rehearsal for films. We didn’t know this at all. Once we came out of quarantine, we had two weeks before the first day of shooting. And we went in to try on his costume, and then they said, “Right, we’ll see you on shoot day, on day one.” I said, “When’s the rehearsal?” And they said, “No, it’s straight to film.” And we had no idea about that! 

So basically, we rehearsed in the flat. I thought there’d be acting coaches and all sorts of advisors, but no, it was just us two.

Noah: We kind of crawled around on the floor of the office of the director.

Kathryn: We did – we had to pretend we were lost boys climbing over the rocks. They gave us the director’s office to practise in, just me and Noah, and the third AD. I think I was ‘Wendy’. I just had one of those moments where I just thought, ‘This is the most surreal thing I’ve ever done in my life.’ It was bonkers!

Could you tell us about all the amazing work that you do for Down Syndrome UK and raising awareness of Down Syndrome?

Noah: I was honoured to be asked to be a patron of Down Syndrome UK. I was asked to be their speaker at a fundraising ball. I was also a keynote speaker in Florida, Down Syndrome Congress. This month, I raised £900 by learning to say “I love you” in 21 different languages.

We want to spread the message that whether or not you have Down Syndrome, you should always follow your dreams.

What would you recommend young performers do to go about making their needs known to the production team?

Sue: We play quite a big part in that. So, when the young performer is assigned to us, we make sure that we know all about any additional needs that they have. For any jobs or castings, we will always communicate that on behalf of the child. So we’ll always just check in with the parents and make sure, is there anything that production needs to know? What adjustments do they need to make?

We’re quite direct as an agency. We have to be in how we’re speaking to clients all the time and advocating on behalf of our talent. We have a ‘no silly questions’ policy and we say that to clients as well. Just say it, just ask us, just be direct and then we will be as well.

What tips do you have for other young performers when it comes to auditioning?

Noah: Be prepared to do a self-tape again and again to get it right. And also, it’s a good idea to have good lighting. I would recommend a studio light. And have someone with you to read with you. And also, you might not always feel like doing it, but you never know, this could be a job to change your life!

Finally, what would be your dream role?

Noah: Well, I do love murder mystery TV shows and films. Mum is currently watching The Undoing with Noah Jupe. And also, you never know if this might happen, but maybe I can have my own show reviewing the films, because I love films.

A massive thanks to Noah, Kathryn and Sue for sharing their amazing experience with us! ‘Peter Pan & Wendy’ is available to stream on Disney+.

Take a look at our website for tips and advice for young performers and parents, and more interviews and casting stories.