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“Acting was what I wanted to do since I was a little kid. I remember clearly when I stepped foot on a movie set and thought, ‘This is what I want to do,’ ” says Matthew Arkin. If you watch enough television, you’ve probably seen Arkin portray a lawyer on one show or another. But unlike the other actors, he actually is an attorney. He left the legal business to pursue a career in show business. Arkin grew up in a show business family. His dad is famed actor and director Alan Arkin, who has starred in many films, including “Wait Until Dark,” “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter,” “The In-Laws,” “The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming,” and “Slums of Beverly Hills.” Matthew’s older brother, Adam, is perhaps best known for his starring role on the television series “Chicago Hope.” Matthew’s step-mom is actress and children’s book author Barbara Dana, and his half-brother is actor Anthony Arkin. He fondly remembers that at age 5, he played on the set of the play “Luv,” which starred his dad, Eli Wallach, and Anne Jackson. His first acting role came at age 8, when his dad directed him and brother Adam in a short film based on a story that the elder Arkin had written in high school. Matthew Arkin enrolled in drama classes in high school and at Wesleyan University, where he majored in English and in government. After graduating in 1982, he enrolled at Fordham University Law School, graduating in 1985. Why did Arkin, who appeared at age 15 on the television show “Kojak” and had “a tiny role” in the movie “An Unmarried Woman,” go to law school? “I thought that I might play a lawyer on TV, and it might come in handy,” he jokes. Arkin says that at age 11, he read To Kill a Mockingbird and wanted to be Atticus Finch. He says that he later “realized that the kind of guy Finch was had nothing to do with his being a lawyer.” What did he like about the Finch character? “His integrity and willingness to stand up for what’s right,” Arkin says. He also had another reason to attend law school: “The rest of the family was in film and TV, and I wanted to be exposed to something different.” PROSECUTORIAL AMBITIONS During law school, Arkin wanted to become a prosecutor. Yet family members dissuaded him from that calling. After graduating law school, Arkin worked for a year and a half for Walsh, Maroney and Ponzini, a general practice firm in Tarrytown, N.Y., primarily handling real estate closings. From March 1987 to August 1989, he worked under another attorney in White Plains, N.Y. However, he was grew disillusioned with his law practice. “I understand the adversarial system and the perception that it’s the best way to arrive at the truth,” says Arkin. “It only works if there’s a commitment to honesty and fair play on both sides. We got to a place where the emphasis is on winning and not to a solution.” Moreover, his legal career did not offer the excitement he sought. “The day-to-day practice of closings or wills didn’t cut it for me. . . . I like being on the front lines.” Arkin says that while family members were always traveling somewhere to perform, “I was sitting in a shirt and tie and going to some office. Even if they were going to Boise, it was more exciting than sitting in an office in White Plains.” Thus, Arkin decided to return to acting. He left his office job and started studying acting techniques with Uta Hagen at the famous HB Studios and later with Austin Pendleton. He sought acting jobs and continued to practice law out of his apartment. He handled real estate closings, wills, small criminal matters, and even an appeal that went to the New York State Court of Appeals. After about two years, Arkin began getting work in regional theaters and started going out of town for a couple of months at a shot. It was then he decided that he “had to stop practicing law,” finding it too hard to maintain his practice and be out of town for extended periods of time. However, he still handled his own real estate closing. How did others react to his decision to leave law? “Most people thought I was crazy. A lot of people said, ‘But you put too much time into being a lawyer.’ ” Arkin says that his response was “ I’m not happy, and I gave it a shot. After five years, you have a good taste of it. Some people thought I was naive and thought I thought that because of Dad I would step into a TV series and make a lot of money.” Like law, the actor’s life can be demanding. “It’s a circus life,” says Arkin. “You move from job to job with no security.” While seeking a new agent to represent him, Arkin met actress Pamela Newkirk, who later became his wife. FULL SCHEDULE Arkin manages to keep busy. He has appeared on Broadway, off-Broadway, in regional theater productions, in film, and on television. Arkin had a recurring role as Legal Aid attorney Paul Bernard on the A&E series “100 Centre Street,” directed by Sidney Lumet and starring his father. He has also portrayed an attorney on “Law and Order: Criminal Intent,” “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit,” and in the PBS movie “Simple Justice.” In the movie, he played Alexander Bickel, who was Justice Felix Frankfurter’s law clerk during the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education. Arkin says that Bickel was assigned the job of research and his work was crucial to the decision. Arkin also played an attorney in an unreleased independent film, “The Secrets of the Twin Sister.” His legal background has proved useful in his acting career. What’s it like playing a lawyer? “It was fun being able to�and I was the only one able to�rewrite dialogue.” His father played a judge on “100 Centre Street.” “I was able to give him advice. He had tons of lines, lots of legal jargon. I told him that you can have the script in front of you on the bench.” Arkin says that some of the other actors had a tendency to get overly dramatic at inappropriate times. He advised them: “Certain words or phrases are for appeal purposes and you do not have to be dramatic with them. All of this stuff is just on the record for appeal, but no one is paying attention.” Does he find any similarities between practicing law and acting? He replies that perhaps if he had done trial work, he would think there were more similarities. However, he adds, “There are some elements I remember fondly. I got a thrill before arguing an appeal or motion. This is the moment you get five minutes, and you can’t come back here, which is the same thing when you are in front of an audience. You have 500 or 700 people in the audience and tonight is the night you can reach them.” Is appearing in court or on the stage more nerve-racking? “Now, I’m not nervous before an audience, but opening night on Broadway, I’d be nervous. When I argued my first motion before court, I thought I would die, but after the first time, I was not nervous arguing motions.” He remembers when he made his Broadway debut in Neil Simon’s “Laughter on the 23rd Floor.” He played an understudy for the character Lucas, who was based on Neil Simon. When the curtain opened, the Lucas character’s first words were “I guess this is what I’ve dreamt of my whole life.” The words certainly applied to Arkin as it was his first Broadway appearance. Just before curtain time, nervous feelings took over. He says he considered telling the audience, “I’m very sorry that you had to be here to witness this” and then walking off the stage. But the curtain went up, and he stayed with Simon’s script. “I had the time of my life.” In fact, he continued playing Lucas after Broadway, in the show’s national tour. He doesn’t have a preference for a type of character. “If it’s good writing with an interesting situation, I’ll play anybody.” Does he prefer comedy or drama? “As long as the struggles of the character are real and honest, it doesn’t matter whether it’s comedy or drama. The difference between comedy and drama is the orientation of the audience and the distance to the material.” VERSATILE PERFORMER Arkin does not just portray attorneys. In fact, some of the characters he has played include a Little League coach in the off-Broadway production of “Rounding Third,” a surgeon on the television soap opera “All My Children,” a television producer and a genetics expert on “Law and Order,” and a gangster in “Lost in Yonkers.” His favorite role was Gabe in Donald Margulies’ Pulitzer Prize winning off-Broadway production of “Dinner With Friends.” In the play, which ran from 1999 to 2001, he received a Drama Desk nomination and was a Drama League Honoree. “I realized things about myself as an actor that were very exciting. The play says things about marriage that I really believed in. It was exciting to be in a play that touched people on that level.” It also appears that the role had a significant impact on his personal life and his father’s acceptance of his acting career. “It was after ‘Dinner With Friends’ I felt like I had come into my own. When he saw that, he made it clear in a real beautiful way that he did not have any doubts about my choosing this road anymore.” Does he miss the practice of law? “People ask me that all the time. I really don’t.” Several years ago, Arkin performed on Broadway in “The Sunshine Boys” with Jack Klugman and Tony Randall. He remembers that Randall asked him, “You really gave up the law to do this?” Arkin replied, “You hear that sound out there? You don’t hear that when practicing law.” Randall then asked, “You didn’t make people laugh when you were a lawyer?” “Only from the judges,” Arkin quipped. Arkin says that his days are very different compared to when he practiced law. Instead of spending the day in an office, he goes “to different places every day for auditions.” His schedule is more flexible. However, when he performs in a play, his “weekends are shot” and he is unable to spend much time with his family. Arkin has performed with family members. In 2002, he acted in the movie “Raising Flagg” with his father and step-mother. He enjoyed the experience. It’s a sequel to “A Matter of Principle,” a movie the elder Arkin and Dana made 20 years ago. “Raising Flagg” is currently seeking distribution. Arkin lives in a New York City suburb with his wife and their two young children. He currently is the voice of the Discovery Science Channel and is heard on many television and radio commercials. He recently appeared on “Rescue Me” on the FX channel, “Third Watch” on CBS, and in a PBS pilot, “Cop Shop.” He is also in the film “Second Best,” which is currently being shown at film festivals. Arkin can also be found on the Internet. He performs in two episodes of “Art in Heaven” on Testtube.TV (www.testtube.tv). According to the Web site, “Testtube.TV was established as a production and support mechanism for emerging and established film and theater artists.” Its goal, the site continues, “is to create unique and original series in a low risk, low budget environment that allows for creative freedom and creates profitable back-end potential.” Interestingly, both Arkin and his brother Adam will concurrently star in Manhattan Theatre Club productions. Adam is currently starring in the play “Brooklyn Boy.” In the near future, Arkin will star as writer Ben Hecht in the production “Moonlight and Magnolias.” The play is about the real life circumstances surrounding the making of the classic film “Gone With the Wind.” Previews begin March 3 and the play opens March 29 at the New York City Center, located at 131 W. 55th St. Arkin believes that, even though he has now turned to acting, his legal training has not gone to waste. He says that no matter how accomplished the other actors who share the Arkin name may be, he is the only one in the family who can explain consanguinity and can identify a first cousin, second removed, to family members. So, you see, law school has its benefits. Judith Bodin is a lawyer and freelance writer in Teaneck, N.J.

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