Not a day goes by that I don't think about Matthew Shepard. I imagine what he would be doing now, what joy and life he would have had if it was not for the brutal homophobic attack that would end his young life. Matthew Shepard was beaten, tortured, and left to die near Laramie on October 6, 1998. The homophobic attack on Matthew Shepard sparked outrage and galvanised the LGBTQ community to demand change.
In 1998 Matthew’s parents launched The Matthew Shepard Foundation and for more than a decade the foundation lobbied for better federal hate crime legislation. The commitment paid off and in 2009, Congress passed the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
TNC spoke with actor Shane Meier who starred in The Matthew Shepard Story directed by Roger Spottiswoode.
Hi Shane, how's it going, thank you for talking to TNC?
Thank you very much for having me. It's a pleasure.
With National Coming Out Day on Friday, this seems like a great time to take a look back at The Matthew Shepard Story, your 2002 film about the murdered student Matthew Shepard. How did you get involved in The Matthew Shepard Story?
Just like any audition process basically. NBC did a nationwide search on someone that could play Matthew Shepard. I knew I resembled him as he was quite a small, frail figure in stature. I auditioned a few times for the director Roger Spottiswoode and he knew right away that I was his first selection.
Was it a quick decision to agree to do this film once you read the script?
Yes. I had heard about the murder but I wasn’t too aware of the details. Once I read the script and knew who was involved it was a no brainer. It’s the role of a lifetime.
Did you know much about Matthew before you started making this film?
I had heard about the terrible story. I remember I saw it on 60 minutes or another television show of that nature. It was such a sad story. I didn’t know the specific details as to how he was murdered or why. But when I found out I knew that this story had to be told. No one should have to go through what this poor child went through.
What was it about Matthew's life that connected to you as an actor?
Because Matthew Shepard was the regular guy. He was the guy next-door. He could be anybody in America. And it was such a hateful crime. It’s sad because nowadays these sort of hate crimes happen quite often. But 15 years ago this was rare. This could have happened to anyone. And it is happening to anyone as we speak. And it needs to stop.
"I started when I was 10 years old working on Vancouver-based television and film."
With this being such a heartbreaking real story and an event that really shocked not only the LGBTQ community but also the wider community as a whole did you have any apprehensions about taking on this role?
-there was absolutely no question whether or not I was going to accept the roll. Once the audition process was done and the offer came in I was delighted to be able to portray a human being that left such an impact with us. It was a true honour and I still believe it’s some of my best work to date.
You won the 2003 Screen Idol Award for "Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role" for this film, what did it mean to you to get this type of recognition for such an important role?
I was incredibly honoured. I unfortunately could not attend the award show because of prior engagements but I was very happy to have one. Was a very proud moment and I’m glad that people watched the film and recognized the hard work that was put into it. I was incredibly honoured. I unfortunately could not attend the award show because of prior engagements but I was very happy to have one. Was a very proud moment and I’m glad that people watched the film and recognize the hard work that was put into it.
What do you think are some of the most valuable lessons you took from making this film?
I believe that “hate” is still out there. It’s very unfortunate that some people out there just like hating or segregating and something needs to be done to stop that. Everything that Judy & Dennis Shepard have been doing it’s a step in the right direction but it takes millions of people to stop it.
Have you always had a passion for acting?
Most people don’t know but I was a child actor my whole life. I started when I was 10 years old working on Vancouver-based television and film. This is just something that I’ve always done my whole life. It wasn’t something that I wanted to grow up and become. It was more like a hobby to me.
What was the first acting role you got that made you go 'yeah this is what I want to do?'
Actually there isn’t one single film or TV show where I thought of that. Again it was a hobby that I enjoy doing. Just like kids like playing basketball or football or hockey. Mine was performing.
Having worked on the award-winning Hit 'n Strum (2012) are there any more plans to return behind the camera?
Hit n Strum was a film that a good friend of mine was directing and producing. I didn’t do much but did help a little bit with the writing and producing process of that film. I did it for no pay and more as a helpful friend would do.
With Stephen King's IT & Pet Sematary being remade would you be interested in a Needful Things reboot?
Needful Things was a great Stephen King film that not many people watched. There are many more Stephen King films that were front and centre however I thought Needful Things was dark and creepy in its own way. It was a great project to be a part of. 12-year-old kids never really get to be a part of horror films. So it was quite fun!
What has been the best advice you've been given?
Best advice given is always 110%. If you’re going to do something, do it right. Don’t do it half ass. Because at the end you won’t feel like you’ve accomplished anything. I take that into every walk of life. My dad ingrained that in me and it’s helped on every aspect of my life from personal life to professional.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from The Matthew Shepard Story?
I want people to start treating others with kindness. I want people to not hate as much. Although the world seems to be going in the opposite direction. At least in the United States anyways. More love less hate. Quite simple. Don’t have to reinvent the wheel here.