Matthew Broderick’s title character in the 1986 high school classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off became so iconic that it’s still the role he’s most closely associated with. That can have its burdens: like during the recent AFI premiere of his latest film, Rules Don’t Apply, when a loutish audience member bellowed out, “Bueller!” as the cast exited the stage.
It can also overshadow the rest of Broderick’s stellar three-decade filmography, beginning with his debut in 1983’s sci-fi favorite WarGames and continuing on through classics like Glory (1989), The Lion King (1994), and Election (1999).
The 54-year-old native New Yorker can currently be seen as a senior driver to Beatty’s eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes in Rules, a role Broderick told us he scored after literally having a sleepover at the Hollywood Hills home of Beatty and wife/costar Annette Bening. Broderick can also be seen in a small role in Kenneth Lonergan’s heartbreaking new drama Manchester by the Sea — the actor and director’s third collaboration after You Can Count on Me (2000) and Margaret (2011). In our latest episode of Role Recall, Broderick looked back on some of his most famous parts. Watch above and read about some highlights below:
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
As you can imagine, Broderick is constantly asked about Bueller, and he says the scenes that most stick out in his head these days are the ones he shot alone, where Ferris breaks the fourth wall. “[They] were really fun because [writer-director] John Hughes would just sort of make stuff up, and I would make stuff up, and we had the freedom to try anything,” Broderick explained. “He said, ‘You’re an interesting actor because you’re the best when you’re alone,’ John Hughes told me. Which I hope isn’t true.”
When it came to filming one of the more crowded scenes — the famous midday parade — Broderick had to grapple with a recent injury. “I had rehearsed for months that scene. I had also destroyed my knee a few weeks earlier,” he said. “I couldn’t do all the choreography we’d worked on.”
Broderick played a young Union colonel in Edward Zwick’s poignant Civil War drama, and there was one scene that still haunts him, where Denzel Washington’s Pvt. Trip is whipped as punishment. “It was just a movie, thank God. But it was a very disturbing thing to reenact. Cary Elwes burst into tears while we were shooting… When you see a black man beaten with a whip, it’s very profoundly disturbing. And Denzel, of course, so brilliantly made it seem so real, so it was even more disturbing.”
The Lion King (1994)
Broderick figured this Disney animated project would be a cool project to show his kids one day. “Not realizing they’d have to watch the father get trampled to death,” he said of Mufasa’s famous demise. “We’ve learned it’s not as fun to watch with kids as you might think.”
There was a clear in-joke in Broderick’s casting in this dark high school comedy written and directed by Alexander Payne: Here was Ferris Bueller, a teacher’s nightmare, now all grown up and playing a teacher. Election also helped skyrocket young star Reese Witherspoon to fame. “She was like her character [the obsessive-to-the-point-of-vindictive Tracy Flick], but not evil,” Broderick said. “She was very driven. Very worried she wasn’t going to make it. I remember she was concerned her career was running out of gas or something. I was like, ‘I think you’re going to be all right.'”
Watch the trailer for ‘Rules Don’t Apply’: