In this spin-off of Bustle’s 28 series, successful women describe exactly what their life was like at 14 and what their goals were for the future. Right here, Starstruck creator, writer and star Rose Matafeo looks back on his childhood in New Zealand and his obsession with films.
It’s 2006 in Auckland, New Zealand. Rose Matafeo, then 14, has braces, a dial-up internet connection and a massive crush on lead singer Franz Ferdinand. More than a decade later, she would meet him in person and develop a friendship after joking about her teenage obsession with him on her stand-up show, horndog. He will even attend his 30th birthday party, which happened a few days before we spoke. “If I could talk to my 14 year old self and say this would happen one day, [she] would just go, ‘You’re an absolute weirdo,'” Matafeo told Bustle from London.
It’s the kind of chance encounter with fame that would be right at home in an episode of Matafeo’s goofy comedy. Starstruck, a “reverse Notting Hill” in which aimless twenty-something Jessie (Matafeo) has a one-night stand with Tom (Nikesh Patel) only to realize the next morning that he’s actually a semi-famous actor. Season 2 of the series, streaming now on HBO Max, offers a quirkier rom-com charm, with Jessie and Tom navigating the less glamorous reality of a real-life relationship in the wake of Jessie’s grand romantic gesture at the end of season 1. It’s a show that’s steeped in rom-com homages (having received a Joni Mitchell CD from Tom as a Christmas present, as happens in love in factJessie exclaims, “he f*cking me Alan Rickman-ed!”), though it quietly subverts them as they explore what happens after happily ever after.
But for all of its creator’s encyclopedic romantic comedy knowledge, 14-year-old Matafeo was more obsessed with studying the French New Wave and independent directors like Michel Gondry than learning about what had gone down. happened when Harry had met Sally. The acting career that helped her rise to prominence in New Zealand had yet to begin in earnest: although she had auditioned for a school acting class a year previously – she had been turned down because she was too young at 13 – she had come back to the program at 15 with her very first joke. “It was not bad for a 15-year-old kid,” laughs Matafeo. More than a decade later, she’s stuffed her TV show with plenty of greats.
Below, Matafeo recalls idolizing Taika Waititi, his “eclectic” taste for celebrities and finding solace in the fantasy of happily ever after.
Take me back to 2006, when you were 14. Where did you live and how did you live your life?
I was in Auckland, New Zealand where I was born and raised. I think I had braces that year; I took them off when I was 17. I was at Auckland Girls Grammar School. I lived with my family, with my parents and my two older brothers in Auckland in our small little house in Auckland Central.
Fourteen years was the year when I was massively a fan of Franz Ferdinand. I think I was 11 when their first album came out and I was a huge fan. It was the first group that I had the impression of discovering in real time. I always loved old music as a kid – I was obsessed with Burt Bacharach and the Bee Gees and they were my favorite bands.
“Take Me Out” was a huge hit in New Zealand, and it was also still an era of music video culture and music television where you texted to request that they play a music video you wanted to watch, because that was just before YouTube was a huge thing. And I probably had dial-up at the time, so it would take an hour to load a music video on YouTube anyway. I remember texting asking for “Dark of the Matinee” by Franz Ferdinand, spending 20 cents per text, which was quite expensive. I rinsed off.
I bought all the merch I could find from them, went to the forums. I had a massive crush, at the time, on Alex Kapranos, who is the lead singer. And me [wrote on the forum]like, “I’m going to marry Alex Kapranos,” and then I got fired.
I was going to say, I wanted to check if the bit of horndog was real! Looks like it was.
This track is completely real. It was so shameful at the time. And I’ve lived with this shame for so long.
Did you tell anyone at the time that you got fired?
No, I didn’t. It was just a horrible thing. I was like, “Oh my God, I’m a terrible person.” And the way [it’s come] full loop is i know alex [Kapranos] now, because of the show and write this joke. He was in my 30s [birthday party] the other day, which is so beautiful.
Starstruck pays homage to classic romantic comedies. Did you watch romantic comedies at 14?
I was looking at much more pretentious stuff. At 14, I really wanted to be a director. I would go to the directors section of Video Ezy, which was the video rental store. I was watching Godard, and Truffaut, and trying to make my way through all of Alfred Hitchcock’s films. Honestly, I saw more independent films as a teenager than as an adult.
I was very uncool and I was not a party animal. I had nerds as friends – they were movie nerds, book nerds. And that helped facilitate an obsession and an interest in all of those things as an adult. So I was obsessed with Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze and all those [directors]. Moreover, it was an exciting time for New Zealand cinema. Taika [Waititi] had just done eagle versus shark at that time – I was also obsessed with him.
Your character Jessie in Starstruck ends up dating a famous actor. At 14, did you have crushes on any celebrities besides Alex Kapranos?
Oh my God, there must have been a few. I had a celebrity height chart in my diary, where I wrote down all the celebrities I liked, and then the difference in height between me and them, so I knew exactly how taller or taller they would be small. Which was psychopathic behavior, come to think of it.
I mean, Colin Firth, probably – that British dude vibe. Everyone goes through a phase of this! Michel Gondry was honestly one of my biggest crushes when I was 14. I had a crush on the singer of A-ha, Morten Harket, I thought he was absolutely gorgeous. Brandon Lee, who was dead at that time. I had a very eclectic taste in crushes – Dick Van Dyke. I haven’t had a lot of crushes on contemporary people. [They were] often dead or far too old for me. It continues now; most of my crushes are dead now. I have a picture of Paul Newman in my room [wall]in fact.
This season of Starstruck explores what happens after the happily ever after moment when a story usually ends. What did happily ever after mean to you at 14?
Rose, fourteen, had braces, had the same hair as me now. I didn’t really have experience with boys when I was a teenager, yet I wanted them. Looking back, I feel like I really wanted to. I think I had a similar view of love and crushes, where there was a safety in being kept in an imaginary realm as opposed to reality, because reality is so often disappointing.
I never dated anyone when I was a teenager – I had no sexual experience. I think my view of romantic relationships may have been very influenced by the things I saw. But I think they so often are at 14, because where else are you going to learn it?
They still are for so many people, myself included. Has your concept of what constitutes bliss forever changed since then?
I think not. I honestly think I feel similar. I still feel like a space cadet when it comes to love and romance. I think the fantasy of what it is in my mind is always generally better than the reality. And it’s good to touch reality sometimes, but it’s actually easier to make it your own concept.
[But] I think my concept of romance and love in general has expanded as an adult. When you watch romantic comedies [as a teenager], you are obsessed with the romantic relationship that is at the heart of it. And then when you’re an adult, you’re like, “Oh my God, the love continues with the friendships of this main character, with the people around him.” You learn that platonic relationships in your life are just as important, if not more so, in my opinion, than romantic relationships. I think it is sometimes foolish to seek all the fulfillment of your life in one relationship. It’s actually good to hedge your bets! Don’t put all your eggs in one basket — spread them out!
What do you think your 14 year old self would think of you now?
I think she’d be pretty damn impressed, to be honest. I think she would be so happy. I think I made 14-year-old Rose very proud. I very rarely – publicly, at least – like to give myself credit for anything, but I honestly think she would be thrilled. Relieved, because she knows that she has no other transferable skills, and that she has to do comedy.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.