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Going 'Backstage' with leading Canadian actor Matthew Isen

With every new character Canada’s Matthew Isen takes on, he tries to bring a piece of himself with him. Creating an entirely new person from flat words on a page and convincing audiences that they are real is immensely difficult, and a true art, but with Isen’s versatility and innate talent, he commands the big and small screen. Whether he is making audiences laugh, cry, or squirm in their seats, he is enchanting. It is this reason why he is one of his country’s most sought-after young actors.

At only 18, Isen has fans around the world. He is known for his work on the CBC classic Murdoch Mysteries, and his most recent film, Brotherhood, is headed to theatres next year. His face is most recognizable, however, from the Family Channel original series Backstage, for Isen has starred in the award-winning show’s first two seasons.

"I have never worked with an actor with as much drive and craftsmanship as Matthew. The way he fleshes out a character with such humane intricacies and the amount of heart he puts into his work is extraordinary. It’s no wonder that Matthew has become a fan favorite of Backstage and that international fans have followed his work. I believe that working with Matthew has made me a better actor myself,” said Actress Julia Tomasone, winner of the Young Entertainer Award and Young Artist Award for Best Leading Young Actress in a TV Series for her role as Bianca Blackwell on Backstage.

Backstage follows talented high school students at a fine arts school who hone their crafts while dealing with the drama that comes from tough teachers, competitive friends, and their own self-worth. It premiered on the Canadian network Family Channel in 2016 and is also distributed internationally through Disney Channel.

“The story of Backstage is something that has always interested me; watching a series about teenagers going after their dreams in the entertainment profession is so entertaining - especially with all the musical and dance performances in every episode. As well, the diverse and wide range in characters on the series ensures that everyone watching the show is sure to find at least one character that they can relate with. The ups and downs that these teens go through in their attempts at reaching their dreams shows an important lesson for youth and even adults watching the series: never give up,” said Isen.

Isen plays Jax in the show, one of the eight leads that the series follows from the very first episode. Jax is one of the only two DJs and one of few musicians in the show. Because of his ties in both the music and production sides of the school, his presence is important in multiple storylines that connect different facets of the school. As well, since the series deals with a ton of drama concerning the social aspects of being in high-school, Jax’s bright and energetic personality is a nice contrast to a lot of the other characters’ personalities on the show. He is comedic when the time calls for it but can also take situations seriously if needed as well.

In terms of the character itself, at his core, Isen describes Jax as a good person. He always has the best intentions with all that he does. He can sometimes come across as a bit conceited, but this bravado comes from a place of insecurity that he tries to cover up. He has a great sense of humour, and most people at the school love him for it. Sometimes he worries that he doesn’t have the talent to be at the prestigious Keaton School of the Arts, but with the help of his friends, he creates tracks and performs musical pieces that back up him being at the prestigious school.

“While working with Matthew on Backstage, I was always impressed by his level of professionalism. Even during the busiest of filming days, he was able to remain focused, and not allow any stress to distract from his comedic excellence,” said Adrianna Di Liello, an Emmy-nominated actor who plays Jenna Cristinziano on Backstage.

With the success Backstage, Isen has made sure to use his fame for good. His substantial online presence allows him to reach out to global organizations such as United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), and get advocacy roles. In 2017, he was the Youth Ambassador to UNEP for World Environment Day. Through this opportunity, he created fun, educational-based day programs for youth across Ontario, in an attempt to connect youth to the nature around them. He participated on panels with global leaders such as Minister McKenna, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change of Canada, and even got to meet world leaders, such as the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau. He is currently being considered for an ambassador position within UNEP’s campaign Wild for Life, which deals with tackling the illegal trade of animals and plants, which unfortunately leads to endangered or threatened species.

As well, from Backstage, he was able to participate in Family Channel’s anti-bullying campaign called Stand Up!. He and other actors from hit shows created a five-minute video about the importance of online safety, as well as a PSA that was distributed nationwide on Family Channel about the same topic. Fans of the show not only follow each episode, but also these videos.

“Knowing that there are kids around the world that wake up in the morning to watch our series is such an incredible feeling. Being a part of something that millions of people have watched and loved over the past few years completely reinforces why I wanted to become an actor in the first place. It is such a special feeling knowing that our series provides a positive form of entertainment for so many people in so many different countries, and I genuinely feel very lucky to be a part of something that can provide happiness, or even an escape from the hardships that life can pose on so many people,” he concluded.

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