I first met Matthew when I interned with the writers on "Brothers & Sisters" last year. I had been given the task of interviewing him for the show's blog as he was directing his first episode. I asked him if I could take his photo and he said "no" quite coldly, and walked away. Great start. Then someone explained that he has a dry sense of humor and was probably kidding, so I tried again, and after some eye rolling was allowed to take the photo and made arrangements to interview him.
The blog turned out to be pretty funny, so funny that it's not available to read online anymore, but one part of it was that I made fun of how nationalistic he is about Wales, which is where he was born and raised. He gets riled up if you call him a Brit and insists the Prince of Wales isn't really his prince. I still take every opportunity I can to get under his skin about this very topic, just because I know he's sensitive about it, but in fact, it's one of the things I most admire about him. He's not only well spoken, well read and well traveled, but he has a really strong connection to his heritage and that's inspiring to me. In fact, it's made me jealous...and subsequently lead me to reevaluate my relationship to Sweden. Which I'm in the process of mending, having become an American citizen last year.
Matthew is so Welsh that he recently wrote a book about a journey he made last year to a Welsh speaking colony in the Andes, which was formed in 1865 and still exists. He did it on horseback, along with descendants of the original Welshmen who made the trek 125 years ago. It's a fascinating story, and I suppose the second thing that impresses me about Mr. Rhys. And now to the third.
After he'd seen my Forty By Forty list, Matthew bragged about his mechanical bull skills for months, before we headed to the Saddle Ranch on Sunset a couple of nights ago. The Saddle Ranch is not your typical hangout for a charming Welshman, but it turns out he's competed and won bull riding competitions here so he was in his element. As with many of my challenges, this one required a waiver and emergency contact. I toyed with the idea of putting Sally Field down again, as I did for Number 13: Skydive, but I still don't have her number. I'm pretty sure Matthew listed Ron Rifkin.
Having heard how bruised you can get and how much it can hurt, I wasn't eager to go first, so I let Matthew jump on the bull and get going. I was astonished. He barely moved. The bull went around and around and shook and picked up the speed and he stayed on, looking like a cowboy with his hand up in the air. I was so taken by his talents that A. I missed turning the flash on, thus getting no photographic evidence of his triumph, and B. I assumed, incorrectly, that this was an easy task.
After the Welsh matador got off (the bull) I got a really good pep talk. Matthew had tried to give me pointers earlier, but that was before I realized he actually knows how to ride a mechanical bull, so it had gone in one ear and out the other. I eagerly listened to his coaching this time around. He said to squeeze my thighs, to lean back when the bull dips and lean forward when it bucks. He added that it's all about relaxing, breathing deeply, letting my body go limp, so basically not tense up. Because it's when you tense up that it can really hurt.
I got on the bull, cocky and secure. Then I felt uneasy as it started moving. Just as I got used to the slow pace and felt I could handle it, it started to move faster and faster and with the speed picking up, my confidence started weening. It got harder and harder. I had my hand up and was squeezing my thighs as instructed, but it was hard to remember where to lean so I was thrown off about thirty seconds in, making this the shortest Forty By Forty experience, but by no means the least fun. And, in real bull riding, the number of seconds to stay on is eight, so I didn't do that poorly.
I can't remember who put this on my list, but I'm glad they did... mechanical bull riding is an all-American activity and I've been wanting to do it for some time. I really thought it would be hard and painful, but to my surprise, I found it to be a fun and delightful past time. My ass hurts a bit today but it's to be expected from what I understand.
Ddiolch 'ch, Matthew for taking me, and talking me through it calmly beforehand. It made all the difference. And also for being super Welsh while riding a bull like a real American.
And for the second time in Forty By Forty history, the video: