“We never compliment each other this much,” says performer and playwright Matt Cox of his relationship with his girlfriend, actor Andy Miller. “It’s funny to say these things out loud. We’d like to preface everything with that.” I also had to preface my interview with Cox and Miller with the fact that I’ve never read one word of a Harry Potter book, which is rather unfortunate since Cox’s Harry Potter parody, Puffs, or: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic & Magic, featuring Miller, begins previews Off-Broadway at the Elektra Theater September 29.
What we are all trying to say is that we’re delving into unfamiliar territory for this interview. I still sound awkward talking about the Sorting Hat and the House of Hufflepuff, but complimenting each other seems to come much easier to Cox and Miller than they’d like to let on. They met a little over two years ago when they were both performing in The Mysteries, an epic six-hour interpretation of the Bible at the Flea Theater. They bonded over their shared comedic talents (“We think we’re funny,” says Cox), and, unlike me, they both devoured the Harry Potter books when they were young—and again as adults. Puffs, which debuted early this year at the Peoples Improv Theater, imagines Hogwarts from the perspective of the “well-meaning loyal rejects” from the lesser-known house of Hufflepuff, while Harry Potter and his cohorts were off saving the Ministry of Magic as part of the courageous house of Gryffindor. As playwright and actor, Cox and Miller are making the downtown—and now uptown!—theatre scene a weirder, funnier and more magical place to be.
How did you two meet?
Andy Miller: Matt was a part of the company at the Flea, and I joined for The Mysteries, [conceived and] directed by Ed Iskandar [at the Flea], which we were both in.
Matt Cox: It was a big six-hour adaptation of the Bible by [almost 50] different playwrights that happened about two years ago. We started dating a little while later.
AM: Doing a six-hour show is insane, but the friendships and relationships you make doing something so crazy tend to last for a really long time.
MC: It was a solid friendship start.
AM: I thought he was cool because he was in the company before me. He was like the cool, older person [at the Flea].
Were you both on stage most of the time or did you get a lot of backstage hang time?
MC: There were about 50 people in the cast. I had a lot of downtime, and she was part of the company that was onstage a lot.
Do you have the energy to go out after a six-hour show like that?
AM: Oh yeah. We would go out almost every night.
MC: You kind of have to. There was so many people in [the show] that we really met at the bar afterwards. Then we got to know each other even better through this thing the Flea does on some weekends called Serials, where ten-minute episodic plays [are presented] in competition. One of those actually spun into my first show that got produced somewhere else called Kapow-i GoGo, which Andy was also a part of. That was four-and-a-half hours long. Puffs is 90-ish minutes.
AM: It’s like the shortest thing we’ve ever done.
Matt, did you actually cast Andy in Puffs and Kapow-i?
MC: Yes I did.
How did that go down?
MC: Well, I knew she was very funny, and when I was casting for Kapow-i I needed people to play a lot of different characters, and she’s good at that. She has a big energy that was necessary for it, so it worked out. Also, since it’s a very long show, it was a way for us to spend time together.
I bet you’re spending a lot of time together now as well.
MC: Uh yeah.
AM: Right now we’re rehearsing a lot to get ready to move to the Elektra, so we live together, and then we’ve got at least four hours of rehearsal every day. On the average day we don’t spend this much time together. It’s not a bad thing; it’s a good thing, but it is a lot of time in the same room together.
How are your rehearsal experiences different? Andy, do you ever comment on the lines Matt has written that you have to say?
AM: It’s really hard not to be like, “Listen, I know how to make this funnier,” but I have to respect his process. He’s a writer, but I have very strong opinions, and sometimes I just have to [say something].
MC: We do a good job of keeping it separate. We keep the theatre relationship professional.
AM: But I think in our group, all the actors have really good comedic ideas. Matt obviously wrote it, but we have a lot of back and forth like, “What do you think of this, and what do you think of that?”
MC: Everyone has a solid opinion. Andy included. We play around a lot, and I like to use improvisations and fun stuff that generally ends up happening.
Andy, does Matt ever tell you that he doesn’t like the way you are saying a certain line?
AM: Sometimes [he does]. I appreciate someone who can say, “Hey, you’re not doing this in the best possible way,” and I trust him. He’s not going to lie to me just to make me feel good. He’s going to tell me if it’s not funny, so that I can fix it and make it funny or make the moment work. It’s never in a negative way. It’s always in a positive and constructive way, and most of the time I agree with him. That’s something I appreciate about him.
Is this both of your first times working “uptown,” specifically Off-Broadway?
MC: It is. It’s a big one for both of us.
Have you turned into divas?
MC: The uptown effect hasn’t completely struck us yet, but I’m working on it.
AM: There’s no Times Square billboard of my face yet.
MC: As soon as my name is on a big poster somewhere this relationship is probably over.
Makes sense. How are your approaches to theatre the same or different as a writer and an actor?
MC: I’m an actor as well, and I kind of fell into writing through that, so we approach things in a very similar way, which is why we work well together and why I put her in many plays.
AM: We have the same sense of humor and approach to it. We both appreciate the math and science of comedy and the rules—like the rule of three—and seeing how far you can take jokes. We both look at things in similar ways, so when he’s writing things I’m like, “Oh I know what he wants this to be.” That’s why I work well in his projects.
Do you also have a shared love of Harry Potter?
AM: Definitely. I read the books when I was younger, and then when he started writing this show I re-read them. It’s really interesting reading them as an adult because there’s so many things you totally miss as a child. It’s almost like a different book series. I recommend it to everyone.
MC: I grew up right along the same age with it, which was really fun. I started reading them on the day they were released. I didn’t think about them for a long time, and then one time I was sitting on a train, and I had the idea for the play. I told Andy soon after that. Then two months later it just happened.
AM: He definitely bounces a lot of stuff off of me.
MC: Too many ideas.
AM: I’m listening about 50 percent of the time. He doesn’t need me to respond. He just needs to say the things out loud and see if they make sense. I’m happy to be a sounding board.
MC: A lot of the time [she won’t even say anything], and I’ll just be like, “Oh yeah, that doesn’t make sense,” or sometimes I’ll just keep talking and annoy her for a really long time.
AM: Yeah, but if it’s over a glass of wine, I don’t mind. It is hard though because whenever he starts describing his projects I’m always like, “Which part is for me?” I’m only half kidding some of the time, but then he’s like, “Oh yeah, this part would be good for you,” and I’m like, “Okay, good. Just making sure.”
Andy, you don’t play the lead roles in Matt’s plays. Have you wanted to?
MC: We both gravitate towards the weirder side characters.
AM: [We’re] the wacky B couple. The ingénue is never as much fun as the weirdo who causes the problem.
MC: [I always think] the weirder parts would be good for her whenever ideas are brewing.
But all the characters are a little weird in Puffs. That’s the point! Is Andy’s character Leanne the weirdest of the weird?
MC: The way I describe it is that she’s the puffiest Puff of the Puffs. She is pop culture’s view of what they are. There was a stigma that was around them for a long time that’s kind of gone away recently, but that’s kind of what Leanne is.
Okay, here is my last and possibly most important question: Matt, when you took a quiz on Pottermore.com, the online home of all things Harry Potter, you were sorted into the Hufflepuff house. Andy, which house did you get sorted into?
AM: I got sorted into Gryffindor. That’s the one that the protagonists in the books are in, but my friends always had this joke that I was a Hufflepuff, and I’d be like, “No, I’m not.” Now that I’m in this show they won’t let that die, so it really doesn’t matter what Pottermore says.