Stranger Things Star Gaten Matarazzo Is Obsessed With the Zelda Timeline
“They have those awesome videos trying to break down exactly where the timelines line up.”
Gaten Matarazzo has had a busy life. The child actor debuted on Broadway when he was just 9 years old and then blew up on Netflix’s Stranger Things series, playing a nerdy middle schooler obsessed with Dungeons and Dragons. Matarazzo has recently returned to Broadway with Sweeney Todd before he did Dear Evan Hansen, led a rom-com in Honor Society, and embodied a lovable dragon in My Father’s Dragon.
In his spare time, Matarazzo also moonlights as a Nintendo spokesperson. His go-to Smash character is Yoshi, for whom he says, “I don’t have to be a pro — I can still make Yoshi’s army stampede through the stage for me.”
About a year ago, he made headlines talking about a potential Legend of Zelda movie. When I sit down with him and tell him this, he laughs: “Maybe it was me that convinced them to do it!”
Matarazzo sat down with Inverse to chat all things Zelda and how the child actor got into video games just a little bit later than his peers, due to his busy schedule.
Geeking Out is an Inverse series in which celebrities tell us about their nerdy and niche interests, hobbies, or collections.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
So I’d love to talk to you about your passion for Legend of Zelda. You previously said you wanted a movie and now we’re getting one. What do you think of the announcement?
I’m stoked! It's always cool to see it expand. It's such a brilliant story. The timelines are so cool. And I think it's been a lot harder for people who don't play a lot of video games to really get a grasp of the story because it’s so deep and complex. So I'm sure it'd be a great way to get people invested in the stories and hopefully play the games more.
Yeah, I’m wondering, what's your connection with Legend of Zelda? Did you grow up playing it?
I didn’t start playing Zelda until I was probably like 13 or 14. And I started with a lot of the old 8-bit ones. I think my first one was The Minish Cap, weirdly enough, and then, a lot of my friends were like, you don't even know the half of it. So I played Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which like changed the world. And then I was in love.
Oh wow. OK, so you say 13 or 14. How many years ago was that?
Oh, boy. Eight or nine?
What do you think got you into it so late?
I didn't play a lot of super long, single-player stuff. I grew up on the Wii. So all the stuff I was playing initially was a lot of Wii Sports. Even when I was younger, I was working a lot. That's why the Nintendo Switch is so great because you could just do it on the plane. I was traveling all the time. So it started out as a timekiller, and I just became absolutely obsessed.
Gotcha. And you talk about how the lore is very complicated. How did you start to understand it?
They have those awesome videos trying to break down exactly where the timelines line up. And I was like, I feel I'm not fully going to grasp it unless I just go for it and start playing them. And then I did. I’ve played most of them now, I was even able to dust off an old Nintendo 64 and play Ocarina of Time on that.
Oh wow. Yeah, how do you like Ocarina of Time?
I love it, of course. It's always gonna be one of the best video games of all time. But I think what is so great that Nintendo does right now is that like they just make their games so accessible to people, even in big, huge games like Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom even more, they're really good at catering their playstyle to people who don't necessarily know how to do it. And that's what I struggled initially with Ocarina of Time was that it's just a little clunkier, comparatively, just like how games evolve. It's incredible now to see how Zelda has grown, and it's so vast, especially for a game that's so old.
Yeah, do you have like a favorite Legend of Zelda game? Of all of them?
A lot of people are gonna roll their eyes but it's Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, for sure.
Breath of the Wild was just perfect. It was a truly incredible game. And then they announced that Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom was coming out, and I was just like, how are they gonna top it? I didn't see how it was possible. And then it really is just as good. It’s set in this brilliant world expanded times 10. Because like a lot of people were like, Oh, no, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, but then [Nintendo] just blew it out of the water. It was incredible. I don't know how they do that.
Yeah, I mean, some people didn't like it because you have to build things. How did you find that aspect?
I liked that. Because you know what I mean? What Nintendo is so good at is catering to people who don't quite grasp how to play video games very well. And then it's not a handhold type thing, but it's a slow process because it's such a huge game, right? There's so much to try to wrap your head around. But it gives you the time to develop the skills to do it.
So by the time you end up getting to a point where it's a necessity, you find yourself being really good at it. It's a good game because it makes you feel smart. It made me feel like I was figuring stuff out. And it gives you so much freedom to just do whatever the hell you want. And it’s awesome.
You mentioned having to work a lot growing up. How did you find time to play Tears of the Kingdom this year? I know it's a pretty long game.
It was a long game for sure. I've been in New York doing a lot of theater so I've been more on a schedule. My schedule has been a lot more predictable recently, which has been a lot easier. So I've been able to find time just throughout the day, lunch break, and at home after shows and stuff, which has always been easy. I can just pop it in my bag and then we're good to go.
One thing you did mention in your recent Variety interview about the movie is that the characters don't really talk in the game. I'm not sure how they're gonna make it in the movie. What do you think?
There's so much we don't know about the vibe of what they're gonna go for. Who knows if they’re going to change it up? Who knows if it's going to stick to form with that?
Something that's super visually oriented, if they were to explore something with minimal dialogue, that’s not something that people usually see in a film format, especially live-action, so that could be cool. I'm hoping that they do something interesting and offbeat. I think you have to.
Is there a particular plot from the games that you want to see them adapt?
I hope they grow from what they've done. What I loved about Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom was how vague it was in the context of the timelines and where they sat. I think it could be cool if they kept it vague. A lot of people are super partial to certain games. If they can cater to most of them, I think that would probably be the most fun. I have no clue though, I'm not a screenwriter.
Who do you think should play Link? Do you have any thoughts?
I honestly hope it's somebody we've never seen before.
Would you want to play Link?
I would absolutely butcher it. No. I know for a fact that that would be a terrible idea.
No, thank you. I couldn’t do it. Because it’s so loved, I don't want to touch it. I just want to continue to love it from my couch or a plane. And that's where I found my love in playing the games and just with Nintendo, in general. I think I just would like to observe it as an appreciator, but I don't think that it would be something I'd like to tackle and I don't think I'd be very good at it.
Can you say a little bit more on that? You wouldn't be in the movie at all or you wouldn't play Link?
Oh, I know I wouldn't play Link. But dude, give me the call and I’ll see what happens! Who knows? But I’m stoked to just see what they do. I mean, the games are undoubtedly some of the best of all time, if not truly the best video game series of all time. So it's going to be something to tackle for sure. It’s always hit or miss with making video game movies in general, but I feel like they've been getting really good at it. They've been able to figure it out. And it's a medium that people are just getting better at in general. So I know it's in good hands and it should be really, really good. I can't wait to see what comes of it.