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ART BEAT: From Suwanee to the screen

Photo by Brian Giandelone

Photo by Brian Giandelone

Zac Efron? Robert Pattinson? Who needs them? Gwinnett's own Matthew Zuk has arrived in Hollywood, and the sky's the limit for this young actor/writer.

Born in New York, Joseph and Jackie Zuk brought the family to Suwanee when Matthew was 6 years old. He graduated from Suwanee Elementary, Lanier Middle and North Gwinnett High School with no idea he could choose acting, his secret ambition, as a career.

Matt graduated from high school with honors and found himself at the University of Georgia considering journalism or ecology as a major.

"I had always wanted to act since I was very young, but I never tried," Matt said. "My mom is a friend of sportscaster Ernie Johnson, and I had a talk with him about being in journalism. Mr. Johnson asked me, 'If you could do anything, what would it be?' The answer was that I wanted to act. So, I declared my major as drama and threw myself into it."

His first acting experience was in the UGA production of "Sordid Lies," a comedy.

"I had never been on a stage before, and here I was in my first play, opening the show with a monologue," he said. "I was scared to death. Another actor nudged me and said, 'Go on,' and I did. Once I was out there, I just loved it."

Matt has met with success ever since, and will graduate from UGA with his drama degree in December. However, much of his time has been spent going back and forth to Los Angeles.

"If I have the money, I'll come home for graduation," Matt said.

After working on many student films at UGA, including the Campus Movie Fest winner "Iris," Matt saw an opportunity to go to Los Angeles as a part of the National Student Exchange Program. He was there for 10 months where he studied at California State University, Los Angeles and also worked as an intern for the "Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien."

"The show had just moved from New York to Los Angeles. Conan was really nice. Mostly I answered phones, got food, helped make props -- just doing anything that needed doing," he said.

He also met such celebrities as Green Day, Dane Cook and his favorite of all -- Joe Torre.

"Meeting Joe Torre was better than meeting movie stars," he said.

Upon returning to UGA in July 2009, Matt saw a poster that read "Win a role in a movie!" The project turned out to be a national casting tour for the new Yoostar Technology, which essentially allows a person to insert themselves into famous movies or television scenes. Matt won the UGA competition and eventually placed third nationally and first among the male competitors.

"I did a scene from the TV show 'Mad Men' and forgot about it. Two months later, I found I had won," he said.

Matt has agent representation now in both Atlanta and in Los Angeles, where it is "pilot season," a golden opportunity for young actors to latch onto a television role. However, Matt's ambitions are not just in the acting arena. He is a writer as well, with several projects being considered.

Meanwhile, Matt is waiting to hear if he has been cast in a principal role in "The Story of Bonnie and Clyde," a project with Hilary Duff. Matt can also be seen in the movie "3:16," which is available at Barnes & Noble and Borders.

"I just want to be successful at doing something I love, whether it is acting or writing," Matt said.

Holley Calmes is a freelance writer and public relations consultant specializing in the arts. E-mail her at hcalmes@mindspring.com.