Matt Roloff Interview: Skydive Starts Sixth and Final Season of 'Little People, Big World'
Actor, author, farmer, and businessman Matthew (Matt) James Roloff, born with diastrophic dysplasia dwarfism, is best known for participating with his family in the reality television program Little People, Big World currently seen on The Learning Channel (TLC). The show allows viewers to look into the lives of the Roloffs as they face the pressures of being little in an average-sized world.
Roloff’s wife Amy is also a little person with achondroplasia. The couple has four children: fraternal twins Jeremy and Zachary (born 1990), Molly (born 1993), and Jacob (born 1997). Zachary, like his mother, has achondroplasia, while the other three children are of normal height.
“Amy has the dominant gene in her type of dwarfism, achondroplasia. It would be like her marrying an average person when she married me as far as the dwarfism component goes.”
Little People, Big World debuted on March 4, 2006 and the sixth season will premiere on September 6, with Matt jumping out of an airplane.
Subsequent to this interview, it was announced by TLC that this will be the show’s final season.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Matt, you were born in San Francisco?
Matt Roloff: Yep, in 1961. My childhood was spent in San Francisco or the immediate area. I spent a lot of time in the hospital there when I was young and went to high school probably ten miles south of the city proper. So I was always pretty much in the Bay area near San Francisco until I hit my bachelor years and moved down to the San Jose area. That’s where I married my wife.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Your parents are of normal height.
Matt Roloff: Average height, yep.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is the dwarfism gene in their family?
Matt Roloff: Well, it’s different for every type of dwarfism. People don’t realize there are 200 classifications of dwarfism and each one has its own genetic implications. My particular type of dwarfism is called diastrophic. It’s a mutation gene and it’s a combination of genes between my parents.
I have a sibling who’s also diastrophic so when you have that combination of genes that they have, that particular condition is not a one time thing. It happens typically in all your children or there is better than a 50% chance.
There were four of us in the family; two of us had the diastrophic dwarfism (me and my younger brother Sam). My sister is of average height, and my other brother passed away from something completely different years ago.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): He died from a heart disease?
Matt Roloff: Yeah, exactly, a heart defect. But in most families that have diastrophics, there may be three, four, or five children that all have diastrophic dysplasia and the parents are perfectly average size.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Diastrophic dwarfism is a degenerative disease?
Matt Roloff: Yes, it’s degenerative. My joints are deteriorating as we speak. It seems to be more rapid with age. But that’s probably across the board, I would imagine, with everybody.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Were your parents overprotective of you as a child?
Matt Roloff: No, that’s one thing I speak about frequently. I was very fortunate because today in this society so many parents of people with special needs … advocacy is a big word and they all get together to talk about it. They over advocate and that’s a little unfortunate. My parents were more like, “Hey, you want to go get a paper route? Go knock yourself out, but I’m not going to pave the way.” So they were very good about not being overprotective.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): They let you be independent and live your own life.
Matt Roloff: Yep, I got a stroke of luck on that one. I think overprotectiveness can really set a child back because it doesn’t let them build up the resiliency they’re going to need for the rest of their lives. I believe that’s really the key to success for a person with some sort of disability.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Have you experienced discrimination in the workplace?
Matt Roloff: Not often, but there have been a couple of isolated incidents where I would put it in that category. There was an incident where I was hired for a job kind of sight unseen. It was for a job across the country and the person apparently didn’t think to mention that I was a little person so there was quite a shock.
I did get hired but it wasn’t a good fit. So there have been times where I’ve felt, “Oh boy, they can’t quite deal with the fact that I’m not average or not regular.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You’ve been a computer programmer and now you run Direct Access Solutions (DAS).
Matt Roloff: Yep, I run Direct Assess Solutions and Roloff Farms. I tell people I have five jobs, between making the show, running DAS, and my speaking engagements. I speak all over the country a couple of times a month.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What kind of company is DAS?
Matt Roloff: When I was traveling the world doing software and going into hotels I found that little people can’t reach the sink to brush their teeth, can’t reach the shower head, can’t reach the thermostat, and sometimes they can’t even get into the bed.
DAS puts together a kit that is sold into hotels for about $200. It has a booklet that tells about dwarfism, it comes with a stool, some reaching tools, and an optional robe. We’ve done massive field-testing within various national conferences. This is so little people won’t have to drag around from hotel to hotel little stools or anything like that in their bags. That’s the idea behind it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Matt, have you always wanted to be in front of the camera?
Matt Roloff: I would not say that, no (laughs). I mean, I am kind of a ham so it has turned out fine. But, no, that was not my intention. In fact, it was probably quite the opposite. Some little people friends of mine were in the business down in LA and they used to call when I was in my early 20s.
They’d say, “Hey man, we’re doing a show and we need some more extras. Can you come down to LA for a couple of days?” I’d take some days off work and go down. They weren’t threatened by me and it’s kind of ironic now because I’m in the limelight, but I was very well secure in my programming position. It was a very lucrative consistent position.
I would go down and play a little role in some of the Ewok things or be in a Chevy Chase movie, just little minor parts when my buddies had the larger parts. I had never reached out to get into SAG (Screen Actors Guild) or get an agent or anything because it was just not my direction at all. So years later when this opportunity stumbled across us … this TV show was mere coincidence. We didn’t seek it out.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): The reality show was not your idea?
Matt Roloff: No, I would not take credit for the idea. I would say I was involved in the development of what it became, what we would do and what we wouldn’t do. I mean, they came to us with various ideas and for a year we had numerous discussions about the format.
We were definitely involved in those discussions, but the production company came to us and said, “We’d like to pitch you guys for a series of specials.” That’s how it was originally positioned. We were just going to do ten specials. We were very involved in crafting the format. But there were people far smarter than us in the TV production business that really drove that process.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I was reading about Shorty Rossi of Animal Planet’s Pit Boss and he compares the Roloffs to The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.
Matt Roloff: Yeah, that would be something he’d come up with! That’s when he was being nice and when he’s behaving himself (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): He did compare Pit Boss to the Roseanne Conner family. I suppose those two are at opposite ends of the spectrum.
Matt Roloff: Yeah exactly. We like to think we have a little more edge than that (laughs). I haven’t used this terminology in years, but when our show first came out I’d say we were a combination of The Waltons and The Osbournes (laughs). People say we’re a little bit more “Waltonish,” but anyway, that’s funny that Shorty would say that. He’s doing well for himself and has really turned his life around. We’re real proud of what he’s doing for himself.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Matt, how do you cope being constantly scrutinized?
Matt Roloff: That’s a great question. You know, it’s not always easy. You grow a really thick skin and you train yourself to not read the Internet. That’s something we learned from the first show. My staff might pass something on to me that they’ve caught just because they think it’s a learning moment. They might say, “Here’s what people are saying about you on the Internet and there’s a theme here because there’s more than a handful of people who are saying this.”
I take that criticism to heart more often than not. I’ve actually become a better father by listening to some of the criticism, oddly enough. It’s not always easy to read and you want to initially reject it, but then you sort of swallow it and say, “Well maybe somebody did catch a couple of frames of me not paying attention to my youngest boy or maybe I do need to put the computer down when he comes to talk.” So those are learning moments.
It’s hard to read critical things about the kids, particularly when they’re not true. I think what happens on blogs and forums is that they’ll say, “Jeremy’s sitting on the couch so he must be lazy.” He may have been sitting on the couch in that scene but then they’d say, “He must always be sitting on the couch.” They hypothesize based on a few snippets and most of the time they have one or two facts straight making their final hypothesis completely wrong. That’s frustrating.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Divorce rumors were flying around last season.
Matt Roloff: Yeah, it’s tough and kind of fun, too, because you think, “Wow, under what circumstances does divorce happen?” So it makes you sort of redouble your efforts to avoid that. We have the benefit of having a bunch of living room psychologists out there feeding us input. It can harm, too.
I’ll just give you an example just to be brutally honest with you. The other day Amy and I were talking about an episode. She said, “I wish you hadn’t said that about me.” I said, “Well I wish you hadn’t said that about me on camera.”
Sometimes we get asked questions by producers who want to get to the core of an issue and I say, “Well that’s kind of how I felt at the time.” Some of it’s out of context when it finally gets put on the show. It’s just impossible for a 22-minute TV show to put everything into complete context. So the viewers are not seeing the entire context around some snippet of an argument or whatever.
I’m here to tell you that Amy and I still sleep in the same bedroom and enjoy our relationship. She’s going through changes and I am too. The public has been privy to watching our relationship evolve and our whole family evolve. I think every family goes through evolutions and changes. People have just had the benefit of seeing us.
If they want to spend their day criticizing every move we make and every change we make, then that works in our favor I guess for the ratings. But whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent, we take up a positive stance on it. Sometimes it’s hurtful and most of the time it’s not all true. We try not to read any of that because when people do send it our way we try and take it to heart.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Let’s talk for a few moments about the kids. Zachary and Jeremy are attending community college. Do they have girlfriends?
Matt Roloff: For some reason they’ve been off the girlfriend track. But Jeremy always has a circle of ladies around him, although he’s definitely not locked down on one right now as he was for the early seasons of the show. I think he’s playing the field a little bit.
Zachary’s very active in the little people organization. He sneaks out on some dates from time to time but we don’t get to hear a lot about that. He’s pretty private with that part of his life. Molly doesn’t have a boyfriend. Jacob, our youngest, has a girlfriend but we call her a friend because of his age. He has a gal who’s his best friend that he spends a lot of time chatting with.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is it fairly rare to have one twin affected by dwarfism and the other twin of average height?
Matt Roloff: That gets back to that genetic thing and actually it was perfect. We played the odds almost perfectly. With my dwarfism, I have a zero chance or a very rare chance of reproducing my type of dwarfism because it’s a recessive gene.
Amy has the dominant gene in her type of dwarfism, achondroplasia. It would be like her marrying an average person when she married me as far as the dwarfism component goes.
Amy had a 50% chance of having a dwarf and a 50% chance of having one of average height. When we had twins and one was a dwarf and one was avaerage, that was exactly the odds that were predicted. When we had Molly we thought, “Well Molly’s tall so if we have another baby it would probably be small after we played the odds perfectly.” But if we were to have another child, and we will not (don’t want to start any rumors), there would be a 50% chance it would be a little person.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How does Molly deal with a household full of boys?
Matt Roloff: I would say that Molly has a close relationship to every individual person in the family. It is funny that you would ask that because I was talking to a producer and we were reflecting on Molly and how she is such a rock. She’s so solid, has a great relationship with her mother, with me, and with each of her three brothers. Everybody treats her respectfully because she spends time with each of her brothers individually doing various things.
Molly’s just very balanced and, of course, the brains of the family academically speaking. She wins all of the academic awards because she’s a solid straight A+ student. She cooks, helps her mother, and goes out to pick berries. She’s very balanced.
We’re very proud of her and recently we were just saying that we don’t know where she’s going but she will turn out to be a pretty wonderful person because she’s really solid. She’s also the peacemaker in the family. Molly knows how to call everybody’s bluff. She never takes sides, just uses logic and common sense.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you driving now?
Matt Roloff: Yes, I’m driving and have my license back. I’d like to get some facts out there because people think I played the system. The evening that happened I was not in that bar. I wasn’t in any bar. I pulled into a back entrance of a parking lot and dropped one of our producers off in the lot. I left two minutes later out the other exit, which was where this officer was stationed. So I was never in the bar (laughs).
When I drove down the road I was a little sloppy, but not because of any drinking, but because of other circumstances. I was driving my wife’s car, which I never drive, and it was an old country road. It was late at night and I was coming back from a filming event where there was no alcohol consumption at all.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): The police officer didn’t give you a Breathalyzer test?
Matt Roloff: I said, “Give me any test that you want.” The officer said, “I can’t give you a Breathalyzer because I’d have to take you down to the station.” I said, “Officer, I wasn’t in the bar. Why would you have to take me down to the station?” You know, they have to arrest you to take you to the station.
I said, “You need to give me a test right here – a walking test or something.” The officer said, “I’m sorry, but because of your dwarfism I can’t give you another test.” That’s why we won the case. Legally I’m entitled to have a test. I said, “I’m not going to cooperate. I’m going to wait and get an attorney because you’re scaring me.” That was the basis of the case. He freaked me out.
I don’t want to go into any more details than that but I think the officer was pretty well scolded by the system and the judge. It was not just my situation, turned out there was a history of his shenanigans. I took the heat of it because I did have an incident. It was just unfortunate how that played out, but in the end justice prevailed.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Matt, do you have plans to write another book?
Matt Roloff: Yes, I’ve got a cute children’s book I’m negotiating right now. Eventually I want to write a book about all the stuff we’re talking about, a kind of behind the scenes book. I wouldn’t want to call it a “tell all” because there’s nothing really to tell. I just want to explain to the people how the process worked, what was real and wasn’t real, and how things came about.
It would be directed toward the fans of the show that have curiosities. Over time we have met people and they ask questions so we have a sense of what they hunger for, what they want to know, similar to the questions you’ve been asking me. I’ve been taking notes so I’d like to publish a book at some point.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What would you say have been your largest obstacles throughout life?
Matt Roloff: Just the short stature is definitely an obstacle. You can’t reach things. I walk on crutches and I can’t carry things, so just the physical limitations. But I’ve tried to turn it around.
You constantly have to sell yourself because society wants to reject you for your size or just on mere appearance. Every single engagement you want into even if its just “hello,” is tough. It’s less so now because we think our show, Shorty’s show, and other little people’s shows have made a big dent in this perception.
We have to constantly be convincing people that we’re worthy of a job, getting a driver’s license, or even having children. Amy talks about when she had children. The doctor said, “Are you sure you can handle it?” When we had twins they alluded to the idea of maybe one should get aborted. Amy said, “Hell no, I can carry two babies. I’ll do whatever it takes to carry these babies to full term.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Well, Matt, people were wondering if you were dead after the last season ender. I’m sure that the fans will be looking forward to watching what happens on September 6.
Matt Roloff: Yes (laughs). Listen, the day that aired I didn’t realize it would air that day and I had flown to New York. I was literally mobbed in Times Square with people saying, “You’re alive! You’re alive!” I said, “Of course I’m alive. What happened?” They said, “Well you were just on a couple of hours ago and you had fallen on the floor from a heart attack.” I said, “Oh okay, right. That was on tonight.” So it was funny and it was serious business.
I really had some health issues and have since been stabilized. I think we’re going to flash back to that moment on the season opener coming up on September 6. It’s going to be quite an exciting opening episode and I think one of our best ever.
They’re going to flash back to that moment and contrast it with … what’s the opposite from falling on the floor looking like you’re dying of a heart attack? I end up getting pushed out into the open sky at 15,000 feet above the earth (laughs). That’s kind of the opposite from falling on the floor, jumping out of an airplane … but I didn’t really jump, I was pushed.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That wasn’t your choice?
Matt Roloff: No, it definitely wasn’t my choice. As the airplane was climbing up into the sky, I’m like, “What have I gotten myself into?” I literally was kind of kicking myself for getting into it, but we went through with it. I had no choice.
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