By Moonah Ellison & Sophia Fox-sowell
Photography by Tony Gale
“It’s bizarre to think that without the physical evidence, the experience isn’t enough—to them,
it’s not real unless you’ve taken a picture of it and put it on the Internet because then it has validity and substance.”
On first glance, Matt Servitto could be a corrupt detective, your hellish corporate boss, or just a stay-at-home dad looking for some thrills to pass the time. Perfect camouflage for an actor. With a repertoire spanning 30 years across television’s most memorable dramas, he’s learned the beauty of blending in.
Sitting in his family home in South Orange, New Jerseyian Matt Servitto voices his love affair with the Garden State. “New Jersey gets such a bad rap. But what’s funny is that rap is about 50 years old, because it goes back to when there were a lot of refining factories and slaughterhouses—once you get past the urban areas, there’s beautiful farms and the Jersey shore. I’m a big fan.”
It’s endearing to hear that type of jargon still being used by former Agent Harris of HBO’s iconic crime drama, The Sopranos. When he originally entered the crime scene, Servitto’s character was a clever detective, intent on cracking down on the Italian Mafia who delayed construction to launder money for its union workers. However in the later seasons, Harris switches sides and winds up as Tony’s ace in the hole—just what the Garden State needs, another corrupt cop. But to quote Meadow Soprano, ‘there’s no such thing as the Mafia,’— then again, there are no right turns in New Jersey. Curious?
When the series finished with a cliffhanger, Matt admits that the cast, included him, was a bit surprised. “On the page, the show just sort of lulled itself to sleep. But David Chase (the director) chose to do this very cool abrupt stop, almost like a film ending, it’s still talked about to this day.”
Still riding on the infamy of The Sopranos, the Julliard trained actor continued on a streak of heavy premium cable dramas. First, he starred in another Northeastern crime drama, Brotherhood, but moved from Italian Mafia to this Irish Mob. Set in Providence, Rhode Island, the short-lived series gave Matt a change of dress. He exchanged the police uniform for a politician’s suit; but still played innocent until proven guilty. Most recently, he just wrapped up the last season of Banshee on Cinemax and resumed his digs as Deputy Brock Lotus—a police chief burdened with crime and consciousness.
When asked why romantic roles seem to be missing from his rap sheet, Matt’s personality slightly boomerangs. He romanticizes, is momentarily cynical then comes back to himself. “I would love to do something romantic, but I’m not a huge fan of romantic comedies—Hugh Grant admitted that he felt dirty that so much of his career was in that genre. So much of it is trollop, a big confection that’s not based in reality.”
Blissfully married for 15 years with three young children, Matt has solved the mystery. “There’s a difference between a love story and a romantic comedy.” But he digresses, “So much in your youth, you’re looking for the right person to save you, to change you. You realize as you get older, it’s about companionship; who you’re happy to see in the morning—it’s the simple things. When I see my parents smiling and laughing over coffee, that brings a tear to my eye more than any movie could.”
Matt’s true idea of the Holy Grail takes him back to stage and to his high school musicals. “I truly love to sing. To work with some of the greats on a show that hasn’t even been written yet—that would be something that would just blow my mind!”
Appreciative of the stepping stones the crime dramas provided, Matt looks forward to shooting lighter faring series, specifically, You’re Pretty Face is Going to Hell on Adult Swim. A comedy sitcom located in Atlanta, Georgia, Matt assumes a toally different character. “I play Satan, half man, half goat, completely done up with the horns in an office environment. Hell is just an office full of cubicles. You die and you get sent to this cubicle where you wear khakis, a polo shirt with Hell’s logo, and work for Satan for all eternity.” The show follows a low level employee attempting to steal human souls to exceed his quota and make his way up the corporate ladder—not that far off from the office drones in America.
Matt acknowledges that both his previous heavy hitting shows and current comedic sitcoms are just a couple of the overwhelmingly abundant compelling shows on television. “I think the Golden Age of theater may have passed. I think the Golden Age of film, may have passed. I think we are in a Golden Age of television. There’s an embarrassment of riches.”
It’s true, there is an abnormally high number of television shows on the air right now. Streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Crackle, HBO, Showtime, and a dozens others have more than heightened our ability to binge watch great TV series—both past and present (Matt admits he’s just starting to watch Breaking Bad)—they’ve completely changed the mentality of the consumer.
He agrees with frequent moviegoers who are bored with the repetition of archetypes, especially superhero films that are so focused on CGI graphics to “enhance” the viewing experience. “You have mega franchises—$100-$200 million dollar movies, most of it based on source material like comic books, graphic novels—that have a built in audience.”
Films struggle to tell a complete story full of twist and turns in two and half hours or less. Though film budgets tend to exceed those of television series, even major directors and movie stars are striving to land a TV show. Director Martin Scorcese created HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. Phil Abraham lucked out with Mad Men and Vince Gilligan hit a homerun with Breaking Bad on AMC. Television series allow a more fulfilling character development that movies nowadays often lack. But with more than 400 scripted shows on the air, there are far fewer cross-cultural viewers. “We’re seeing more and more niche audiences whose favorite shows only market their content to a specific group of people.”
But one conversation that seems to pop up at the office, coffee shops, and at New York Moves is the 2016 Presidential Race. Matt relays, “I can meet a complete stranger, have a beer, and a two hour discussion about what’s going on—it’s the TV Show we’re all watching.”
The campaign trail is so entertaining, even Matt’s kids are participating in the conversation, something both fascinating and foreign to him. Growing up in the 60s and 70s in Detroit, Matt vehemently remembers that the conversations at family functions rarely revolved around America’s political climate. “There were race riots it was taboo for children to discuss politics with their parents, especially at the dinner table. It was one of those off limits topics.”
Today, kids are being inundated with access to new information every day—one of the few saving graces of digital journalism and social media. “It’s bizarre to think that without the physical evidence, the experience isn’t enough—to them, it’s not real unless you’ve taken a picture of it and put it on the Internet because then it has validity and substance.”
Matt and his wife understand the dangers too many screens pose to children whose adolescent social skills and ability to empathize are struggling to develop properly. “On top of all of the things the failures that you may be doing as a parent—my daughter is approaching puberty—that is nothing compared to trying to get your kids not to be a zombie and to engage with their environment.”
Although open to having honest discussions with his children, Matt struggles to capture the essence of a particular candidate, whose very manner of speech easily lends itself to sound bites. “I keep saying, ‘Having the sex talk with my kids would be easier than explaining someone like Donald Trump!’”
At nine years old, Matt’s youngest daughter is like her father a force to be reckoned with. “She recently told me she doesn’t want Hillary to win. And when I asked her, ‘Why not?’ And she said, ‘Because I want to be the first woman president!’ I love that she finally lives in a world where she can be.”
photography by Tony Gale
grooming Juliet Jane
clothes talent’s own
location Beecher’s Cheese nyc