The Cinemax action series Banshee tells the story of Lucas Hood (Antony Starr), an ex-con and master thief who assumes the identity of the sheriff of Banshee, PA. It’s the perfect cover for him to try to win back the love of his life (Ivana Milicevic) and hide out from the dangerous gangster (Ben Cross) that they both betrayed years earlier, while attempting not to get into too much more trouble.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Matt Servitto (who plays Brock Lotus, the Banshee sheriff’s department longest serving deputy, that resents Lucas Hood for taking the job he wanted) talked about how he came to be a part of Banshee, that he loved the twist on what could have been a very generic character on another show, how putting on the uniform really helps inform the character and the way he carries himself, that Season 2 starts shooting in Charlotte, North Carolina on April 8th, how the action and fight scenes will be ramped up next season, how he’s hoping to get a lot more ensemble scenes to do, what he’d like to learn about his character, and how surprised he is about the show’s strong female following. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
MATT SERVITTO: It was through the traditional interview process. I actually spent most of the spring, last year, out in L.A. I’m based in New York, but I happened to be back in New York for a brief period of time and I met with the casting director. I flew back out to L.A. and no sooner than when I got off the plane, they said, “They want you to come back and meet with the producer, Greg [Yaitanes] on Monday.” I was like, “Gosh, I just got back. I don’t know if I’m going to fly back.” I hemmed and hawed and called the casting director, and she said, “You need to come back.” I loved the script and I knew it was good material, so I just thought, “All right, I’ll roll the dice on this.” I went back and met with Greg, and everything moved pretty quickly from there. It was definitely one of the better, if not the best script, that I read last year. The one thing I knew was that there was no other script I had read that was like it. It was very different, even from all the scripts that I’ve seen since then. Every time I think I understand the show or know what the show is, I get a script and I’m like, “Okay, now I don’t know what this show is.” It keeps shifting.
How did you view Brock? Was he someone that you could easily relate to?
SERVITTO: I’ve played so much law enforcement. I’ve played New York City cops, I’ve played detectives, I’ve played sergeants, I’ve played investigators. What appealed to me was that this was not just another cop. This was not just another sheriff. First of all, he’s in Banshee, Pennsylvania, which as we’ve discovered, is the most violent city in America. And really, there’s nothing typical about the writing or my relationship with Lucas Hood (Antony Starr) , who has obviously taken a job away from me. It was an opportunity for me to play a role that I’ve played before, but in a completely different context.
Was it a fun little surprise to get to do the scene between Brock and the mayor for the Welcome to Banshee website (www.WelcomeToBanshee.com)?
SERVITTO: Ironically, it’s one of my favorite acting scenes that I got to do last year, and it wasn’t even in the show. It was part of that prequel backstory of Banshee stuff. I just love it because what you really get to see is a moment that happened just before Lucas Hood shows up in town. Brock has been scorned, and that will affect every action that he has, going forward in dealing with Hood. That was great. That was our producer Greg Yaitanes’ idea to make sure that we shot some of this backstory stuff. He didn’t even know specifically what he was going to do with them. He just said, “I want to get a little backstory on everybody, that we could either put on the web or show after the credits.” After the credits, they show those little vignettes, so we thought that’s where some of the backstory stuff was going to go, but it’s great that he put them all together on the web and people can find them. Greg is so savvy, in that way. He’s always looking for ways to keep the audience tuned in during the week, between episodes, and in the off-season, and with social media and tweeting. He’s very, very smart, the way he engages his audience.
That’s great because cable shows are typically on once a year and you want to remind people that there’s still a show.
SERVITTO: Yeah. I did The Sopranos and we had long, long hiatuses of nothing, and that was before social media, so there really wasn’t any Facebook and Twitter and outreach that you get now, from the networks, to stay tuned or hear about new stuff that’s coming up. Sometimes we’d take a whole year off or more, between seasons and people would be angry. Fans would confront me on the subway and be like, “When’s the next season coming out?! This is ridiculous!” And I’d be like, “I know. I’m sorry! My bad.” It’s great because we’re jumping right back into shooting. The goal is to really keep the audience engaged. Without giving anything away, Greg is already giving me some extra-curricular stuff that he wants to shoot this year, to use on the web, which is great. My fans do not watch these shows in the traditional viewing time period. Everybody DVRs them. Very often, I’ll just wait and watch a whole season in two weeks, whether I stream it or go to On Demand. What’s great is that many, many friends, family and people have said to me, “I haven’t seen your show yet, but I can’t wait to watch it! I’m going to watch it this summer. I’m going to watch all 10 of them, in a row.” We’ve already got a large group of people that were and are tuning in, every Friday night at 10 o’clock, but I can’t wait to see what happens. That happened with The Sopranos and another show I did, called Brotherhood. Many people came on board, well after the fact. I still get people telling me, “Oh, my god, I had never seen The Sopranos and I just watched the first three seasons last week,” which is awesome. And I think that will continue with a show like Banshee.
When you play a character that’s in law enforcement, does putting on the uniform really help inform the character for you and even make you hold yourself differently, physically?
SERVITTO: Oh God, yeah, especially with all that equipment. At times, they let some of the other deputies be a little more relaxed. For Brock, they always wanted me to be by-the-book, so I always had long sleeves and always wore the tie and always had this very official-looking deputy uniform. With Siobhan (Trieste Kelly Dunn) and Emmett (Demetrius Grosse), they would let them wear no tie and short sleeves. I was boiling in Charlotte, in the middle of the summer with the full uniform on. You also have this belt with a radio, a gun, handcuffs and all this stuff, so you find yourself doing that cop swagger. When you get out of the car, you sashay up to the car you pulled over and you find yourself walking differently with all that equipment on, the boots and the uniform. The uniform does a lot. Also, wearing a sheriff’s outfit with the badge on it does a lot. 50% of my job is just looking in the mirror and going, “Yeah, there it is.” That’s a good place to start. One of the things I like about our show is that we shoot a lot of it on location. A lot of things that would normally be on a soundstage, on a traditional network show, we are actually in. We’ve got the police cars and we’re actually out there. If we pull a car over on the side of the road, we do it outside on a road. If there’s a shoot-out at a bus depot, we go to a bus depot and set that all up. That’s what I like. You don’t have to make all this stuff up in your mind. I’ve done network shows and they create almost every situation you need, inside a controlled soundstage where they can control the air conditioning and the lighting. We are on location 90% of the time, off somewhere being hot, in a very claustrophobic and humid situation.
SERVITTO: I don’t know if I have a choice because that’s the show. From what I can tell and gather already, I think I’m going to have even more of that, in the second season. I think there’s going to be more action, more fighting and more physical activity. It’s funny because I had that discussion with the producers. They were like, “Look, even the out of shape, overweight deputy is going to get in fights, so we’re going to get you in shape. Be ready to do some more fight stuff.” Every time I thought I knew what the show was, we’d get a new script and I’d be like, “Oh, okay, so now we’re an action show.” And then, the next script would be dark and like Pulp Fiction and I’d be like, “Okay, so maybe we’re a pulpy, kitschy show.” And then, the next script would be all sexy and I’d be like, “Oh, maybe we’re like True Blood.” Now, it’s become clear that, no matter what, one of the constants is all the action. I think everyone will eventually take turns getting involved in some of that. It’s enjoyable, especially at this point in my career, to be doing stunt stuff. I’ve done stuff in the last year, on this show, that I didn’t do in the previous 20 years of playing cops. I’d done a lot of gunplay, shoot-outs, chasing and running. It’s fun! I enjoy it. I can’t eat as many donuts. I usually just get into a police character by drinking coffee and eating donuts, but those days are over.
Was it difficult for you to get comfortable with the guns, or did that come easy for you?
SERVITTO: I’m not anti-gun or pro-gun, but if you put a gun in your hand, you feel different. I’ve gone to the range. I’ve been with police on patrol. When you have a gun, you just feel different. There’s a protective level and you feel all those feelings. You feel a little bit macho and a little bit frightened. Our guns are real guns with blanks. They’re not toy guns. They have the look and the feel of a real gun, and the smell and the oil. When we do shoot-outs, we’re using blanks and you’re getting the gunpowder smell on the casings, shooting everywhere. All that sound and fury does give you an adrenalin rush that feeds your performance.
Brock is a character that seems to prefer to keep to himself a bit, so you haven’t had much interaction with the characters outside of Sheriff Hood and the other deputies. Was it fun to get to team up with Carrie (Ivana Milicevic), Job (Hoon Lee) and Sugar (Frankie Faison) to go rescue Hood, in the finale?
SERVITTO: Oh, my god, absolutely! It took the whole season to get the A-Team together, who really do look like some freak show. It was fun! When people always ask me what the actors were like on The Sopranos, I’ve usually never worked with that person. I worked with James Gandolfini, I worked with Edie [Falco] a little bit, and I worked with Michael Imperioli, but there were many, many characters I never saw. You could go for one or two seasons and never see certain actors. Maybe you’d see them at the wrap party or the premiere, but if your characters don’t have any interaction, you don’t work with them and don’t see them. So, the thing that was fun about that moment [on Banshee] is that we spent the whole last few weeks of the shoot, all working together, every day, and that was fun. I’m sure the making of the shoot-out of the last episode will be on the DVD set because there were lots of cameras there and coverage of all of us being together with all of the gunplay, the jumping, the punching, the explosions and everything. That was great! Hopefully, we’ll have a lot more of that in Season 2.
Have you given any thought about how Brock might react, if Hood’s secret ever does come out?
SERVITTO: Yeah. That storyline was something that they were working towards, in the first season, but there was a choice to pull that revelation back a little bit and tease it out with the audience. I think, “What would happen, if he did finally have the information that he’s always wanted, which is that Hood is a liar, would he use it against him? Would he use it to get ahead? Would he use it to his advantage? Would he keep quiet?” I don’t know. I think it’s definitely a storyline that could come out and it would be exciting to see how it played out. What’s amazing is that there were so many revelations and storylines that I thought would be dragged out for two or three seasons, like the fact that Carrie has this whole past life with Hood, and now her family and many people in the town know that. I thought they would keep that secret going for seasons. I thought that wouldn’t come out until Season 3. The fact that they already went through that, that quickly, and it’s already been revealed, I was like, “Wow!” I keep thinking, “You guys are going too fast! What the hell are you going to do in the second season?! How do you top this?!” I’m just beginning to see some of the scripts for the second season and I’m like, “Oh, okay, that’s how you top that!” There’s a lot of fun stuff.
SERVITTO: On April 8th, we start shooting in Charlotte.
Have you thought about where you’d like to see Brock go, in Season 2, or if there are specific aspects of him that you’d love to learn about, or characters that you’d like to see him interact with?
SERVITTO: Yeah, definitely! I’ve been needling the writers to give me more of a backstory. Everybody in Banshee seems to have a mysterious past and a complicated present. You’re beginning to learn a little bit about each character’s motivation for why they do things, and I keep wanting to know my motivation. I keep asking the writers, “Why is my character this way? Did I have a wife? Am I divorced? Do I have kids? Was it the job? Was I an alcoholic? Do I have a gambling problem?” There are so many different things that could be percolating. Right now, it seems as though we’ve only learned one thing about Brock, which is that he wanted to be sheriff and he got passed over, but there’s got to be more to him that that. I trust the writers and my producer that they’re going to eventually reveal something where I’m like, “Oh, my god, here we go! You wanted a storyline, so here’s your storyline.” They’ve done that with so many of the characters.
Are you surprised about the big female following that the show has developed?
SERVITTO: It’s amazing how many women like the show. A lot of women I know, including my wife and my mom, watched and loved The Sopranos because it was about a struggling husband and wife, and a family. But Banshee has so much action, violence and what seems like gratuitous sex, and I was like, “I don’t think women are going to take to this.” But then, we realized that all the women on the show are really tough and strong, and we’re really finding this whole demographic that we thought was going to be alienated are in love with the show. Even amongst my family and friends, I keep getting texts, emails and tweets, and it’s mostly from women saying, “I love your show! I can’t wait for next week!,” and I’m like, “Wow! Okay, great!”
Banshee airs on Cinemax.