You know Matt Servitto if you’ve seen The Sopranos (he played FBI agent Dwight Harris), various films including the 2005 blockbuster Hitch, and of course as Brock Lotus on Banshee. Servitto began the show a pale, rather doughy career cop and by the time season four rolls around, you can see the dedication of the character on Servitto’s shape: he is cut, bearded, tanned and ready for action.
Servitto joined us to chat about the final season of the show, the evolution of his character, and shined some light on what he calls the greatest acting exercise of his 25-year career.
Steven Schott: I got to tell you, I love the character of Brock. His journey is absolutely incredible. We first meet him as a buttoned-up lawman but by the end he’s just racking shotguns left and right. Did you see this coming? Talk to me about the evolution of Brock.
Matt Servitto: He was sort of the moral compass to start the show. He was not supposed to live past season one. He was supposed to die right around the end of season one. Brock was supposed to find out Lucas Hood was a liar and we end up in a shootout in the metal works and I end up killed, so Hood’s secret remains safe.
About halfway through season one, [the producers] came to me and said “we’re not going to kill you, we like the character. The relationship you and Hood have is kind of funny so we want to keep you around.” So they immediately started thinking of my character beyond a plot device, because he really was just the do-gooder cop who didn’t like Hood from the beginning, who figures out Hood is a liar and then dies. So what do we do with him next? Who is this character? They kept me sort of on this “force be with you” kind of thing throughout season two but by season three we see his dark side.
No one in Banshee should be one way. It’s a great town of anti-heroes, everyone has an angle, everyone is trying to get their way. I thought even this guy has to have some sort of past. Every character in Banshee has a nefarious past that leads to a very dangerous place. I seem to be the only one without any ulterior motive. Why am I here? Then I got some backstory and a crazy ex-wife and then obviously always wanting to be the sheriff but struggling with it and then the execution-style killing of a felon. What’s great about season four is it’s a continuation of the education of Brock Lotus. He becomes sheriff, but then you immediately see he is not the sheriff that you think he should be. He traffics in the Lucas Hood school of sheriffing and that messes with his own sense of right and wrong as well.
The writers came to me at the beginning of season four and said “we’re psyched because the audience is going to see this whole season through your eyes. You’re going to interrogate everyone in town, including the mayor, including Hood, including many of our central characters.” So it’s fun as an actor, I got to act with everyone on the show. Just a lot of people that I had only heard about or seen very briefly.
SS: And you got to keep that wicked beard.
MS: I felt like the beard was a changing point for the character, but also for me as an actor. We needed to suggest a passage of time between seasons 2 and 3. They wanted to suggest a few months had passed. Then they became huge fans of the beard so much so that they put it in my contract like "you better show up with a beard.” This guy even opened up a Twitter account called Brock’s Beard.
In my many years of doing this, the arc of this character has been one of the most exciting things I’ve done. The fact that I got my first full-on sex scene at 49 years old. We did a lot fights, a lot of action scenes, there was definitely a lot of times when I felt like Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon (“I’m too old for this s–t”). Doing my own stunts at 49, 50 years old is a bunch of horses–t. I threw out my back, I banged my head, tore my rotator cuff.
SS: Being able to do the stunts like that, have you become addicted to the action and adrenaline when you’re looking for your next project?
MS: The one thing I knew when the show ended is I wanted to do nothing like the show. I don’t care what it was…
SS: My Dinner With Andre…
MS: Exactly. It’s just going to be a big talkie. This really is not a subtle show. There is nothing like it on TV, there’s other action shows of course, but I always felt like when we were doing the show we took a certain pride in the fact that we were doing a show that was groundbreaking, exciting, interesting, and fun and addictive and a blast to make. It was hard. It was not easy at all. You definitely feel like you did a couple tours of duty.
SS: Can we go back a moment? I think part of the appeal of the show is the gray area between good and bad. Why do you think that is so satisfying for people to watch? There is a lot of that going on in Banshee.
MS: Personally, I am not a big “good and evil” kind of person. Like Game of Thrones, I love it. There are very clearly defined characters as evil and there are people that are very clearly good and pure and doing the right things. George R.R. Martin admits some of the source material is “Ivanhoe” and all these classic Templar Knight stories. I just sort of feel like maybe I am the only decent person in town, but I felt that wasn’t interesting. We are all complex. We like complex characters, complex individuals. The audiences have become much more sophisticated. TV viewing audiences are facing so much good material and so much of it is trafficking in this kind of duality. Look at Breaking Bad, Tony Soprano.
SS: Perfect examples.
MS: When I did The Sopranos, I was the FBI guy. My character would come around every few episodes to remind the audience that this person you are falling in love with is a psychotic killer. If you just follow the show, [Tony Soprano] seems like an affable suburban Jersey dad. Suddenly the FBI appears to remind you that he is extorting a small business, that he executes people and slits throats. Oh right, he’s the head of the mob! Everyone gets seduced by this guy. I feel like there is the same thing with Lucas Hood. I can’t tell you have many people love his character and love Anthony.
SS: I want to spend a little time on season four and get an idea of where Brock ends up. Where do you want to see him end up? I feel like the town of Banshee is ruined for him as a small town place of peace. Does he even want to be sheriff?
MS: There is a moment later in the season where he is just a shell of the man he was. The town is burning down around him, the storylines all start fraying and Brock starts losing his mind a bit. He turns to Bunker and says ‘I am not even sure what I care about except for this town and this badge.’ In spite of all of what you and I were talking about, he is still the Knight Templar, the Don Quixote who wants to save the town of Banshee. Brock is the only one of the main characters who is actually vested into the physical town of Banshee. Lucas came after prison, Carrie came to hide away, Proctor is part of the Amish community. Brock is connected to the town in ways many are not. At one point, the writers even toyed with making Brock mayor in season two because he cares about the town that much.
The journey that Brock takes this year is probably one of the greatest acting exercises I have had in 25 years of doing this. Every episode is just another layer of hell for Brock. I couldn’t have asked for a better ending for the character. Once they decided the show was over, all bets were off. Then the writing really exploded. They could get rid of any character, they could blow up any building. It’s like you turned kids lose in a candy store gave them a chemistry set. It was a great, great journey for someone who wasn’t even supposed to get out of season one to be still standing at the end of season four.
The one thing I love about this show and the way it was shot is the relationships I have formed with these actors. To do what we did for four years, to be on location and basically make an action move every 10-12 days, we made almost 2/3 of an action movie every 10 days! It’s like making a Robert Rodriguez independent crazy action film. That means our work schedules are crazy. We are on location, always all living in the same apartment complex, we get up, we go to work, we beat the shit out of each other, we have fake sex with each other, we go to dinner, and we get up the next morning and we do it all again. It was four years of that. It was like college. I am never not going to be in touch with these people. This group was something special.
In the end, I am most excited for the fans. When I read the first couple scripts of this season, I put them down and said “oh my god, the fans are going to love this.” For the first time I was looking at it from a fan’s perspective thinking ‘where are you taking this show?’ We’re basically hijacking it and taking it two years into the future. You’re going to have to go with this crazy story. It’s just a blast.