I don’t like to brag about stuff, but you’re about to read an awesome Quaz.
Matthew Laurance is a name you might know, or a name you might not know. For Kentucky basketball and football fans, he’s the host of UK Game Day on on WLXG in Lexington. But that’s, like, his 564,432nd claim to fame.
Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, Matthew appeared in, oh, every movie and TV show you can imagine. Hell, here’s a quick and random listing: Beverly Hills, 90210, Matlock, thirtysomething, Eddie and the Cruisers, My Sister Sam … on and on and on. He enjoyed the highs of Hollywood (fame, big pay) and the lows of Hollywood (egos, idiots, aging). Lived the life of a star without ever thinking of himself as a star.
Matthew Laurance, welcome to The Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN: So you have one of the most unique resumes I’ve EVER seen. I mean that—e-v-e-r. WNBA commentary. Sideline analyst for Duke men’s basketball. A key role in 90201. St. Elmo’s Fire. Thirtysomething. On and on and on. Just amazing. But I wanna ask you about something specific. In 1989 you reprised your role of Sal Amato in Eddie in the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives! I’m always riveted by sequels, especially sequels of big, iconic period films. So, Matthew, what do you remember about doing the sequel? Did you want to? Did the script hold up? Was it a good film?
MATTHEW LAURANCE: I was working on my series Duet for Fox. My agent called and said that they were doing the sequel, and would I be interested in doing it. I asked all the right questions—who is doing it, director, where is it shooting, what about the series I was doing … they told me that the record company The Scotti Brothers were producing, and that Tony Scotti specifically wanted me from the first one, that nobody except Michael Pare and I were coming back. I found out that my scenes were shooting in Montreal, and I would need two weeks off from my series. When I told the Duet producers, they graciously agreed to write me out of one episode to go back to back with our normal week off. All good so far. My agent said, “Let’s ask for a lot of money.” I said “Yippee!”
Then I got the script.
Underwhelmed, to say the least. I felt that we had a built in audience, and that we had a chance to do something special. The good news was that all my scenes were with Michael, and I felt like we could make them work because of our history together. And two weeks in Montreal? I’m in.
Well, I don’t like the movie at all. The whole premise is that this huge rock star is hiding from the world. Doing construction. And the music comes back, and his picture is everywhere, and he has a little mustache and nobody knows it’s him. Like Clark Kent put on glasses and no one knew he was Superman. Ridiculous. But I think my scenes with Michael are really good, and I had a wonderful time doing it [Jeff’s note: To his credit, Matthew scored a hot date to the premier].
J.P.: In 1980-81, you were a cast member of Saturday Night Live, where your twin brother Mitchell has been an assistant director. What was the SNL experience like back then? I’m picturing craziness, drugs, wildness, drinking, etc. But … am I off? And why’d you leave after just one season? Do you at all regret that?
M.L.: There was a lot of that, granted. But not only on SNL. Everywhere, by everybody. It was both a great year and very difficult at the same time. We replaced the most popular cast in the world. Icons. Lorne Michaels left in a dispute with NBC, I think, and they hired Jean Doumanian to replace him. She was the talent coordinator for Lorne. I had been doing Off-Broadway theater and studying, and working as a waiter for a looooong time, trying to get an agent. Most of the people in the cast were comedians. Everyone fought for their place in sketches. There was a lot of jealousy and backstabbing by certain people. But the opportunity to be live in front of all those people every week was incredible. Big time rush.
And there were people I loved working with- Charlie Rocket, Gail Mathius, Denny Dillon … Eddie Murphy, before anyone knew him. And I left when I wasn’t asked back. They changed regimes again and that was that. I was fine with it. Within a few months I was on my way to LA to work with Steve Martin and Carl Reiner on a movie, and that was that.
J.P.: How did this happen for you? I mean, I know you’re a twin, know you’re from Hewlett, N.Y., know you attended Tufts. But why acting? When acting? And when did you realize this was something you could make a career out of?
M.L.: My first role was in eighth grade. I played Hugo in Bye Bye Birdie. And then Curly, the lead in Oklahoma, in ninth grade. And I loved being on stage. A lot of it has to do with being an identical twin, I think. You want to be different than your sibling, and you develop a personality that kind of says, “Hey, look at me!” At least I think that’s what I did. We were both really good athletes, and on basketball and football and baseball teams, but I loved being on stage in front of people. Kept doing plays through high school, and at Tufts.
I was going to be a lawyer. And Mitchy—my name for my brother—was going to be a doctor. My dad was very poor growing up, and never wanted to worry about us. It was just always understood—law school, med school.
My senior year at Tufts, I went to take my law boards at Harvard. As I sat looking at people whose life seemingly depended on that test, I realized I was doing it for my father. I randomly filled in the rest of the answers and left. When I went home for Christmas break, Dad asked if I had sent my applications in to law schools. They were sitting on my desk at school. I hadn’t filled them out. When I said no, he asked when I planned on sending them. I replied, “Never. I don’t want to be a lawyer.”
“Really? What are you going to do?”
“I think I want to be an actor.”
He got up from the table and walked into the living room. I looked at Mom, and she said, “Leave him alone for awhile. This is a shock to him.” I went to bed, almost ready to say I’d go to law school. I loved him so much, and knew that if I became an actor, he’d be in for many years of worrying. The next morning, he came in and sat on my bed and woke me up. He said (I get tears in my eyes even now thinking about this), “If that’s what you want to do, I’ll do everything I can to help you.”
We were incredibly blessed to have parents as supportive as ours. He passed away before I got my first real job.
J.P.: You had a run of being in everything. I mean, seriously, you owned the 1980s and 90s. Now, it seems, work isn’t what it was. And I wonder if that’s by your choice, or just what happens when actors age? Is it harder to land gigs at 64 than it was at 34? Or 44? Do you still want gigs?
M.L.: I had been in LA for about 18 years. The business had changed. Everything was about youth. With everything I had done, I was still having to work to get roles, as most actors do. One day my agent called and said, “Just so you know what’s going on, I submitted you for a sitcom pilot for NBC. The casting director (who was about 25) asked me if you could do comedy.” I had my own sitcom on Fox for three years. Had guest starred on a ton of great sitcoms. SNL for a year. And this kid didn’t even bother to look at my tape. He just knew me from my years on 90210. That’s when I made the decision to leave.
I miss it. I have people say to me that I could work now if I wanted to. But I have a family now, and my only job in life is to make sure they’re all OK. I know how unstable and eractic acting again might be. But I miss the creative part of it. I miss being on the set—the crew were always my peeps.
J.P.: Serious question—how do you explain so many actors having such huge egos? Being serious. They save no lives, they win no legal cases. The job, literally, is to make big bucks pretending to be a different person. So why the ego? And did you ever have an enormous one that ran away from you?
M.L.: I never did. Upbringing, my man. People who become famous have problems like everyone else. If you weren’t brought up to respect people and be kind to others, the more people give you, the bigger your ego gets. I was always grateful to be working and making money and traveling and meeting incredible people.
I was also very lucky. My first job, the one that got my career started in earnest, was a film called Prince of the City. It was directed by one of the great directors of all time, Sidney Lumet. My first day ever on a movie set, I arrived early (we were shooting in Great Neck!) and when I finished getting my makeup on, the assistant director told me it would be a while. “Why don’t you go in to the trailer over there,” he said. “Some of the guys are playing cards. It’s quite a game.” I went in, and some of the actors were playing poker. One of them was Jerry Orbach, a legend to all of us who grew up in New York. I was incredibly nervous—it was my first day on my first job. Jerry was the nicest, funniest man in the world. He dispensed words of wisdom to me for about an hour.
I left and Sidney came over. I mentioned what a great guy Jerry was, and he said—and I never forgot this- —Always remember something, Matthew. You’re gonna do a lot in this business. And the bigger you get, the nicer you should be to everyone.”
And I never forgot that. I hated people with out-of-control egos. Still do.
J.P.: You played “Steve” in two episodes of “My Sister Sam,” a show from the mid-1980s that pretty much ended with the real-life murder of one of the stars, Rebecca Schaeffer. I’ve always been sorta riveted by the show, and Schaeffer, and what happened. I’m wondering if you have any memories of your “My Sister Sam” experience, and any memories of Schaeffer? Or was it just one of many gigs?
M.L.: It was one of my favorite jobs. That set was so much fun to be on every day. Wonderful wonderful people—Pam Dawber, Joel Brooks, David Naughton (who remains a friend) … and Rebecca. Laughter all the time. They were all so talented, and treated me as if I were a real part of the cast. Pam and I worked on Do You Know the Muffin Man?—which I’ll discuss later. One of the best people in the business. Definitely not just another gig. Special.
Rebecca was one of the brightest, sweetest people I’ve ever known, anywhere. She was so young to have the kind of mind she did. She was just a beautiful, wondrous human being. I was as sad and horrified about her murder as I can remember being. Just a shocking event that left a real void for everyone who knew her …
J.P.: Back in the 1980s Eddie Murphy was gold, gold, gold. Every movie did well, every movie seemed to be praised–save for Best Defense, which, ahem, you were in. Did you know the movie sucked at the time (if you believe it sucked)? Do you recall anything from the experience?
M.L.: I recall everything about it. Eddie and I had done SNL, and when I went in to meet the writer/director/producers, the Huycks, I was nervous as hell. They were big time at the time. They wrote the screenplay for American Graffiti and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The movie had Eddie and one of my idols, Dudley Moore, as the stars. And my part was being shot in Israel. I had been there before, had friends there, but this was a dream—they would be paying me to go. Salary, per diem, ISRAEL!
It was awesome. They picked us up every morning at about 5 o’clock at the hotel and drove us out to the desert outside Jericho. If you’ve never seen the sun rise over the desert, well, it was spectacular. We’d get to the set and there would be tanks and Bedouins and camels. C’mon. I’d get some coffee and just sit by myself on a tank and think, “I’m the luckiest guy in the world right now.”
When you read a script, most of the time you have a feeling about it. I thought it would be very funny, and with Dudley and Eddie, sure to be a hit. Not. I remember watching it and thinking, “Uh oh, this sucks, please be gone quickly.” So much of the finished product is the editing, music—all post production things you have no control over. So conversely, things you think could suck turn out to be great …
J.P.: What separates a great film from an awful film? I mean, it seems like it might be a thinner line that folks think, where one or two or three decisions takes a promising project to a higher level, or into the shithole.
M.L.: It’s all a crap shoot, for the most part. Although I think the great films all have that potential from the start. And it starts, obviously, with a great script. My favorite movie of all time is “The Godfather.” That includes Part II. I know every line from both—I’m not kidding. Then perfect casting, photography, production design, great director. Boom, masterpiece. Great films I think are great from the beginning, but major gaffes along the way could screw up the equation.
J.P.: You’ve done a lot of sports work of late. How did that happen? Why the transition from acting? And the WNBA? How’d that happen, and what’d you think of the experience?
M.L.: Ah! The transition! As I said before, by 1999 I was done with LA. Over the years, thanks to Mitchy, I had become an avid golfer. I began to get invited to play in celebrity golf tournaments all over the country. And one of the first ones I played in was the Duke Children’s Classic. In the early 1990s, I went out to dinner with my good friend P.J. Carlesimo at that tournament, and we were with his friends Jim Boeheim, and Mike and Mickie Krzyzewski. I sat next to Mike all night, and we talked about acting and the business. We developed a friendship, and I started going to Duke games. He has three daughters, and they were huge 90210 fans. I would send them scripts, and call them and tell them what was going to happen on shows so they had the jump on their friends.
So when I went to play there in June of 1999, I went out to dinner with Mike and told him how unhappy I was in LA. I said I wasn’t sure where I was going, but I wasn’t long for Hollywood anymore. He said, “You should be doing sports. You know as much as any of them, you’ve been on camera for years, you’d be great.”
I went back to LA, and thought about what he’d said. I decided to go for it. I called my friend Nancy Lieberman, who was the head coach and GM of the Detroit Shock in the WNBA. She knew everyone in sports. I asked her to put the word out that I wanted to do sports, and she said, “Can you make me a tape of you talking about the Shock? I think I can get you the job as analyst on Fox for our games.”
“Huh?” I said. “Uh, sure.”
Bingo, I spent the summer in Detroit. I had a great time doing it, living with Nancy and her husband Tim and learning on the fly. A couple months later I called Coach K and asked if he’d put in a good word with the peeps at ESPN for me. Then came the words that changed my life: ”Why don’t you come here and work with me?”
“Huh?” I said.
“I’ve been thinking about something for awhile,” he said, “and I think you’d be great. Just call me when you get here and we’ll talk.”
I sold all my furniture, got my mom to fly out to LA, and we drove cross country together. I wasn’t married, no family, so I just threw my trust in K into the car and went for it. When I got to Durham, he told me he wanted me to do radio for the basketball team, but in a way that hadn’t been done before. He wanted me to sit behind the bench and get in the huddles with them. He said it would give the fans a greater perspective. Of course, I had looked at the schedule, and Duke was going to Maui that year. I asked him if I would travel with the team. “Of course,” he said. “You’re part of the broadcast team.”
“I’m in,” I said.
And for 10 of the best years of my life, I was a part of the Duke family. Biggest blessing of my life, next to my family.
Five years ago, I was playing in a tournament in Lexington, Kentucky that I’d been coming to for 26 years. I met my wife at that tournament, and had many friends in Lexington. I played with a man who owns the ESPN radio station here, and when he offered me a job, I accepted. Shannon and I had two young boys, and I wanted them to be closer to her family. And here I am. I’m on our drive-time show every day, and I do the pre- and post-game shows for Kentucky football and basketball. And a golf show, of course.
J.P.: You played Brian Austin Green’s dad on Beverly Hills, 90210, a show that lasted forever and a day. How do you explain the staying power?
M.L.: Timing. At that time there really weren’t any shows for teenaged kids on. The first year of the show, it was the lowest-rated show on TV. Fox was still fairly new, there were still parts of the country that weren’t really able to get Fox yet. I had never seen the show. When my agent called and said they wanted to meet me to play one of the kids’ dad I said, “No way.” I thought it was pretty bad. He said “You’ve never played a dad, it would be good for you to do it.” I went to meet with them, and they told me I would be Brian’s dad. For one episode. I agreed to do it for Brian. When he was about 13, we did Circus of the Stars together. That’s right—I walked the high wire. I’m a stud. Anyway, I spent about five weeks with Brian doing the Circus show, rehearsing and just hanging out. I loved him. And then 90210 turned into a nine-year gig.
Fox did something that hadn’t been done. The summer before I started, they showed new episodes while everyone else was in re-runs. Not only teenagers watched. Their parents watched with them. There were some things on the show that hadn’t been talked about before, and parents wanted to see what their kids were watching. And once the publicity machine cranked up … bingo. It’s been amazing. There wasn’t much creativity in my part—I loved Brian, and just reacted to everything. But a couple years into it, I was in Germany, and a crowd of Swedish tourists mobbed me. That’s how big it had gotten.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH MATTHEW LAURANCE:
• My mother-in-law is named Laura Stoll. She attended high school with you. Do you remember her?: Unfortunately, not really. She was a year behind me and Mitchy. Her name is familiar, but I can’t picture her. That’s not saying much—I can’t remember where I live half the time. But I bet if I saw her picture I’d remember her in a second.
• Rank in order (favorite to least): Chevy Chase, Ode to Joy, Maurice Sendak, Brian Austin Green, Brian Bonsall, hashtags, Oakland, Christian Laettner, UCLA, Willie Upshaw, Nicki Minaj, Tony Blair, Mercury: Brian Austin Green—my boy. Maurice Sendak—I have an autographed copy of “Where the Wild Things Are.” Christian Laettner. Hashtags. UCLA. Willie Upshaw. Ode to Joy. Mercury (Morris? The car?). Chevy Chase. Brian Bonsall. Oakland. Tony Blair. Nicki Minaj.
• One question you would ask Captain Lou Albano were he here right now?: How do you get your hair to look like that?
• Five reasons one should make the south shore of Long Island his/her next vacation destination?: Beautiful beaches, great food (pizza), close to New York City, great golf courses, the Long Island Railroad
• Best and worst movies you ever acted in?: Hmmm. Three way tie for best—St. Elmo’s Fire, Eddie and the Cruisers (Sal is the favorite character of my career), Prince of the City. Worst—hands down, Best Defense.
• Three memories from your role of Assistant D.A. Connelly in Matlock?: I only have one—Andy Griffith was not a nice man.
• Why do so many child actors end up addicted to crack?: They get used to having people treating them like big shots, never learn to relate in the real world, and when there’s no more work and no one cares, they hit the pipe.
• You were in the TV movie, Do You Know the Muffin Man? about child molestation. When one works on a film with such a heavy topic, do the days … feel heavy? Or can the director scream cut and people start farting?: That was the toughest role for me. Being on that set was hard. I sat with prosecutors from the DA’s office and watched actual tapes of some trials involving those cases, and I had trouble sleeping for a while. You try to keep it light but it was very hard for me. No one farted during the making of that movie … that I know of.
• In exactly 18 words, tell the world what it was like working with Stephen Dorff: He was great, incredibly talented for one so young, and I loved being around him him him him.