Drea De Matteo talks Free Ride, Webisodes, and the Scarcity of Good Writing
By Cameron Cook | Editor-In-Chief Published: 01/09/2014 1:56 pm EST
Full disclosure, Drea De Matteo‘s performance as Adriana (From The Sopranos) is probably my favorite performance of all time. So when the people over at Fat Dot gave me the opportunity to speak with her on the phone, I jumped at the chance.
Matteo is appearing soon in the film Free Ride, about a desperate mother who joins a group of drug smugglers to make ends meet. Matteo plays Sandy, the cool, collected veteran who offers Anna Paquin’s Christina the help she needs to make the job work.
Sandy is just another great character in a long line of excellent work from Matteo, who initially wanted to work as a director before she fell into one of the best gigs in the business, working for David Chase in The Sopranos.
In the following interview, we discuss everything from Free Ride to producing Internet content:
Drea De Matteo: I don’t know if I’m calling you at the right time. Oh, I’m early. I’ve never been early for anything in my life [laughs]. Especially at this hour.
CultureMass: Oh, it’s super early in L.A. isn’t it?
DDM: I’ve been on the phone since five in the morning, so I’m a little exhausted.
CM: Well I know you’ve had a long morning, so let’s just jump in. Free Ride feels like a real director’s movie, and it’s very personal to Shana Betz. Is that something you’re drawn to?
DDM: Yeah, I mean, I met the director and she could have sold me a car if I was in prison for life. She sold me the part, and I couldn’t say no. How could I say no to her story? I really dug her, she was such a cool chick. And it was her first time directing and I just wanted to be a part of that. Her mother’s story. And man it’s the seventies and we’re smuggling weed. I was like “I want to know what it’s like to smuggle weed.”
CM: And you get to play the coolest part, which doesn’t hurt.
DDM: Yeah! The big momma. The big caretaker.
CM: Did you base that performance off of somebody in particular?
DDM: She was a combination of two of their friends, of Christina’s friends. These were all real people.
CM: It’s a really cool part.
DDM: Thanks, man.
CM: You’ve got a background and an interest in directing, so I have to know–who inspires you?
DDM: Oh man, well, everybody keeps asking me that, which is funny because I haven’t really directed anything. If I was really that passionate about it I would have directed something by now, but maybe I’m just a little scared. [a quick pause] I guess the people I liked growing up were people like Abel Ferrara–
CM: Who was somebody you got to work with eventually (in R XMAS)
DDM: I did! Yeah, he was such a trip.
CM: I’m sure
DDM: I like a lot of weird European films, like (Rainer Werner)Fassbender. But then there’s today’s people, like Spike Jonze and others. I’m so out of touch these days, I’ve been taking care of babies for the last six years. Wes Anderson is one I love. The guy who made The Life Aquatic. I’m mostly just familiar with Mickey’s Playhouse and Yo Gabba Gabba these days, though. [Laughs]
CM: Are there any directing projects lined up?
DDM: I have a project I’m very passionate about lined up. It’s a television show I’m developing about my family’s story in 1950s Harlem, and I would like to direct some of those if we ever got it made. But I would also love for David Lynch to direct the pilot.
CM: That’s a tall order.
DDM: Yeah, that’s a really tall order, but I also think it would be right up his alley.
CM: Yeah, he’s definitely acquainted with the time. It would just be hard to get him behind the camera again.
DDM: Yeah, that’s true. Maybe something small that wouldn’t have to be such a commitment on his part.
CM: With the DSLR cameras the way they are now, it wouldn’t be too hard to knock something out in a few days.
DDM: With technology like it is he could probably have the camera walk to set by itself. [Laughs]
CM: That’s true, too! I’m glad you’re working on a television show. I think it’s more interesting now than film. They’re taking bigger risks.
DDM: Yeah! Everything’s redefining itself, man. God knows where we’re going to end up with everything–music, TV film. We’re in such a strange state. TV’s where I’m at in this point in my life. Going back to Sons of Anarchy in the Spring, so we’ll just see what happens.
CM: Why do you think TV has become so interesting in the past few years? Is it the technology, the writing, the fact that movies are so hard to fund?
DDM: I think it’s a combination of things. It’s funny that you should ask me that question, because I was a part of why TV has become what it’s become with The Sopranos. HBO paved the way for all of these shows to take on a life and become these things. They’re like short indie films. Every episode became a million dollars, two million dollars. You just have a new caliber of show, especially with premium television. I think the film industry is not what it was, and I think because things are redefining themselves and because nobody knows what the format is going to be, reality TV has done so much damage to our culture. For someone like myself, I ask if this is really happening. It’s scary and exciting. Everything is in a state of flux and nobody knows where it’s going, except for the super insiders that are reinventing our media. Our social media and Youtube. As Sylvio Dante would say, “It’s a new F#$$ day!”
CM: It’s definitely a strange time. We’re at a place where production and distribution are easy, but finding an audience is hard.
DDM: I prefer the old fashioned way. Right now I think we’d be doing ourselves a disservice by relying on it, and we need to change, but I prefer the old method.
CM: Advertisers are having a hard time trying to figure out how to even pay for the content.
DDM: Yeah, I think it’s going to be a big, new, giant thing. We won’t have DVDs anymore. We might not even have television channels the way we have them now.
CM: It’ll be some form of On Demand for everything
DDM: I took a meeting yesterday where a company wants me to do Webisodes. I was like, “Jesus, really?” But I’m sure in a few years all the big stars will be doing these things and think nothing of it.
CM: Yeah, once upon a time Podcasts were the weird new thing, and now they’re huge.
DDM: Yeah! So I said yes.
CM: Hey, there you go!
DDM: I’m going to do it, man, and seeing where it goes. It’s funny because I don’t even know what Facebook is. I have a page and I have an Instagram to take pictures but I don’t know what any of this stuff means.
CM: It’s weird. Once you get the hang of one thing we’ll be moving on to the next.
CM: It seems to me that we should just focus on telling good stories, and the rest will be okay
DDM: Yeah, you can’t escape that. Good stories. The classics. Classic stories never go away. Even on a Kindle, as long as you’re reading them.
CM: Do you do writing as well?
DDM: I grew up with my mom who is a writer, she’s been teaching playwriting for a long time–to this day, actually–and I don’t like to compete with that. I’m not a writer because I have this most amazing writer in my life. She’ll write for me, and then I’ll take the script and rework everything. To have the patience to do it by myself, I don’t really have that. But I can take other material and work with it.
CM: Is there something you’ve learned about cultivating ideas with your mom’s work?
DDM: Watching her teach her writing classes is what taught me how to act. I didn’t really take many acting classes. It’s all the same circumstances. Acting is listening and storytelling. It’s all the same, there’s an arc and conflict. As far as being creative with her, I just want her writing. After having done the Sopranos, and working with that quality of writing, which was so many years ago for me, I have never seen anything like it still with one of those scripts in your hands. Her writing is the only writing I’ve seen that equals (Sopranos creator) David Chase.
DDM: Yeah, in that way she inspires me. And because of that I’m pushing her and pushing her to finish this pilot. An old idea that we sold right after The Sopranos, but HBO produced Boardwalk Empire instead because it was bigger and flashier and involved Terrence Winter and Martin Scorsese. This is a family story, a family drama, set in 1950s Harlem. It’s my mom’s life story. I could hire somebody to do it, but it’s my mom’s execution is what’s so important.
CM: Well that’s awesome. When are you starting work on the webisodes?
DDM: We’re just now starting to talk about it, and it’s definitely more on the reality side of life, which I swore I’d never do, but I told myself that in 2014 I would say yes to things I normally say no to. [Laughs] I’ve got friends who need help with small businesses right now and who are struggling financially, so if doing this will help them out in a small way, then that’s what I’m going to do. See if we can get some goals met.
CM: Are there any roles in particular that you would like to see yourself do before moving out of acting? A kind of character you’d like to play that you haven’t been offered.
DDM: It’s exactly the role we’re developing that I’d like to play. But I will be totally honest with you and tell you it’s not that different from Adriana. It’s set in the fifties and she’s a woman with children, she’s older, and there’s more at stake, but it’s a great show. A great story. The best character I would ever play. It’s my grandmother. I hope we get to do it.
CM: Well I have to tell you before we hang up that Adriana is one of my favorite characters of all time, and it’s pretty surreal getting to talk to you.
DDM: Well hopefully I get to do it all over again, but in a different way.
CM: I hope we get to talk about it again when it’s been produced.
Cameron Cook has been obsessed with, and haunted by, films of all kinds ever since that weird, singing fish jumped out of that pond in The Brave Little Toaster. Now he's all grown up, educated in the ancient art of writing and telling stories, and he's still wondering whose idea that fish was. What he does know is how to find a good writer, and he's spent his life working his way toward CultureMass.