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An Interview With Satan, Matt Servitto
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An Interview With Satan, Matt Servitto

We summon a devilishly good chat with Adult Swim’s Your Pretty Face is Going To Hell’s Satan himself, Matt Servitto. Say your prayers…

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What if Satan were a bully of a boss and all his minions in Hell helped run a bureaucratic nightmare? Some many call that an oxymoron, but that’s what’s explored in Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell, the latest Adult Swim comedy from Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Squidbillies creators Chris Kelly and Dave Willis, and starring funny guys Henry Zebrowski as minion Gary and Matt Servitto as The Prince of Darkness himself, Satan.

And with a career that spans The Sopranos, Royal Pains, and Banshee the versatile Matt Servitto is a perfect fit as the dual-horned and blood-red “boss from Hell” with a disdain for his dunderheaded employees and a penchant for making their afterlives horrible. We summoned Matt for a devlishly good chat about getting into makeup, how it felt to make the jump from law enforcement to Satan, and his upcoming projects he’s got lined up – no exorcism required.

New episodes of Comedy Central’s Your Pretty Face is Going To Hell are now airing on Adult Swim at midnight!

The prosthetics on Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell are extremely impressive. How long does it take for all of the makeup to be applied and the transformation completed for Satan?

MATT: From top to bottom, from arriving with my coffee until I’m ready to step in front of the camera takes a couple of hours. Part of it is starting with the horns, which themselves take quite a while, because of the weight of the horns. You can’t use traditional spirit gum or things you use in typical stage makeup. They use sort of a cement, so it was like riveting these things to my head for a month before we shot. The red makeup takes quite a bit of time to put on, too. It’s applied in layers with a spray gun. It sprays out the red. It looks so much better than putting on pancake makeup, because that makes it look more natural. Well, as unnatural as the case may be. They did a lot of trial and error. The guys who did the makeup are amazing. It took a lot of time and patience and took trial and error, both with makeup and the horns. Once the makeup was done, then there was the tedious process of trying to get dressed without trying to get makeup on everything. Then I had claws on my fingers, so my hands were useless to me to pull up my underwear, because I would just shred it with the claws. Basically, I become like a two-year-old child. They have to help dress me and help me get everything on. The bottom half of me is a goat, but it’s real yak hair that they sewed into pants that then got tucked into stirrups with boots.

I’ve only seen a few episodes so far so I haven’t got a good look at the hooves, but they’re incredible. The work that they did to get these hooves look so real was amazing. These guys are obsessed. They would just overnight and create a whole new pair of hooves or a whole new pair of horns, because this was definitely gonzo filmmaking. We were shooting fast and furious with a quick turnaround, and everything had to be done on the fly. But it wasn’t so much getting into the makeup as getting out of it. I’m so used to removing a small amount of makeup at the end of the day, if you’re doing a network drama, and you go home. You’re out of there in ten minutes. And we would have an hour to two hour process of taking it all off, which delayed going home. Invariably, I had to go home, go to bed, get up, and come back in to put it on again. There were times we finished very late at night. I would still go home with sticky stuff on my head, and red stuff on my face, go back, fall asleep in my hotel room, get up at 6 in the morning, and have it all put back on. It was all like a very weird dream, and I’m convinced my maid at the hotel thought I was into some weird fetish or something. There was red smeared on my sheets, black on my sheets from my eyes. I would go through all the towels and washcloths in one day. There was a point, like I said, where you’re just exhausted, you know, and want to get out in the hall, but I wasn’t the only one. There was three of us sitting there, and they had, you know, three of us with horns, three of us with red makeup, and they had like an army of people just wiping us all down, and then stepping into showers and sort of scrubbing it all off, so good times.

You normally play characters in law enforcement or various roles thereof, so how did you feel about playing Satan, pretty much the embodiment of all evil?

MATT:  I think there are people that are scarier than me. There are people more like, you know, evil looking than me, but I think it’s because this Satan was so human, I mean, to use a word. I think that’s partly why I got the part. I think it’s because he was sort of a little more flesh and bone, I mean, more, you know, vulnerable, human and kind of fallible as opposed to sort of the infallible, you know, darkness nights, dark knight, lord of all evil. This was very much like, you know, just a bad smelly boss with the coffee breath and the pit stains and you know, making unreasonable demands on his employees, and I think that’s part of it because I have played like the boss at the newspaper, you know, the boss at the fast food restaurant, and I felt like, yes, this isn’t necessarily transitional from playing like good guys to like the best bad guy ever, but like just from like playing sort of, you know, and it’s just another job. It very much feels like for Satan. It’s like “Oh, another day at work.” You know?

But, no, but it is nice. I mean it is nice to do. Look man this is why I do what I do. It’s like it sort of, you know, in fact when I was shooting this show, I was doing Banshee, shooting Banshee at the same time playing a small town sheriff over on Cinemax, so it really was wonderful to be like in charge of all week shooting Banshee and doing the sheriff thing, and literally get on a plane and like go into something. I mean truly maybe the most, this is completely different moment in my career. I mean, you know, I would get out of that, you know, finish on the weekends, get all that off, get on a plane, come back, and it was all just like a hellish dream, you know, shooting in Atlanta like I barely slept. We would shoot me out three straight days all day long, you know, and then just fly back, and it was, you know, but as I said you’re also sitting there saying “pinch me” because this when you are in acting school, this is what you dream you’ll be doing that you’re like, you’re doing such a variety of things, and that just doesn’t happen that often, not enough for actors, you know, to be happy about it, but for me it was just a great moment, still is, and I am just enjoying watching you know, this era, and at the same time that Banshee just finished and doing all these different things, so anyways, great.

Did they approach you for the show or were you a fan of Adult Swim already so it came up on your radar?

MATT:  I think, you know, it came at a time when I think I was already, the casting process was drawn out, and it really was something that it came up on my radar in New York. I think I had just gotten back from L.A., and yeah, it was very, you know, my agent talked to me about, and I said, “I would love to give it a try.” You know, just come in and do a read because it is a role like that, you know, because I do so much serious stuff I don’t always get into like the really juicy comedy roles, and I was very familiar with Adult Swim,  familiar with Dave and Chris’s work, so I thought, “Oh, my God! This is the kind of stuff that I just love and love to be doing,” and in addition and then months went by, months and months, and then like I get a call saying, “Hey, you’re still in the running for that hell show over in Adult Swim,” and I am like, “Oh, right! Yeah, I thought had ship had sailed,” and they are like, “No, no, it’s still going on. Still casting, still sort of figuring things out,” and then again, months went by. They finally made an offer, and then it took months to schedule because of by that point I had been hired to do Banshee over on Cinemax, and now it was complicated because of scheduling, because of contracts, because of network conflicts. Bbut they really went, both sides went a long way to make it happen so I could do both, and like I said, I just couldn’t have been happier.

Were you a big comedy fan before, then?

MATT:  That’s what I am saying is I was familiar with Squidbillies and Aqua Teen before, and in fact those shows specifically I knew Children’s Hospital, Delocated, yeah, I’d sort of been. In fact I think I even met, a friend had written a series about a super hero agent, the guy that’s like agent super hero, but like all bad super heroes, like mid-level, like guy they ask whose super powers are really kind of questionable, but he’s an agent who’s always trying to book them work, so very funny series and we were, we were always trying to pitch Adult Swim because it just seemed so in their wheelhouse, and this was a few years ago. It never happened, but so yeah, I started watching a lot of shows just to get a sense of the network, and I am like this is just so up my alley, so up my dial, you know, I mean really was, and so it really was kind of a dream, but most of it was animation, so I thought, well, you know, I also do voice over, so I was hoping someday to do a voice on one of the shows, but then get to do a live action series was just beyond my wildest dream, and for it to be this series is like ridiculous.

I mean, you know, just it’s so much fun. Henry and Craig are just so talented, and it’s just, really, being on set with them and Dave and Chris all day long is like “pinch me” is this really like what I do for work? You know?  I’ve got three kids now. I mean there’s moments where, you know, I just wish I had, like which I don’t know if I ever got like the picture he’s sitting in a chair like in my, I am with my cellphone and coffee dressed as Satan in my goat pants like calling my wife to just check in like from work, [laughs] you know, it’s like yeah, it’s another day at work honey, yeah, I’ll remember to get the eggs and milk, and yeah I’ll be home by five, you know?  I just had to have a very in-depth discussion with my son, philosophical discussion about Satan. He wanted to know who the devil was, what does he look like? Has he always been around? Is he older than God? As old as God? Are they friends? [laughs]

Are they friends? [laughs]

MATT:  Are God and the Devil friends? Do they not get along? Truly, so it only began because the advertising started for the show, and he saw some of the posters and the clips on TV, and he really started getting very concerned about the way his father looks, and what was this that I was doing, so. . . it’s led me to some very deep discussions. That’s therapy, man, that’s like years of therapy. I mean if I saw my dad dressed the way I am dressed in those goat pants and with the horns and looking the way I look. Yeah, I truly, that’s like years of therapy and not understanding, why was my dad doing that, and I am so scared of my dad now, and you know. Is he the Devil? You know? So, yeah because they’ve always been very confused by the acting thing because they see me on TV, and it’s like,” Are you a lawyer? Are you a cop?”

You know, well no. I’m just pretending like you guys pretend at home, and it’s like, “Oh! Okay,” you know, they are just starting to get it, but the devil thing really was just the tipper that, “The what?” You know? So, actually, and I am trying to assess whether I could let them. I am watching the show trying to figure out if I can let them watch it, you know? I have got a nine-year old, and two six-year olds, and so I am like, “Yeah, I don’t know.” I mean the good thing is like at least at this point the devil didn’t get too lascivious in the first season, so you know, that’s you know, and the language is kind of all bleeped out for the most part on the network stuff, so, but it has, the show has this incredible look to it because it’s like almost animated, but it’s live-action. It’s got this kind of hyper-saturation of colors that make it look so much like a cartoon, and you know, but I think my kids would like, oh, my God, they would just love the visual alone of like look at these bright yellow shirts, these bright red faces, and the thing that was amazing was we did all that work. I had never done so much green screening in my life.

I mean all of that Hell behind us was just a big green screen. So, you get in all that makeup, you know, which is already something more than I’ve ever done in my career, and then do most of your work in front of just, there’s nothing there. I mean what literally will be like a chair, but meanwhile they created an entire office, and you know, volcanoes spewing lava, and flying bats all in post, in post-production, so that was also a very kind of interesting process of learning to work with nothing,  and you can quote me on that.

Did you guys ad lib any of the lines, or is it all strictly scripted?

MATT:  It’s a hybrid. I mean I definitely you know, Chris and Gabe wrote great scripts, and so what’s wonderful is that once you have that, that base, you know, that skeleton that’s so strong and to start and I love the metaphor the skeleton. The, you can go, that, you know, once we got those lines down, yeah, there was definitely room for ad lib, improv, you know, whether it was a physical comic moment. A lot of what I found was that we found all these great physical moments whether it was just sort of somebody being too close or horns interlocking or you know, chasing somebody or falling literally flat on your face, or you know, these sort of things because of the makeup, and you know, we just, just sort of see where things would go. I am like Dave and Chris were just so open to there is no sort of comic ownership. Some people get really like, “Hey, man, that’s my line. Don’t screw it up. I know it’s funny.” Da, da, da. These guys are like, you know, it’s a team effort if you guys have got any great ideas. So we did. We spent a lot of time between takes just sort of thinking what is the perfect, you know, take on this scene, and so you know, we would, you know, sometimes it was just it was exactly as it was written. Sometimes it would just take, you know, a look, a different adding, a different word or a line.

But Henry is just so ridiculously talented. It’s hard because you have to keep up with Henry, and Henry reminds of like a young Robin Williams or Jonathan Winters, or, I mean just so smart and fast and funny and furious that you truly have to. You’re in awe of them as you’re in the scene with him, like his ability to just come up with comic stuff that you also, you have to remain engaged, like, oh right, I am in the scene. I can’t laugh at him. I am here with him, and I am his boss, and I have to make his life miserable, but he’s just, you know, truly set the bar so high for the rest of us that we all felt like well, I got to come with my A-game every day because you never know what Henry’s going to do, and he was just so much fun to work with and you know, I am just truly like aching to get back into Hell. [laughs] To do it all over again.

I think you’re the only person that would ever say that. [laughs]

MATT:  Yeah.

Are you allowed to divulge any of the things that you might be involved with as Satan in the later episodes, so we can get a taste of what’s going to happen?

MATT:  Yeah, I mean, you know, the thing is and it’s what I love about the show is I mean because you would think oh, the show is set in Hell, and I mean Satan has got to be the lead, but really the show is about Gary. It is Gary’s show. It is about Gary’s life in Hell, and that’s been the title, you know? So Satan is really, you know, someone in Gary’s life, and so you know, in certain episodes I have more to do than others, but I like that I am just sort of, you know, clearly the evil lord who pops up from time to time and gives Gary a hard time, and then, you know, goes away and some episodes coming up, Gary and I are physically involved. Yeah, and we get involved with Gary’s past life on earth, and I mean truly, you know, Satan just sort of because he’s so bored at work he just gets off on torturing Gary, so you know, like I said it is that sort of, it is!

It’s just like a job, you know, and it’s like, you can just sort of see this like, you know, and like every once in a while it becomes the Satan I think we think, you know, we have more of an image of in our heads. A sort of a traditional guy, you know, guy with a pitch fork and the fire and we have moments of that where like I flare up and you really see the sort of like iconic devil figure with Gary, but then a lot of it is just sort of him much more sort of subdued with the reading glasses and the coffee, and the, you know, his office is like, you know, a corporate office, and I mean when I say to people that what I love about the show is that Hell is a giant corporation with cubicles and you know, Polo shirts with a logo, tucked in, with khakis, you know, I mean the look on peoples’ face is like, “Oh, my God,” that brilliant, like you couldn’t conceive of a better like Hell.

That would be everybody’s Hell like, if is that what I would have to do for all of eternity, that is truly Hell. I still have to have more fun with Gary, I mean more fun for Satan because he just teases him. He abuses him much to his amusement, and then there’s also I start pitting, Craig’s character is the new guy, and I start pitting the two of them against each other for my love like making them compete for my love, and so you begin to see a lot of sort of again, like, office competition like, “Hey, Satan I can make sure, that, oh I can get you 20 souls on earth in the next hour, “absolutely, you know, it’s like, “Ha, I can get 25,” you know, so whoever gets the most souls wins my love forever or something, you know, or gets a drink of water, you know, it’s like literally that’s what they are all, it’s Hell, and there’s no water.

So I have like a glass of water is the prize, you know, so there’s a lot of great stuff, and like, you know, believe me it was such a tease because even as an actor doing this stuff, I just wanted to do so many more episodes, and we, you know, took so much work just to so the ones we have because as you can see it is very production heavy. Some shows you could probably shoot 25 episodes of in a few weeks if it was just, you know, straightforward, you know, no big costumes, no post, almost 80% of our show was made in post-production with music with the green screen being added in with the special effects being added in, and as you said, it’s so much just, there’s so much work for just 15 minutes of airtime on a show like that, and I give Adult Swim a lot of credit for taking the risk because it’s not a cheap risk, you know, it’s not like just a simple, sweet little show that could almost come off the Internet and be transferred onto network TV.

But yeah, I think the format, did, like I said, there’s so much. I mean there’s so much material. There’s so much room for comedy in a situation like this that, you know, we were truly like in there for running the asylum we were drunk with material and, you know, there were days that we were like, “Oh, my God! We have to stop.” We’d have to stop doing the scene because we’d keep coming up with another funny moment, and another funny moment, and it was like, this is a one minute scene. We’ve shot like for two hours coming up with funny bits and coming up with, you know, we keep chopping each other with this, and you know, so I think Dave and Chris both probably had a great time in the editing room and an awful time because it was probably great to watch all the material and laugh and then have to cut it down to 15 minutes must have just taken, you know, weeks and months and very painful pick up stuff that probably seemed like, “Oh, my God, that’s so funny,” but we’ve got to get it down to 15 minutes, you know?

Is there anything else you’re involved in currently? Are you still working on Banshee?

MATT:  Yeah, I mean in Charlotte right now. I am here shooting two of Banshee which is on Cinemax on Friday nights at 10:00, and yeah, that’s been, you know, taking up most of my time the last year and a half. I also do, I have a web series that a friend and I do that at the moment is on parenting.com called Lords of the Playground about two oafs that are stay-at-home dads and watch their kids and they are kind of like, you know, just at the playground every day, very understated, and kind of it’s like be careful who’s, know who is watching your kids. It’s kind of like you got the dads, and they are so dumb. I shouldn’t say they are dumb. They are just kind of creative in how they get through the monotony of watching young children all day long. So Buddy and I just sort of based on our lives of being actors in New York, having a lot of down time, and very often we were the only dads at a playground. You’d go to a playground and it’d be nannies, moms, grandmas, and there’d be us, you know, and so we just caught ourselves, you know, doing things to keep ourselves entertained and sort of addressing our children much different than the moms and the nannies, so we just started scripting some of that, and it’s had a long life as a potential sitcom that was in turnaround.

But it came back, we got the rights back and we since sold it to parenting, and now we just are shooting a second season of that as well. So it is already up and running at parenting.com. It’s called Lords of the Playground, and like I said, we are getting ready to shoot like 15 more of those, so they are much shorter. They are all like. It’s a blackout sketch comedy. Maybe a 30 seconds to a minute each of just vignettes, like, moments in time on this playground on this bench kind of stuff, so . . . But that’s it, I mean I am like kind of swamped between that and Banshee keeping very busy, and like I said, I truly, truly long to be back in Hell.

Thanks, Matt, for your time, and we’ll see you in Hell, each Thursday night at midnight!

About the Author: Brittany Vincent