Matt Peters is an actor, writer, and stand-up comic best known for his role as the guard, Joel Luschek, on Orange is the New Black and Gayle on Weeds. He and his wife, screenwriter Susan Burke, have been married since 2012.
Today he took a few minutes to talk to us about what it’s like to be involved with a breakaway hit like Orange is the New Black and how he got his start in the entertainment industry.
What is your favorite thing about working with this show and this cast?
“Um…boy…(chuckle) Well, everybody is very nice. It’s a comfortable set and everyone seems to get along really well. And that sort of environment is easy to work in and that’s so…that’s pretty important when you’re working as an actor. It’s kind of just a really zen environment. It doesn’t hurt that the show is so well-liked. Everybody’s really proud of what they’re doing there. It’s great. I’m very, very lucky.”
How did you get involved in the show? Was it a regular audition process or was it different because it’s a Netflix series?
“It’s uh…the casting process is pretty much the same as any other kind of series. With me it was very different. There’s a casting director on the show, Jen Euston, and she’s responsible for the majority of the cast – probably almost everybody – but in my case I was weird because I used to work for Jenji, who’s the showrunner. Jenji Kohan. I used to – I was a PA (chuckle) for the Weeds writers’ office for years. And I ended up auditioning for a part on that show just ’cause they knew I did some acting and then I did stand-up comedy and stuff like that so they wanted to try me out. It went well and I got the part and they liked that enough to give me a little arc on that show. And then when Jenji was casting for Orange she saw a part in the book that she thought I’d be good for so she just asked me outright if I would do it. It’s not a typical route but I’ve been in her employ for a very long time and she’s been extremely generous with me. I don’t know how this business works at all. Like, I don’t know how people get their foot in any doors necessarily but I wouldn’t recommend to aspiring actors to do PA work for years, but it worked for me.”
Of the things you’ve said you’ve done – writing, comedy, acting – which is your favorite?
” I don’t know. I’m not certain yet. I’m still…I still feel really…everything still feels really new. I’ve been doing stand-up for eleven years and I enjoy that a lot ’cause, you know, you get to write your own material and express that the way you want. There’s a freedom involved that you can’t really get anywhere else. But acting…I think I probably get more joy out of acting with good, really quality writing than anything else, at least right now. I probably get a bigger high from that than stand-up, at least at the moment.”
Would you ever want to try writing again or was that kinda gone with being a PA?
“(laugh) Um, yeah…well, I wasn’t doing too much of that while I was a PA. That’s, you know, grunt work. But yeah, I write on the side and obviously write stand-up material. My wife is a screenwriter and we’ve had some success occasionally when we kind of collaborate on stuff. My biggest priorities are trying to get acting work and then just writing for stand-up. I would like to write features and stuff. I went to school for screenplay writing so I would like to put my major into practice, I suppose.”
You said you’ve worked with Jenji for years, and now you have all these other really strong females around you on the show while you, playing one of the few male guards, are in the minority. What’s that like for you?”
“I don’t know. I mean, I’ve never really been aware of being a minority or anything like that. I certainly feel welcome. Everybody…all the women on that show are just amazing. It’s a huge kick to get to work with everyone. There are still several that I haven’t had a chance to do scenes with. I haven’t done any scenes yet with Uzo [Aduba] or Samira Wiley who plays Poussey…and then I’ve had a scene here or there with Kate Mulgrew as Red but it hasn’t been a lot of dialogue exchanged directly with all of these really great cast members so as the show goes along, I look forward to having this world of Luschek’s expand.”
Have you guys started working on season four yet or is it still in the writing/brainstorming stage?
“We just started shooting about a month ago.”
Do you have any idea where Luschek’s going to be at this point? Season three kind of left him with his job hanging in the balance.
“Uh…my job is secure as far as I can tell. You know, it’s still really early so I don’t know what kind of plans they really have going as far as me getting the boot or anything like that. I hope that’s not the case. I’d like to remain on the show as long as possible. (chuckle) But yeah, based on everything that happened in season three, as far as I can tell, there are no repercussions. I think a lot of people have been trying to examine the Nikki stuff closely and the heroin…I fear that I’ve said too much. (laugh) All I can tell you is that I’m filming stuff for season four.”
How do you feel like the most recent season has been received and reviewed by fans in comparison to the other seasons?
“Well, I think it’s always been received really well by both critics and fans. After season three came out it seems like – I mean, I don’t know what it’s like for any of the other cast members – but usually I haven’t had to worry about going out and being recognized when or anything like that or people approaching me, but now, since season three’s been released, it happens a lot so it’s pretty cool. Not that that’s important or anything like that. It’s just, it’s pretty neat. It seems like a lot of people are paying attention to the show.”
The people who have recognized you have been really positive, I take it?
“Oh sure. Yeah! I haven’t been bullied or accosted or anything like that.”
Good! So nobody compares you to your character?
“Right. And I worry about that sometimes, but no, people have been very friendly.”
Kind of along those lines, your character is sort of a self-serving slacker type. Do you think that there are any redeeming qualities to him? Do you think that there’s a backstory that’s made him the way he is?
“I’m sure that almost everybody has excuses for their bad behavior. I just think that he’s insensitive and he’s basically punch in and punch out with his job and he doesn’t really care about the quality of his work. He’s more concerned about just being employed so there’s really not much pride taken in his position. It is hard to pick out more redeeming qualities. On the surface he probably comes across as an asshole but I think if you spend enough time hanging out with any asshole you might be able to dig around enough to find some redeeming qualities. (laugh) I hope that’s the case. Unless you’re dealing with a total sociopath and I don’t necessarily think that he’s a total sociopath. He’s capable of forming friendships and relationships, but his insecurities and anger get in the way a lot of times.”
Do you have any idea where those insecurities and that anger come from?
“Well, there hasn’t been a backstory or anything like that so I really just kind of use what I read from the script. So I don’t know what the writers have in mind as far as his backstory.”
Have you given him any kind of imaginary backstory of your own?
“Sure, but nothing I can share. Especially because you never know, with the structure of the show and the flashbacks…if that ever came into play, I wouldn’t want anything that I’ve created to contradict the writers’ reality.”
Do you see your character as being more of a funny character or a serious character? All the characters have their hilarious one-liners but some of the characters have more serious storylines than others. Which do you think fits Luschek?
“I don’t see him as being exclusively light or dark. I like to think of him as existing in sort of a grey area but certainly…I think they give me plenty of funny lines to say, but I don’t try to play them too goofy or anything like that. I like to think of him as being sort of complex. (laugh) Even though he’s kind of a dunce. You know what I mean? I don’t think he’s strictly there for levity because he’s obviously capable of doing some pretty terrible things, selfish things, and saying very mean things. But sometimes when he does it, it’s also kind of funny. So I don’t necessarily think of him as being exclusively a goofball or there for comic relief.”
Do you have anything in the works right now besides the new season coming up or anything that you’re hoping to be able to do in the future that you haven’t gotten to do yet?
“Sure. I mean, I’m always looking for more work, obviously, but I’m very lucky to have a regular gig with Orange and then I’m also lucky that it’s such a quality show. As an actor a lot of the stuff that you read and audition for, a lot of it is pretty stupid. Especially compared to Orange. I’m very lucky in that respect. But I mean, I’m looking around. I don’t think I’m in a position where I can really, like, choose exactly what kind of projects I’d like to do.”
If you could choose, what would you like to do?
“I would like to be cast in the new Twin Peaks series. So if you could make that happen, it would be great. I mean, seriously, I’ve shot a few movies in off-season. I shot a movie called Slash that just wrapped production a few weeks ago. That should be interesting. And a horror sort of anthology. My wife actually wrote one of the sequences for that. That’s called, tentatively, Southbound. So those should be out eventually. But those are cool projects. It was great to participate in those.”
Any potential release timeframes for either of those?
“I think when festival season comes around. Ideally they’ll end up in those. So I mean, maybe in the next few months they’ll get some attention.”