Matthew Rauch: The Man Behind Banshee’s Scary Guy
“I love the work. I love the people I work with. I hope other people like it. It’s a nice way to make a living.”-Matthew Rauch
One of the perks of my job is talking to actors, directors and the minds behind the creative process of television shows and movies. There are good interviews and then there are ones where something is missing and you just get through it. Two days after the finale of Cinemax’s Banshee, I had a chance to talk to Matthew Rauch, a hard working NYC actor who just so happens to be on our televisions this month on two different shows. NBC’s Believe and Banshee. He plays the scary Clay Burton on Banshee, the right hand man to the Amish gangster in town, Kai Procter. It must be mentioned that I scored this interview simply by talking to Rauch on Twitter. The entire cast of the show is on the social media site, mixing it up with fans and truly connecting. Rauch got on Twitter and quickly coined the nickname, “Bowtie Guy”, something that comes from the outfits Burton wears on the show.
Sometimes, an aspiring writer has to take chances and reach out to actors to get chances. I can count myself lucky because Rauch turned out to be a true first class individual and an actor who is passionate about what he does and wants to connect with his fans while scaring the shit out of them on Friday nights. We talked about the glasses coming off, Ulrich Thomsen’s European star power, Martin Scorsese, training in the theater and getting to play somebody as fearless as Burton.
Me-With the least amount of dialogue on the show out of anybody, you sure do make an impact as Burton.
RAUCH-He’s a scary guy. I have good material to work with and it’s great to watch him grow. It’s been a lot of fun. A funny story is when I got there I didn’t have much to go on with this character. So I talked to anyone I could about who he was and what it meant when suddenly Jonathan Tropper[Writer, Executive Producer] told me, “Look, think about it this way, Burton is the scariest guy on the show. This a scary world and he is the scariest guy.” From there on out I was good.
Where did the taking the glasses off thing with Burton come from?
A combination of a lot of things and I am not sure where it originated from exactly. It was in the script that I auditioned with and Jonathan and Greg[Yaitanes, Showrunner, Executive Producer, Director] had a thing with Burton having this dual nature. Burton is efficient and assistant like when the glasses were on and when the glasses were off he is the scariest guy in the world. I have had some fun with that. I have a feeling we are going to get to see more versions of him in the upcoming season.
I have this scenario in my head where Lucas Hood[Antony Starr] punches Burton, breaks his glasses, and Burton suddenly turns into the Incredible Hulk.
I do remember one of my first days of shooting and Antony and I were working together, which is rare since I usually only get to work with Ulrich[Thomsen} and Lili[Simmons]. I think he was going to arrest Proctor and sort of stepped toward Ulrich and as a natural response I stepped towards him. I think he was taken aback because someone wasn’t afraid him. I thought, man if this show goes long enough him and I are going to go round and round.
Have you gotten noticed around New York now that Banshee has gotten more popular?
Yes. There is this great bagel store around the corner from my house. I walked in and I ordered, and the guy said “Are you on Banshee? Man I love that show”. This guy had a full on tickled moment that he saw this guy who was on Banshee.
It’s great that you and the cast are on twitter connecting with fans.
That comes straight from Greg and Cinemax. Greg is really involved with social media from the beginning as this sort of angel investor. He encouraged the whole cast and crew to get on there, sign up and get involved. The people on Twitter are super into it. A little interaction goes a long way as far as helping the show.
It takes a certain passion to really follow through on that.
We are passionate about the show and you have to be passionate about it to stay on it for six months. It doesn’t cost any time to watch the show and tweet with the fans. Its fun for everybody.
A lot of people in Hollywood hate interacting with fans.
I think there is a sort of traditional fear for actors to interact with their audience. Usually actors are super private, and they read things about the fans but the truth is I think interacting with them de-mystifies the process and makes what we do it more accessible. There is this myth with actors that anyone can do it but in reality we are trained professionals and it’s a job like any other. I like it that people can see me as something other than a psychopathic killer. I am just a guy who lives in New York City who loves his job. Burton is a wild crazy character and there is definitely a part of him that is a part of me but I’m not that person. So de-mystifying the process helps for both actors and fans.
Who are you most looking forward to working with on the show?
Hoon [Lee]. We get along really well behind the scenes and I am huge fan of his work on the show. We haven’t had a Burton-Job confrontation. As much as I am looking forward to squaring off with Antony, I think Job and Burton would make a helluva combination.
I’ll throw the same question at him that I did at Hoon. If Greg and Jonathan came to you to write the first page of Season 3, where would we find Burton?
I’ve started to learn about Season 3 so let me go back three weeks so I don’t risk spoiling anything. The last time we saw Burton was him telling Rebecca that he doesn’t trust her. He knows that she saved the girl from Proctor’s wrath. We also know that Burton has been clearly watching Rebecca as she infiltrated Proctor’s empire. He’s naturally threatened by her. The last time we saw Rebecca she was killing Longshadow, which is a supreme act of loyalty. She said in the finale, “Burton is cleaning up the mess I made.” I would imagine when Season 3 starts we have this group of people running this empire. Proctor as the boss. Rebecca and Proctor are developing this unusual relationship. Burton is the fixer. There are certainly a lot of possibilities where you could go with the personal and professional relationships.
I’ve told Ulrich many times how good he is at finding the vulnerabilities in a bad man.
This is going to sound like a stock interview answer but it’s true. Ulrich is an amazing actor. He is a really good guy. I spend the most time with him and I’ve gotten to know him a little bit. He’s very funny and very sly. He can give and get it really well. So smart and exceedingly apparent on the screen. Him and I have a really good vibe. We have a certain level of respect. When you first meet people on a show, you don’t know them at all. Occasionally you show up and you go, “Man I don’t want to work with this person.” The studio doesn’t give a shit if you want to work with him or not. With Ulrich, I’ve been lucky enough to show up to work with him. He is a monstrous movie star in Europe. (laughing) He likes it when I say that.
In the second season, you got a lot more to do. More speaking parts and a few showcase moments.
The reality of it is I am in more episodes in Season 1 than Season 2. In Season 1, I am very quiet, have one speaking part in one episode and then I became part of the scenery. As we went forward into season 2, the production team and directors became very responsive to the actors. I talked to Greg, Jonathan and Loni, about who Burton was in my mind so I felt part of that evolution. They take the actors into the account when writing the show. Tropper has come to know the actors so well that you are writing for a specific person and establishing a world. There is a chance for this show to make a radical departure, and that’s all due to the collaboration between the actors and writers.
There isn’t a show out there I gush about more than Banshee and I watch a lot of television and film. Some people commend the show for its visual pleasures but often miss out on the depth on display.
I felt that the last 4 or 5 episodes of the show were the best work we’ve done as a cast and crew. Sure, people look at it on a simple level. It’s a contemporary version of a spaghetti western and it’s a pulpy show. There’s this mysterious sheriff in a town run by a bad guy with an Indian tribe and some domestic drama. It sounds like a Tarantino movie but there is also a high mindedness to the show in Season 2 that wasn’t quite there in Season 1. Certain shows need to get their sea legs and build. Sure, we can debate the value of sex and violence on TV another time. There are times where I am taken aback by the violence. It’s not for the squeamish – it’s a full-on cable show. Having said that, the writing has become more sophisticated and muscular in watching the characters develop during the second season.
The deaths in the Season 2 finale were sudden and brutal. That is a signature punch of Banshee to do that to a viewer.
The most avid TV watcher will notice that when Rabbit is killed in the finale, there is still 10-12 minutes left. I had read the script and I absolutely loved the last shot with Demetrius as Emmett right before the door opens with his hand going in front of his wife to protect. If you are going to do something like that, that is the way to do it. I give a lot of credit to Greg and Jonathan for that sequence.
There’s a line spoken by Andrew Howard’s bad guy in Episode 16 towards Lucas about being an army of one. I feel that same way about Burton.
He is an army of one. He’s a funny character and a bit of an acting exercise for me. The way I think about him is he is completely loyal and the only relationship in Banshee that’s bullet proof is the one between him and Proctor. There’s no chance of a betrayal there. Burton will do anything for Proctor and Kai trusts him with his life. I think that Burton is literally fearless. He doesn’t experience pain like others do. He’s like a pit bull because if he gets his grip on your neck, he is never letting go.
They better not get rid of Burton because I will be furious. The glasses will definitely come off if they kill you off.
Well, what can I say? I have been asked to come back for Season 3 and I’m really excited about it. You are going to learn a lot about Burton this season. It wouldn’t be unfair to say that as much as we know about him already, we are going to get 100 percent more in Season 3.
We found out a ton about him in Episode 16 when he is cleaning that hotel room after killing Jason Hood.
We shot that very late at night on the fly. I was about to begin rehearsals for a play and I wasn’t in Charlotte. The end of the production schedule is where people get tired, budgets are stretched, and schedules are being strained. It’s well-oiled machine but there can be issues. They were trying to get me on a flight and there wasn’t a flight until 6 in the morning and I was pissed and they were pissed. Everybody was like “we have to get this done” and I was excited for the sequence. There were things happening in that sequence that I really cared about and it came out better than I expected. It’s so much credit to Loni and Babak and the crew that shot and edited it. I love the way it turned out. I was actually listening to the music on the IPOD Burton is wearing that they used in the final cut of the show.
We were talking about relationships last night on Twitter. Which relationships on the show do you think are the strongest?
With the crew members. Burton spends a lot of time by himself so I have come to be very friendly with the assistant directors, crew guys, makeup artists and such. It is important to acknowledge those people. A TV show isn’t just writers, actors and directors. On any given day there are 35-70 people on the set. They really make it happen. There’s a lot of logistical elements that go into that. There’s so much going on. I want to publically acknowledge those people. There are a lot of people who put their hands on a show before it hits the air. I work with the hair, makeup and wardrobe department every day on the set and without them, there is no scary looking Burton. The camera loaders, the grips, and the AD’s are so important. They are already working on Season 3. Setting up, scouting locations and prep. I am not going down to the middle of April.
You have run into some monstrous Banshee fans I am sure.
I did a hit on a radio show called The Blitz this past week and these guys are bigger Banshee fans than I am. This gets back to the interaction thing. It’s really gratifying to not pretend there are people who love the show. That’s why we do it. When people respond to it, that’s very cool.
I was talking to a buddy of mine about interviewing you today and he said he saw you at Webster Groves in St. Louis in a play at the Repertory Theater in 1997. How were the theater days?
When I was a young actor and I first got out of grad school and I did a ton of theater. I was trained in the theater. I still do theater to this day. I think I did 4 plays over the course of a few years in St. Louis. I have a very good relationship with the artistic director there. There was a time when the Rep Theater had more ticket subscribers than the St. Louis Cardinals. There is a big following for theater in that part of the world.
I love to hear actors go back to theater and recapture that hunger. That form is the toughest form of acting.
It’s a very different experience than working in front of the camera. It’s very disjointed and in small stints in front of the camera. Once the play starts in a theater, there is no stopping. I compare it to a ball rolling down a hill. Once you let the ball go, it’s going to roll down the hill and you aren’t quite sure where it will land but it will land at the bottom of the hill. TV and movies are so much newer to me. My first TV job was almost enough to make me not want to do it again. (Laughingly)It was a grave experience and I stayed away from television for a little while afterwards. I learned from it and eventually did TV again.
That makes you appreciate the set on Banshee.
I am in an unusual situation with the show because I am not on a series regular contract. I don’t stay with the whole gang down in Charlotte. I end up commuting back and forth between Charlotte and New York. I do know when I am there that I am taken care of. I feel like I am having an incredibly lucky moment in my life with these two TV shows. The more regular you feel on a show the more it becomes like the collaboration feeling of the theater.
How was it working with Marty on Wolf of Wall Street?
Marty is one of the most observant and articulate people I’ve ever been lucky enough to spend time around. He’s so energetic on set and off. He spends much of his time devoting himself to the preservation of film as an artform, too, and that’s amazing. On set, he claps and laughs and is so enthusiastic about the work. That was a bucket list moment. Once in a lifetime, but I’d sure love to work with him again.
Can you imagine Scorsese coming to Banshee to direct an episode?
(Laughing with giddiness out loud)We should be so lucky. If you can make that happen Dan, that would be the best thing in the world. I can’t imagine if it would ever happen. One of the things I loved about Wolf of Wall Street is that the sense of collaboration on that set was enormous. Marty was making that movie with other people. They were collaborating with the cast and crew. That was very thrilling to be around. If we got Marty on set, I’d drop the mic and go home.
If I had to sell NBC’s Believe, what would I say?
It’s a hybrid show about this little girl with these special powers. It’s not the X-Men. It asks more practical questions about the world if these people with special powers were real. I got goosebumps with the first script I got. The combination of J.J.(Abrams) and Alfonso makes for a good show. It’s very exciting and I am looking forward to watching it.
Any difference between the way a cable series and network series operates?
With Banshee, there is more pre-production time. We shoot in two episode blocks. There is a director brought in for two episodes and it takes a month. On episodic television like on Believe, it’s one director per episode. You can’t shoot and prep at the same time. The next director will be prepping while the other is shooting. On Banshee, the director is given a longer time to get to know the cast and crew and live in the world before they start shooting. Network television is so faster paced because the turnaround is so quick.
Has Banshee opened doors for you as an actor?
I don’t know specifically about that. I have had a good couple years working. This is a tough business. Work breeds work in our business. Visibility is key. If you do a play, a few hundred people see it each night. With Banshee, a few hundred thousand people will see that show every time it airs. The opportunity to work and higher visibility is a lot different. We do an episode of Banshee and 700,000 people may watch it. We do an episode of Believe and 10 million people are going to watch it. It’s kind of crazy. It’s very exciting to be on television. I like working a lot, and i like working with good people. It’s not about money and fame is a very fickle thing. The people I work with are very important to me.
What’s the best thing about living in NYC?
New York is an amazing place. I was born and raised here so in my mind nothing compares. This place has everything. The diversity and quality of the cultural life are great. It’s relentless, crowded and doesn’t slow down. I am always fascinated when I go to other places and see how un-diverse they are. You ride the subway here and you see people speaking five different languages, work different jobs, ten different income categories, and they all rub shoulders together on the subway. I go to work at 530am and you see construction workers, nannies and nurses. An hour and a half later you see Wall Street lawyers and advertising executives. I feel in the pulse of things. I feel in other places that communities are divided and here they are forced to be together. People have this theory about New Yorkers being mean but when they come here and find themselves on a street corner needing directions, people stop and help them out. New Yorkers aren’t the most patient people but they are truly open and giving people.
In order to get this interview published, I am going to show people the picture of you as Burton on the set with the bat in your hand.
It’s funny we were shooting that scene on a very hot day in Charlotte. It was challenging to say the least. I found myself in a text message conversation at the same time I was holding the bat. I don’t know who took the picture but I love it and I’m never changing it.
I am going to get this piece out there because I think there should be more pieces on actors like you who really do the legwork and commit themselves without the glitz and fame attached to the game.
Visibility is always a good thing as an actor. I am a big believer that if you work hard and do good work, things are going to pay off in the long run. I am delighted and flattered that people are enjoying Burton. It’s really nice for me and glad it’s paying off in a personal way. As they say in Bull Durham, when you speak of me, speak of me well.
Rauch will return as Burton in Season 3 of Banshee in January of 2015, and you can see him on Believe this month and next via NBC. He is also in the middle of shooting a pilot with David Schwimmer for ABC called Irreversible. He also has other personal projects that he is working on the side. The Wolf of Wall Street comes out on DVD/Blu Ray this month so check him out in that. He is an actor who makes great use of his screen time and leaves a mark. He may not grace as many magazine covers as Leonardo DiCaprio, but he creates something much more than sinister and scary on Banshee and a fan of the show can only hope that expands more as the story goes forward.
Read this and spread it this around. Actors like Rauch need to be celebrated. They aren’t handed a career in the acting business. They have to be scrappy and earn it every single day on set.