Acting Out


As he whizzed through back roads and side streets, Matthew Del Negro, Boston College ’94, struggled to stay on the telephone line—Waze and the hustle-bustle of cars at the height of the Los Angeles rush hour were to blame for the multiple dropped calls.

Fresh out of a session with his acting coach in Silverlake, Calif., Del Negro navigated the city while still reminiscing about his senior year in the Mods. Laughing, he recalled a group of friends who blocked two neighboring Mods and then proceeded to knock down the connecting wall with a sledgehammer.

“It was like its own little makeshift doorway from one to the other,” he said. “So instead of it being a six-man, it was like a 12-man. I think they hung like a towel or something between the two.”

Today, Del Negro is credited with having acted in several television shows, appearing in The Sopranos, The West Wing, Scandal, and Goliath, as well as movies such as Hot Pursuit with Sofia Vergara and Reese Witherspoon and Wind River alongside Elizabeth Olsen and Jeremy Renner. His love for acting would be realized late, after countless years spent on the field instead of the stage.

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“I was really into sports, I played everything as a kid. And, you know, there was really no interaction with acting at all for me at an early age,” he said.

Del Negro grew up in woodsy Westchester County in the town of Mount Kisco, about an hour north of New York City. As the youngest of three children, Del Negro looked up to his older sister and especially his older brother. His brother, Artie, graduated from BC in 1991, at the end of Del Negro’s freshman year. Likewise, his parents served as role models—his dad was an attorney and his mom taught special education at John Jay High School, which Del Negro attended.

When it comes to sports, there are only a few that Del Negro hasn’t played. Following stints in baseball, basketball, and football during his childhood, Del Negro picked up a lacrosse stick in seventh grade and stuck with it for the rest of middle school and the entirety of high school.

During his junior year of high school, Del Negro made the bus trip out to Chestnut Hill to visit Artie, who was then a sophomore at BC. His brother had prepared the quintessential BC weekend, complete with sports and socializing, but Del Negro didn’t bite.

“He makes fun of me because I went up there, it was freezing cold—and he says it was like the perfect weekend. We went to a BC basketball game, BC hockey game, there was a party on campus, and I was just in such a different phase in high school that I really didn’t embrace it when I was there. So all I remembered was waiting at the bus stop, freezing,” he said.

Instead, Del Negro was intrigued by the warmer weather and larger sports culture of the Southern schools—like Duke and Virginia. Del Negro planned to only apply to these schools, but his dad—who was normally laissez-faire when it came to Del Negro’s decisions—told him he really wanted him to apply to BC.

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So Del Negro filled out the application as a favor to his dad and, shortly after, received word that he had been waitlisted. Del Negro said that at that moment, something inexplicably clicked—he was still unable to explain it all these years later during our interview. He decided that he would be a student at BC, whatever it took. Even if he wasn’t admitted, Del Negro wanted to take classes in the Woods College of Advancing Studies and re-apply to become a full-time day student the following semester.

But that wasn’t necessary, as Del Negro was removed from the waitlist and admitted to BC’s Class of 1994.

“Literally, like the day that I got to BC, I remember getting out of the car. It was a beautiful, blue-sky day, and I just felt like, ‘This is where I’m supposed to be.’ … I was not one of those kids who thought from when he was 8 years old he wanted to go to BC, but the way it worked out, day one, I loved it,” he said.

Many students confront their fair share of identity crises during college, but Del Negro’s self-described “split-experience” was more staggering than most.

He walked onto the men’s lacrosse team—a varsity program on campus until 2002—his freshman year, and for the first two years of his BC experience he found himself plunged into the all-encompassing pressure cooker of college athletics. The demands of D1 athletics gave him no time to pursue other interests. Del Negro even had to forfeit his semester abroad junior year—he’d had his sights set on Australia—because it overlapped with the spring season.

Instead, Del Negro chose to go to Italy as part of a program the summer before his junior year. He felt out of his element in the unfamiliar small town of Perugia in central Italy and began to ask himself if he was on the right path, in addition to questioning if he was getting everything he could out of his college experience.

“I basically did all this journal writing kind of going like, ‘Is lacrosse what I want to be doing?’” he said. “I just felt like I had lost the fire for lacrosse. So I think over there I kind of thought, ‘Maybe I’ll be a writer, maybe I’ll be an actor,’ like that’s written in that first journal, but there was no backing at all. … It was just something that came up.”

When he returned to BC in the fall, he quickly fell back into his old routine—but as he played fall ball in preparation for the spring season, these feelings of doubt slowly crept back into his mind until one day, he finally snapped.

“It was at the end of fall ball—we were at practice, and I was jogging around Shea Field. And I remember thinking like, ‘Man, I wish I rolled my ankle. I just don’t feel like being here.’”

Because he wasn’t on a full-ride scholarship for lacrosse, Del Negro didn’t see himself tied to the team. Del Negro loved his teammates but trusted his gut feeling that lacrosse simply wasn’t what he was meant to be doing. After that practice on Shea Field, Del Negro went to then-head coach Ed Moy’s office and told him, “I think I’m done.”

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After he stopped playing, he had a “mini freak-out,” wondering if he’d made the right decision. Out of nowhere, Del Negro decided to audition for a BC theatre production that winter and was rejected.

One month later, he tried out for a second and clinched the lead role in a tiny production of Hello Out There! by William Saroyan. The production wasn’t big enough to score the prime real estate of Robsham Theater—instead, the group was relegated to a lecture hall for their two-night performance. Despite the small scale of the play, the experience largely influenced Del Negro’s decision to pursue acting as a post-college career.

“You couldn’t get any further away [from lacrosse]. It was a direct, complete 180. And people looked at me like I had two heads—but I did it,” he said. “And I just decided I was going to be an actor. It was a real turning point for me.”

Del Negro continued to participate in on-campus productions and picked up a film studies minor along the way. He chose to major in English—and in retrospect, Del Negro thinks his major in English makes sense because he spent years studying literary characters and their relationships with one another, a technique he would later employ in the acting business.

“I kind of never turned back. I mean, part of me thought it was bananas. … It was like I got the call, and I had to take it,” he said.

After graduation, Del Negro returned home. He was committed to pursuing a career in acting, but it demanded a lot of work, determination and tenacity to turn it into reality.

That summer of ’94, he worked for a mason, laying patios to make ends meet while simultaneously acting in a musical in Wilton, Conn. at a community theater. From there, one of the actors he’d met through that musical got him a job as a waiter in Stamford, Conn.

He started taking a train into New York City two nights a week to take acting classes while saving every dollar he earned waiting tables. On Jan. 1, 1995, Del Negro moved to Manhattan.

“I lived in a crappy, fifth-floor walk-up, rent-stabilized apartment for seven years while I slugged it out.”

It was an intense, all-consuming, heartbreaking time. Del Negro was taking classes while grasping for every acting opportunity he could get his hands on. He did black box theater for free, student films, independent films—most of them were “bad,” he noted, but one of them, called The North End and set in Boston “turned out to be pretty good.”

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He started to make some money through commercials but relied heavily on bartending—which replaced waiting tables—to get him through those long, lonely years in his dingy walk-up in the city. Del Negro began to doubt his path when, one night, BC alumni walked into the bar where he worked. Hotshots from Wall Street, Del Negro could only dream of the paychecks they got.

“This was like late ’90s, you know—making money hand over fist, and I’m pouring them a Guinness, and you start to question your choices a little bit. But it was what I loved, and I kept doing it, and eventually, that led to a big break.”

The break came in the form of a recurring role on the fourth season of The Sopranos, playing Carmela Soprano’s financial advisor cousin, Brian Cammarata, who aids Tony in his illegal antics. This was the platform he used to launch himself into roles for big-ticket performances and finally earn recognition for his work. But this only came after eight long years of living paycheck to paycheck. Throughout the entire experience, Del Negro didn’t give up.

“People drop off like flies in my business, so the older I get, the less guys that I started with are competition, because a lot of people have stopped,” he said. “And so I kind of just had this Rocky Balboa approach to it, which was, if I could keep getting better, keep taking hits, keep getting up after I’ve been knocked down, eventually I get my shot at the title.”

After his eight-episode stint on The Sopranos, Del Negro continued bartending for another two years as he waited for an acting job that would stick.

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In 2005, he moved 2,789 miles across the country to Los Angeles for a job on the second-to-last season of The West Wing. Simultaneously, he was jetting to Toronto to work on another show, Beautiful People. But as soon as he began to feel comfortable with the thought of acting full time, his roles on both shows ended.

Del Negro continued to pick up smaller roles and fly out to L.A. for auditions during pilot season. He thought his luck had returned when he booked a recurring role during the sixth season of Scandal—he played Michael Ambruso, the gay prostitute-turned-lover of politician Cyrus Beene.

He was then told by a producer on the show that his role would expand in the following season—“We want you for the next season, we’re going to do a lot with you,” he was told—before being cut unexpectedly.

These “lean times,” according to Del Negro, are what inspired him to create his podcast “10,000 No’s with Matthew Del Negro.” On each episode of the podcast, Del Negro sits down with high-achieving actors, writers, directors, and producers—as well as entrepreneurs, athletes, cancer survivors, and beyond—to talk about how they crafted success stories in the face of failure.

“I experienced so many ‘no’s’ and so many setbacks as a result of what I do that I have kind of become obsessed with resilience and perseverance and how you pick yourself up after you’ve been knocked down, and that really came from my own experiences because it has not always been an easy path—at all.”

With the podcast, Del Negro hopes to help young actors in similar situations, as well as anyone in need of a little motivation. The tagline “Failure is Opportunity” is boldly emblazoned on the top of the website, which features the full collection of episodes—the most recent of which is titled, “Ep 84: Poo~Pourri/Supernatural CEO Suzy Batiz, How to Create a $500 Million Empire & Make the World Believe Your Poop Doesn’t Stink.”

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“I think one of the reasons why he’s also just such a good podcaster, too, is because he’s actually genuinely interested in other people,” Parenthood and Goliath director and guest on “10,000 No’s” Lawrence “Larry” Trilling said. “A lot of actors are very self-absorbed, and Matt’s the opposite.”

Aside from his podcast, Del Negro now enjoys the ability to act full time. Most recently, he’s worked with Trilling on the TV shows Parenthood and the Amazon Prime original series Goliath. As a director and executive producer of Parenthood and the showrunner of Goliath, Trilling worked extensively with Del Negro and placed great trust in his ability to convey the intentions of his characters—both as Timm in Parenthood and now as Goliath’s deceptively charming Danny Loomis, ruthless consiglieri of Santa Monica’s most powerful politicians and businessmen.

“They really hire the people that they want to hire, and then they let those people bring their particular flavor to the role—it was very collaborative,” Del Negro said. “The first time I worked with Larry, I did a scene with Craig Nelson, who played the dad. And we did it, and Larry said, ‘That’s great, just dirty it up, Matt.’ And I was like, ‘Dirty it up?’ … I’ve never experienced that on a network show.”

Likewise, Trilling emphasized that improvisation is a two-way street between the actor and the director. It requires a certain strength of conviction, but also an openness to outside opinions, something that Del Negro excels at.

“I love working with Matt because he’s very prepared and collaborative and has a lot of great ideas,” Trilling said. “And he’s also very open to being directed. So it’s kind of the best combination of an actor who has a lot of strong ideas but is also very flexible about collaborating and finding a third idea that was better than either of us could’ve come up with on our own.”

Unlike other roles, Trilling gave Del Negro the freedom to make the characters his own, a refreshing change from Del Negro’s previous recurring roles.

Sopranos—we said everything to a T. Everything was written, that’s exactly how we did it. West Wing, same thing. Every ‘um,’ ‘ah,’ everything, because it’s such a metered show, it’s part of that Sorkin, stylized world. Scandal, Shonda Rhimes has a very particular meter.”

Del Negro may have been navigating the congested Los Angeles roads during this article’s interview, but now he’s taking a break from circumnavigation to jet-set to New York City, where he’s promoting his new Netflix original series, Huge in France, which streams April 12. He plays a low-rung actor with not two, but three names. Jason Alan Ross and the rest of the characters are thrown into some bananas situations in this heartwarming comedy shot in the style of a French film.

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Though his time as an Eagle has long since passed, Del Negro remembers his time at BC and lacrosse days vividly. The experiences he had as a player and teammate have made Del Negro the successful actor he is today.

“For the most part, the lessons I learned in sports are really what have, I think, helped me as an actor, career-wise,” he said. “Which is, you put the work in, regardless of the immediate results. You have to put the work in, you have to prepare. You’re gonna get knocked down, that’s part of the game. And if you can’t get back up, then you shouldn’t be doing this.”

Photo Courtesy of Matt Del Negro

Brooke Kaiserman

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