Bootlegger, newsman, and now FBI agent

Hoboken theatre director lands role on ABC’s ‘The Family’

Brief stints on binge-worthy shows like “House of Cards,” ‘The Americans,” and “Boardwalk Empire” has done little to bolster Matthew Lawler’s ego. But don’t mind if the Hoboken actor, who has been the Associate Artistic Director at the Mile Square Theatre since 2009, develops a bit of a chip on his shoulder after landing his first recurring role on ABC’s new drama series, ‘The Family.”
Although you may have to click the rewind button, you’ve already seen Lawler as a bootlegger in a scene with Michael Shannon on “Boardwalk Empire” and as a news editor on “House of Cards” alongside Kim Dickens.
Lawler, who has been acting for 12 years, is now FBI Agent Gabe Clements, caught in the shambles of an emotionally complex narrative.
Having gone missing for ten years and presumed dead, a politician’s son, Adam Warren, suddenly makes a shocking return. Relief and joy over his return quickly turns to eerie suspicion over his true identity.

“I was afraid they’d find someone else…but no, I got a call back.” – Matthew Lawler
The television show’s cast includes Oscar-nominee Joan Allen and Rubert Graves (from popular BBC series “Sherlock”). Andrew McCarthy directed the show’s third episode, which introduces Lawler’s character.
“The series focuses on how each member of the family has dealt with the cataclysmic event,” Lawler said. “The mother, a politician, focuses on her career. The father writes books dealing with his grief. The son starts drinking and the daughter turns to religion.”
Not to give spoilers away, but a recent scene in the show involves Lawler’s Agent Clements making some not-so-noble decisions – which lends credence to the show’s complex portrayal of the human psyche. No one is simply good, or evil.
“I think that’s the wonderful part of the series,” he continued. “There are so many characters you’re following. They’re all very human, very three-dimensional, not all sympathetic, and not all dislikeable as well. You empathize with them at times or you question their actions.”

Community theatre involvement

“The first thing I did at the Mile Square Theatre was direct Joseph Gallo’s play, ‘My Italy Story’ in 2009,” said Lawler. “I was at the new space yesterday and it looks great, very close to completion. I think people are gonna love it.”

The theatre’s new space, at 1400 Clinton St. will open in the coming weeks.
Lawler will take the helm for an upcoming play in June, “Circle Mirror Transformation.” The Obie-award winning off-Broadway play was written by Annie Baker, and centers on drama classes at a community centre in Vermont.
The play will mark the first adult showing at the new space.

Making the cut

Lawler said he got the call from his agent late last year and in all it took nearly a month for him to find out he got the part.
“After I auditioned they asked for more clips,” he recalled. “Even though I’ve been making a living as an actor for almost twenty years, not a lot of people know me; mostly because I do a lot of theatre, as well as commercials and coaching. I was afraid they’d find someone else…but no, I got a call back.”
The show began shooting in September of last year.
Giving us a glimpse of the behind the scenes, Lawler describes Allen’s affable sense of humor and sensitivity. “One day she brought in cookies for everyone…she’s so nice, but then suddenly you see her do a scene. It feels like she’s always emotionally invested yet you never know where she’s going with it.”
Graves, who plays Scotland Yard Detective Inspector Greg Lestrade with big names like Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch in “Sherlock,” is, according to Lawler, “hilarious.”
“He’s a very funny guy,” he said. “He’s a bit of an athlete. When my daughter started playing soccer, he gave me some pointers to teach her.”
Able to flex his acting chops on a television series was its own animal compared to theatre, said Lawler, who lives in Hoboken with his wife and two daughters.
“It takes a different kind of discipline and stamina. You have to be ready at any moment but realize you may have to wait hours before you shoot something depending on when the director is ready for you,” he said.
The story, though, afforded some great discussions.
It was a common occurrence on the set for everyone (including those on screen and backstage) to exchange theories over what would happen next on the show every time a new script was released.
Said exchanges, Lawler pointed out, should be part of the television experience.
“We’re all conditioned now to binge-watch,” he said. “A show like ‘The Family’ gets people to really look at it and to try to piece it together week after week with little bits of information that they can talk about.”
Lawyer continues to audition for other parts and also has his footing in a forthcoming workshop of a play called “Project Dolly.” He did not divulge any details as to whether his character on “The Family” survives season 1 or what may be in store for season 2.
“You’ll have to wait and find out,” he said.
“The Family” is on Sundays at 9 p.m. on Freeform.

Steven Rodas can be reached at

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