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Take Me Home: Drea de Matteo Talks About Joining the Cast of Paradise City

Drea de Matteo is best known for her Emmy-award-winning role as Adriana La Cerva in HBO’s hit series, The Sopranos. But not many know that she only auditioned for one episode. Her performance charmed audiences and producers, and made her a series regular on the HBO show.

Since then, the Queens, New York-native has continued to find success in the entertainment industry. After The Sopranos, the actress joined the cast of Joey, Desperate Housewives, Sons of Anarchy... and most recently, Paradise City, where she plays Maya. The Prime Video exclusive series created by Ash Avildsen—as a continuation to his 2017 film American Satan— piqued her curiosity from day one. Paradise City is sexy, unique, and has a cast that makes magic together.

But De Matteo wasn’t always in front of the camera. Once upon a time, she wanted to be a film director. Her mother Donna, who was a playwright and playwriting teacher at HB Studio in New York, introduced her to theater and the entertainment world at a young age. De Matteo went to college at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. “I was definitely nervous about how much a director had to manage. While I was in film school, I kept ending up in my own films because I would save them for the last minute and I would never be able to find an actor to act for me last minute,” she chuckles. Her classmates noticed her talent and pushed her to go into acting. “I wanted to act, but I was afraid to. I was shy... It felt like it wasn’t a noble enough thing.”

Then, The Sopranos happened. This was De Matteo’s first job. Though she had prepared, she didn’t know what she was doing. The latter wasn’t going to stop her, she quickly learned the ropes and in 2004, she was nominated and won her first Emmy. “Never in a million years would I have guessed that,” she says. “I was not prepared for that. Real nervous,” she says about her win.

It’s no surprise that Adriana is De Matteo’s favorite character. “She had some many layers to her. She was vulnerable. She was misunderstood by a lot of the public while the show was going on,” says De Matteo. “She was the sacrificial lamb… She might have been tough and crass, and dressed saucy but she was the innocent. She was the only character who wasn’t jaded, the only character who had no agenda other than love behind her. She was never trying to manipulate anybody. She was pure.” And for those reasons, after Adriana was killed, the show took a dark turn. “I never thought that the death of that character would turn the show around like that.”

Over the years, De Matteo has been involved in a number of TV projects. “I had a great time with Matt Le Blanc doing Joey,” she says. “I did not love doing the show, we had so many issues, and I did not want to be there, because I didn’t think I fit in that space, but the fun that Matt and I had while trying to navigate it was immeasurable.” LeBlanc coached her on how to be in a sitcom —which was new for De Matteo. “Some of the best times of my acting career and I’ll never forget that.”

Then, Paradise City came along. De Matteo’s agents were not behind this project, but still, she was very curious about the show, especially given her own connection to the music world. “I was more intrigued about who Ash Avildsen was because I couldn’t believe there was this young guy who was like, ‘I’m going to make my own T.V. show,’” says De Matteo. “It wasn’t a huge money grab. I was interested in him. I was curious, how anybody could have the balls to think that they could do all of this. So, I showed up to watch and observe. And it was the best time ever. How we all [the cast] came together, having faith in this guy that none of us had a clue about, was crazy. All of a sudden, he ends up with a cast of influencers, rock stars, actors, Disney stars —we’re a mish-mosh; it doesn’t make any sense, but somehow it makes sense.” Paradise City also stars Bella Thorne, Olivia Culpo, the late Cameron Boyce, and Andy Biersack.

After speaking to Avildsen and reviewing two roles, De Matteo pursued the character Maya, who, to her, felt like a continuation of Adriana. “What if Adriana would have lived and become the music manager she always wanted to become? Well, instead of becoming a music manager, she becomes a booker. Adriana could have become Maya.” De Matteo had found herself playing the same role over and over again, the role of a victim, and while she loved doing that, Maya gave her a taste of something new. “This character, there was no room for that. She is the grand protector, making things happen, tough as nails, no BS. I never really get to play that very often. So, I’m not playing a broken character.” Maya is a little bit of a mystery in the beginning, but as the show evolves, viewers get to know her better.

This past year, De Matteo has been fortunate to be home in California with her loved ones, doing what she loves: television and working season after season. “I feel guilty saying this, but we were really blessed here. We all look back on it with very strange nostalgia. Throughout all of this madness, we felt very safe and secure and connected, and we created a ton of art while we were here. We had a little community.” Sounds like De Matteo has found her home, her Paradise City… “where the grass is green and the girls are pretty....”

Season 1 of Paradise City is now available on Amazon Prime Video.

Words by Claudia Paredes. Character stills courtesy of Sumerian Films/Hit Parader


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