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Interview: Actor Matt Lauria on 'Chicago Code' and the Controversial Abortion Storyline on 'Friday Night Lights'

JOHN. P. HANLON

Matt Lauria is coming to a television set near you. On February 7th, his new show “The Chicago Code” premieres on FOX and the final season of his other show “Friday Night Nights” will be rebroadcast on NBC after it finishes airing on DirecTV. In a wide-ranging phone interview with the young actor, I asked Lauria about his new show, what inspires him, and last year’s controversial abortion storyline on “FNL.”

Lauria first became interested in acting at a young age. While attending school in Ireland, he was cast as the understudy of the March Hare in the play “Alice in Wonderland.” When the actor playing the hare got sick (which Lauria promised me he had nothing to do with), the understudy ended up onstage. During one performance, Lauria began “bouncing his feet to the music” in the play and some audience members started laughing.

In later performances, Lauria tried out some new antics to amuse the audience. He began looking at acting more seriously. “I could really do this,” he eventually realized. “This is a lot of fun.”

Lauria also talked to me about what inspires him both as an actor and in his personal life. “First and foremost, my wife really inspires me,” he said, adding that “second of all, I think people who are loving and purely selfless… are really inspiring.” He also noted that underdogs and people who stand up for underdogs are also inspirational.

Lauria is familiar with supporting underdogs from his work on “Friday Night Lights,” which he joined at the beginning of its fourth season. On the show, he plays Luke Cafferty, a student who plays for the underdog East Dillon high school football team. At the end of last season, East Dillon had to play against its more respected rival in town. The underdogs won.

“FNL” itself has been seen as an underdog due to the show’s so-so ratings. However, it has enjoyed both critical praise and a loyal fan base. When asked what inspires that fan base, Lauria said that “at the core of [the show], there’s a truthfulness and honesty that is rare and that’s from the writing down to the acting to everything in between.”

In trying to tell an authentic story, the show has courted controversy. Last year, Lauria’s character impregnated a classmate named Becky. After talking about her options with her mother and the coach’s wife, Becky decided to have an abortion. Although Lauria and I didn’t discuss his personal views on the subject, he spoke to me about the story itself. “It was a really controversial storyline,” Lauria said, and he was glad that the writers “didn’t take sides in terms of the social issue involved there” and “didn’t sway it toward any specific moral.” He added that the writers presented the situation truthfully showing how two teenagers might handle that difficult situation. Although some (including myself) disagree with Becky’s decision, it’s difficult to argue with the fact that “FNL” tried to show both sides of the issue. As I wrote after the storyline unfolded, the story was “flawed but fair” and much better written than the typical drama that depicts that issue.

The fifth season will mark the end of the critically-acclaimed program. Lauria told me that the final season is “really incredible” and that many of the original cast members return for it. In terms of the show’s finale, Lauria said that he was “satisfied with how it all turns out” adding that he thinks “it’s really unexpected what happens with Luke.”

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Lauria will next be seen in the hour-long FOX drama “The Chicago Code.” He describes that program as “a show of Chicago’s finest cops, detectives, the superintendent taking on corruption in Chicago.” He’s excited about its premiere in a few weeks and in the long term, he’s also excited about a project he’s working on with his father about his Dad’s experiences during the Vietnam era.

With one hit show ending and a new one premiering in a few weeks, Lauria will be seen on millions of television screens this year. Judging from my conversations with the young actor, this former understudy is now ready to take center stage.

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