Matt McGorry '08 is an actor on the hit show Orange is the New Black, shown here, and on ABC's How to Get Away With Murder. (Courtesy Photo/K.C. Bailey for Netflix)
Matt McGorry ’08 was making copies at a Kinko’s in New York a day after the 2013 debut of Orange is the New Black—the Netflix streaming series in which he plays prison guard John Bennett—when a pedestrian stopped in his tracks, “came inside and told me, ‘I saw you on Orange!” McGorry was so surprised that he texted friends to tell them all about it.
Although he hadn’t realized it at the moment, McGorry’s life had just seismically shifted from anonymous to celebrity.
Shortly after landing his role in the critically acclaimed, Emmy Award-winning Orange, McGorry was also cast as Asher Millstone in ABC’s much-talked-about new series How to Get Away with Murder.
“In the last year I’ve had a bit of a ride,” said McGorry, modestly.
Matt McGorry '08 plays prison guard John Bennett in the Netflix hit Orange Is the New Black. (Courtesy Photo/Paul Shiraldi for Netflix)
At age 28, McGorry is keeping his head-spinning success in perspective: “It’s really quite wonderful. I feel like I’m so incredibly lucky. To be on any show doing what you love is amazing. But the luck associated with getting two shows…. And two shows that are hits.” But, he added, “This is my profession. You can’t walk around every day in awe. In order to do my best work, I have to not be afraid of failing, and not fully grasp the pressure of the situation, as in ‘How many million people are watching my show every week?’”
He’s philosophical, too, about the turn his career has taken: “My life has changed drastically. I still have some anonymity and a semblance of a normal existence. I like it when I go to a restaurant or a bar, and people come up to me and want to take pictures, but then I can go back to meal. It’s good to have a control group of 27 years because it’s destabilizing.”
Roots in the city
Growing up in New York City, McGorry first performed at the age of 9, doing magic shows with tricks he purchased at the legendary Tannen’s Magic store. “One of the wonderful things about growing up in New York City is that one of the best magic stores in the country happened to be in the neighborhood. I spent a lot of time there just hanging out. I started performing at birthday parties, and I went to a magic camp. I was the youngest member of the New York International Brotherhood of Magicians. It was me and a bunch of 60-year-old Jewish men,” he joked.
McGorry’s parents – his mother an English teacher, and his father a financial planner – also treated the young McGorry to the world of the stage, taking him to shows at the Roundabout Theatre Company. “That really sparked my interest.”
Later, he attended LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, and then Emerson.
Matt McGorry '08 plays Asher Millstone in ABC's How to Get Away With Murder. (Courtesy Photo/Mitch Haaseth for ABC)
McGorry majored in Theatre Studies with an Acting concentration, and was a member of the Emerson Comedy Workshop. “This was where I really started getting my feet wet in comedy. The shows were so much fun, and it built my confidence to go ahead and pursue the comedy thing.”
McGorry also “did a ton of Film I and Film II films, and an EIV feature. In hindsight, I was terrible in the feature, but it was incredibly motivating when they screened it at the Boston Common movie theater.”
Emerson continues to play an important role in McGorry’s life. “One of the great things about Emerson is that it draws in such talented people who pursue their fields aggressively, and that helps create great friendships. You’re all on the same page. My closest friends to this day are friends I met at Emerson.”
McGorry distinguished himself at the College by taking up powerlifting, where he was “one of two powerlifting theater majors.”
After graduating in 2008, he went on to appear in CollegeHumor.com videos, and studied and performed with the Upright Citizens Brigade Improv Theatre Program.
Setting out to become a professional actor, he began to make the rounds. “I remember auditioning for my first speaking roles on TV. These were three- and five-line roles, but I remember having so much anxiety that I couldn’t sleep the night before.” McGorry made his television debut in 2011 on ABC daytime soap opera One Life to Live and later appeared in small guest-starring roles on Person of Interest, Gossip Girl, and Royal Pains.
McGorry credits his willingness to “march to the beat of your own dream” for part of his success, and credits his alma mater for supporting “trailblazing and being your own unique self.”