1983 alum who spent seven years on HBO’s mega-hit series “The Sopranos” says his time at Notre Dame was instrumental in career success.
He is probably best recognized for his seven seasons on "The Sopranos" as FBI agent Dwight Harris and for his six years on daytime TV on both "All My Children" and "One Life to Live.” More recently, Servitto spent three seasons on the Showtime series "Brotherhood" as well as in a four-year run on Cinemax's "Banshee" as the Brock Lotus character.
His work also includes playing Satan in "Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell" on the Adult Swim network (now in its third season) and he’s had recurring roles more recently as Dr. Sebastian Reifler on "The Blacklist" (NBC) and as the character Bob Sweeney in ”Billions" (Showtime).
But while Servitto took theater on a scholarship at Wayne State University and studied at the famed Juilliard School in New York City, his significant acting chops were initially honed at Notre Dame High School.
“One of the reasons I think Notre Dame was instrumental in me pursuing a career in the arts was the amazing teachers, mentors, students and directors who I encountered during my four years there,” Servitto said. “Dedicated men and women who opened my mind and heart to music, theater, poetry, literature and the visual arts.
He said it was because of literature teachers like Conrad Vachon, Bob Kelly and Fr. Sadjak; music and choir teachers like Dennis Egan and Fr. Ken Swann; and theater instructors and directors like Fr. Ken Swann, Norm Kotarski and Dennis East.
“But I cannot emphasize enough how drama director Bob Valgoi '73 (NDHS) was especially important in both recognizing my talent and encouraging me to pursue this career path,” he said. “I think of him often and try to thank him whenever I get the chance.”
Born in Teaneck, New Jersey, just outside of New York City, Servitto said he landed in Detroit while very young.
“My father is from Detroit and my mother is from the New York City area,” he said. “They met in Hawaii — which in itself is a long and wonderful story — got married and moved initially to New Jersey where I was born. But then we moved when I was still a baby to the city of Detroit. So consequently all my first memories are of Detroit and the various houses we lived in on the east side.”
Servitto attended St. Raymond’s parochial school on Detroit's northeast side and matriculated to Notre Dame in the fall of 1979. At Notre Dame, he played football, ran track, was on student council, and was fully involved in all of the plays the school sponsored. He starred in many of the musicals staged by the school, including "West Side Story,” "Pippin,” "On the Town,” "A Christmas Carol" and "Roar of the Greasepaint.” He also went next door to Regina High School to do "South Pacific" during his junior year.
“It's funny, I get asked a lot about why I got involved in theater in high school,” he said. “And very often I use a one-word answer: ‘girls.’ The fact is the plays at Notre Dame were one of the few things the school sponsored that was co-ed. We had girls from Regina, Dominican, Star of the Sea, etc., all participating in our shows. To this day, I am actually still friends with some of those women.”
Servitto also was a member of the Notre Dame’s forensics club.
“Norm Kotarski was in charge of forensics back then and I usually competed in the categories of dramatic interpretation and dramatic duo with alum Rob Brant ('82). We actually won a variety of awards and ribbons, if I recall correctly.”
As he got closer to graduating from high school, Servitto wasn't necessarily considering a career in acting or theater. In fact, he said he was thinking about journalism or possibly being a political science major. However, with Valgoi's encouragement, he began to look into college theater programs around the country as well as locally at Wayne State University. He was accepted into the Goodman School of Drama at DePaul University in Chicago, but won a theater scholarship to Wayne State and chose to attend the Detroit university starting in the fall of 1983.
Trip to the U.K. cemented career goal
“During my time at Wayne State, I had the opportunity to go to Oxford, England, and spend a semester at the British American Drama Academy,” he said. “Those few months changed my life — and my acting. I came back from England a different actor who was very highly motivated. I immediately decided to pursue the best training I could find in the U.S. and that included applying to and auditioning for the Juilliard School in New York.”
He was accepted into Juilliard in the spring of 1985 and after two years at Wayne State, Servitto moved to New York City to start a new life in the big city. He’s lived there now for over 30 years and it has been a great home base for his long and successful acting career.
But Servitto always comes back to his time at Notre Dame and how it shaped him as both a person and as an actor. He said it wasn’t all about work at NDHS, however.
“I went to school with some of the most supremely funny guys in the world,” he said. “They helped me develop a sophisticated and dark sense of humor that I really believe has helped me not only in my career, but in my life as well.”
He said that whenever he gets together with they guys from Notre Dame, it always involves laughter and great stories.
“I will always remember the time during a chase sequence in Notre Dame’s production of "West Side Story" that some of the guys physically dropped Tom Nance ’83 (NDHS) right into the orchestra pit (he was bruised, but not broken and finished the show) or the time during "Pippin" when I completely missed not just an entrance, but an entire scene because I was backstage goofing off. Poor Fr. Swann came running backstage furious. I was clueless. And one of my all-time favorite memories about doing plays at NDHS was during "Roar of the Greasepaint" when Sam Iaquinto ’83 (NDHS) came out in drag every performance. The audience just lost it. And so did I.”
When Servitto is not on set or stage, he is home with his wife, Anne Servitto, in suburban New Jersey where they moved after living in Manhattan for 25 years.
He and his family, which includes children Francesca (13) and twins Nick and Greta (10), have been in Jersey now for 15 years.
“Most of my original ‘Michigan’ family, however, still live in the metro Detroit area,” he said, “including my sister, Colleen '80 (Regina), who married Mike Eovaldi ’80 (NDHS). They have four kids, including two who also attended NDHS, Joe and Anthony Eovaldi.”
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About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. The school's upper division enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower divisions enroll students in jr. kindergarten through grade eight. All three divisions are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." The Marist Fathers and Brothers sponsor NDPMA's Catholic identity and manages its educational program. Notre Dame is accredited by the National Association of Independent Schools, the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school's home page at www.ndpma.org.