By Dave Ongie, News Editor
Editor’s Note: Johnson City native Matt Lowe has spent nearly 20 years as a working actor in Hollywood. This is the first of a three-part series on the triumphs and trials he’s faced while navigating the ultra-competitive world of show business.
For those who knew Matt Lowe when he was a kid growing up in Johnson City, he tends to pop into their lives at the oddest times these days.
His familiar voice might appear in a cartoon your kid is watching. His face might pop up on your television in a commercial or as a character in your favorite television show. You may even hear him speaking to you as you work your way through your favorite video game or see his picture on a box of Milk-Bone dog treats in the aisle of your preferred grocery store.
No matter where you see or hear Matt Lowe, the Johnson City native who has spent nearly two decades carving out a diverse career as an actor in Hollywood is always happy to hear about it. Not only is it a thrill to hear from somebody he may have lost connection with over the years, it’s also a sign a check might be on its way to his mailbox.
“It’s absolutely incredible,” Lowe said. “If it’s a shout out on Facebook or somebody shoots me a text, first of all, it’s good financially. You never know how commercial people are buying the media, so if you have a commercial still airing, that’s great news.
“But (hearing from folks back home) is always welcome and amazing. Social media is great for that. There’s just a ton of rejection in this business, so anything encouraging and uplifting is always welcome.”
If it wasn’t for the folks back home, Lowe almost certainly wouldn’t have taken the leap of faith that has allowed him to be interrogated by Mark Harmon on NCIS, examined by Rob Lowe on Code Black, bitten by a zombie in The Walking Dead and trading jokes with Saturday Night Live alum Andy Sandberg on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Lowe likens his journey to Hollywood as a rocket ride, and he said the supportive push he received from those around him during his time in Johnson City was the fuel that launched the rocket.
“It’s all because of the propulsion it had initially, and that definitely came from my family first and foremost,” he said. “They always supported me.”
Lowe said his dream of becoming an actor started at an early age when he first figured out actual people provided the voices for his favorite cartoon characters. By the time he was 7 years old, Lowe was doing impressions and honing skills that would one day serve him well in his chosen profession. When Lowe arrived at Liberty Bell Middle School, he received another boost when Eugene Wolf and Christine Murdock with The Road Company volunteered their time to expose students to acting.
Lowe found his first true mentor at Science Hill High School when he walked into Debbie Coram’s drama classroom.
“I mean, she poured her heart into me, and we did forensic competitions at other schools,” Lowe said.
While Coram was certainly Lowe’s primary supporter at Science Hill, helping him hone his craft as he appeared in a variety of plays and drama competitions, Lowe also received plenty of encouragement from other members of the Science Hill faculty. He recalls several teachers along the way who spotted his talent and encouraged him to develop it, a group that included his Latin teacher Liz Biasca and faculty members Renee Pitts, David Burgin and Jim Brown. Burgin has served as a business teacher to the stars, as Lowe spent his freshman year in Burgin’s classroom along with fellow actor Matt Czuchry, who is best known for his work on The Gilmore Girls.
Even with all that support, it took Lowe a while to break the surly bonds of Northeast Tennessee and strike out on his journey into the profession of acting. Lowe waffled through a half-hearted stint at ETSU before ultimately making the decision to audition for the highly selective acting program at DePaul University in Chicago.
Lowe said he never met any resistance from his family even though he didn’t have a backup plan in case acting didn’t work out. But when Lowe and his family sat down to talk about his decision to audition at DePaul, his father made sure he paused to fully understand the weight of the decision.
“That was a big roll of the dice for my family, just to even pay for the plane ticket to go there,” Lowe recalls. “I remember us sitting there, and it was a pretty selective school time. I just remember my dad looking at me like, ‘What are we doing here?’”
Once the decision was made, and Lowe was accepted at DePaul, the rocket was in orbit. But the arduous task of breaking into show business loomed large.
Check back next week as we delve into Lowe’s time in Chicago, his move to L.A. and his struggle to catch on in the entertainment industry.