Marshfield natives Matthew and Michael Perfetuo will relish in the success of their acting careers when their latest movie, Detective Chinatown 2, premieres in Beijing and many U.S. cities including Boston on February 16.
The movie, a China-based production which filmed in Beijing and in New York, is a comedic thriller which finds brothers Logan and Lucas Campbell - played by Matt and Mike respectively - in search of a murderer.
“It was fun because we got to go to New York City for six weeks and film all over the city,” Matt said. “They blocked off part of Times Square for a scene, and that was a true bucket list moment!”
The movie is the second in the series by director Chen Sicheng, whose first one in 2015 brought in $126 million at the box office. Sicheng’s goal, Mike said, is to film a movie in every major Chinatown in the world. The first Detective Chinatown was shot in Bangkok, the second in New York City, and a third would be in Tokyo.
“We’re keeping our fingers crossed that we are in the next one” Mike said. “The director loved what my brother and I did and he wanted to work with us. If we can break into the Asian market, that would be great for us. China is the biggest market in the world for films, so exposure there is a big plus.”
Filming in New York City was a benchmark in the industry, Mike noted, since it is the first Chinese movie filmed in the U.S.using American union crews.
Movie acting is just one facet of the identical twins’ performing careers. Recently, they appeared in commercials for Toyota and Lexus, and this fall, Matt appeared in the ABC television series Marvel’s Inhumans.
“I absolutely love being in front of the camera,” Matt said. “Taking words in a script and creating a character and making it come to life is such a fun process.”
It’s a feeling shared by Mike. “I just love becoming a different character, coming from my everyday life to be someone totally different,” he said. “It’s like wearing a mask and becoming a different person from who you are. You read the script, read about the character, and bring it to life.” And despite the fact that acting is a demanding career, the satisfaction that comes from being an actor more than compensates for its many challenges. “When I’m on the set, it’s just amazing,” Mike said. “I can work 12 to 16 hours a day, go home, and do it again the next day. Plus, I meet so many interesting people in the cast and crew.”
The movie’s Beijing release, which will coincide with the Chinese New Year, is a long way in time and distance from Massachusetts where the brothers began their careers. They first starred in a Scituate children’s theater, followed by performances at Archbishop Williams High School (Class of 2000), and then at Assumption College in Worcester.
“Since I was in first grade, all I wanted to be when I ‘grew up’ was an actor in Hollywood,” Mike said. “My teacher cast me in Charlie Brown. She saw something in me at that early age. I knew then, that was what I wanted for the rest of my life. It just clicked with me,” he said.
At Archbishop Williams, Matt and Mike performed in Godspell, The Crucible and other productions for director Sue Pucillo. “She taught us a method we both still use, which is to repeat over and over before an audition, ‘red leather yellow leather,’ and ‘sister Sally sat on a stump,’ so we don’t have a tongue twister when performing,” Mike said.
Pucillo remembers the brothers fondly. “They were terrific kids,” she said. “Mike was more gregarious and Matt was more shy at that time.” She especially remembers their performance in, About Us, a production she wrote, which took a look at what teens think about. “It was a way for them to express their hopes, faults and foibles and included exercises and improvisational instructions for them to fulfill,” she said.
The brothers’ next step was Assumption College, where they continued to act and develop their craft. After commencement, however, Matt and Mike parted ways.
“After graduating college I worked at a restaurant for six months and saved up as much money as possible,” Mike said. “I then drove cross country in January 2005 to pursue my acting career. It was a risky choice but I knew I needed to follow my dream.”
Making that move was a natural progression for Mike, who graduated with a major in communications and a minor in theater - majors which early on opened the door to a professional acting career. Knowing how tough the business side of acting could be, he earned another degree - in business. “Having a degree in business is helpful because as an actor you are your own business,” Mike said. “Acting is my dream. It’s challenging, but you get rejections day in and day out. I wanted to have a fallback, so I went to college and got a business degree.”
For Matt, a career in acting wasn’t in his plans after college - yet. Instead, he had majored in economics and minored in political science - perfect choices for a career in law. But despite working as a paralegal in Boston and then New York, Matt wasn’t really happy. “I knew after three months it wasn’t for me,” he said, “but the money was good!”
But apparently, not good enough.
Matt began to pursue his true passion - acting - by squeezing auditions into his lunch hours while working as a paralegal at a New York City law firm. When the casting calls came in, he left his office near Penn Station for a nearby McDonald’s restroom to change out of his business suit and into the clothes he needed for auditions. When through, he reversed his steps to suit-up again for the office. It was a ritual he practiced many times until the 2008 recession, when he and other members of his firm’s Intellectual Property department were laid off.
“It was a blessing!” Matt said. “I had wanted to make the jump and pursue acting full time, but having a steady paycheck was making it hard to leave. So when I was laid off because of the recession it was a sign that it’s now or never!”
A day after his job was terminated, fate knocked on Matt’s door: he landed a role in the movie, Torture Chamber filmed in New York and directed by Dante Tomaselli. “I was in a psych ward with other fire burn victims and we broke out and wreaked havoc!”
But Matt knew careers in acting were made in Hollywood. With Mike well established there, Matt joined him in 2016.
“Personally, it was important for us to have some time apart and have our own identity,” Matt said. “It allowed for us to grow as individuals, but professionally I know it was the right decision.”
Mike welcomed his brother personally and professionally. “I’m the older twin so in some ways it makes sense that I moved out here first,” Mike said. “I was able to steer Matt in the the right direction for a place to live and places to eat. Plus, the added bonus was that Matt knew some people here before moving, unlike me.”
Meanwhile, Matt and Mike continued to develop their skills at Larry Moss Studios and the Upright Citizens Brigade Improvisational and Sketch Comedy Training Center. With a shared resume and website, they began to market themselves as a pair - separate from the work they did as individuals - and to take advantage of opportunities where the two of them could work together.
“People are fascinated with twins and a lot of the time when one of us gets a role and the director and producers finds out we are twins, they create another role for us because they love our look,” Matt said. “It’s a bonus for them because there are two of us!”
Their potential as a pair paid off quickly. “My first week in LA, we were approached at a grocery store by a director/writer and he asked us if we were actors,” Matt remembers. “He basically offered us a role on the spot because he was currently casting a project for twins and was looking for bald twins. It’s all about right time and place!”
The twins’ look is a plus for them. “My look is very jarring and athletic,” said Matt. “Because of it, I usually get cast in dark, evil type roles. I love those roles because they’re so much fun to play.” Acting the bad guy, he said, “is an absolute blast and most of the time the best part to play in a project. You are usually remembered for those roles because it gets the audience’s attention! Playing the villain gives you a lot of "WOW" moments and helps move the scenes along. Ironically, they’re the complete opposite of my personality; I’m really a fun-loving guy.”
Same for Mike! “I am a very sweet person, but I can come across as very intimidating,” he said. Because of his look, “People often ask, ‘Are you a swimmer or are you in the army?’” Another advantage? “We’re not cookie cutter actors,” Mike said.
Their look is heightened by their lack of body hair, which is the result of an autoimmune condition, alopecia areata. Mike lost his hair at age eight, and Matt at 15. “For me, I’m in this profession, my look gets me in the door,” Matt said. “I’ve made this condition work for me.”
Matt’s look helped him to win the role as the villainous superhero, Sakas, in the ABC TV series, Marvel’s Inhumans, which aired last fall. Mike acted on his own in the HBO TV series, True Blood and in the movie, Zombie Apocalypse. Together they have appeared in a variety of roles in the movies, Muck, The Other Half, There’s No Such Things as Vampires and Red Butterfly.
Their shared condition has also lead them to involvement as mentors and financial contributors to the National Areata Alopecia Foundation.
“Most recently, while filming Detective Chinatown 2, I saw a kid with alopecia in a restaurant with his mom,” said Matt. “They turned around when they saw us and his eyes lit up. It was the first time he saw someone who looked like him. It’s good for kids to know that they are not alone, especially since so many are bullied and tormented for their looks.”
Their athletic builds also enhance their looks; both are in great physical shape and hold certifications as personal trainers and pilates instructors. Their shared resume highlights their physical prowess in stage combat, gun handling and stunts. “We like to try to do our own stunts while on set so we like to be in peak performance to do so,” Mike said.
Their look even attracts artists who want to paint their bodies. “Artists have a blank canvas with us because we don’t have hair, so they paint amazing designs on us for art and art installations,” said Matt.
Ironically, they do have one significant physical difference: Mike’s a lefty, Matt’s a righty!
For aspiring film actors, Matt recommends starting with student films to get experience being on a set. When seeking to go professional, “Be a go-getter and really be proactive about it. I was so hungry for it, so I was constantly looking for opportunities.”
And don’t be disappointed if at first you don’t succeed. “Know your self-worth because there are a thousand no’s before a yes,” Matt said. “But it’s not about you if you’re not selected; they just want what they are looking for.”
Regardless of the trials in their careers, the Perfetuo brothers have no regrets for following their dream. “Following your dreams isn't easy, but you'll never know unless you try,” said Matt. “Honestly, it’s been a hard and challenging road but I would not change it for the world,” Mike said.