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KINGPIN
(J.L. King, Days of Our Lives)

Just the Facts

Hails From: Lithonia, GA
Birthday: September 25. "I'm a Libra, not a Virgo."
Status: Single and Looking.
Recent prime-time appearance: As Phoebe's fireman boyfriend on FRIENDS
What does J.L. stand for? "Everybody asks me that. I should just make up something great."
Off-Screen he knows: Stephanie Cameron (Jennifer). "She dates a friend of mine. She's really nice."
He relaxes by: "Kissing. I love long, sensual kissing. I could do it for hours."

Matt Battaglia is the first to admit he didn't become an actor to fulfill himself artistically. "I loved being in the spotlight," he grins. "Someone suggested It riy acting. I had no experience, but I watched movies as a kid and decided to give it a shot. Once I got into acting school, it all changed tenfold. It was no longer a hobby; it was my focus completely."

And at that point of his life, Battaglia was looking for focus. A former two-time All-American football player from the University of Louisville, Battaglia spent two seasons in the National Football league as a middle linebacker, first for the Cleveland Browns and then the Philadelphia Eagles. Even before a shouldn't injury sidelined his career, reality had rudely intruded on Battaglis's dreams of becoming a gridiron great. "I went from being the star in college to being a nobody, becuase when you get in the NFL overnight, you are a nobody," he reflects. "Here I was, All-American, Schmerican. It didn't mean anything. These guys had been in Pro Bowls for yeras. It was so much of a business, it was so much of a business, it was no longer fun. But I'm not sobbing over it; I was a small linebacker anyway, so my days were numbered as it was.

The fact that Battaglia got as far as he did despite his size is testament to his determination. In fact, before he committed to acting, Battaglia had to overcome a speech impediment that had dogged him since childhood. "I had a lisp," he cringes. "Not only a lisp, but a southern accent on top of it." Advice from Burt Reynolds got Battaglia to do something about it "I went to his acting school," explains Battaglia. "After one of our classes, Burt said to me, 'Matt you're a natural. If you ever learn how to talk, you'll never stop working.' " Driving 34 hours from Florida to Los Angeles gave him alot of time to practice. "The whole way I was talking, doing 'S' osounds: Snake, whisper, escape," Battaglia recalls. "I finaly heard it when It was right. I looked in the mirror as i'm driving through New Mexico and I'm tryint to look at the placement of my teeth. When I found the right way, I kept it over and over for weeks. Some days, I have to concentrate so I don't lisp."

Six years later, he found himself starring in a feature film with... Burt Reynolds. "We were the two leads in Raven," Battaglia beams. "for me it was probaly my biggest accomplishment to date in my career. To be starring next to him was really a great thing for me."

Actually, once Battaglia arrived in Los Angeles, he worked pretty steadily, doing episodic work on TWIN PEAKS (Diane Keatong directed his peisodes) And Evening Shades. (Burt Reynolds again!), as well as a few national commercials. "I thought, 'Wow this is too easy. Im going to be a star overnight,' " Battaglia laughs good-naturely. "Luckily, I've never had to do a side job. I got my real estate license while I was in California in case things got slow. I did make some extra cash a few years ago, financing homes through a mortgage company for added income because I am, I would say, money-drive. It gae me felxibility that if I needed auditions, I could go. I was never desperate. I've been blessed, very blessed for five or six yeras."

In fact, growing up near atlanta as the youngest of four siblings, the actor describes his up bringing as pretty charmed, too. I just thought everybody had the life I had," he shrugs. "I had two great parents, three siblings. Just a normal family: You grow up, you play sports and you go to school."

Battaglia's picture-perfect family life was hattering when his mother, Nancy lost her battle with cancer.. "She was my best friend," Battaglia says softly. "Without a doubt, it was the hardest thing I've ever gone through. I left L.A. and went back for her last six months to help. My father chose not to help. My father chose not to tell her she was dying; it was a very selfish decision on all of our parts, but we didn't take the faith in her taht if we told her, she would fight. In retrosepct, I'd have told her, becauset here was so much that I didn't say and more that I didn't hear. I felt so helpless; there was nothing I could do to take away the pain."

After his mothers death, Battaglia concentrated on work, eventually landing in Salem, courtesy of the good memory of Casting Direcor Fran Bascom. "I screentested with them three years ago for the Role of Bo Brady," recalls Battaglia. "They cast a guy who passed for Peter Reckell's brother [Robert Kelker-Kelly, now ANOTHER WORLD'S Bobby/Shane]. WHen he showed up, I thought, 'That guy looks just like him.' Sure enough he got the role." When the role of drug lord J.L. King came up years later, DAYS Summoned Battaglia. "Fran cast me in the first EVENING SHADE," explains the actor. "So she must of have remembered me."

Athat wasnt' the only familiar face Battaglia encountered as the new kid on the DAYS Block -- he's already done a movie, Army of One with co-star Kristian Alfonso (Hope) and palyed Krista Allen Morrit's (Billie) fiance in Raven. "When I heard Krista got [DAYS], I said, 'I can't believe you're doing a soap.' Like it was such a bad thing. [Now] here I am doing a soap and having a great time. Who would have known?

From Soap Opera Digest - July 17, 1997, by Stephanie Sloane