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Meet the Cast: CBS's "Moonlight"
A sunny spring afternoon may not seem like the best time to visit the set of a vampire show, but Moonlight vampires don’t burst into flames at the first hint of UV light. They just have to wear sunglasses and they suffer from heat exhaustion if they spend too long in the daylight. Of course, rehydrating a vampire takes something a little stronger than Gatorade.
Moonlight stars Alex O’Loughlin as vampire Mick St. John who works as a private investigator. He’s in love with Beth Turner (Sophia Myles), a mortal woman and a reporter. Together, they solve crimes. The show also features Jason Dohring as Mick’s best friend, the hedonistic vampire Josef. Eric Winters recently joined the cast as Assistant District Attorney Ben Talbot, the guy who shows up at all the crime scenes Mick and Beth crash.
First stop on the press tour is stage nineteen, home of Josef’s office and Beth’s oceanside condo. We get a tour of the sets and settle into the living room of Beth’s condo to wait for Jason Dohring, who plays 400-year-old vampire Josef Konstin. Dohring pauses before joining us to check his hair in a mirror on the other side of the soundstage. He is possibly not aware that anyone is watching him through the blinds of Beth’s living room window. He takes several minutes to ensure that his “I couldn’t be bothered to brush it” hairstyle is properly tousled before joining us on the set.
Jason may have been born in Ohio, but his speech is pure California-boy. His speech is peppered with “like,” “whatever,” and “you know what I mean?” with frequent utterances of “dude” and an occasional “bro” or “rad.” He wears a royal blue, open collar shirt. The costume designer, Sal Perez, prefers that style for Josef. “It's a vampire show, so it's always about the neckline,” Perez says. “I would never put a vampire in a turtleneck sweater because... why?”
In the thirteenth episode of the series, Jason’s character finally gets to go into full-vampire mode. “Mick and I go kick some ass,” he says. “We come in like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and start ripping some vamps up.”
He didn’t have more than a casual interest in vampires before he got this part, but now he’s fascinated by the mythology. “I think there's a part of the human aspect of being immortal and more powerful than you probably think you are. So I think people like, see that and it kind of turns them on because they're, like - wow! Like when you see Star Wars and you're like, yeah, dude, I want to do that.”
“[Every vampire story] has different rules, so we're kind of figuring out what we are and what our style is like, which I guess is just more or less real people that live their lives and yet become vampires. My guy's a little bit eccentric. [Josef’s] been around eight lifetimes. That's just been the challenge, there's no new situations - you've seen everything before. When you give advice to Mick or someone like that it's just - 'Please. This happened to me 200 years ago. I know what you're going through.'”
Although he’s been acting since he was eight, he didn’t take his acting very seriously until a few years ago. “Probably a year before Veronica, I was like, I want to be awesome. And that was the start of it for me. I almost don't know if it was so much about acting as it was about doing good work. I want to do work that blows people away.”
One things that’s helped him develop his craft is studying the work of great actors like Marlon Brando. “Instead of watching the whole movie you watch one scene twenty times. I think that's probably the best advice you could give to an actor. You watch it and you're like, Hey, cool, he did nothing. But rewind it anyway and watch it again. Oh, look at that. Look at the way he's standing. Rewind it again. ... holy s**t. Look at all that stuff he does in three seconds, every time they’re on film, man.
“They move with grace and beauty. I think that's something that can be learned and you can pick that up and use that in your work. That definitely shaped my career, just studying those guys.” Acting is clearly something he’s passionate about. He pauses, self-consciously, and adds, “Feels like Inside the Actor's Studio, doesn't it? ‘C**ksucker’ is my favorite swear word.”
Alex O’Loughlin plays 85-year-old vampire detective Mick St. John. Today he’s filming a forties flashback for the fifteenth episode, called What’s Left Behind. We catch him between scenes. He’s wearing an authentic World War II uniform and his hair is slicked back. He speaks in his natural Australian accent instead of the American one he uses on the show.
“You see me in heavy combat. With my best friend,” Alex says of the episode. “Mick was a medic when he went in [to the military], with basic overall training. And as we will see in this episode his other firearm training is honed in the face of battle, which is the reality for so many soldiers at war. A lot of my friends have been to battle in Somalia and the Gulf War and different parts of the world and they go in specializing in one area and they come out knowing a whole lot more about a lot of stuff.”
Mick put his medical skills to use recently, when romantic rival Josh Lindsey was shot. “Mick tried to save him and he's pretty good just dealing with what he has to deal with, but that blood - there was so much blood. The urge to do what comes instinctively and naturally to him now - it was right at the surface the whole time.“ Of course, like many good-guy vamps before him, Mick doesn’t drink from humans. “He doesn't kill for pleasure anymore and he gets his blood from a blood bank.“
Alex has plenty of ideas about Mick that haven’t made it to the screen yet. “Perhaps in the many years that Mick has had and before he became a private investigator, in that transition time for him, he may have gone off and actually studied hematology - gone and done a lot of research and got like, really well educated in blood.”
“Really the limits of the storytelling possibilities for us are the limits of our imaginations,” Alex says. “The ideas are so immense and we've got so much flashback stuff to do and there's pieces of jewelry that Mick wears that he's worn from the beginning of the show that we haven't talked about yet that come from different stories as well. I mean, I've got lots of ideas. I walk into the writers' room and they go ,” he sighs heavily. “But the writers are the same. There's so many ways we can go with it and so I'm just hoping we get a season 2 because of the possibilities.”
Fans of the show have started a blood drive in order to show the executives how much they want it renewed. “It's quite overwhelming,” Alex says. He is working towards becoming a spokesperson for the American Red Cross because of the blood drive. “The amount of people and how much they support the show. How they're actually participating and stepping up and making things happen. I think it's great. Any time any of us get any kind of opportunity to do philanthropic work, I think we should take it.”
“There's been so many reasons and times for this show to be canned. When they do a pilot and they fire everyone - everyone - you learn to not have any expectations whatsoever because surprises are inevitable. That we're still going with everything that's going on, [including] the strike is a testament to what we have here in Moonlight and the cast and crew and the fans.”
Alex does his own stunts whenever possible. “I've got a harness that I use for wire work, going up in the air and doing big jumps and stuff. I really like the fighting stuff. I sort of see it as a dance, and my character should inform the way we choreograph the fight and stuff like that. I really enjoy it. I find it exhilarating.” But due to time and budget restrictions, among other things, that’s not always possible. “I have a very, very, very dedicated stunt team who do a lot of work,” he says.
Alex spends most of his working time with Sophia Myles, who plays his human love interest, Beth Turner. “She's easy to get along with, which makes a big difference when you've got to spend 18 hours a day with somebody. We spend a lot of time together, we're great mates, she's really fantastic to work with. I'm Australian, she's British - we have similar sensibilities, similar sense of humor - we grew up with the same TV - so we have all that in common.”
He was interested in acting from a very young age. “My grandmother who's ninety-three years old - she's so wonderful. She's this big. We have a special sack that we carry her around in. She told me that [when] I was a toddler, two or three, I told her 'Gran, I wanna be an actor when I grow up.'” But it took years before he decided to actively pursue it. “I was about eighteen or nineteen and showing off one day in front of a group of my friends and my good friend Steve pulled me aside and said, 'You're an actor and you don't do anything about it and you should be ashamed of yourself.' And I went away and I thought about it and I realized he was right. I realized that I'd spent my life to date walking out of cinemas and theaters and away from performances and feeling a strange sort of nostalgic, empty, sick feeling, and I could never explain it. From that moment, I pursued it and I haven't looked back.”
Eric Winters is the new guy in the cast. He plays the new Assistant District Attorney, Ben Talbot and possible romantic interest for character, Beth. Sometimes it can be tough joining an existing show mid-season. “Alex and Sophia run a great ship as far as cast goes, being that they're the two leads on the show - they're really warm. And starting from the top down, the producers, everybody has been extremely welcoming and friendly and it makes for a really comfortable environment when you're coming in midstream on a show.“
“He’s driven by his work to do whatever he has to to get the answers to solve the problems going on in town,” Eric says of his character. “I don't think he sticks to the book, necessarily, so I think it leaves for a lot of play with what and who he's willing to go after, especially to screw with Mick. He's got a big finger on the pulse of Mick and he can't quite figure it out and I think it drives him crazy.”
“I hate to say that I was one of these ‘slash’ - I was a model slash turned actor,” Eric laughs. “I went to UCLA and was a psycho-biology major. So it was totally irrelevant for acting. I took some drama and I basically got very turned on by it with the drama classes, and when I started modeling, it transitioned into a lot of different acting classes. It's a passion that's grown tremendously since I started.”
Eric has always loved vampire stories. “ Mythology - all these types of - werewolves, Dracula - have always been fascinating to me. It's just a cool genre. I think they're real,” he says in a serious tone, then laughs. “Nah, just kidding. But wouldn't it be cool if they were?“
Although ADA Talbot is human, Eric wouldn’t mind if he became a vampire. “Do I want to [turn into a vampire]? Who doesn't? I want those cool fangs on,” he laughs. “Never got to play a vampire before. Could be a fun thing.”
The press tour group is standing outside a soundstage on the Warner lot when Sophia Myles arrives for her interview. She rides up to us on a retro cruiser bike. Her hair is cut into a bob that ends just below her ears and she’s wearing a military-style jacket. She looks like someone out of a forties flashback herself, though she isn’t actually working today.
Like Alex, Sophia uses an American accent in her role as Beth Turner, although she grew up in the UK. “I'd been coming to LA since I was twenty-one,” Sophia says. ”Alex and myself have both been coming over here for the best part of a decade, knocking on people's doors and trying to get jobs. I came out last March and had a hideous trip and couldn't get arrested and I said, 'RIght, this is it. I'm sick and tired of trying to sell myself out here. They can wake up and smell the coffee. Unless I have a job, I'm not coming back.’ And about three weeks later, I got a letter through my door offering me this gig.”
“L.A.'s great - L.A.'s the most fabulous city in the world if you're employed here,” Sophia says. “It's the most awful city in the world if you're unemployed. But it's great, and we've been made to feel so welcome, both Alex and I, and we're working at Warner Brothers! It's a dream come true.”
“Al is the older brother I never had, and also the best, the best acting partner,” she says when asked about her relationship with Alex. “He really is the co-star of my dreams. I see him more than I've ever seen any boyfriend in my life. If we didn't get along it would be an absolute nightmare. But our relationship is based on humor. So we laugh a lot.”
The entertainment industry in California isn’t the same as in the United Kingdom. “It's kind of 99% about the cash and then 1% about the creative bit. So that was an adjustment. We're working for a corporation and it's strange to me the idea that we're more concerned about who's advertising in the commercial break. But I'm not interested in that. I'm interested in how many hearts and souls we're moving, in people that are seeing the show.”
The success of the show and the devotion of fans make up for a lot, though. “None of us coming into it had any kind of expectations really, and it's blown my mind how it's like the snowball effect, the success of it all. I think the one thing that we love the most is our fanbase. They're giving blood now, I hear. They're donating blood to the Red Cross to try and make sure that CBS give us a second season.”
Although she loves working on Moonlight, Sophia isn’t a big fan of vampires in general. “I've yet to kind of make the connection between why drinking blood from somebody is sexy. It doesn't quite float my boat,” she admits, though it does make the relationship between Mick and Beth more interesting. “I wouldn't recommend to any girls out there to get involved with a vampire, now that I know what it entails. Because there's issues, you know, can they have kids together? She's going to age, he's not. But they're madly in love with each other.”
She’s not ready for Beth to be turned into a vampire. “Mick hasn't yet given her any kind of solid commitment. I'd like to see a nice big diamond before she gets turned.”
Sophia got into acting when she was sixteen. “I was never interested in drama, I was very very academic at school and I had a place to read philosophy at Cambridge University, actually, which I never went to. There was a very very handsome teacher walking around the halls when I was sixteen and I was like, ‘Oh, who's that?’ He was new and he turned out to be the new drama teacher, so I was like, Well, I'll do that, then. I was doing a play as part of the exam at sixteen and Julian Fellowes, who is the script writer for Gosford Park, was producing a lot of stuff at the time. He offered me a job in a period drama for the BBC. And the minute I walked onto a film set, I was completely hook line and sinker mad in love with it.”
Final stop on the Moonlight press tour is the wardrobe department, where we meet costume designer Sal Perez. Work on a vampire presents its challenges, like constantly replacing shirts, jeans and coats destroyed by blood and special effects. But it also has opportunities for elaborate costumes that would never come up in other shows. Perez used to work on Veronica Mars, which was, as he says, “Here’s your t-shirt, here’s your hoodie.” But with Moonlight, he gets to dress eighteenth-century French nobility one week and World War II soldiers the next. And for twentieth-century flashbacks, he has the entire Warner Brothers costume archives to draw from. The studio was founded in 1918 and they keep costumes from every production in a basement at their Burbank lot.
Perez is already preparing for the final episode, though he doesn’t have a script yet. He’s working from an outline. No one on set has the script for the finale episode at the time of the visit, but they all look forward to reading what could be the last episode of Moonlight ever, or it could be a lead-in to the show’s second season.