Think One Tree Hill is the only place to catch Cullen Moss? Not true, my friends, not true. In the month of February alone, Moss had two movies come out in theaters, the based-on-a-novel Dear John and the based-on-a-true-story Blood Done Sign My Name.
But there’s no denying Moss is most familiar to us TDWs for his role as Junk Moretti, a character we first met way back in 2003 in the One Tree Hill pilot. In our exclusive interview, Moss talks about his longevity on the show, improvising in Dear John and the connection he has to Bethany Joy Galeotti’s The Notebook musical.
TeenDramaWhore: Do you remember what your audition for One Tree Hill was like?
Cullen Moss: Yes, I do. It was a surprise. It started with a call from my agent that the [casting agency] Fincannons wanted to see me. I just this past year found the piece a paper where I wrote the details down. I wrote “Jump McCready, 17-year-old baller.” This was when I was 27! My agent, she even told me, “Now, I asked them if they knew how old are you” and she asked if they were sure they wanted to see me and they did. I went in and I found out it was not Jump McCready. But for some reason, that name, Jump McCready, made me go in and do this character-y New York dialect. I guess they liked it. The line was about somebody stinkin’ and needed deodorant. It sounded like something from The Bowery Boys in a 1940s movie. Or somebody out of The Sandlot. It was weird. But when I went back for the call-back, I said, “You know, I can lose that accent. I don’t have to do that” because I realized that it was supposed to be set in North Carolina, and they were like “No, no, no. Are you from New York?” and I said I wasn’t. I forget who was there. [Creator] Mark Schwahn and…
TDW: [Executive producers] Mike Tollin? Brian Robbins?
Moss: Yeah, I think they were both there. I’m pretty sure Brian Robbins was. Anyway, they were like, “No. Keep it. We like it.” So I did. At the time, I was supposed to go over to Japan to visit my brother who was living there but my agent kept saying, “You’re still in the running. You’re still in the running.” It was this long process. So I had to postpone the trip to Japan and then the final audition was a shoot-out. They set up a basketball hoop outside the casting office. I was by no means 17 and by lesser means a baller. I would play little pick-up games with my friends but I was terrible. I had poor form. I would describe my court-style as frantic. I practiced the night before the shoot-out and I tried to pass to one of my friends and my back went out! I was just feeling decrepit and old and useless. But the morning of, I stretched it out and kind of played through the pain. It was down between me and a black guy for the role. He had played high school basketball and stuff but, for some reason, he wasn’t hitting his shots. I was talking trash, needlessly because I was horrible, but all my garbage I was shooting was going in! I remember Mark Schwahn saying, “Your form is horrible! How are you making these shots?” but I couldn’t miss that day. Then I got the part.
TDW: Did you ever expect all these years later that your character would still be around?
Moss: No, I didn’t. Vaughn Wilson, who is such an awesome and cool dude, plays Fergie. Usually when we would shoot, it was like smoke and fire. One of us wasn’t working unless the other was. They would call us in together, Junk and Fergie, Junk and Fergie. I was working at the studios, actually, during the second or third seasons, in the lighting and grip department. I was in the shop, inventorying equipment and fixing equipment. I would deliver stuff to the set of One Tree Hill and try to get the scoop–was I in the next script? I remember somebody at the beginning of the third season saying, “Oh, yeah. You’re coming up soon” and then they looked at the script later and were like, “No, I think it was just Fergie in the script.” It happened another time, too, where he was working and I wasn’t so I thought maybe they were just done with me and I wanted to find out. So I e-mailed Mark Schwahn and said, “Hey, if you’re done with me, I understand. I don’t want to be on edge here. Just let me know if that’s it. If that’s it, that’s fine and thank you for keeping me around as long as you did.” He answered back–and he’s such a sweet dude–he said “You know, honestly, we really don’t know. We don’t have a point of view for your character. We don’t know where we’re going to go so I don’t have an answer for you but that might be it for you. Oh, and you’re not looking so high school.” And I understood that.
So I wrote him back and pitched an angle. I don’t know if it had anything to with his ultimate decision but I pitched it that maybe Junk was this older loser guy. They had never shot me at the high school. I said maybe he’s the older loser guy who hangs out with the kids on the River Court. He never really grew out of his high school years. He doesn’t have anyone his own age so he’s clinging to this group and maybe he’s the guy who buys the beer. I didn’t know. But I pitched it to him and he brought me back in and I thought it was in that capacity, as the older loser guy who found his niche with these guys. I thought it was that until they had me going to prom [Episode 4.15, Prom Night At Hater High] and graduation [Episode 4.20, The Birth And Death Of The Day]. I was like, “Okay. So I actually graduated. I actually went to prom.” They actually had Fergie and I go together. We didn’t have dates. So we walked in together.
Mark Schwahn, he’s a loyal guy. Our characters certainly have not been so integral that they couldn’t have just been dropped at this point. There wouldn’t have been some huge outcry from the general public that watches One Tree Hill, I don’t think, if Junk and Fergie disappeared. But they did keep us around. I was surprised when I found out that there were people who actually knew who Junk was, that people did watch the show that intently. “They’re the old crew. They’re the River Court kids.” I think Schwahn saw that, too, and felt the need to bring back those roots, every now and then, to the River Court and to where the pilot began, the story began. Throughout whatever changes have gone on, he’s brought us back to represent those roots and certainly occasionally for comic relief. It is kind of a surprise that seven years later I’m still playing Junk and that, in the small capacity I’m in, people know who Junk and Fergie are and appreciate us. It makes me feel like maybe if I was gone, I would be missed. I don’t know.
TDW: I think it’s remarkable because the show has had tons and tons of supporting characters over the years and you two have outlasted nearly all of them.
Moss: Yeah. I think part of it might be due to the fact that we’re local actors. They don’t have to fly us in. So part of it may be a budgetary issue. But Mark’s been loyal and kept us in mind when there’s gatherings and weddings and stuff. He’s like, “Even if you don’t have lines in the episodes, you guys need to be there. You’re part of the crew.” He hasn’t forgotten the roots of the show and that’s cool. While we’ve never come in and had very specific storylines or characters arcs, he’s felt us somewhat integral and necessary, I guess.
TDW: Your most recent episode was the John Hughes tribute [Episode 7.15, Don’t You Forget About Me]. Were you a fan of Weird Science and Home Alone before then?
Moss: I was with Weird Science. I hadn’t watched Home Alone in its entirety until this last year. I showed it to my six-year-old son and we got to enjoy that together. But I was a big fan of Weird Science.
TDW: What was it like filming those scenes with Jackson [Brundage, Jamie]?
Moss: It was a lot of fun. He’s always fun to work with. He was such a cool addition to the show when he came in. It’s cool whenever the cameras stop rolling and we get to horse around with him. Actually in the paintball scene [in 7.15], there was a point in the shooting where they used stunt guys. Vaughn and I took the first few hits with special effects guys firing the paintball guns because they were not entirely trusting of Jackson’s aim, not to hit us in the face or the cracks of our padding. But once they got the stunt guys in our places, they let him have a turn with the gun and he did not miss. He was nailing them repeatedly. He was a good shot.
TDW: On some level, that doesn’t surprise me. He’s proven he’s good at like every single thing the show has handed him.
Moss: He is. He’s such a little fella. I’m sure his percentage on the basketball court is better than mine. He puts up these wild shots and they go in. He’s good. He’s a sporty little fella. He’s just a lot of fun. I’ve been doing this show longer than my son’s been around. He was born [in season 1] so it’s an interesting timeline, just to think I’ve been doing this show as long as its taken to this little human being to become who he is. The point of that being is that I’ve got a six-year-old kid and he’s a little younger than Jackson, but I love kids and interacting with them. So Jackson is also a joy to be around.
TDW: Have you heard anything about the chances of there being an eighth season?
Moss: Probably as much as you have. I’ve got two theories. One, we will get an eighth season and my second theory is that we won’t.
TDW: Very scientific.
Moss: That’s as far as it goes. I really have no idea. I know the show was doing well with ratings towards the beginning of this season. I don’t know quite where it is right now. I don’t know who wants it, who wants to continue. I don’t know who doesn’t. So I don’t know what will factor into it but I’d love for there to be another season, of course for myself and for the Wilmington crew, too. From the PAs to the DPs, the grips, the electrics–that’s kind of the only gig in town right now outside of independents. I’m hoping all the talented guys on the crew can stay employed another season. And hopefully by the time the show has seen its last episode, there will be enough other work in town due to the film incentives that were recently passed so they can stay employed and stay in their own town.
TDW: I have to congratulate you on the success of Dear John. You guys took down Avatar in your first week!
Moss: We did. Our special unit dudes tackled those blue aliens. That was a shock. It was pretty cool to be a part of that.
TDW: For that audition, did you go in for a specific one of John’s army pals or a generic one? Because I thought they all had unique personalities but I wasn’t sure if that was determined by the script or if you brought that to the role.
Moss: Well, it was a little bit of both. To answer the first question, I originally auditioned for one of Savannah’s friends. And then they brought me in for Rooster, who was who I got cast as. As far as what I brought to it, that was something again with the name. When I hear names, I put voices to them and with Rooster I decided maybe he was a Southern guy and brought that to the audition. I got called back and the director Lasse Hallstrom was there and I said, “Now I don’t know if you want him to be Southern” but he liked what I had done. He asked where I was from and I said North Carolina and he said, “Oh, but you don’t have an accent?” and I said, “I do but I don’t have the accent I auditioned with.” I made him a little more Southern.
Hallstrom did let us bring a lot to it. Very little of what you heard my character saying was scripted. I’m trying to think of any of it was. There was “requesting to extend my stay as well, sir”–that was scripted. But he would let us improvise a lot. There’s that scene where John drops his letters in the mud before he burns them off. Hallstrom decided at the last minute, “Let’s pop this shot off” and he asked if I would walk by and say something. I asked, “Anything in particular?” and he said, “No, maybe you can just say something smart-ass to him, make a little joke about it. Or ask him what’s wrong. It’s up to you.” So we went over a few variations of it and did it. And the scene in the humvee just before John gets in a firefight, there was this whole little written monologue about being a little upset about being a soldier sent overseas and there not being any combat where we were. We tried that and he said, “No, it sounds too soldier-y, too military. Can you just tell a story?” And I said, “What kind of story?” “I don’t know. Any kind of story. Something personal.” So I told part of a story from a buddy of mine, a fishing story about a catfish eating a squirrel and the squirrel getting away and swimming to the shore. So I did that in one take and I was just ad-libbing in the surroundings for other stuff. So we all did get to bring a lot of our stuff to it. Hallstrom would just try to breathe life into it by saying, “Forget the script. Here’s the situation. Act as you would naturally.”
TDW: You also have a new movie out now, Blood Done Sign My Name. What can you tell me about that?
Moss: That was a great experience because it was the only time I’ve played an actual real-life person. It’s a true story. It’s based on the memoirs of Tim Tyson. He observed the racial tensions in Oxford, North Carolina in the 1970s, where riots and protests came about when three local white men–a business owner and his two sons–weren’t convicted of brutally beating and shooting to death a young black Vietnam veteran who had just gotten back. I was cast as one of those sons, Larry Teel. It’s an important story. As a North Carolinian and as well as an American, you don’t hear all these stories. You hear about the civil rights movement and it’s kind of confined to this time in the ‘60s but you find out shit was not fixed in the ‘70s and it’s still not. That should be common knowledge but you don’t hear these little stories. It’s not a part of North Carolina history. They teach North Carolina history in their schools and you don’t hear about this. It was cool to be a part of a true story. There were people on set that were there during the riots, during that time, and saw the tension after these three men went on trial and got off scot-free when there were witnesses. It was really interesting. It was a great experience.
TDW: You also worked with fellow One Tree Hill stars on it.
Moss: Yeah, I worked with Lee Norris [Mouth] and Michael May [Chuck]. It was cool to have Lee there. It was comforting.
TDW: Speaking of One Tree Hill stars, you also narrated The True-Love Tale of Boyfriend and Girlfriend, which starred Hilarie Burton [Peyton] and Austin Nichols [Julian].
Moss: Yes, I did. That was really cool. [Writer-director] Nick [Gray] and Hilarie asked me to come in and do that. I think they both had seen me do really broad kind of character-y voices from different things that I have done so they wanted me to come in and provide them with this crusty narrator guy. It was a lot of fun to kind of disappear into that voice.
TDW: If I didn’t know that you were the narrator, I never would’ve guessed.
Moss: Well, thank you. We toyed around with a couple of voices but that was pretty much the first idea and they liked it. It was like a Southern-fried William S. Burroughs.
TDW: I think I read that your girlfriend was on One Tree Hill recently.
Moss: Yes! She’s awesome. Madison Weidberg. She is an incredible actress and quite a talented actor. We actually met doing a play in Wilmington. We met [in 2008] during Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical–real high-brow stuff. But it was a blast. Anyway, she was involved with The Notebook musical, the workshop that Bethany Joy [Galeotti, Haley] did. She played a couple of characters in that and she did a great job. She and Bethany Joy got along really well and so when the opportunity came for back-up singers for the episode where Haley has her big concert [Episode 7.13, Weeks Go By Like Days], she called upon some of the girls that had been in The Notebook.
TDW: That’s very cool. What’s next for you?
Moss: Since Dear John, I got to do a part in The Conspirator, which is a Robert Redford-directed film about the trial of Mary Surratt after the assassination of Lincoln. I play a senior officer in the war department and I get to have a nice scene with Kevin Kline–and under the director of Robert Redford, so that was amazing! To be there and looking at Robert Redford’s face telling me what to do–that was a real thrill. Then I went down not long ago and had a day on The Hungry Rabbit Jumps, which is a Nicholas Cage thriller. It’ll be out in a year or so. And I just got cast in Army Wives; that’s a Lifetime show that shoots in Charleston. There’s a possibility that that’ll be a recurring role.
TDW: That’s exciting.
Moss: Yeah, I just shot that this past week. I guess that’s the next thing that will be seen. Vaughn and I worked on another One Tree episode about Skills [Antwon Tanner] coming back and some drama there with Mouth.
TDW: Is Antwon in that episode?
Moss: Oh, yeah. He is.
TDW: That’s great. We’ll keep our eyes peeled for that and everything else you have going on.
Moss: I’ve got a couple pilots out there that are kind of little independent ventures that I’m hoping will come to fruition. I shot a pilot called Hardwell with some good friends. It’s a comedy we shot and pitched to FX. Nothing’s happened with it yet but we’re crossing our fingers but not holding our breath. And there’s a golf pilot I shot with some guys in town here about a golf pro. Wilmington is really cool. There’s so many creative, talented people in this town that just drum up [projects] when there’s not any big things in town. The independent film scene in town is thriving and alive and will hopefully get realized and make some dough. When there’s nothing big happening, you can usually find something to do, something to act in, some way to work whether it’s for free and the thrill of the project or what.
TDW: I wish you the best of luck of everything.
Moss: Well, thank you so much. Thanks a lot, Shari.
Come back next Sunday for another exclusive interview!