Growing up in New York City, Erin Moriarty always felt the urge to act. At 15, she got her onscreen break with a multi-episode arc on “One Life to Live,” followed by a formative indie experience on the Sundance coming-of-age film “The Kings of Summer” in 2013. In the years since, Moriarty has shared the screen with the likes of Viggo Mortensen (in “Captain Fantastic”) and Woody Harrelson (in “True Detective”) before securing a series regular role in Amazon Prime Video’s “The Boys,” on which she plays Starlight, the newest hero in a group of the corrupt and superpowered.
How did you get your first big break? Who was the casting director who cast you?
I started working in New York City when I was 15 years old. I got a commercial agent because I really wanted to act, but my parents—especially my mom—were really intent on me focusing on school at least for the remainder of high school. I think they recognized at that age, they weren’t sure whether indulging in my desire to act would be an indulgence and a phase or the beginning of a career, which I resented in the moment. In retrospect, I appreciate a lot, because I think 15 would’ve been too young to be thrown into the entertainment industry. A lot of child actors can handle it; I don’t think I could have. I started out with a commercial agent just so I would miss school for a couple days here and there. I ended up booking a soap opera when I was 15, working here and there on guest appearances on “Law and Order: SVU.”
“This is way easier said than done, but I think everyone should implement this: Stay present in the experiences you’re having with your job. Focus on the day-to-day instead of the outcome of the job.”
I ended up getting a manager out in Los Angeles. When I was 18, I booked an indie film called “The Kings of Summer.” The casting director was Jeanne McCarthy. It was a wonderful script. It was a first-time feature-length film director, [and] the entire cast, or a majority of the lead cast, were my age at that time; we were all about 18 and relatively new to the industry. We went into it as a passion project and we didn’t expect any sort of outcome, which is the ideal project because you’re a bit more present with the experience. If it does do well, it’s a pleasant surprise. We shot the film, had the best time, and it ended up going to Sundance and doing really well and developing a bit of a cult following. That was the first project I was a part of that would've “put me on the map.” It was so amazing to be that young and be able to go to Sundance. It definitely catalyzed a deeper interest in acting and a solidification of my pursuit of it as a career. Until that point, I was still toying with the prospect of going to college and doing something else.
Thinking back on that time, what advice would you give your younger self?
This is way easier said than done, but I think everyone should implement this: Stay present in the experiences you’re having with your job. Focus on the day-to-day instead of the outcome of the job. Your performance will benefit from it. Your motivation to work will be simply rooted in the experience itself as opposed to the potential outcome. I would also say that you should trust that the jobs that you don’t get were not meant for you. That might sound reductive, but I do in retrospect realize that a lot of the jobs that I wanted so badly and didn’t get were simply not meant to be mine. The actresses who got the roles always killed it. The roles that were meant to be mine were waiting for me. There were some roles when I was really young that would’ve been “star-making” roles I thought were my goals, but in reality I wasn’t ready for that level of notoriety yet. So, really trust the process and know that you’re meant to book what you’re meant to book and try to your best ability to let the rest go and let the rest be determined by fate and casting directors, frankly.
“I’ve walked out of so many auditions feeling like a bad actor, but I think you have to keep in mind that is not reflective of your ability to act. You can be a brilliant actor and not be able to nail it.”
Do you have an audition horror story you could share with us?
Auditioning has never been a forte of mine, which makes me very grateful that I’ve even gotten to the level that I’m at. I don’t like auditioning. I find the environment to be really sterile and not conducive to being able to put on a good performance or even have fun. I’ve started to have a little more fun with it, because I’ve realized it’s going to be a fairly large faction of my career. But I would say I’ve blown half of the auditions I've been on. The reality is, as a young woman, or a woman in general, we’re asked to cry in auditions, I would say, probably 10 times more than men are because vulnerability among women, for some reason, in film is valued and shown more than amongst men. The amount of times I’ve had to go into an audition room and whether it’s auditioning for a horror film and I’m being chased by a killer or I’m sobbing at the death of a loved one, I’ve walked out of so many auditions feeling like a bad actor. I think you have to keep in mind that is not reflective of your ability to act. You can be a brilliant actor and not be able to nail it. You need to keep in mind that everyone is in the same boat as you, and the majority of people have everything working against them that’s also working against you in those very sterile environments.
What’s the wildest thing you ever did to get a role?
This is a testament to my manager, who encouraged me to do this: My first audition in L.A. ever, I went in and I blew the audition. It was for a horror film, the audition called for a lot of emotion, and I wasn’t able to manufacture it. I had a feeling I could do it, I had a feeling that the role was right for me and I hadn’t shown them the extent of my potential to portray it. I got feedback that I was just green and not right for it. I said, “OK, let me put myself on tape for it. Let me try one more time, I promise, if they give me the opportunity, I'll be able to show them a little bit more of what they want. Let me just try.” I went and self-taped for it at home, I went back to New York City, and I think I took maybe five hours on taping just so that they would watch me a second time and reconsider me. Those five hours ended up paying off, because I ended up testing for the role. The movie didn’t actually end up being made, but I ended up testing for it simply because I went back, self-taped for it for five hours. I spent a grueling five hours to the degree of feeling like I had run a marathon of just sobbing. I always encourage people to do that if they feel in their gut that the role is right for them and they didn’t do a good audition. I always ask to do a tape at home, and more than once it’s gotten me to the final round of consideration when initially my audition wouldn’t have gotten me a proper audition.
What is it about self-taping that really works for you?
First of all, when it comes to a self-tape, just like auditions, you’ve got to prepare the hell out of them. You have to know the lines so well that they’re embedded into your brain so at that point you’re able to let them go. I’m really lucky that I have a lot of really good friends who are really good actors. It’s the same thing as when you’re on set; the better the actor is in the scene you’re in, the more you’re able to work off of them and the less you have to work. I have a few friends I really trust in terms of their feedback and I really trust the concept of having an external perspective of someone you really trust, whether it be a friend or a manager you’re able to send your tape into and get some feedback before you send it in. I try and aim for that. I definitely think it’s a matter of picking a great reader who you can focus on, work off of them, [and] have your lines so well memorized that you’re not thinking about them, you’re just listening to the reader and you’re able to engage with them as if it’s real life.
How did you first get your SAG-AFTRA card?
I was on “One Life to Live” when I was 15 years old. I played a cheerleader and I was involved in a little bit of a star-crossed lovers type of thing. It definitely gave me the bug. I had not acted on screen at all before that job.
What has playing Starlight on “The Boys” added to your acting skills?
This is an unprecedented experience for me. I’ve never been able to go to Season 2 as a regular on a show before. The process of being able to play a role over the course of two seasons and really feeling like I’m able to get comfortable in her skin has been one that has been invaluable to me, because it’s allowed me to live in the shoes of a character for an extended period of time and live her history. I’m able to use that experience of shooting Season 1 to hopefully allow her to become a more nuanced character in Season 2. Nerves still play into it, and every season they give me challenges to work with that I have to step up to that I'm nervous about—but I wouldn't have it any other way, it’s the only way you grow.
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