ScreenPicks recently posed some questions to Calvin Klein model Mitchell Slaggert who makes his debut feature performance as the title character of the new film Moss. Set in a coastal area of North Carolina, as the film opens, Moss is celebrating his 18th birthday. Moss’ mother died in childbirth so needless to say the day is loaded with conflicting emotions for him.

As the day begins, in the midst of a tense exchange, Moss’ father (Billy Ray Suggs) asks his son to deliver some medication to Moss’ grandmother. While delivering the medicine, Moss takes a detour and visits his friend Blaze (Dorian Cobb) who is dealing with his own issues of loss and is living on a rustic houseboat. Moss also encounters Mary (Christine Marzano), a free-spirited young woman, camping on the shore. She leads Moss through a transformative emotional journey.

Melville states in the opening chapter to Moby Dick that “as everyone knows, meditation and water are wedded forever.” Directed by Daniel Peddle, much of Moss takes place on or near water and the film does indeed have a meditative atmosphere, enhanced by the music of Ian Hatton and sound editing of Justin Fox.

How did you become involved with Moss and what themes do you think the movie is exploring?

Mitchell Slaggert: This film evolved out of my friendship with Daniel who discovered me. We share a similar background as we both grew up in NC in nature so we have that deep love for the earth. We both know what it feels like to disappear into the woods for hours on end, hunting, fishing, or just exploring and how this can do wonders for your soul. The character I play, Moss, goes through a coming of age, a transformation. He starts the film as a boy who is still a virgin. He is struggling with his pain from losing his mother when he was born and having a father who has never healed from this. But by the end of the film, he has evolved into a man. It’s all because of this chance encounter he has with an older woman who guides him through a rite of passage so by the end of the film he understands life and himself better.

Do you think that your character suffers from an irrational but understandable sense of guilt that his mother died while giving birth to him? Do you think Moss is able to resolve any dark thoughts or emotions during the course of the film, and if so, how?

Slaggert: I think until he meets Mary he’s unable to make his peace with his past. He doesn’t have the tools. But after she opens him up he can see the bigger picture. That life and death are interlinked. That loss is part of love. That his Dad is doing the best he can. If he lets the past go he can move on from the pain. Like he says at the end of the film, “on the river in the morning the shore is always new.”

What was it like to work with director Daniel Peddle?

Slaggert: I couldn’t have asked for a better first-time experience shooting a movie! Making Moss was like creating a family. We all worked so hard and we all wore many different hats. It was not your typical film set. Everyone did anything needed. When I was not shooting I helped with gear or however I could. I think this was an amazing way to start. It’s like I saw how film can be art and not just about making money. Daniel is an artist 100%. He’s the real deal. He sacrifices for his vision. I respect that.

Photo: Mitchell Slaggert (L) and Director Daniel Peddle

Were there any particularly memorable incidents or challenges that occurred during the course of filming Moss? How was your experience working with fellow actors Christine Marzano, Dorian Cobb and Billy Ray Suggs?

Mitchell Slaggert: Well I almost got bitten by a water moccasin wading around in the swamp moving the canoe when it got stuck! We all saw it pop its head up out of the water and I just jumped back. Plus we had those gators lurking around… My mentor and good friend [Billy Ray Suggs] played my dad in the film. Daniel cast him off my Instagram and Billy and I have a great bond so this helped me feel comfortable. We were really able to understand each other’s roles in the film and being first-time actors.

Christine Marzano was the only actor on the film who had experience and this was a true blessing. She really showed me how to up my game and tricks to learning your lines and just some basic stuff that takes a lot of practice to develop, so I appreciate that she was so gracious with her guidance.

Dorian was just that dude you know. That guy cracking jokes, playing beats and rhyming. At the LA Film Festival Q&A, someone asked how he got into character and he said, “I just got on that raft and scratched my balls”. You don’t forget a guy like that!

Do you feel that your prior career as a model helped prepare you for work as an actor?

Slaggert: Sure. It gets you used to understand that the image of you is not yourself. Also, it prepared me to be comfortable in front of the camera.

Do you plan to continue both acting and modeling in the future? Would you like to share with us what your future projects are?

Slaggert: I just feel blessed by this whole experience. I’m seeing where it takes me while prepping myself as best as possible.

Is there anything, in general, you would like to tell audiences about Moss?

Slaggert: I like how this film portrays “backwoods” folks in a fresh new light. It shows their humanity. It shows you that people who live off the land are really connected to nature and they find their meaning in it. In the film, Moss spends his life basically surrounded by Mother Nature. This is a special and beautiful way to live that deserves respect.