It was a film that did it, but Michael Moss can’t remember the title. Or who was in it. Or what, exactly, it was about.
All Michael remembers was the blooper reel. That was what set him on the path to become an actor.
“I was about 10 or 11, and I was sitting in a movie theater watching a movie,” Michael recalled. “At the end there was a blooper reel. Everybody was laughing. It seemed to be really appealing.”
Michael’s talent has been more than appealing to audiences who see him perform. He plays the dual roles of Rev. Hill and Clarence for in the Oct. 22 production of “Scenes and Songs from Fannie Lou.” The latter character is complicated, having to wrestle with his conscience when ordered to perform a rather unappealing act. It’s a role that fits in well with the kind Michael seeks.
“For some reason, I’m drawn to internal conflict. I’m not sure why. I feel that really palpably with Clarence,” said Michael, who created the role of Clarence onstage for 2012 world premiere of Fannie Lou. He reprised the role in the 2014 Carnegie Hall performance of “Scenes and Songs from Fannie Lou," for which he also played the role of Rev. Hill, a local voting rights leader. The two characters are polar opposites, but the personality of each is also intricately nuanced. It is a testament to Michael’s enormous talent that he’s able to perform both parts not only convincingly, but captivatingly.
“The audience is going to be absolutely blown away when they see Michael perform, especially when he plays Clarence,” said composer/lyricist Felicia Hunter. “It’s a very, very difficult role. At one point, Clarence is on the stage all by himself acting out a scene. He has to bring the audience into what he’s doing, he has to open the door to his inner turmoil. He must do this, or else the scene doesn’t work. It’s a very, very dramatic peak within the musical. Michael performs the scene beautifully. He did from the very beginning, even at auditions. He’s just perfect in the part.”
A native of St. Louis, Michael is a graduate of Harvard University. He didn’t major in drama, though.
“They don’t have a dramatic program,” noted Michael. Instead, Michael majored in Social Studies, a concentration born out of the Fannie Lou Hamer-era civil unrest the country found itself in 50 years ago. The interdisciplinary major focuses on theory and research that address social, economic and political issues.
“I considered law briefly,” said Michael about career options he contemplated. “Then I kind of decided I want to be a lawyer on TV.”
So, drama it was.
“I was just drawn to the field. I enjoy it probably more than anything else,” said Michael, whose childhood artistic ventures include the piano, which he began playing at age 6, and participation in various choirs.
Michael appeared in well over a dozen extra-curricular productions while at Harvard. He explained that the multifacetedness of his chosen profession is what helped solidify his career choice. He said he enjoys every feature of the acting process, from reading a play to creating a character.
“I like the literary aspect of it. I like the research aspect of it, discovering different people, finding character voices. I like the technical aspect of it, breaking down a piece of writing piece by piece,” he said. “I just enjoy performing, basically. Anything and everything, all these different aspects of performing.”
After graduating from Harvard, Michael came to New York to apply his skills -- and learn more. In addition to going on auditions and performing, he began taking classes and workshops. Among several people Michael credits with helping him enhance his acting skills is acting teacher Tom Waites.
“He was a big influence in my pursuing Shakespeare,” said Michael, who recently starred as Petruchio in a Waites-directed production of The Taming of the Shrew at the Baruch Performing Arts Center.
Tony Award-winner Billy Porter, star of the current Broadway hit Kinky Boots, also has helped Michael cultivate his acting skills.
“Billy Porter had quite an influence on me,” said Michael. “I took his musical theater workshop. It definitely left an impression.”
Michael said he learned from Porter how to use less to create more.
“He has a reputation for being big, grand, over-the-top,” noted Michael. “But when you watch him act, what you see is stillness. He’s so focused, in the midst of these crazy dance numbers. That [technique] never crossed my mind. He was great.”
Michael own stellar skills will be on display in “Scenes and Songs from Fannie Lou.” The production will take place Oct. 22 at Ida K. Lang Recital Hall, Hunter College.