Interview – David Moscow

Some impulses just cannot be denied, and for David Moscow, his passion for film will not be denied. Beginning at a young age, the Bronx, New York native soon harnessed his energy into acting, and by 1988, he would land the role of a young Josh Baskin in the mega hit Comedy Big. Since going on to a lengthy list of roles including 1992’s Newsies, as well as 2003’s Honey and Just Married, plus more, Moscow has built an impressive resume. Eager for more, in recent years he turned his attention to working behind the lens as a producer and most recently making his directorial debut in the Thriller Desolation. Opening in theaters Friday, January 28, 2018, Desolation is an edge of your seat Horror flick that marks the beginning of a new chapter in Moscow’s career, and one could not be happier! Recently we caught up with the upbeat actor turned filmmaker to talk his beginnings as a child in film, his passion for the art, his vision for Desolation, plus much more. – You have been involved in acting in television and film since a very young age. First, tell us, what inspired you to pursue a career in entertainment?     

David Moscow – Once you’re in, it is sort of like molasses, you are kind of stuck here. (Laughs) You end up learning how to do something else, then you wake up 15-20 years later thinking, ‘Well, I can act, and I can direct, but unless I go back to school, that is kind of it.’ Initially, it was just really fun! I was a very rambunctious kid and my parents were looking for anything to slow me down. Today, I think I probably would be heavily medicated to calm me down. (Laughs) Back then it was – put me in gymnastics, learn to play guitar, take piano lessons, science classes, etc.

My mom clipped an announcement from a local Bronx newspaper about a film called Five Corners (1987) with Jodie Foster and John Turturro. They were looking for an 11 year old kid from the Bronx. I went down, did a good job, so they gave my name to J. Michael Bloom, which was the big New York child agency back then. I went in, and I remember they gave me a little bit of a script to read in front of them from a film that was being cast right at the moment. I remember reading it, and about six months later I saw Stand By Me (1986) and that was the scene I did in the audition. 

20th Century Fox
Disney – Wow, that is pretty wild that all happened. Did offers to you pick up from there? 

David Moscow – Pretty quickly, I started booking. I was a very brocius kid who walked in a room who was kind of fun, scrawny looking with big hair and missing a front tooth. I went in for Big (1988), that was my second audition after Five Corners. At the time, it was Robert De Niro and Penny Marshall, not Tom Hanks. I was going in to play Billy, the best friend. Then my third audition was for a recurring role in Kate & Allie, and I booked that. Then there was another short film for Columbia University and I got that.

Then there was a call to the agency that basically said Robert De Niro is not in the film, Tom Hanks is on. Penny remembered that kid from the Bronx, because she is from the Bronx, and asked if I wanted the part. It kind of went really quick. I didn’t watch TV growing up, I think my mother took the TV down for about an hour every week. We had a little old black and white, we would watch All in the Family, Mash, and that was it! I could probably count the times I saw on one hand by the time I was in the movies. I think I saw Fantasia (1940), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), and saw Star Wars (1977) at camp, that was really it.

This was before TMZ, 24-hour celebrity news channel, and all that stuff, it didn’t exist. I was just a mama’s boy living in the Bronx, running around, and had no idea what any of this meant. I don’t even think I knew who Tom Hanks was when I met him, he was just a funny, really cool dude. The first time I sort of realized what was going on, the same crew and producer shooting Working Girl (1988) the night after our shoot, they wanted to do a pick up of a couple of wild lines from me. They sent me over to Working Girl set where the sound crew was. I did some wild lines, then the producer asked me if I wanted to go up and meet Harrison Ford. I didn’t know who Harrison Ford was, I didn’t put the name to the face. I walked up on the roof and looked out and there was Hans Solo/Indiana Jones and I lost my mind! The few times in my life I was speechless, that was it right there! I was so starstruck. To this day, Harrison Ford is my favorite actor. 

That was kind of when I realized, “Oh, this is the world that I am doing, this is what this means.” Then Big was hugely successful and did an Oscar push. That was when I was exposed to the bigger world of Hollywood. Thankfully, with my parents, the focus of our family was not my childhood acting, everybody didn’t move me into LA. Two, they made me keep straight A’s – there were many battles in the Moscow house where I would throw fits and they would say you can’t audition because this report card. I think that kind of helped me a little bit more. I never left my childhood friends from the Bronx. 

David Moscow as a young Josh Baskin in 1988’s Big. © 20th Century Fox. – Very interesting story! It sounds like you had a very grounded upbringing. 

David Moscow – Yea, my dad is a workaholic but an amazing man. He is a community activist, very political, left wing politics in New York and around the country. We were always going to rallies and demonstrations. That was much more about the focus of our family. They could care less about what movie I was doing, it was more community organizing and rightly so. My mom was extremely watchful. Everybody came to my parents house to hang out. My mom, you would think she had 10 kids because she would cook for 10 people. We would have to have people over. (Laughs) It was a very warm childhood. – That is really great to hear. Going on to a lengthy list of acting credits, in recent years you have turned your attention to directing and have your directorial debut Desolation. Out in theaters Friday, January 26th, what led to your interest in directing?  

David Moscow – I think if you ask a lot of actors they would say they would love to direct. Even as a kid you would say, that’s the boss. The director and producer are the boss, how do you get to be the boss? I want to do that! That was always something that was in my mind. After being an actor for 25 years, it is an uphill battle the whole way. I think in order to be a really successful actor you have to want it 120%. You want to want it more than anyone else. You have to work really hard. There can’t be anything else you possibly want to do, this is it! I meet actors today who are young, in town, come here from far away to become famous and they want it. I look at them and think, good for you, you should do that. I don’t have that anymore! (Laughs) I enjoy lots of things now. There was a time where acting was it for me in my twenties. I wanted to be the best actor in the world, I thought I was. I ran a theater company. It was 24/7 of this art. 

What I like about directing is it still has the same problem solving and storytelling as an actor. There is a little more control and you can kind of do whatever you want. Acting, you have to wait for someone to call you – the agent calls you, the manager calls you, the director calls you, a writer gives you a script. There is always a step before you can do your art. Directing, producing, and writing, I can call up people! Now, this time I am making the phone calls and telling people, ‘Hey, I have this script, I raised a little bit of money, lets go do this.’ That is kind of how I feel about it now.

It is much easier to be in a loving, committed relationship when you are in control of your life. I am married now, about to have a child, and I can’t even imagine what it would be like if I didn’t know when my next paycheck was coming. 

Desolation (2018) still. – Yes, things change as you get older. What is important changes. Desolation is certainly a tense Thriller which relies heavily on the characters. Was that something that attracted you to the story?

David Moscow – Yea, obviously Matt McCarty told a very tight Thriller with a neat little twist. It was all based on this woman, people gaslighting her, sandbagging her, and grinding her down. Can she find the metal to fight back? I always wanted to tell a subtle story, I never wanted to bang it over anyone’s head about how damaged she was. That really had to come through Dominik García-Lorido’s performance. Also, Dominik needed to become aware of and fight back. You needed to really feel she had that inside of her to save herself, or at least die trying against the meanacings. It is so hard to talk about this because you never want to give up secrets. (Laughs) – (Laughs) Understandable. We will not give away the big reveal. All the actors, including of course Dominik García-Lorido, do a sensational job with their roles. How did you go about casting? 

David Moscow – Dom needed to be soulful, and have a darkness in her, but also this feel. Raymond J. Barry and I did Just Married (2003) together years ago. I knew back then I wanted to work with him. At that point, I think he was not too far off from doing Born on the Fourth of July (1989) and Dead Man Walking (1995). He is a legendary New York theater actor and just a really cool person. He is a painter, and since we finished the movie, I go to hang out in his studio, sit there, and paint. He is not supposed to be smoking, but he does. (Laughs) He tells me about what it was like being an actor in The Village in the ’60s. Then there was Brock Kelly who was a friend. We auditioned a number of people, branched out, and Brock was a good friend who had that charm and charisma that you knew girls would fall for him, but you knew he had that edge too. In the end we just made the offer to him; we said, ‘You are it! You are Jay!’ 

Desolation (2018) still. – It seems everything fell into place with the cast. It seems you did not go for the traditional jump scares here. Did you find your style developed and began to open up as filming went along?

David Moscow – Well the DP, Darin Moran, and I had long discussions of the type of movie I wanted to do. The producers and I had battles over the type of movie it was going to be. It is the battle between the art and commerce – What are you selling? In many ways, it is the producer’s job to come back and say, ‘Let’s make this for a smaller amount of money, what’s the cheapest way to accomplish this?’ I would come back and say, ‘I would like the camera on the dollie and slow moves down the hallway for a classic feel.’ They would ask me, ‘Why can’t you do handheld? Everyone is doing handheld these days!’ That is because it is easier to create a lot of tension with a handheld, but also it is very inexpensive because you don’t need the lighting setup or the grips to push the dollie. 

Darin Moran and I really fought for this look. Especially at the beginning because I wanted it to feel like a classic Horror movie where everyone would know where it was going to go – it had the creepy priest, the creepy little girl, the woman abandoned in the building. I wanted this style to throw people off. Then, as it started to change, we changed the look. We went from slow dollie shows and long hallway moves to being on quicker turns on sticks. Finally, when she turns around, she realizes what happens and the underworld is revealed. Then we took it off sticks and we used handheld; that was the chaos at the end. 

We had a plan, we fought for it, and I feel like, visually, we accomplished what we wanted. I think the reason why it was important was  because I didn’t want to have to explain every little thing that was happening. I wanted it to be subtle. I felt like the visual aspects would really help that.

Desolation (2018) still. – Your plan worked well, and the transitions are effective. With Desolation complete, will you be taking on some more directoral jobs? Perhaps in the Horror genre?

David Moscow – Yes! What is interesting is this took a little bit of a process. We actually sold the movie last year, and the distributor promptly went bankrupt. That is happening a lot these days. Then we had to get the movie back and start this whole journey all over again. In many ways, it was a bit helpful because the story is a bit about sexual harassment in Hollywood and abusing movement. Now we are in the middle of this MeToo movement. The process is long and I realize I want my next film to be something that is something I make, that I write. If you are going to live with something for years and make it, break it, it should be on you. 

I turned down a couple of jobs and I am in the process of developing a script called NSFW. It is vaguely related to voyeuristic stuff. At the same time, my father and I wrote a movie called Brown that is about John Brown, the abolitionist. Mora Stephens, who won an award for her film Conventioneers (2005), this will be her third feature, and we are probably shooting that in September. At the same time, on downtime when I am developing projects, I like to produce. This year I have Under the Silver Lake, which is an Andrew Garfield movie; I am the producer on it. Also To Dust with Matthew Broderick. Then there is the film Wild Nights, with an amazing director named Madeleine Olnek. It is about Emily Dickinson, and Molly Shannon plays Emily. I am excited about those! 

Parade Deck Films – It sounds like you have a lot of exciting projects on tap. 

David Moscow – I think you show up, then other people show up. They know you show up and they ask you to show up for them. Everyone starts hanging off one another. If you like working with people, they come back to you. – It will be exciting to see these films as they are released. Last question, what are some of your favorite Horror and Sci-Fi films?

David Moscow – Obviously I like classics. I would say because I was not a filmgoer as a child, a lot of the films I saw were some of the bigger movies. I still think there are some amazing Horror and monster movies. You look at things like The Terminator (1984), Jaws (1975), Alien (1979), and The Shining (1980), these were the movies I saw on Sunday afternoon at channel 11. Those burned their way into my brain. I also think a lot of the stuff going on today, like James Wan, is unbelievable. He is an incredibly talented filmmaker who can force emotion and scares.

In preparation for Desolation, I watched The Conjuring (2013) and Insidious (2010). Amateurs borrow and professionals steal. I was trying to steal enough of his tricks. (Laughs) I knew in terms of acting and storytelling I was going to be alright, I have been doing that 30 years. In terms of the technique and technical aspect of creating scares and the mood, that is something I had to really learn.

 A lot of the Blumhouse movies are really great. I did Vacancy 2: The First Cut (2008), which was directed by a friend of mine named Eric Bross. When I was not in front of the camera I was standing behind him asking why he was doing all this stuff, peppering him with questions. I can go on, I love movies! Here is a couple that are very interesting, they are not Horror or Sci-Fi in the classic sense, they are terrifying and scary like any Horror movie. There is a film called 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007) and it is about a woman trying to get an abortion in Romania before the wall came down… you are on the edge of your seat, it is a thriller! There is also this film by French Director Jacques Audiard called Read My Lips (2001). Anyway, I can go on. 

20th Century Fox
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