Setting the Stage: 1997 alum Michael Mosley reveals his path to primetime

Maya Amjadi/News Editor

Act I Scene 1. (lights up on the 1995 CFHS production of “Father of the Bride”) Junior Michael Mosley takes the stage as a bombastic wedding planner named Mr. Massoula.

He is an “out there” man with a crazy personality.

Lights are on him as he walks about in a purple suit jacket and a clipboard in front of an intently watching audience.

“I loved the character of it.

I think that is when I decided I liked playing characters,” the 33-year old actor said about his role in this CFHS play.

Mosley, Iowa-born and raised, now lives in Los Angeles as a working actor.

He has played roles in commercials, TV series, movie shorts, movies and off-Broadway productions.

Although the parts started out small, he now plays a lead character in the new TV series “Pan Am” on ABC.

He looks back on his days from Cedar Falls fondly.

One of the reasons he likes acting so much is the different points of view he can portray.

Mosley recalls how Cedar Falls High School allowed him to experience this comprehensively for the first time, particularly the influence of English teacher Marguerite DeMoss.

“Yeah, she is awesome.

She introduced me to great readings.

Reading those books helped me break out of my own brain and, in a sense, see the world through a different point of view,” Mosley said.

His advice for students currently in her classes is to “read everything she gives you.”

DeMoss remembers Mosley quite vividly as well, “He is one of those that is a lasting memory,” said the Great Books I and II teacher who had him in class.

“We do some drama activities in Great Books II, and it was just so clear how talented he was.

He never met an audience he didn’t like.

And he was awesome at [all-school] assemblies,” DeMoss said.

“You could tell he just loved doing it too.”

She recalled a specific memory in which the class was going to do some improvisation before discussing a Hemingway short story called “The End of Something.”

She selected two students for a scene and told each their part separately.

“I took Mike into a room and discussed [the situation].

His objective was to break up with the girl.”

The girl’s objective was to ask him to marry her, although he was not aware.

“He was hysterical in trying to break up with her.

The look on his face was priceless.

In the scene it was like it was really happening to him,” DeMoss said.

“I give him all the credit in the world on following his dream.

It took a lot of courage.”

Mosley experienced having to juggle many extra-curricular activities and manage time well, which help him in his profession as an actor.

“I had band, plays, newspaper and yearbook.

I tried to keep busy and still balance things,” said Mosley, who was also elected student body president and homecoming king.

Mosley co-founded the student group, Harmony, which is still in existence and teaches about accepting and celebrating differences.

“When we first started, we wanted different groups to break down their walls,” said Susan Langan, whose first year as a guidance counselor at the high school was Mosley’s first year as a student there.

“When we had the first Harmony dialogue, two student facilitators would go into a classroom and cover diversity issues.

Mosley came back from a really good discussion all fired up,” Langan said.

The kids in the classroom he entered had an open and good discussion, and he couldn’t believe that he was able to break through to them, according to Langan.

“He never met somebody he couldn’t talk to or be friendly with.”

Langan said, “It’s so funny seeing him on TV after knowing him at 16 years old. He still has that smile, that sparkle to him.”

Harmony started after Langan and another teacher took four sophomores, including Mosley, to a conference in St. Louis called the Socialization of a Culturally Diverse Child.

“He took advantage of every opportunity, and he wasn’t afraid to take risks; he was always willing to try and look at things from a different perspective.

He walked the talk and was a hard worker,” Langan said.

Now whether he is working for his show, looking for his next one or getting to the gym, Mosley is able to manage it all.

“That comes from those days of being so busy [at Cedar Falls High School] and loving it,” Mosley said.

In the acting business, there may be five or six auditions a day according to Mosley.

“All these lines are in your head.

One’s a cop, one’s a junkie … and you’re running all over the place trying to keep them all straight,” Mosley said.

But his acting experiences did not start at Cedar Falls High School.

“Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing” was the first play Mosley ever acted in at age 12.

“He had a cousin who got him involved,” said his mother, Rita Mosley.

Mosley received the part of the lead’s friend, but when the actor cast as the lead said he didn’t want it, Mosley was called again and offered the part.

“It scared Michael.

He said, ‘I don’t know if I can do a lead,’ but from then on he loved it,” Mrs. Mosley said.

Mosley said it was during that first play that something clicked in his head and he thought, “This is it. This is what you’re here for.”

The light bulb lit up.

“I don’t know if I was any good in the play, but I had fun,” Mosley said.

He started studying and watching old movies.

He was in several plays throughout his teenage years at the Black Hawk Children’s Theatre and also one at the Waterloo Community Playhouse.

At Peet Junior High he was in “Tom Sawyer” as Tom and “Fiddler on the Roof” as Tevye.

He had two drama teachers there who were very influential to him.

“I remember one of them telling me ‘You might be able to make a living out of this some day.’

It was always something I could do.

They did so much to push me in the direction to do this for a living.

Secretly I [would] kind of fantasize about how to achieve that goal and what steps I would take to reach that goal,” Mosley said.

Out of high school, Mosley attended the University of Northern Iowa for one semester.

“I knew I had to go someplace, to one of the coasts.

It [UNI] wasn’t the right fit for me.

I was reckless.

I had too much I wanted to do,” Mosley said.

He didn’t want to spend time building the sets or learning to work the sound and light board.

“I wanted to act, but I didn’t have the patience for it,” Mosley said.

At age 19, Mosley and his buddy Nick Narrigon bundled up a car and drove to Boston.

They were poor and Mosley got a job working in a cafe. He soon learned Boston was a waste of time for him.

Mosley and his parents heard of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts located in New York.

He sent in his resume and set up an audition in New York, and in the summer of 1988 he was accepted.

He was invited to a showcase his last year at the academy where he got his first agent.

Mosley was cast in parts on TV.

“They start out small.

‘Low life number one’ [may be] the role, but at least they have a name,” Mrs. Mosley said.

Mosley has had to work other jobs to pay rent when he was first starting out.

“You’re still bar-tending and waiting tables by day and running around memorizing lines by night,” Mosley said. “He had to work hard, go to auditions and stick to it. There were times I said ‘do you really wanna do this,’ but he stuck with it,” Mrs. Mosley said.

Mosley auditioned for commercials early on, although he didn’t like it very much.

“That’s a tough one. You hold up a number, and you are number 182, and the guy on the right of you is 181, and the guy on the left of you is number 183.That’s just a number. It’s all looks,” he said.

He would just do something crazy when it came to his turn and then walk out and never think about it again unless contacted.

He does voice-overs now and is still getting paid for his Bacardi Rum commercials.

After Mosley was in an independent film called “Swimmers,” he got a new agent from the Gersh Talent Agency, which led to bigger rooms and bigger roles.

It wasn’t until his series “Kidnapped” in 2006 that he could finally lay down the apron. “From that point on, I’ve been able to make money acting.”

The audition process is tough, and Mosley can testify to that.

“You audition for these things five or six times. You [audition separately] in front of the director, creative team, studio and network. Each time you get closer, the room gets bigger and scarier, and they are all clicking their pens in their suits. It’s really scary; it can be a little heartbreaking. It’s a hustle,” Mosley said. “You are going to strike out seven out of 10 times. Keep your head down and don’t worry about the results; let the results come.”

Mrs. Mosley said coming out of the Academy, they told Mosley that this career has a 98 percent rejection rate. “You’ve got to be really thick-skinned. I couldn’t take it,” Mrs. Mosley said.

No one ever told Mosley he couldn’t be an actor, “except maybe me telling myself after three months of horrible auditions,” Mosley said.

He has learned to shake it off quickly now.

Mosley said, “You have to have crocodile skin, and you can’t read stuff online. It’s tough sometimes, so you’ve got to be tough with it.”

Mosley has triumphed his nerves in auditions. “The more you work in the business and do different things, those go away.”

Mrs. Mosley recalls when she used to help Mosley learn his lines as a child for the children’s theater. She was even in some of those plays with him.

Mosley’s routine of memorizing lines has since changed. Now Mosley reads his part over and over and makes sure it makes sense.

“You aren’t trying to memorize a line. It’s a thought. They should connect and respond,” Mosley said. He also points out he feels what the thoughts are. If the thought is, “I’m going to have a slice of pizza,” he actually needs to feel hungry.

Being an actor may prove to be challenging.“It’s got its roses and thorns,” Mosley said.

His wife, Anna Camp, is currently filming “Pitch Perfect,” so the two of them have to travel by plane frequently and make time for each other. Sometimes Mosley works a 14-hour day, and that gets long. “It’s OK, though, because it’s what I’ve always wanted to do. I get to be a kid. I always get to pretend; it’s an internal sandbox with new people to play with all the time,” he said.
Mosley believes the biggest obstacle is the business itself. “Getting your foot in the door and then keeping it there. The whole thing is an obstacle at times. Once you get in, you feel like you crashed the party and you don’t belong, so you pretend,” Mosley said.

Mrs. Mosley said she thinks it’s so neat seeing her son on television.

“The year he started ‘Scrubs’ we had a ‘Scrubs’ party,” said Mrs. Mosley, who made balloons out of doctor’s gloves for the event.

She said they talk weekly on the phone.

“We’re a very close family,” she said. Mosley always used to ask her and his father for advice.

“He’s a good person. That’s what we’re most proud of. I definitely think the Midwest is a great place to grow up,” Mrs. Mosley said. She has heard people in the business, once they learn Mosley is from the Midwest, say, “Oh, I knew he had that wholesome quality to him.”

While Mosley was on the set for the movie “The Proposal,” he called home to talk to his mother and said, “Do you know who Betty White is?”Mrs. Mosley exclaimed, “Yes.”

Mosley said, “Well, she is really funny. I’ve been hanging out all day with her and her dog.”

His mother said she laughed at that particular memory because he was sitting right next to the famous Betty White.

“Which goes to show he can go chat with anybody,” Mrs. Mosley said.

Mrs. Mosley has met famous actors at her son’s and his wife’s shows.

“I have a picture with Morgan Freeman, and I got Daniel Radcliffe’s autograph and met his dad, too.”

She also met Bill Lawrence, the creator of “Scrubs.”

“You think once you get that big gig your life is going to change,” Mosley said, but he thinks people put actors on such a high pedestal. “We still have to come home and pay our cell phone bills and cook dinner. I’m so blessed to [act], but there are people fighting fires and delivering babies out there. We are merely playing dress-up.”

Mosley has some advice to young actors and actresses at Cedar Falls High School: “If you really like it, you’ve got to do it. Don’t worry about rejection. You’ve got to keep going and keep getting better.”

Class of 2014

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