As I sat on our Zoom interview, I attentively listened to Erin Moriarty praise her on-screen character, Annie “Starlight” January, from the hit Amazon series, The Boys. To be quite transparent, I was admittingly captivated as she answered my mundane and typical interview questions with a fire and passion that shone through the computer screen like no other, as I wondered if she gave herself the same deserving praise she graced upon her on-screen character. As some may consider this role Erin’s big break, her on-screen character is undoubtedly a fan-favorite, as she details her experience working on the series as, “...Demanding, but in the best and most challenging ways. It's just been one of the best experiences of my life.” The Boys is just as exhilarating to binge-watch as it seemingly was to film. Based on the American comic book series, written by Garth Ennis, the series presents a world where superheroes exist. However, most of the superheroes in the series' universe are corrupted by their celebrity status, and often engage in reckless behavior, compromising the safety of the world. In this exclusive interview, our newest cover star details the trials and tribulations she has experienced throughout her career, thoughts on the progressive and continuous work of the Me Too movement, and what we can expect to see from her character, Starlight, in season two.
Megan Morgante: Did anything/anyone, in particular, inspire you to pursue acting?
Erin Moriarty: Any inspiration that I had came from more of a personal route. I would say it was a bit of a combination of my parents, as my dad was always a massive cinephile. From a very young age, it was just him and me because my parents split up when I was really young, and all we did was watch movies. He exposed me to movies that were quite mature films, not to say that they were hypersexual, but that they were very intelligent and nuanced with strong, female lead characters. That was one of my favorite things to do growing up, just being home with him watching movie after movie. I eventually decided that I wanted to be involved in the making of those movies that helped provide me with a healthy form of inspirational escapism.
MM: Can you give an overview of your past in the entertainment industry and how it led you to where you are now?
EM: My journey was never a very even road, it was one that was pretty rocky. Which is typical, and that's important for people to know and was important for me to go through. I started working when I was fairly young, I got my first job when I was fifteen in New York City and then I worked on my first film when I was sixteen. Ultimately, I did homeschooling for my final year of high school because that was when I landed my first big role. I kind of thought that from then on, it would be relatively straightforward and that I would have the basic guarantee of working consistently, but that was never the case. A couple of years later, I did a movie that went to the Sundance Film Festival which developed a steady following and did really well. I was the female lead in that movie and I thought, again, here was a situation that would catalyze a steady stream of work, but I didn't work for a year and a half afterward. It's taught me to be grateful because it's a fickle and ephemeral industry, as success comes and goes in waves. With The Boys, it's done really well and I didn't expect that. I loved filming the first season and I just thought, “...No matter what happens, this is such an awesome experience and that's all that matters. Any success is just surplus.” It's been a matter of not getting defeated by the dry spells, not compromising my taste when it comes to the films that I choose, and maintaining integrity in the work. It’s also been important to find stimulating things that fulfill me on the sides so that I'm never feeling like my job is filling a void.
MM: What was it like to be a part of the hit Amazon series, The Boys?
EM: It's been so fun. We're kind of in our own little bubble when we film, so we are like a family. The schedule is intense, which I think you can gather from watching the show. It's a very nuanced, complex show and there's a lot of action, so the schedule is demanding, but I thrive under those circumstances. Ever since school, I've always had a bit of a Type A-minus personality, so the harder a job works me, the better I feel. It's demanding, but in the best and most challenging ways. It's just been one of the best experiences of my life because everyone on set is so kind. With each season that we go back for, I get more comfortable with my co-stars that it feels like I'm in a safe place to just try new things and bounce off of them. It's very surreal and my gratitude for being on a set with kind people, and returning to a job that I enjoy, in a city that I love, is something that I don't take for granted. I don't know if I ever expected to have something this simultaneously fun but equally challenging in my career.
MM: Sexualized, demeaned, and threatened by The Deep [Chace Crawford] and instructed to wear a skimpy, Vought-approved costume, it seems Starlight is initially pushed into a corner. Can you describe Starlight’s character development throughout the series and how she turns into an empowered, female character?
EM: What I thought was very cool about the way that storyline was depicted and the way the Me Too movement was brought to light, is that we have formally had a very black and white view of sexual abuse victims. We have been taught that when discussing the victim and the perpetrator, there is the right thing to do and the wrong thing to do. In this situation, Starlight happens to make the wrong choice, which we're all capable of doing. I think it's very easy to judge and to create hypothetical situations in our mind that boost our own confidence and ego. It’s easier to think, “...If I were in that position, I would have done the right thing.” Which, in reality, you can't say, because you never know. You've got this young woman who's so good, almost bordering on angelic, and she does the wrong thing. Her entire life has led to this moment, as her position in this world is not only a reflection of her success, but it's a reflection of her goal: making the world a better place. She has this guy coming at her and she is seeing this situation as a sacrifice that she has to make so that she can keep saving the world. I love that we depicted the situation in that way, as it highlights that victimhood is something that can be temporary. However, if you process trauma and it sticks with you for years, that's also valid. What I liked about Starlight’s storyline is that this young woman is abused, but she actually becomes stronger in the face of this adversity and she uses it as an opportunity to make the world a better place. She eventually exposes the situation and outs her perpetrator, and by doing so, undeniably reduces the amount of future sexual abuse victims that The Deep [Chace Crawford] will have. You're taking a very dark situation and spinning it in a way that's nuanced and reflective of the fact that some of us can go through really traumatizing adversities and use those adversities towards trying to achieve a greater cause. I didn't write the storyline, I was just told I was going to be depicting it and I felt so lucky that I got to be an actress who got to be in a more nuanced conversation about sexual abuse.
MM: We did an editorial piece in our last issue dedicated to the Me Too movement. We got the idea based on a lyrical dance that was done on sexual abuse which really moved me. It just shows that through cinema or through any creative outlet that such a dark situation can relate to so many different types of people.
EM: Definitely. When I was portraying that storyline, I developed a real fascination and sympathy with the victims of sexual abuse. I read Ronan Farrow's book, Catch and Kill, which is all about the Harvey Weinstein investigation and what was covered. There are a lot of people who aren't going to read those books or watch the documentaries because some people consider them dense, so I think it's great when you can also portray those situations in more mainstream media because it makes them a bit easier to digest and maybe more accessible to some people.
MM: As of late, female characters are so much more than just a stereotypical damsel-in-distress. What was it like to portray a strong, independent female superhero?
EM: It was great, I felt really lucky to get to play a character who has these really badass moments, but it's not something I think about very much, because it's sort of my natural habitat. My mom was a very educated, strong, career woman, and overall just a very dominant person. So for me, empowered females who stand up for themselves are the norm and that's a lucky byproduct of my childhood of growing up in New York City. I was lucky to not exist in a city that values misogyny, as I felt like I was in an environment that valued women being equal with men, especially in my household. I then moved out to LA where a lot of my girlfriends are writing and producing their own projects, so they're just as empowered as the people I grew up around. When I get to play a character that's in a power cord, I think, “...Great, this is my strived for natural habitat and this is what I know.” It's one of my priorities to look for in a script and if I've ever gotten a less dominant role, the directors have always been open to also make sure that the character is as empowered as possible. It's becoming more of the norm for me, and I hope that means that it's becoming more of a priority for producers. However, we still have things to work on, especially equality amongst pay. I know my male counterparts are making way more than me, which exists in quite a few shows, but I think that the way I was treated on the set of The Boys by our showrunner, our producers, and by the men, in general, was great. They always made sure that the women on our set felt equal, empowered, and had as much say as the men, so now I have no tolerance for anything less than.
MM: Entering Vought's employ as the innocent, aspiring superhero known as Starlight, Annie discovers a world of debauchery, deception, and celebrity, left shocked and disgusted by the true nature of The Seven. Where can we expect to see Starlight in season two?
EM: One of the most important aspects of her storyline in season one is that ultimately she decides that rather than having this new knowledge about the world that she's in and the level of corruption and darkness, it doesn't defeat her. She develops a resolve to stay on track to be a superhero and make the world a better place, but she has to skew and change the tactics in which she goes about achieving that mission. In season two, she's changed a lot and at a very accelerated pace. In addition to gaining exposure to this big, bad world that she had no idea she was being inducted into, all of the foundational connections and relationships that she had that were based in love, like with her mom and the one she developed with Huey, are completely violated. She is heartbroken, but it doesn't take away from her strength. In fact, in season two, we're going to see her in a darker and stronger element then we've ever seen her or could have anticipated from her. She is tapping into sides of herself she didn't even know existed and I think it's symbolic of the fact that she's adaptive to her world and she's determined to make it a better place. It's just now, making the world a better place involves taking down the corporation she always strived to be in, so it takes an ironic turn. She is gaining strength as she goes with every adversity that is being thrown her way and it's admirable for me. I would get these scripts in and when I read it, it just sends a subliminal message to me, which is that all of these defeats can make you a better person and worker, and that's what she does.
MM: I’m a firm believer that defeats are a huge part of life, and I believe that they truly do enhance our individuality and, at the end of the day, help make us stronger people.
EM: I would say more of life is difficult than not, but you learn more from those difficult periods; it makes you not take the lighter, happier periods for granted. I have now developed a bit of this attitude that if I'm going through something, I have to remind myself that at least I know that this is going to build character and probably make me a more interesting person.
MM: Annie January is as down-to-earth and sincere as they come; the girl next door with superpowers who turns into a complete badass. Do you feel you have any similar characteristics to your on-screen character?
EM: If I'm being completely honest, she's such an anomaly in terms of how intact and strong her moral compass is, so, I would say she's a better person than I am, in certain ways, laugh-out-loud! But, there’s a reason why Eric Kripke says that there was no doubt in his mind that I was meant to be Annie, along with Jack Quaid portraying Hughie. Annie and I are very similar in terms of my own move out to LA. I was extremely earnest, (although I'm still earnest), a bit naive, having the disease to please and having a fear of confrontation. But, over time, we both gained strength, less of a fear of confrontation and less of a fear of standing up for ourselves. That trajectory in terms of her storyline and my own is where I very much related to her. When I went in to audition for the role, my audition scene was from episode one, season one, where Annie says, “Since when did "hopeful" and "naive" become the same thing? I mean, why would you get into this business if not to save the world? That's all I have ever wanted.” That quote has very much always been my thing: being hopeful, kind to others, and giving them the benefit of the doubt, which doesn't have to imply a naivete or that you don't have a backbone. I'd say that those are our main parallels.
MM: If there was one thing you would want viewers to take away with them after watching, The Boys, what would it be?
EM: In The Boys, you have the characters that are the “bad guys” and the “good guys,” and as we explore the nuances of each character and the character histories, which we go into more depth in season two, you realize that if someone is what we would deem a “bad guy,” they usually come from a traumatizing childhood. There's usually some trauma to catalyze their later bad behavior and, oftentimes, moralities fit in the gray area more than just the black and white, essentially the good or bad. Take Homelander, you find out more about his childhood in season two, you see what he comes from and you have to think “...How would I be if I came from that upbringing?” I think a lot of us exist within the gray area, and we have to be a bit more forgiving of that. I'm not saying we should forgive a Homelander type because obviously, he's past the point of no return, but I think it's that gray area of morality that we need to be more considerate of. We need to think about the context of people's lives and their upbringings before we just go and judge someone.
MM: Do you have any hobbies you enjoy partaking in when you’re not acting?
EM: They're pretty basic and generic, but they bring me so much joy. When I'm home, I read tons, partially to drive content inspiration to hopefully produce one day. I also digest podcasts or audiobooks when I'm driving around or doing errands around the house. I'm sort of an information junkie, usually about things that aren't related to my industry. I listen to podcasts about all sorts of things, like neurology and a lot regarding nutrition. My biggest priority when I'm in LA and not working is getting outside and taking little weekend trips up to Northern California to go hiking with my dog. Also, when I find the time, I do exercises like yoga, pilates, and strength training, where I can take an hour outside of my day and not be thinking about things that plague me. I now enjoy working out for the mental effects more than the physical. I think I succumbed to the superficial pressures and body dysmorphia when I first moved out here, but when I let that go and I started to exercise more intuitively, it just became so much more fun. I hate running more than anything in the world, and I thought I had to run to be thin, but now it’s no longer about being thin, it's about my brain.
MM: Who is your ultimate style icon?
EM: Dakota Johnson, on and off the red carpet, has immaculate style. I also love Alexa Chung’s style. A few women on the red carpet who always look elegant and beautiful would be Kate Winslet’s and Charlize Theron’s style. They just lean into their aesthetic and choose what works for them and always looks so elegant, beautiful, and kind of cool.
Photography by Jacob Artist
Written by Megan Morgante
Styling by Yuval Ashkenazi
Assistant Styling by Tiffany Wang
Makeup by Kira Nasrat
Hairstyling by Aaron Light