As a screen actor, Jacob Moran is well-known for playing Billy in the Blumhouse supernatural horror film The Black Phone, which marked his first major feature film, alongside a cast including Ethan Hawke, Mason Thames and Madeleine McGraw, and he is currently in Nashville filming for Holland, Michigan with Nicole Kidman. In June, Jacob will be seen in the upcoming short film New Shoes as lead character Tristan, and he has previously worked on Fragile Heart – The Movie, Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square, and he had guest roles in New Amsterdam and The Wonder Years. Having started his acting career on stage, Jacob was part of the Broadway National Tour of School of Rock for over 300 performances as James and understudy Freddy. We talked to Jacob about filming as Billy in The Black Phone, his upcoming short film New Shoes and performing on tour with School of Rock.
In last year’s supernatural horror film The Black Phone, you played the role of Billy, was there anything that drew you to the script and do you remember how you felt finding out you’d booked the role?
Working on The Black Phone was such a great experience. For months I had auditioned for different roles on the film. Initially, I didn’t have the entire script, just a few different scenes. It was all pretty creepy and I was definitely intrigued. After reading for one of the other ghost kids, one of the creatives said “I see him more as Billy”. I had my final call back and the rest is history. When I found out I booked the role, for a moment, I didn’t believe it. Then, when I knew it was really true, I freaked out a bit, in a really good way!
Can you tell us about your character and what was he like to play?
There wasn’t a lot of backstory on Billy. He is referred to as “Paperboy” so I immediately used that as the basis for creating the character. We know he loves his dog, who is named Harper. I imagined that Billy was a kind soul who really took his work seriously. It was pretty amazing to play him and especially the hours spent in hair and makeup to appear dead. I enjoyed the time in the makeup trailer. That was where I got to hang with other cast members and really see all that goes into creating such an intense production.
How did you find your time working on set of a horror film and what was it like being part of the cast?
Working on the set of a horror film was an entirely new and thrilling experience for me, one that I had not encountered before until I joined The Black Phone production. The opportunity to immerse myself in an unreal world, complete with creepy makeup and filming in a chilling basement, was absolutely awe-inspiring. What made this experience even more special was the incredible cast, each and every member was an absolute joy to work with. To this day, I cherish the friendships I formed with my fellow castmates.
What was it like attending the film’s premiere and how was it seeing the fan response to the release?
Attending the premiere for The Black Phone was a breathtaking experience that I will never forget. As a newcomer to the world of film premieres, I was blown away by the excitement and energy of the event. The sight of massive posters and displays everywhere I turned was so cool, but the reaction of the fans was what really got to me. Witnessing the overwhelmingly positive response from people across the globe was exhilarating, and it served as a tremendous source of motivation and inspiration.
You play Tristan in the short film New Shoes, can you tell us about the film and your character, and what was it like to be involved with?
Tristan and newshoesfilm.com is based on the life of rapper and now entrepreneur Thommy Kane. He grew up with his drug addicted mom who tried to make ends meet in some very hard ways. They lived on the streets and in and out of different homes. His relationship with his mom was complicated. Even though Tristan had tough experiences with his abusive mother, he loved her and wanted to protect her. I had to really work hard to imagine myself in his shoes at such a young age facing these awful circumstances. Having Thommy on set with me made the experience really come to life because he was able to share with me first-hand how he felt and what really happened. It was very powerful.
How was it telling the story of New Shoes and who do you think the short film will appeal to?
Telling the story of New Shoes was different than anything I had done before. The set was a duplex that was barely liveable and they took real pictures of me as a young child and imposed the actress, Laura Whitley, over my real mom in frames and on the fridge. It felt as real as something could feel without actually being true. It was tough watching her do drugs and being beat up. Really tough and hard for me to imagine what Thommy went through. It stretched me as an actor. I think the film appeals to anyone coming into their own and can relate to complicated family situations, which in some capacity I think we all can. Ultimately it’s a story of hope and perseverance. And I am excited to share with you that our world premiere is set for June. We are really excited.
What was it like playing Lev in an episode of New Amsterdam – Series 5?
That was a fun one! Camping out in the woods for a few days in New York wasn’t bad. Tyler Lavine is not only a great actor but very cool to be on set with. Plus, being a teenager myself, it was easy to relate to the pressures of teachers and parents around technology and expectations. I really enjoyed working on New Amsterdam.
You filmed for an episode of The Wonder Years as Billy, how would you describe your character and how was your time filming for the show?
The Wonder Years cast is phenomenal. It was a brief role and I was a total jerk but getting to work on an iconic show is something I am grateful for. My character represents the challenges we are still facing today with acceptance and lack of knowledge.
What did you enjoy most about playing Young Dustin in Fragile Heart – The Movie and how was it having the film released on Amazon Prime?
Working on Fragile Heart was my first COVID time role. Nothing but great being on the beach in California filming! What stands out as a memory for me was working with a master stuntman on my drowning scene. It was a great experience and I am thrilled that it’s been released on Amazon Prime.
In 2020, you appeared in the musical film Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square as Gilbert, can you tell us about working on this project?
Watching Debbie Allen direct was an experience of a lifetime. She is on it, honest and gets things done. Getting to watch Christine Baranski work was a gift too. Just having eyes on the process and skill of some of the greatest actors and directors teaches me so much. And, filming in my hometown, Atlanta makes things really easy.
On stage, you were in the cast of the Broadway National Tour of School of Rock as James and understudy Freddy, how did you find the experience touring America with the musical and what were the characters like to play?
As an 11 year old, touring the US and Canada was a dream come true. We did eight shows a week and were homeschooled during the day and it never felt like work. I experienced parts of the country I would never have had the chance to explore. And really that’s what we did. We found cool things to do so we could learn hands on and that was exciting. Being a drummer since I could walk, performing on a stage to thousands was pretty surreal and energising. Freddy is a cool guy and I was grateful each time I stepped in his shoes, drumsticks in hand. James is awesome too. He was security for the band and I got to wear these black sunglasses each night and really had fun with the part. The cast became like family. For over ten months and 33 cities we lived, travelled, worked and did school together. I adore these people.
What are some of your favorite memories from being in the cast of School of Rock and being part of the first Broadway National Tour of the musical?
There are so many great memories. A few that stand out… flying a seaplane over Lake Coeur d’Alene, living in Toronto for six weeks and visiting Niagara Falls, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and going on as a different character in a moment’s notice are some great memories that stand out for me. Oh! I do remember one show when Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban were in the audience and that was pretty amazing!
Where does your love of acting, performing and music come from and how did you get into each?
My love of music started very early on. From playing the drums to dance parties to singing, my family has had music all around me from before I was born. My first acting experiences came from local theatre at a training and performance organisation called the Orbit Arts Academy in Atlanta. They gave me some really cool opportunities early on that really encouraged me. My dad is a drummer too so it was natural for us; and my mom loves to sing and grew up in the theatre. Once I saw School of Rock on Broadway, I just knew that was a dream of mine. And, after many auditions and a lot of hard work (and some tears) that dream came true.
How do you like to spend your time away from acting and what are some of your favourite films, TV and theatre shows to watch?
I love the outdoors. From mountain biking to wakesurfing and everything in between, I enjoy being in open spaces with nature and water. I am very into pickleball too these days. I could definitely play every day and also enjoy a good work out and cold plunge.
Favourite television shows from this past season include: Stranger Things, Manifest and Outer Banks. I honestly can’t pick a favourite film. I am all over the map with the genres I choose. Recently, I enjoyed the new Ant-Man and Creed III. Favourite shows include Beetlejuice, Hamilton and, of course, School of Rock.
Do you have any upcoming projects that you can tell us about and what are you hoping 2023 brings for you?
I am actually on set now in Nashville working on the new Nicole Kidman film Holland, Michigan. So far it has been very exciting and can’t wait to share more! A few other projects coming up later this year that I look forward to talking about as well.
Thank you so much for talking with me! – Jacob Moran
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