Catching Up With Michael Mosley

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Sirens, the new comedy premiering tonight on USA at 10 p.m., follows three EMTs as they drive the streets of Chicago encountering all sorts of medical situations. The series comes from executive producers Denis Leary (Rescue Me) and Bob Fisher (The Wedding Crasher) and features Leary’s trademark ability to generate laughs and poignancy out of life-or-death situations.

Michael Mosley stars as Johnny Farrell, a Chicago EMT who takes his job, but not his life, very seriously. The Iowa native starred in the ninth and final season of Scrubs and in the short-lived ABC drama, Pan Am. Paste recently had the chance to talk to Mosley about his new gig, what it’s like to work with Leary and when he knew he wanted to be an actor.

Paste: Tell me about the audition process for this part.
Michael Mosley: I auditioned for it in 2012. I went in once with a big group of guys, and we just went through the material. I walked through the door and threw the sides away. I always throw the sides away. It’s kind of a flushing of the audition. I kind of thought it was done. And then I think I went in one other time and still didn’t get the vibe that anything was happening. Then all of the sudden they were like, “Oh you’re testing for the show.” I was walking down the hall to go the restroom, and Denis was walking the other way and he goes, “Mosley!” and I was like, “Oh, he knows who I am.” Then I got the call that it was a go, and I couldn’t believe it.

Paste: Had you watched any of Denis Leary’s other shows?
Mosley: I loved Rescue Me and everything he’s done. He’s such a specific brand, such a specific type of humor, and it’s so unapologetic and true. I’m a big fan of stuff like that. I hope to someday create something like that.

Paste: What’s Leary been like to work with?
Mosley: I just didn’t know what he was going to be like. He turned out to be one of the coolest bosses I’ve ever had, if not the coolest. He’s so egalitarian—what’s funny floats. He’s so invested in us as characters and as actors because he’s an actor. A lot of times directors don’t know how to speak to actors, or writers don’t know how to communicate. He speaks the language and everything. He knows how to pull out what he’s trying to get out of you without telling you to shut up and stand there and say your lines.

Paste: What kind of research did you do before you began filming?
Mosley: The show is based on a book called Blood, Sweat and Tea, so I read that book. It’s just about the banalities and the enormity of the job. Sixty-five, seventy-five percent of the job is somebody thinks they’re having a heart attack and they’re just having a panic attack or indigestion—stuff that’s not so terrifying. But everyone once in a while you get that critical situation, so that was kind of fascinating to learn about. We also had EMTs on set always looking to call “bullshit” on anything that they saw. We would run everything by them.

Paste: The show is really funny but never loses sight of the fact that an EMT’s job is extraordinarily stressful.
Mosley: To live in that margin where you’re driving and you don’t know if it’s going to be the worst day of your life or the most minor thing—that’s what I like about our show, too. We can sit there and be talking about women or relationships or who ate the last donut or where do we get the best carnitas in town. Or is Jay Cutler going to make it—is he going to play on Sunday? We can be talking about these kind of ridiculous things and get smacked in the face with, “Why did I spend two days stressing over something so small when we’re all guests here?”

Paste: The show films in Chicago. What was that like?
Mosley: We were there early September to early November. We were all shipped out there. We’re all kind of staying in the close vicinity. It was like being at camp. We’re all there for this one project. It’s not like we’re all getting in a car off the lot and going back to our L.A. home or something. We’re here specifically for this thing. We were moving really fast.

Paste: Sounds like the experience really bonded the cast.
Mosley: We shot the pilot in 2012 and the series in 2013. We’re airing in 2014. These are my friends. We’ve been living with this thing for a year and a half. We’ve grown together, and I hope that you can see that in the show. We’re very comfortable with each other. No one’s a dick, and there are no jerks on set. It’s a very unique crowd.

Paste: What’s the deal with Johnny and his not-so-ex-girlfriend, Theresa (Jessica McNamee)?
Mosley: I think Johnny is a bit ADD. So I think he can be easily distracted by the Bears or online porn or whatever, but I think ultimately he would do anything in the world for Theresa. Anything except move in with her. His mom and his dad are so estranged, and they’re so vicious to each other. His dad left his mom for a stripper when he was seven. He has this kind of relationship with marriage that is just not evolved.

Paste: Jean Smart plays your mom on the show. What was that like?
Mosley: She came on set and slipped right into the groove. We’re a bunch of rag-tag goofballs on set, and she just slid right in. She got it right away. She’s so great to work with. So sweet. So funny.

Paste: When did you know you wanted to be an actor?
Mosley: In the sixth grade I auditioned for a play called Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. I got the lead, and I was terrified, but I went and did it. I always liked sports and tried sports. I wasn’t one of the kids who was naturally good at it. But then I got this play and something clicked. Oh, maybe this is the fit. I just felt comfortable in a way I haven’t felt comfortable before. But still, the idea of that being a career is insane. It’s all still a gamble. I still feel like I’m a guest. You feel like at any point they’re going to be like, “Oh, I’m sorry. You’re here. Oh, this is a mistake. Here’s the door.” It’s still something that I feel very blessed that I get to do.

Paste: How do you deal with the ups and downs of this business?
Mosley: I try to stay loose. Try to keep my cool about it. I’ve been on pilots. I’ve seen shows come and go. I know that this stuff is all very fleeting, so I try to keep it cool. I did approach Sirens with a different type of respect than what I had for other parts. I feel honored that Denis and Bob would let me come play in their sandbox with this whole thing. We’re so lucky to get to do this. No one is over here curing cancer. No one is teaching third graders. No one is pulling people out of burning buildings. We’re very lucky to get to do this. We play make-believe and dress up for a living. One goes, one doesn’t go, whatever. I don’t understand how you can get bitter or jaded. We’re just so lucky to get to do this.

Paste: Thank you for your time!