Put away your garlic and wooden stakes. Thanks to a new twist on the vampire legend, Moonlight’s Alex O’Loughlin is emerging from the shadows as a TV heartthrob
O’Loughlin’ gravel-over-velvet voice and dark, rock-star charisma have them swooning. To fans he’s the hottest bloodsucker since Brad Pitt hung up the fake fangs back in 1994
by Lynn Morgan
“I’ve always been interested in storytelling,” Alex O’Loughlin says. “Even as a kid, I’ve always been the guy spinning a yarn around the campfire.” The campfire is now TV, and the 32-year-old Australian-born star of Moonlight is mesmerizing an audience of millions with his portrayal of Mick St John, a private detective with a unique affinity for the dark side: He’s a 90 years old vampire. And playing this broodingly sexy St. John has anointed O’Loughlin TV’s newest dark heartthrob.
“I’ve always love the genre,” says O’Loughlin. “I’m a big fan of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. The travels of Lestat are my favourites. I’ve always wanted to play a vampire. It’s like playing a character with several personalities.”
As a fan of scary movies and dark literature, O’Loughlin feels right at home in this haunted and shadowy role. “It’s an opportunity to play with bigger ideas,” he says. “Infinity, immortality, the dichotomy within the character.”
Taking a Stake to Convention
O’Loughlin is surprised and mildly taken aback by the fervor with which fans have embraced the show, a modern Gothic tale that combines elements of action, film noir and romance, and their passionate dedication to all things vampiric. Moonlight updates the legends of the undead, toying with the established and cherished mythology. Moonlight offers a 21st century version of the ancient dark archetype : no capes, no coffins, no wild-eyed, obsessive Van Helsings brandishing crucifixes. Most shocking of all to many dedicated vamp fans is Mick’s ability to survive sunlight.
Some of their chat room comments have filtered down to O’Loughlin, and he greets their theories with good humor. “Daylight weakens Mick,” he explains patiently. “He can go out into the sunlight, briefly, if he keeps to the shadows. The sun weakens him, and lengthy exposure to the light will kill him. We explored those things in the fourth episode when Beth [Sophia Myles] finds out the truth about Mick.”
Reinterpreting this evocative symbol keeps vampires relevant and eternally fascinating. Novelists Laurell K. Hamilton, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro and, most recently Elizabeth Kostova have all put their unique spins on the conventions established by Bram Stoker and set in stone by Bela Lugosi. Moonlight creators Ron Koslow and Trevor Munson and executive producer Joel Silver are just taking their turn reimagining a world of the undead, and O’Loughlin is excited to be a part of it.
Shadow of Doubt
Moonlight is a breakthrough role for O’Loughlin, who arrived in Hollywood just three years ago from Australia. He worked in television playing guest roles – including an acclaimed performance on The Shield – and was narrowly beaten out for another iconic role by Daniel Craig, who was cast instead of O’Loughlin as the new James Bond.
Moonlight has brought him a new level of visibility for which he was not entirely prepared, but which he confronts squarely with a level head and a sense of humor.
“Fame is kind of frightening. I don’t yearn for it,” O’Loughlin says. “All of a sudden, you are driving home one night, and there’s your head, 30 feet tall, on a billboard on Sunset Boulevard. I was an actor in theater in Sydney, and I’ve done little indie films that paid nothing. I am not an actor for that kind of recognition. I like playing parts that I can disappear in. I enjoy hiding behind my characters.”
O’Loughlin is refreshingly irreverent about his new status as a heartthrob as well. Despite those ubiquitous billboards, he is convinced he is safely hidden behind Mick St John. “It doesn’t look like me!” he laughs. “It doesn’t even look like Mick! Between the wind machine blowing my hair around and the retouching, it looks nothing like me.”
Fans of Moonlight obviously disagree. O’Loughlin’s gravel-over-velvet voice and dark, rock-star charisma have them swooning. To them, he is the hottest bloodsucker since Brad Pitt hung up the fake fangs back in 1994.
Blood, Sweat and Tears
“I don’t see myself that way at all!” the self-effacing actor scoffs, explaining that he’s much more interested in exploring the depths of his character than in polishing the cosmetic surface. Moonlight’s Mick St John is a tangle of contradictions, ambivalent about his vampiric state and ill at ease with his possible immortality, in high contrast with his amoral sidekick, Jozef Konstan (Jason Dohring), a billionaire vampire who is a blithe bloodsucker, comically unconflicted about his predator status – the insouciant Lestat to Mick’s tormented Louis.
“Mick is the loneliest man in the world,” O’Loughlin says. “Even though he’s surrounded by people, he’s isolated and cut off from his own humanity. Mentally, he’s one of the most damaged characters I have ever played. He’s not in a lot of physical jeopardy, but emotionally, he’s a wreck. I try to reach inside of him and find the humanity at his heart.”
O’Loughlin leaves the grim and angsty stuff on screen, though. Personally, he’s cheeky and charming with a raucous laugh and a sexy, Down Under accent. He would rather ride motorcycles than brood, and his hobbies are more rugged than moody : running, rock climbing, and sailing “badly.” He does as many of his own stunts on the show “as the insurance company will let me,” he says. And to stay in shape for the grueling work, he spends his downtime on set in his trailer doing a punishing Navy SEAL workout to keep up with the physical demands of the role. After all, nobody would be scared of a flabby vampire.
Recently, movie audiences got to see a different side of the actor as he played the brother of Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ character in the movie August Rush, a holiday fable about the healing power of music. O’Loughlin got to showcase a few of his other talents in the film – singing and playing the guitar (in real life, O’Loughlin plays both acoustic and electric guitar).
When asked about his favorite musician, it takes the actor a moment or two to sort through the many possibilities before settling on one : “Hendrix. Definitely Jimi Hendrix. I don’t play anything like him, but he’s my favorite. He was the best.”
Moonlight has a subtle musical subtext that will move to the forefront in upcoming episodes, when audiences will get to hear O’Loughlin play on the show as part of Mick’s character development.
The actor remains intrigued by the character’s possibilities and the potential for telling more stories about Mick St John. It’s his purpose in being a performer. “I want to do work that’s meaningful to me and touches people,” he insists. “I don’t care about being a heartthrob or any of that crap. I care about having somebody come up to me on the street and say, ‘That meant a lot to me.'”
He has had that moment in his own life. “When I met Robert De Niro in New York, I got to sit and talk with him for a few minutes,” O’Loughlin recalls. “It was amazing. He taught me a lot as a young man, through his work, and the characters he played. He helped me get through adolescence and along the road growing up.”
One of the things he has come to understand along that road is the significance of stories, and of telling them. “I’ve always appreciated art and music, different forms of expression,” O’Loughlin says. “As an adult, I appreciate the opportunity to tell important stories.”