You can take the boy out of North Carolina, but it’s tough to take North Carolina out of the boy, even more than 25 years after Daniel Peddle moved from his native tar heel state to New York City. He is a successful casting director, filmmaker, artist and author, and he’s headquartered in the Big Apple. But when the 48-year-old needs to recharge the creative batteries, he comes back to Carolina.
“I have a love-hate relationship with this city,” Peddle said recently during a Skype interview from NYC. “A lot of things I hate about it I’m able to reconcile with frequent trips to North Carolina. I will always definitely be a tar heel. I will always be a country boy at heart. That’s just never going to change because it’s so deeply rooted in who I am and how I was raised. The respect I have for nature comes from growing up in nature, in North Carolina.”
Peddle’s love and respect for nature has never been more evident than in his most recent film, Moss. Peddle wrote the script after being inspired during one of his many trips to Carolina Beach. Peddle’s family has owned a cottage on the island for decades, and he has memories of visiting as a child while growing up in Winston-Salem. He talks about those earliest memories at 3:30 of the podcast.
“The film came to me from the title really, Moss,” Peddle said. “I’m just struck with how that island is dripping with it. It’s hanging from the trees. It’s in the roots. It’s literally everywhere. I know it’s not a totally common southern name, but it is a name that you hear once in a while down there. I just decided I wanted to make a character named after this incredible moss down there, and sort of reflective of all the characteristics that you would associate with moss. So, the seed of the film really came from the title itself. I’ve been going to Carolina beach my entire life, so I really wanted to show the beautiful natural preserves that are there.”
Peddle says Moss builds on a theme raised in his 2009 film called Trail Angels, which spotlighted an isolated community filled with citizens willing to help strangers walking the Appalachian Trail. In Moss, Peddle worked to correct what he calls the “misconception of southern culture” he’s often seen in other media.
“I think it’s really easy to demonize people who live in the backwoods,” he says. “There’s a lot of negative portrayal of those types of people. Having grown up around those folks myself, I know that’s really not what they’re like. These are people that are connected to nature, not just because they love it, but out of necessity to some degree. There are plenty of people that still hunt for their food and rely on the Cape Fear River for instance for their sustenance. When you’re connected to nature you’re, by default, an evolved person in my opinion. I really wanted to show that in the film, and to show the kind of humanity that you experience with people who live in isolated areas.”
Peddle says he set out to use the natural areas on Pleasure Island as the backdrop for the film. He obtained permission to shoot in Carolina Beach State Park, shooting many scenes along the Cape Fear River. Peddle says the 23-day shoot in early 2016 presented many challenges, many of them related to Mother Nature. He recalled one specific encounter involving Mitchell Slaggert, who played the title role in his first on-camera experience.
“One moment he (Slaggert) was out there finessing the canoe before he got in it, and we saw a water moccasin come up out of the water,” Peddle remembers. “Its head was as big as a grown man’s fist. It was coming right for him, and he just slowly backed up and moved out of harm’s way.”
Peddle says that with the exception of Christine Marzano, who played Moss’ love interest Mary, every member of the cast had no previous on-camera acting experience. Peddle had discovered Slaggert while in Wilmington months earlier, screening his film Sunset Edge at the 2015 Cucalorus Film Festival. Slaggert was walking to his class at Cape Fear Community College when Peddle passed by while walking with his nephew.
“I walked another half-block away headed to our screening, and it was literally like God tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘yeah, you better go back and get that guy!’,” Peddle says. “So I literally ran back after him. You have to trust those moments in life. If you don’t, they pass you by and who knows what would have happened.”
Slaggert has since gone on to become a model for Calvin Klein and has also done more acting roles. Peddle also counts Jennifer Lawrence among the actors/models he has found doing “street casting”. He talks about it being a validation of his efforts at 34:45 of the podcast.
“I never think that I ‘made’ these people or anything like that,” he says about finding the next “new face”. “I feel like maybe I see it before they see it in themselves perhaps. I know that with Jenifer Lawrence, the day after she did her first on-camera job, her mother called me up and said ‘hey, Jennifer loves this experience!’. So she found her own passion, I didn’t discover it for her.”
Peddle screened Moss at the 2017 Cucalorus Film Festival in Wilmington, months after its’ debut at the LA Film Festival. The film has received mostly positive reviews, including the Hollywood Reporter calling it “a gorgeously shot film that is a “memorable study of solitude and connection”. Peddle says having his parents attend that festival for the premiere screening is one of the personal highlights of his career.
“My family has been involved with almost every single one of my films,” he says. “My mom and dad location scouted both Sunset Edge and Moss. I remember as a child, my mother saw my artistic ability. A lot of people, they might have pushed their kid away from that into something they perceived as more stable in terms of a future. Being an artist is a huge risk on every level. But my mom and dad they really supported this in me. Being an artist is hard enough and having your family support makes an enormous difference. I know a lot of artists don’t have that, so I really cherish that childhood I had and the willingness they had to go out on this limb with me and help me make these movies.“
In 2012 Peddle showed the world another side of his artistic ability. His first show of solo paintings, titled UNDERTOW, received the “Critic’s Pick” by New York Magazine. He has also written and illustrated nearly a dozen books.
“I often pinch myself, whether I’m backstage at a fancy designer show whose name I can barely pronounce, or at a festival doing an interview like this,” Peddle says about the accomplishments in his career so far. “I think ‘God, whoever would have thought this would have been my path?’ I definitely consider myself an ambitious person, but I definitely have given myself over to this idea that I’m really just a vessel. I was raised an Evangelical Christian and a lot of those beliefs have definitely stuck, that God has something that he wants you to do on this earth.”
With Moss now released on DVD and available on digital sites like YouTube and GooglePlay, Peddle will soon turn his film focus to his next project called Zimo. He says it’s inspired by the editor of Moss, who was an immigrant to this country at age 15 from China. It will be shot entirely in New York City. But rest assured, if Daniel Peddle needs an inspiration boost or to take a deep breath of energy, he will be back along the Carolina coast.
“I’m very thankful that my family does have the place in Carolina Beach, because for my whole life so far, that has been my place to go and repower, to find the creative energy to move on to the momentum of the next project.”
You can hear the entire conversation with filmmaker, casting director, author and artist Daniel Peddle by clicking on one of the links listed below.
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