Larry Moss: acting teacher to the stars

Los Angeles Daily News, CA
Feb 27 2005

Larry Moss: acting teacher to the stars

By Evan Henerson, Staff Writer

If you hear Larry Moss’ name tonight from the stage at the Kodak
Theatre, you’ll know that Hilary Swank or Leonardo DiCaprio has won
an acting Oscar.
That’s because the San Fernando Valley-raised Moss, one of the most
prominent acting coaches in the country, played an important role in
helping Swank’s performance as pugilist Maggie Fitzgerald in “Million
Dollar Baby” and DiCaprio’s as billionaire Howard Hughes in “The

And if his name comes up during tonight’s ceremony, it won’t be the
first time for the Valley-raised Moss. In March 1998, Helen Hunt
thanked Moss in her acceptance speech for the best actress Oscar for
“As Good as It Gets.” And, two years later, Swank thanked him for her
win in “Boys Don’t Cry.”

“People were overgenerous talking about my work, but I’m really a
background guy,” Moss says modestly.

In addition to Hunt, Swank — who has said, “I wouldn’t take on
another role without working with him” — and DiCaprio, Moss’ client
list has included Tobey Maguire, Jim Carrey, David Duchovny, Jason
Alexander, Michael Clarke Duncan (who got an Oscar nomination for
“The Green Mile”) and Hank Azaria, who won an Emmy for 1999’s
“Tuesdays With Morrie.” With all that attention, it’s not surprising
Moss was offered a book deal. The fact that he had a hit off Broadway
with “The Syringa Tree,” which he had directed and helped create,
made Moss an even hotter commodity.

“I was going to write (a book) maybe 10 years from now,” Moss said.
“They said, ‘Here’s this money.’ I was overwhelmed, and ‘The Syringa
Tree’ had opened and become a huge success, so I thought to myself,
‘My life is going ahead of me, and I better catch up.”‘

Now the entertainment world is catching up with him.

The newly published “The Intent to Live: Achieving Your True
Potential as an Actor” (Bantam Dell) has hit book stores just as
Swank and DiCaprio are firmly in the spotlight. And, whether he likes
it or not, Moss has become a Hollywood go-to guy when there’s a
performance mountain to conquer.

Not that the 61-year-old actor/director was ever entirely anonymous

After graduating Birmingham High School in Van Nuys, Moss — who grew
up in North Hollywood and Encino — moved to New York City. There he
studied with master acting coaches Stella Adler and Sanford Meisner
and performed in a number of Broadway productions. He made the switch
to acting coach in his late 20s after a bout of stage fright, finding
that teaching suited him better.

Over the years, Moss has worked with such theater greats as Jerome
Robbins, Neil Simon, Michael Bennett and Twyla Tharp and taught at
Juilliard and Circle in the Square. He returned to L.A. to establish
the Larry Moss Studio in Santa Monica in 1990.

The studio flourished, and at a tribute/book signing held recently at
the Edgemar Center for the Arts — a combination theater/art gallery
where Moss is artistic director — the stars turned out to honor

“We are indebted to you for our careers, for experiences, for
feeling, for understanding,” said the Tony Award-winning Alexander
(“Seinfeld”), a friend for 25 years who credits Moss with helping
turn his career around within six months of first working together.
“You are more than our teacher. You are certainly more than our

Duchovny (“The X Files”) credits Moss with inspiring him to follow
through with creating his writing/directing debut “House of D,” which
is scheduled for release in April. When Duchovny told Moss his story
idea about an artist trying to find himself by looking into his past,
it brought the acting coach to tears.

“I thought, ‘I’ve got to write this movie,”‘ Duchovny says, “and it’s
really only because of (the way) Larry responded to my telling him
that story.”

Don’t let the tears fool you.

By most reports, Moss is no easy teacher and is not afraid to get in
his students’ faces. The much-recounted anecdote about “The Green
Mile” assignment involves Moss telling Duncan that the 6-foot-5 actor
known as “Big Mike” could not play the character, inmate John Coffey,
until he found the “Little Mike” within himself.

“I came from no self-esteem,” Moss says. “I never was a guy who was
full of hot air. I just wanted a chance. I wanted to be good at
something, and it was theater and film that allows me the possibility
of growing. I’m a good teacher. I knew it after 25 years of teaching.
I woke up and said, ‘I don’t have anything to be insecure about. I’m
a good teacher.”‘

Also a busy one, but Swank, who he’d like to see in a slapstick
comedy, will always get as much Moss time as she needs. Ditto
DiCaprio, who he believes is a great character actor trapped in a
leading man’s body like Paul Newman was.

When he works with a performer on a role, Moss said, he breaks down
the entire script to figure out the theme of the movie and to find
the character’s hopes and dreams.

Moss and Swank saw the fighter in “Baby” as a character who was
starving to death, and boxing was the food that kept her alive.

With the young Howard Hughes in “The Aviator,” DiCaprio and Moss
worked on the character’s voice, which historically was flat and
uninflected except among people Hughes trusted.

“I love working with them,” Moss says. “I really like them, and they
get good parts. So that’s a good trio.”

As for everyone else — take a number. Though the Larry Moss Studio
is still running in Santa Monica, he won’t be teaching there.
Directing projects and international opportunities — possibly even
an occasional acting role — have his dance card plenty filled. Moss
has moved back to New York to direct three consecutive plays,
including “Beast on the Moon,” about a Turkish massacre of Armenians
in 1950, and a musical featuring Las Vegas entertainer Clint Holmes.

“I’ve got 15 good years if I’m lucky, and then I’m going to be old.
… I don’t want to look back and regret that I wasn’t courageous, so
I’m moving it forward.”