Take2IndieReview sits down with award-winning writer, producer and actor Rob Mor.
Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Honolulu, Hawaii and grew up in Chicago.
At what age were the arts introduced to you?
I was in my first play in 8th grade when my mom encouraged me to try out for Fiddler on the Roof. I wasn’t quite hooked on acting and being on stage until freshman year of high school though. I quickly noticed that being in plays and singing caught the attention of some of the older girls in my high school and the lover in me was like, “okkk let’s lean into this.” One of my senior mentors, Yale Schrero, was this heartthrob actor and I just remember being like, “I wanna be like Yale.”
Do you remember your first movie experience?
Seeing Titanic in theaters in 3rd or 4th grade was definitely one of the most influential movie experiences of my young life. I not only experienced feelings of love but also profound loss. And there, of course, is the ‘paint me’ scene which to a 9 year old boy was literally mind blowing.
When did you know you wanted to be a filmmaker?
By the time I was 15, I knew I wanted to be an actor and that movies were the greatest and healthiest escape of our time.
Did you formally study?
I studied theater at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. I minored in producing as I enjoyed building collaborative teams around a singular story.
You wrote, produce and star in the short film Ghosted, loosely based on your life. Can you tell us more about the tragedy that led to creating this beautiful film?
My late wife, Noel, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer four months after our daughter Leia was born. She fought for two years but unfortunately the cancer mutated and took her life in 2019. Her memory and our love sits in my heart to this day. Losing my best friend, partner in crime, and the mother of my child was, and is, the hardest thing I hope I will ever have to process. After she passed, I recall trying to start dating again and wishing every swipe I made on the dating apps would somehow lead me to her.
How long after losing your wife Noel, did the idea for the story come to you?
It took only a few months. I had downloaded Hinge and Bumble and recall laying in bed mindlessly swiping thinking ‘my wife was so beautiful’ and then it just hit me. What if I matched with her? What would that story look like? How would it unfold? Would she know it was me? And that’s when the screenwriter in me took over.
How difficult or cathartic was it for you in writing the script?
I cried many times writing and rewriting Ghosted. I played songs that reminded me of my late wife to tap into her energy and literally teared up typing the final draft of the short when Michael asks her ‘if he will love again’? I also shared early versions of the script with directors Peter Vass and Sam Milman who were instrumental in helping ground the story as well as the DP, Luke Hanlein, and co-star Johnno Wilson. We did a table read before going into production that proved to be extremely fruitful and lead to several major break throughs. I’ve always believed that collaboration in the arts brings the best result – more hearts and minds are better than one sorta thing – and it was definitely true in creating Ghosted.
Did you have any reservations in telling such a personal story – especially with you in the lead role as the husband?
To be honest, I had to make this film and I had to star in it for the experience to be as cathartic as it has been. I recall a moment on set while we were recording VO with Natasha Loring who plays Leigh, based on my late wife. Natasha is in the booth reading these words that my late wife literally said to me and I just remember thinking ‘this really happened, this isn’t just a movie you’re playing in. You lived through this’ and feeling profound pain but also strength and a sense of growth. Sometimes you just have to plunge through the pain to get to the other side.
Did you ever think about casting another actor in your role?
Not once. Actor Rob needed to re-emerge this year and this project was what I needed. The experience would not have been as healing if I hadn’t gotten to play the role of Michael.
What was the casting process like to find the right actress to play your wife, played beautifully by Natasha Loring?
This is an amazing story. When I wrote an earlier draft of the film, I had attached a different actress to play Leigh. However after production started getting underway, the directors passed me a name to join the film as a producer – this happened to be Natasha. So I emailed with Natasha at first not knowing she was this beautiful actress and unfortunately she was unavail to produce because of a prior engagement. She then lead me to Josette Eales, a gifted director and writer, who joined as the producer. Literally the weekend before our shoot, I knew that the role needed to be recast. It just didn’t feel right and obviously is such a sensitive and paramount part of the story. Josette, the DP, and the directors and I sat at our tech scout wondering who should play Leigh when Josette suggested Natasha Loring – the actor. So to be clear – I had spoken to Natasha and emailed multiple times with her but did not put two and two together when Josette showed me her acting reel. So Natasha the producer and the Natasha the actress were two different people in my mind. Then we went to Natasha’s home to scout it for one of the locations and I said, ‘once I meet her, I’ll decide if she’s going to play Leigh.’ And we walked in and her back was to the front door and she had the same haircut Noel, my late wife, had. I was stunned. I literally had to excuse myself to the restroom to gather myself. Then I met her officially and offered her the role on the spot. It wasn’t until we were shooting the ‘swan boat’ scene during Day 3 of our shoot that I finally realized Natasha the actor was the same Natasha the producer that I was chatting with via email!!! Meant to be 100%.
How much history about Noel did you share with Natasha in order for her to create her role?
Great question. Honestly not much. I never intended for an exact match or portrayal of Noel to come through. More so an essence. We made the decision for Natasha to keep her South African accent (obviously Noel did not have an accent) as it created depth to the role. Natasha possesses so much beauty and warmth in her performance that ultimately she was destined to play the part.
Johnno Wilson is cast perfectly as the supportive friend. How did he come to the project?
I wrote the role of Xander based off of one of my best friends, Alex Weber, who stood at my and Noel’s wedding in 2014. Johnno and I used to do improv together and I just knew he had to play Xander. I wrote the role with him in mind and was so fortunate he was willing and available to do it. The dude is blowing up!
How close did you work with your Directors, Sam Milman and Peter Vass, both before and during the shoot?
These two guys are the best. We worked on a commercial project together in December and I knew I wanted them attached as the script was being finalized because they understand comedic timing so well. I didn’t want the project to be too heavy. I wanted people to laugh and cry. We worked quite close on re-writes and script notes. They are both really talented story tellers and also edited the film, which is a serious blessing having your directors also cut your film.
What was the most difficult part for you, emotionally, in shooting the film?
My main focus while making the film was to honor Noel’s memory and truly enjoy myself living in this tragic, yet beautiful story. After we wrapped, all I wanted was to call Noel and celebrate with her. Grief is an ongoing experience and can be triggered even at the happiest of moments. Overall, surrounding myself with not only supremely talented collaborators, but also warm empathetic humans, is what made this film making experience so beautiful.
You also produced the film. How hard is it to juggle wearing multiple hats on set?
Producer Rob is my default and it was hard to switch off my Producer Rob mind but I knew I had to really trust the decision making to Josette on the 99 small things going on and only really make the one or two big decisions when they came up. At the end of the day, I knew that what we had on paper was solid. The script read well. The night before the shoot, my friend Alex Weber who Xander is based off of, read the script at my place and it brought him to tears. I knew everything was going to be fine at that moment.
So many indie filmmakers have trouble getting their scripts funded. How did you go about raising money to make this film?
Luckily I was able to self fund the project. My business Tallboy Agency allows me to be creative and make a living – a literal dream of mine since I was young.
The film is beautifully shot, how closely did you work with your cinematographer Luke Hanlein?
Luke was the original ‘you have to make this film’ voice in my corner. We had dinner in March and I pitched him the idea that I had been sitting on for two years and he’s like ‘we have to shoot this.’ I went home that night and wrote the first draft of the script. It was 22-23 pages or something and had a lot more making out in it haha. I just trusted Luke to make things look beautiful. I’ve worked with Luke for over a decade and he was the first DP I ever hired on a project back in 2010. Give him a camera and the freedom to explore and it’ll look great.
You founded Tallboy Agency in 2020. Tell us more about the agency and what your purpose was in starting it?
I started Tallboy because I sensed I could build a business creating video content for companies as well as provide myself the freedom and stability to continue being creative. I knew I could sell pretty well and work and collaborate with clients of all types so starting my own shop made the most sense.
You’re taking TikTok by storm with your channel @singlegirldad amassing a reputable following of fellow widowers. How surprising/rewarding is this?
TikTok. Lol. I’m just happy to have a stage I can hop on each night and share. It’s cathartic beyond words and the response has been uplifting to say the least. Not many people discuss grief in an approachable and often comedic way and I have found that my point of view on love, and loss, is resonating with my audience. What they don’t know is they lift me up!
Ghosted will be premiering at the LA Shorts International Film Festival. What are you most excited about as you embark on your Festival run?
Truly there is this anticipation that more writing and producing and acting opportunities will come from this. More stories will be told. And hopefully hearts touched as I try to convey a level of grief that I still experience daily. I long for my wife and yet know she cannot come back. And in that acceptance, there creates space for new love.
What is the heart of your film’s message to those grieving and needing to connect with their loved one again?
At the heart of Ghosted is acceptance. Sadly a ‘magic swipe’ does not exist where we can go dating our loved ones we lost. That said, we live in a time where finding new connections can be overwhelming and often shallow. So loneliness is a real bitter pill to swallow. I implore the viewers of Ghosted to reach out. Grief is manageable when you know others are experiencing it alongside you. When you see that death and loss are inevitable parts of life and growth, you stand taller.
What’s next for you?
Currently I am writing a screenplay that is a modern take on Sleepless in Seattle where a woman falls in love with a widower after seeing him on TikTok. I’m going to tap into my daughter’s journey a little bit in this screenplay not having her mom as well. Wish my luck!
You can follow me on IG @realrobmor and on TikTok @singlegirldad_
Lots of love!