CAROLINAS –– A deputy, a lawyer and a guilty man sit in a dimly lit room.
Through white blinds over the office window, the law-enforcement officer is seen questioning the man about the murder of the county’s sheriff. The man aggressively asserts who he wants them to believe shot the sheriff. But the deputy proceeds with his cross examination.
“I’m just trying to get a timeline here,” the deputy reasons.
As the man stomps out of the Kildaire County sheriff’s station seconds later, his suited-up lawyer reassures him: “They got a whole lot of nothing. We are good.”
This is the opening to “Outer Banks” –– not the North Carolina vacation spot, but the second season of Netflix’s breakout that captivated audiences upon its April 2020 release at the onset of the pandemic. Viewers were stuck in the house, still reveling in quarantine snacking and work-from-home pajamas, wondering when this whole pandemic thing would blow over.
During a whirlwind of fear and confusion, “Outer Banks” gave the nation a much-needed break to immerse themselves in the life of the Pogues, a group of coastal-living teens who embark on a hunt for $400 million in gold. The show returned to the streamer July 30 to pick up where the cliffhanger of season one left off.
The first season ranked on Netflix’s top 10 list for 51 consecutive weeks, competing only with “Tiger King” and “Ozark,” according to Forbes.
“Outer Banks” wasn’t actually shot in the location its title suggests, nor in the same state, despite the flourishing film industry of the Cape Fear region. However, it did benefit the area in some way: It pulled from the talent base in Wilmington to shoot in Charleston, an almost four-hour drive down U.S. 17.
In the scene at the sheriff’s station, Wilmington resident Ed Wagenseller plays the lawyer. His longtime acting buddy, Cullen Moss (“Hidden Figures,” “The Righteous Gemstones”), plays the deputy, Shoupe.
“It is my guilty pleasure, as a 51-year-old white male,” Wagenseller admits about the show. “My wife coined it best: It’s ‘Scooby Doo’ meets ‘Dawson’s Creek.’”
For fans in Wilmington, especially those with ties to the industry, the show credits roll with familiar names. Most notably, it was created by Wilmington resident Jonas Pate, his brother Josh Pate and their partner Shannon Burke.
Though written for the North Carolina coast, the show didn’t shoot in the state due to House Bill 2. Since remnants of the anti-LGBTQ legislation have expired, back-to-back Netflix projects are basing their productions in Wilmington.
Previously, the passage of the bathroom bill in March 2016 deterred film projects from coming to Wilmington. It sent crew members packing for the south, including Moss, who lived in Wilmington for 21 years and likely is remembered for his weekly stint in comedy troupe Changing Channels, which ran weekly at the former City Stage for over a decade.
With few gigs keeping him around, the 46-year-old actor moved to Charleston four years ago to be closer to his wife’s family and, conveniently, closer to Georgia’s film industry, which was basking in North Carolina’s losses.
Moss’ agent called him about a local project soon after his move. The role was a deputy –– a profession he is professional at portraying. Moss’ résumé includes a list of law-enforcement officers, including at least three who “meet their ends by zombies,” he notes (“Dead Heist,” “The Walking Dead” and the short “Lamaze of the Dead”).
Deputy Shoupe was described as a braggadocious, barrel-chested guy with a swagger to him, Moss said. Moss contributed his Southern dialect and made it to a table read in an office suite in Charleston, surrounded by the cast.
Shortly after the read, he secured the part, and sometime between then and the time it took him to fill out a deputy-worthy ‘stache, season one started filming.
Moss said he has acted since his parents enrolled him in classes at The Little Theatre of Winston-Salem as a kid.
“I was naturally performative. Anytime they’d read a story, I’d want to act it out and want to pretend it. I’d want to live it,” Moss said.
He performed in one play at UNC Greensboro before flunking out, he said, then moved to Wilmington after renting some equipment from the area for a short film he partook in. He dove into the theater community and later landed TV gigs, including his recurring role on “One Tree Hill” as Lucas’ high-school friend Junk.
“I don’t know when it hit me that [acting] could be a viable means of earning a living,” Moss said. “I don’t even know if that’s settled in.”
For Moss, Deputy Shoupe comes naturally. It’s one of his favorite roles he’s played, due to the character’s multiple layers. He’s struck a balance between conceit and conscientiousness, overindulgence of authority and likability.
“A lot of playing him is playing things ambiguously enough, to not play like an open book, so that you don’t always know what he’s thinking,” Moss said. “That’s a fun element to play with because the directors, you know, I’d be compelled to play something a certain way and they’d say, ‘Ah, you know, people can’t know, yet.’”
Moss appreciated the production being based so close to him; he said he knows his film friends in Wilmington are feeling the same, now that the film industry in the port city is revived. Still, many people he knew from Wilmington came down to Charleston to work on the project.
“It feels like home away from home,” Moss said. “Here I am in Charleston, working on this new big production, and it’s just all these hometown faces from Wilmington.”
Actor Wagenseller said he knows Moss from varying projects, and he worked with the Pate brothers when they brought the less successful series “Surface,” which ran for one season on NBC, to Wilmington 16 years ago.
“There’s so many Wilmington roots in [‘Outer Banks’] that you can’t help but cheer for it,” Wagenseller said.
Wagenseller worked for two days on the Charleston set in September as Ward Cameron’s attorney.
“I play job descriptions, more so than characters with actual names,” Wagenseller joked. “From principal to business man to neighbor, sheriff, deputy.”
Wagenseller said he struggled with math in school and took up plays instead. In graduate school, he trained to become a professional actor. Now he acts on the side, while working in the Department of Theatre at UNCW and selling real estate.
“My job is to fill a specific hole or gap in a casting director’s world,” Wagenseller said. “And if that gap is the bus driver or electric-meter reader or whatever it is, I’m down.”
Working on season two, he said, it was evident the cast and crew knew they “caught lightning in a bottle.” If it wasn’t clear from the rankings on the streaming giant, it was made known by the screaming fans surrounding their sets.
“The streets were lined with prepubescent boys, screaming at Ward Cameron, ‘Your daughter’s hot.’ All in unison,” Wagenseller recalled. “When Chase [Stokes] and Madelyn [Cline] had to come in and do testing for Covid, you could hear the screams from kids on the street –– ‘We love you, Chase!’”
Asked if he gets recognized, Moss joked it happens, but not as frequently as Stokes, who plays John B, or Cline, who plays Sarah Cameron. It’s more likely he is noticed when he’s still rocking the mustache.
“If people recognize me, it would be more like, ‘Hey, are you the cop from that show? Cool, man. Love the show,’” Moss said. “But if it was Chase or Madelyn or Madison or JD, they’d be like ‘Oh my god! Oh my god!’ –– There’s no freaking out over the old sheriff with a mustache.”
There is at least one John B lookalike in town. Dylan Kowalski, 27, stunt doubles for 28-year-old Stokes. His job description entails riding waves and avoiding a haircut for a while.
“Outer Banks” was only Kowalski’s second dabble into body-doubling, but he said he’s interested in pursuing more opportunities. He has been tied to the film industry his whole life through his director father; his brother is also an actor. Kowalski has served on and off as a production assistant.
“I’ve been ingrained in the film industry,” he said.
In 2018, Kowalski caught the eye of the stunt coordinator on the Wilmington-shot series “Swamp Thing,” who thought he looked like the lead actor. Kowalski was recruited to portray Andy Bean’s Alec Holland in a fiery scene, captured in a swamp set within EUE/Screen Gems Studios.
The following year, Kowalski got the gig to surf as John B in the first season of “Outer Banks.” A competitive surfer, Kowalski has participated in the sport the majority of his life. He picked it up from his brother, who picked it up from their father, who got his start riding Malibu waves but switched over to the East Coast surf once he landed work on “Dawson’s Creek” in the late ‘90s.
“I started boogie-boarding and from there, it evolved into surfing,” Kowalski said. “I guess I just caught the bug from an early age.”
Kowalski shot his surfing scenes in Sebastian Inlet in Florida. In the first episode, the daring John B surfs the choppy sea as a hurricane is approaching. It appears as John B in the scene, but it was Kowalski who was getting as close to the lens as possible, and making it look intense, “like I was almost drowning,” he said.
“I intentionally wiped out pretty much for two hours while … the water photographer was just trying to get all the shots,” Kowalski said.
For the second season, Kowalski was invited back for more surfing scenes and a high-speed car chase, where he dove out of the vehicle onto the pavement.
“We probably did that scene maybe like five to seven times,” he said. “You’re just kind of diving on to concrete so you get some bruises and cuts, but in the stunt world, you learn how to fall.”
It was a different experience the second time around, Kowalski notes. As he wiped out wave after wave the first time he was in Florida, he didn’t know “Outer Banks” was destined to become a sensation. No one did, really.
“Once it hit Netflix, it literally just blew up; it was like the number one show on Netflix,” Kowalski remembered. “So everyone was just asking me all these questions and was so excited that I was just even a part of the production.
“That was the biggest change, when I went back for season two,” he reflects. “I guess word got out that we were filming at a certain location so there were just hundreds of people trying to swarm the cast.”
Season 3 of “Outer Banks” is not yet confirmed, but those who binged the show over the past week know it’s not the end of the Pogues’ story. In the meantime, Pate revealed he’s penning another young adult, Carolinas-inspired show –– this time, in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
“Outer Banks” will likely return, and though it’s probably dedicated its base to Charleston by now, there should be more opportunities for employment for those just a few hours north.
“[‘Outer Banks’] benefits the Carolinas as a whole, from Manteo all the way down to Charleston,” Wagenseller said. “You got to look regionally –– what does this do for North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia? When you have the number one show on Netflix, and the number one show in the country, shooting in your backyard?”
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