I always tell [my brother], ‘If I ever change, you need to get a running start and knock my ass out.’
Mitchell Slaggert’s fortuitous journey into modeling—and subsequently acting—is an archetypal story imbued with unbelievable strokes of luck. “Country Boy Hunk Becomes the Face of Calvin Klein Underwear,” wrote W magazine in 2016, which signaled the arrival of the then 21-year-old mechanical engineering student from Cape Fear Community College. As the story goes, Slaggert was scouted on campus by Daniel Peddle—the same man who plucked Jennifer Lawrence off the street in New York’s Union Square a decade before she would become Hollywood’s highest paid actress. Slaggert had been on a completely different trajectory: He had just come off a job interview with the Department of Homeland Security. Specifically, it was for a posting within the tactical response arm of the U.S. Border Patrol, which would place him in Texas after graduation.
Two weeks after fate’s timely intervention, Slaggert was signed to DNA Model Management. Soon, he was on the set of Calvin Klein’s latest underwear campaign with Kendall Jenner. By his own admission, Jenner was an unfamiliar face as he had only recognized her by name. Versace? Prior to meeting Donatella, he had only heard of the fashion house from a Migos song. Within the month, he was gracing the pages of Italian Vogue and GQ—that magazine he’d never heard of either. This is all to say that he was super green, right? Given the history of CK underwear models transitioning into acting—preceded in this pants-dropping endeavor by the likes of Jamie Dorman, Antonio Sabàto Jr., and Travis Fimmel—Slaggert, too, seemed destined for the dream factory.
Now 23 and still infant in his acting career, Slaggert’s biggest movie to date is John R. Leonetti’s Wish Upon (2017), playing the love interest of a high school girl who’s in possession of a cursed music box that does screwy things to her friends in exchange for granting her wishes. However, preceding that genre feature was an artful indie called Moss, which is just now finding limited release after premiering at the L.A. Film Festival last summer. Moss is the brainchild of Peddle—the same casting agent who moonlights as a filmmaker when he’s not breaking in new modeling talent—and Slaggert was earmarked for the lead role. Never mind that he had never acted before.
Shot off the coast of the two Carolinas, Moss is a Southern Gothic coming-of-age that follows its titular character over the course of a day when he turns 18. Moss is an emotionally-stunted teen coming into adulthood. His mother passed while delivering him and he’s now surviving by his wits amongst the isolated bayous and beaches with his distant father (Billy Ray Suggs). When Moss meets an alluring, older backpacker (Christine Marzaco) in a chance encounter, they embark on a psychedelic journey of self-discovery—with the aid of an apple bong and shrooms. Plucked from obscurity and shaken from the quotidian day-to-day of another existence—Moss’s journey is not unlike Slaggert’s own. He’s currently repped by Hollywood powerhouse William Morris Endeavor.
Moss opens in Los Angeles and New York on July 6.
What are you doing right now, Mitchell?
I’m at my grandmother’s—hanging out by the lake in Michigan and just lovin’ life!
You’re originally from there, aren’t you?
Born in Michigan. I was raised down in Georgia so I’m a hybrid, but I usually just say Georgia.
And how long have you been living in New York City?
Three years. I’m trying to give it two more years and then get out of there.
I was there for pretty much five years exactly. They’re right what they say.
You do your time and get out and go back to where people are a little more sane. [Laughs]
You’ve been on quite the ride these past few years. It’s like getting struck by lightening. A lot of starry-eyed people out there would literally kill someone to have that happen to them.
It’s like I won the lottery three times. It’s crazy, man.
Has it all sunk in yet?
Yes and no in a sense because I’m still getting blessings sent my way. It just kinda keeps going! I just keep riding the waves.
What’s been surprising to you?
Just how much it takes to make movies, you know? There are so many minute details that you don’t even think about when you’re watching movies. When you’re actually a part of the creation, there’s just unsurpassable things you pick up from being on set. And I was blessed with a good bullshit barometer from Georgia. [Laughs] Coming from where I come from and meeting, technically, A-list celebrities, you don’t think about how old they are or what they’re like. You just see them on screen. I met Margot Robbie on set one time and she’s the nicest person ever, you know? And that’s amazing. I’m just sitting there drinking coffee and when my hand wasn’t on it, she comes over: “Hey, Mitch! I got you a coffee.” I’m not gonna be like, “Nah! Thanks, though.” [Laughs] I gave her a hug. That was definitely a surprise because you mainly hear the bad stories. People talk about how this person was rude or whatnot. So that was a dose of reality—and a blessing—to see that there are still genuine individuals out there.
Oh yeah. There’s a wild spectrum of people in this industry.
There’s definitely a big spectrum.
What’s more comfortable to you: auditioning for movies or going to castings for modeling?
Auditioning for movies. I’m not knocking modeling by any means, but acting really keeps you occupied. I can’t sit idle at all. I always have to be doing something. I’m blessed to be acting right now where I can invest my time studying it, going to school, and keeping myself busy.
I read a lot of the things that were written about you around the time you were discovered. The feeling I got was that you were always going to have the upper hand in all of this. It all fell into your lap and you sort of ran with it. I’m sure you would peace out if one day you lost interest in it or something didn’t feel right.
Yup, and it’s great. I have good people on my team and they’re close like family. They look out for my best interests and we watch each other’s backs and take care of each other. All I have to say is, “That’s not how I want to represent myself” and leave it at that. They all know me pretty well and respect that and I’m just blessed to be surrounded by a great team of people.
Moss is a great showcase for you. How long has it been now that you filmed this?
It was about two years ago in April and it was amazing. It was a skeleton crew of four people trekking out to the swamps: me, the director, the cameraman, and the art director in rural North Carolina. I’m a little worried because North Carolina is beautiful, and now that the movie’s coming out, people are gonna be like, “Oh my gosh, I should move there.” [Laughs] We have to keep the beauty to ourselves.
I really like how Daniel [Peddle] described this film: “a languid canoe ride down the river.” It’s really strong in its meditative and dream-like qualities. How did you react when he first asked you to act in it?
I was blown away at first. Acting wasn’t even on my horizon at that point. He obviously discovered Jennifer Lawrence and was like, “Watch her movies and study that a little bit.” So I watched The Hunger Games. I’m sitting there thinking there’s three cameras on her and maybe fifty people just staring at her crying right now. That’s weird, you know? I was hesitant to get into acting. But then I—excuse my language—mentally chucked that into the f-ing bucket and just did it. And it’s going well!
It felt right to you.
I’ve definitely been bitten by the bug. I’m at Stella Adler [Studio of Acting] right now. It’s one of the best classes and one of the best studios in New York City. I’m taking theater with Patrick Quagliano and I’m taking acting for film and television with Todd Thaler. Todd actually already cast me in a movie so he’s my professor and he helped me with work as well. But going back to you asking me about walking away—in high school, I went to enlist in the Marine Corps. Ever since I was little, I wanted to go to the military. I liked all the toys they have. [Laughs] Essentially, that didn’t happen because I got into a bad car accident when I was seven years old and lost a kidney. But it all worked out in my favor.
You must think about this because it was literally one chance encounter at a very specific moment in time that put you here. Where do you imagine you’d be right now had Daniel chased you down that day and you decided, “Yeah, I’m not gonna call this dude back”?
[Laughs] Still in school, or maybe down in Texas. My uncle is a two-star general at Homeland Security and he got to talking to me about BORTAC. Essentially, BORTAC is special forces at Homeland Security. So that’s what I was gonna go do. I was gonna move down to Texas and basically do drug raids and whatever, whatever. His name is Billy [Ray Suggs] and he was my mentor. He plays my father in Moss.
No way. That’s him?
Yeah! He would come to the house at 4 AM every morning in high school and train me and my brother to join the Marine Corps. He was in the special forces in Vietnam. So we had that good connection where he’s not a second father but he still has great morals and integrity, which reinforced my beliefs a little more. I look up to him. It’s just amazing how this all worked out. Billy commented on one of my photos and Daniel gave me a call: “Who the F is this Billy guy?” I’m like, “That’s my mentor!” So Daniel gives Billy a call and—from his voice—Daniel’s like, “Oh yeah. I want Billy in this movie.” So he took a chance on both of us and we provided. We’ve never been one to half-ass anything we do.
I’m assuming Billy is super supportive of your acting career now.
Oh yeah. He’s doing great as well. He’s got a Home Depot commercial coming out. I called him up one time with the Calvin Klein money. I was like, “Hey man! When’s the last time you were in New York City?” He’s like, “It’s been like four decades.” I’m like, “I found you a flight for 87 bucks. You leave in four weeks.” [Laughs] So he comes up to New York City. He’s 67 years old and he’s at the same modeling agency I’m at! Arguably, it’s the most prestigious modeling agency in the world. Hilarious! This is like a Cinderella story, man. It’s beautiful.
I’m actually embarrassed to admit this because it was so much in the foreground: I didn’t pick up on the biblical references in Moss until way later, regarding Adam and Eve and the bong apple. Are you from a religious family?
Yeah, I still go to church as often as possible. But I firmly believe that nature is one of the closest things to God so even though church is a place of worship, you don’t necessarily have to go to church. I’ve probably seen the movie eight times and I still pick up on some minute, new things that I didn’t pick up on previously. There are so many tiny details that Daniel threw in and they’re so subtle. It’s such a realization when you pick up on them, you’re like, “Ohhh… Okay. Alright.”
I didn’t pick up on the Little Red Riding Hood reference either. Moss has his red hoodie and he’s making a woodland journey to his grandmother’s house—
There’s another twist where the girl [played by Christine Marzano] is the wolf. But then she turns out not to be the bad guy so there’s another twist.
It felt like your character speaks to a much younger innocence—way younger than that of someone who just turned 18. Moss seems incredibly stunted, which is understandable. His mother died while having him. His dad is there, but really, absent. He’s growing up in isolation and admits to never having been in a relationship until meeting Mary. What were you like when you were that age?
Growing up, I wanted to be Steve Irwin. So I spent all of my time outside just playing with critters and had massive aquariums outside. It was easy to adapt to this character since I just had to go back mentally a few years and just be a dirtier version of myself.
What was up with Moss just casually snacking on cereal with soda? Is that a thing?
Oh yeah—I’d never heard of that. That was Daniel’s doing.
It definitely colors your character a certain way. That scene got lodged in my head.
Every time I watch the movie you hear the audience go, “Ughhhhh.” I ate all of that.
You took an acting course at NYU a while back. Was that in preparation for Moss?
Yeah, I had two and a half weeks of acting training before I shot this movie. You know—I’m not gonna name names or anything, but I don’t recommend this acting coach. You’re in a class of twenty people and you get five minutes of time with the guy to do your scene, he critiques it, he tells you what to work on, and then you move on. It’s a great class where you can learn a lot off other people as well, but acting is kind of like playing a sport in the sense that you have to do it in order to learn it. You have to practice.
Do you feel the same way about modeling? How much do they prep you at the start?
They throw you in at the deep end and you start swimming. [Laughs] But they’re very good at what they do in the sense that they set you up with the right people—they set you up for success. DNA won’t take you on if they don’t have faith in you.
So how are you dividing your time right now between modeling and acting? Is it balanced?
Right now, it’s fairly fifty-fifty, but I’m definitely more passionate about acting.
What was it like going from Moss to Wish Upon? The scale and everything is so different.
So—I got very lucky with Wish Upon because the director [John R. Leonetti] was such a genuine individual. From the top down, people wanted to work at their best for him because he was such a nice guy. It was a very easy transition because the whole crew was made up of stellar individuals. Everyone was happy and lovely and enjoying their time, you know? It just made the whole movie-making process easy. That was definitely surreal. I’m sitting there hanging out with Ryan Philippe and Joey King—all these people I recognized—and they were just like how Margot Robbie was. They were very nice, genuine individuals.
Do you still want to do action movies? The great thing about it now is that you can explore the things that were exciting to you about the Marine Corps, just in a different context.
Yeah, I would definitely love to portray some heroes from World War II or the Vietnam Era—yadda yadda yadda. I definitely want to do action stuff and that’s what’s drawing me to the movie industry: to do my own stunts, you know? I wanna jump out of planes and shoot firearms. My father instilled in me from a young age that a firearm is a tool so I’m very efficient with one of those things and I can kind of see the camera as the same thing. I would love to be behind the camera a little bit just to get a bigger sense of how everything works. That Billy guy—he’s lived a life that needs to be told. He’s telling his whole life story on a voice recorder right now. I’m gonna take that and make it into a movie eventually and immortalize the guy.
What kind of films were you watching before this became your life? A favorite actor?
This is the wrong answer, but I was watching anything Nat Geo and Planet Earth. The right answer is Heath Ledger. I looked up to that guy a lot. He’s no longer around unfortunately, but I liked his work ethic. Me and him alike in the sense that, once I get my mind on something, I can’t stop thinking about it. I believe that he was the same way. I believe that once he put his mind to something, it kind of became an obsession. I look up to that mentality because I relate to it. And his work was proof of what he was capable of. Acting isn’t easy, but some parts of it are easy. I feel that my parents have given me such a blessed life that I can relate to a lot of things and draw upon things for acting.
With Heath Ledger, not a single person has said a bad thing about him. That’s a legacy worth leaving behind as well. Being good. He was a good person.
Yeah, he was a really good person as well. I’m thankful I got a brother who’s in the Marine Corps. He’s on deployment right now. I always tell him, “If I ever change, you need to get a running start and knock my ass out.” [Laughs] I’m blessed with a family that can and will do that in case I ever start riding on my high horse around town. I don’t want to be like that. I want to be happy. I don’t believe cocky people are happy. They have something to prove and that’s unfortunate.
I hope you don’t change. Still—that must’ve been pretty intense for you, going from zero to one hundred and full-throttle with the Calvin Klein campaign. You have to swallow the sun.
Here’s a funny story for you: So my dad’s a big outdoorsy guy. He enjoys hunting and just being self-sustained. He tries to live off the land as much as possible. He’s also a mechanical engineer so a third of his house is a workshop. He’s got massive moose heads, big ol’ hogs, whitetails—all sorts of trophies from all our dinners. [Laughs] Once the Calvin Klein underwear thing came out, my mom threw up massive posters out there in his man cave—me sitting up there in my underwear. He goes, “I love our son, but I don’t want to be staring at him in his underwear every morning.” My mom is my number one fan. She thinks I’m famous and I’m like, “No, mom.” She always keeps all the magazines, the Versace posters—I’m thankful. When I have grandkids one day, I’ll be like, “Here’s pawpaw!”