Season 2 of PBS' Civil War drama Mercy Street premieres on Sunday January 22nd (as always with PBS, check your local station listings for exact time). The series is set at a military hospital in Union-occupied Alexandria, VA during the civil war. There's medical drama, spies, politics and families torn about by split loyalties. It's the kind of costume drama that PBS has traditionally imported from the BBC but with more grit
The show stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Josh Radnor, Gary Cole, Luke Macfarlane and Norbert Leo Butz. In advance of the new season, we had a chance to speak with Marine veteran Kyle Moser, who makes his acting debut in episode four of the new season. Moser lost his legs in an IED explosion in Afghanistan. He describes how he got the part and how he continues to rehab from his injuries.
How did you get your role on “Mercy Street”?
I was actually at Walter Reed for roughly four years just doing rehab. For the first two years it was really extensive, still knocking out surgeries and things like that. I did an internship with DIA as I was doing my rehab, so that was awesome. I met a woman named Major Cheever and I held onto her contact information. I moved back to Illinois, which is where my wife and I are from. We basically got an email from her, from Major Cheever, saying that there was a part for PBS's Mercy Street. I had tried before to get a spot on Free State of Jones as well through Major Cheever. Unfortunately, I didn’t hear anything back from that. But with PBS they sent me an email back and asked me to send them a headshot and my resume and said they’ll get back to me if they're interested. They got back to me and sent me a little script and told me to do an audition. I didn’t take theater in high school or anything like that. I’ve never really been in a play before. So I just kind of winged it and we made just a little home video and we sent it to them and they loved it.
Originally, it was actually two parts and they merged it into one character just because of how happy they were with my audition, which was great to hear. It was my first time ever doing anything like that.
Luke Macfarlane and Kyle Moser on the set of "Mercy Street."
What happens to your character is something that’s not really an issue with modern field medicine. Your character has sepsis, which doesn’t seem like much of a problem anymore. Did you guys talk about that when you were working on the show?
Actually, I thought it was gonna be smallpox, believe it or not, because a lot of the other characters had smallpox. They were dying from smallpox and right, kind of like not necessarily the theme, but the injuries or the deaths that were occurring were from smallpox in the season two. And so it kind of threw me off when I had found out it was sepsis. But yeah it was something unique to my character.
Josh Radnor and Mary Elizabeth Winstead
People who face injury in wartime now have a much higher rate of survival than they did in World War II, much less World War I or definitely the Civil War. So one of the most interesting things about the show is it portrays that death rate in a way that I don’t think a lot of people haven't seen before. You’ve personally benefitted from those medical advances. You were able to serve your country and come home.
There's a lot of irony in that, actually. My great, great grandfather is General McClellan from the Civil War. He worked directly under Abraham Lincoln.
Most amputees wouldn’t have survived just because with the explosions and the injuries, you might even have lead poisoning. So for me to survive and then portray a character that would have died in the war back then is just interesting.
One of the big things for me is just the fact that out of high school I went over to Afghanistan in 2011 and got injured on my first deployment. Within ten days, I got blown up twice. The first one was on a convoy, second one I was dismounted and was double amputee right above the knee. And then a couple of years later I'm in a TV show. I mean growing up people thought I was just really, really funny and so they thought I'd be a good actor, but I never really gave it any thought.
After I got injured and then I was able to get a contact, Major Cheever, and she sent me in the right direction. I was able to make it happen. It was really nerve-racking, but fortunately the cast is great and they made me comfortable.
Kyle Moser on the set of "Mercy Street."
What was your treatment like when you were at Walter Reed?
Unfortunately, I was on oxy basically my entire stay there. I wasn’t in the right state of mind to be honest with you. My stay at Walter Reed was not a good one. In terms of recovering and getting over everything, it was a must. The government, DOD, wanted to make sure that, as an injured infantryman, I was on the right path in life after these injuries.
But believe it or not, while I was still in the Marines, they still had us go into formations, which is a little ridiculous to me. I'm not gonna lie, it wasn’t the greatest experience. Coming out and moving back home, that, I think, was the best part of the rehab just because I was able to release and get away from all that.
I guess being close to your family always is a good thing, right?
Most definitely, most definitely. Yeah, we didn’t really have too much family or friends out there. We had a very little support system, so we were glad to come back.
Besides from your acting career, what have you been doing for work since you went home?
Going to school, taking advantage of the Voc Rehab, which is similar to the GI Bill, but if you have disability then you rate what's called Voc Rehab. I've been using that and just trying to get my degree, my associates right now, I'm not sure what in. But just working.
Kyle Moser and Luke Macfarlane on the set of "Mercy Street."
What was the filming like for you?
Going out there for two weeks is one thing, but being handicapped, it's a whole different spectrum. Typically, my wife goes with me everywhere and she helps me out. For these two weeks, I had to be entirely independent. Fortunately, they flew me out and they paid for everything.
I was super nervous. I have never done anything like that before. Typically, maybe you'd work your way up, you know you’re background or you're an extra or something like that, and then maybe you have a scene where you speak. But I just got accepted off the audition and had a speaking role right off the bat. We were able to make it happen, fortunately everyone was so nice.
Luke Macfarlane was the greatest guy ever. He came up and said hello and told me not to worry about anything and we're gonna make it happen. I was able to cry in front of like 50 people that I've never met before, which is something I didn’t think I could do, but I was able to do it, and it looked great.