Drew Moerlein talks ‘Bloodline Killer’ film, portraying Captain America, and Ohio ancestry

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CINCINNATI, Ohio (WOUB) — Drew Moerlein portrays Captain America in Marvel 1943: Rise of the Hydra, a cinematic video game set for release next year.

As it turns out, this Captain America descends from a real-life hero in Ohio history.

In 1862, Confederate troops staged the Siege of Cincinnati in attempt to claim neutral Kentucky. Christian Moerlein — a 44 year-old Bavarian immigrant — joined the Ohio Infantry Militia, and spent a month guarding the Queen City in Company A. Cincinnati stayed out of secessionist hands.

The forthcoming video game isn’t Moerlein’s only project. He’s also the executive producer and a leading actor in Bloodline Killer, an independent horror film which premieres in theaters and on streaming platforms Friday.

Ahead of Bloodline Killer’s premiere, Moerlein reconnected with his Ohio roots in conversation with WOUB, to discuss both projects; and to share insights as a full-time actor and independent film producer with Ohio University Schools of Film and Theater students.

Drew Moerlein spoke with WOUB’s Ian Saint earlier this month. Find a transcript of their conversation below, edited for length and clarity.

An image of actor Drew Morlein as Michael Cole. He is sitting outside with a blue shirt on.
Drew Moerlein portrays Michael Cole, in a still from Bloodline Killer, premiering in theaters and streaming platforms Friday. [Vertical]
Ian Saint: Before we delve into your cinematic stories, can you touch upon your real-life Ohio history?

Christian Moerlein: Yeah, thanks for asking. My great-great-great-great-grandfather is Christian Moerlein. In the 1890s, the Christian Moerlein Brewing Co. became the largest exporter of German-style beers. My family is no longer involved; but the history lives on at the Moerlein Lager House, and the Cincinnati Reds serve it at their games — it’s really an honor.

Congratulations on the release of Bloodline Killer, where you’re both acting and executive-producing. How was juggling both positions?

Moerlein: I’m constantly reading scripts, finding stories that intrigue me — and the cherry on top is when a role intrigues me, as well. So I got this script across my desk, and I said, “Michael Cole, I understand him. I understand how he ticks, I understand his inner conflict, his joy, his dreams, his goals.” I reached out to my friend who ended up being a lead producer on it, and I said, “I want to play this role.” So we set up a Zoom, I met with the team, and it just clicked.

So I jumped onboard as an actor; and a few months later, as we got deeper into pre-production, the opportunity to come onboard in a producing capacity was presented to me. And I took them up on it because I believed in the script, I believed in the genre, and how this film is structured. It’s got a very classic slasher, thriller feel; but I think it’s very unique and authentic, in that there are three-dimensional characters and relationships that the audience can fall in love with, and come on this journey, and — knock on wood — can follow through many more movies in the future.

What did your Executive Producer duties entail?

Moerlein: So in indie film, you do it all on the producing side. Of course there’s delegating; but there’s not studios and layers — we are the people, on all levels, who are doing it all. So I was involved in the conversations about locations, what season to shoot in, how best to structure the contracts, and moving through all the aspects that producing offers.

Why did you decide to primarily shoot Bloodline Killer in Connecticut, rather than Los Angeles, and what season did you pick?

Moerlein: The reason for Connecticut was the bulk of the creative team is based on the East Coast; there are deep-rooted relationships in the Tri-State area. The tax credit in Connecticut is great. And the overall feel of the script felt northeast, felt seasonal, felt like we wanted layers on that — there’s a chill in the air. The film takes place around Halloween; so, in the fall. But interestingly, we shot multiple times; that was mostly schedule-related.

We shot out a couple of days [in Connecticut] in the fall. Then, we shot some interiors a few months later in Los Angeles, with Bruce Dern, Taryn Manning, and Shawnee Smith. And then the bulk of principal photography [in Connecticut] was in July, 2023. So, for your film students: there’s always an adjustment to be made, wardrobe-wise, when shooting in July for a film set in October. We had to be very cognizant of that; the costume designers were incredible about managing all those moving pieces.

And of course, there’s some movie magic in post[-production] to make it look like fall. There’s also some movie magic that happens in camera setups, to specifically cut out foliage — or blooms — that would not necessarily be there in the fall. So these are little continuity things — that we often don’t think of as viewers — that must be digested, examined, and figured-out by the production team.

Did you pick summer for most principal photography because that’s when natural lighting is longest?

Moerlein: That was a beautiful coincidence. Schedules, honestly — most of Hollywood and filming comes down to schedules. And a massive impending strike [hastened our determination]; everybody from Production Assistants to Executive Producers were ready to rock, and embrace when we were shooting. It magically worked out that we got some beautiful stuff [before the four-month SAG-AFTRA strike commenced July 14, 2023].

Bloodline Killer comes out Friday, April 26. You’re doing a theatrical release, and releasing on major home-streaming platforms, simultaneously rather than sequentially. Why is it still important to do a theatrical release, and why did you decide to do a home release at the same time?

Moerlein: We wanted to give everyone the ability to watch this movie on the day it releases in whatever format they desire. Where do I watch awesome slashers? I go to the movie theater and watch them on huge screens. But the fact of the matter is that not everyone will [or can] go to the movie theater; so we want to give them that [alternative] ability, and not take away from [the experience of participating in a premiere].

You selected Vertical Entertainment as Bloodline Killer’s distributor. For our Ohio University School of Film students and prospective filmmakers, distribution can be one of the more daunting aspects to navigate. Can you walk us through how you landed on Vertical for distributing your film?

Moerlein: For sure. I think the first order of operations is researching and exploring distributors’ slates: seeing what types of films they put out, and how they put them out — domestically, globally in foreign markets, theatrically, VOD [Video On Demand], straight to streamers. [Weigh] how they execute this with what your goals as a creative team of production are. Find a distributor that you are in alignment with, and see what their success is with films that may be in a similar lane [as yours].

Of course, you may not have the luxury of choosing between a bunch of different distributors. There may not be that interest; the market is saturated. But I think exploring and finding out — I mean, it’s just like you would with colleges. Define your goals, your dream schools, your dream distributors… build that list, and your reasons why. Then, move down to “safety schools” — or “safety distributors,” that you’ll still have a good opportunity of breaking even or making money with them distributing your product. Then, have your “fallbacks.” I think college is a great [comparison to fielding distributors]: dream schools, safety schools, and fallback schools.

Meeting, and getting in touch with, those distributors is generally relationship-based. We have folks on the team who have relationships with different distributors; and we have conversations, meetings, sending them screeners [confidential pre-release viewings of the film]. We build a relationship, and try to find a distributor that’s going to push this out to as many people around the world as possible.

Let’s pivot to you starring as Captain America in Marvel 1943: Rise of Hydra. Cinematic video games are a nascent medium for actors. You’ve acted in plays, television shows, and movies. How does full-performance capture [motion and voice] acting in a big-budget video game compare and contrast with acting in those more traditional realms?

Moerlein: I do the exact same preparation. We do the exact same rehearsal style: we break down the script, we find the beats, we understand the character, we come in and work with our scene partners, and then we get on set. It’s the same experience as television and film.

Drew Morlein portrays Captain America in a forthcoming cinematic video game.
Drew Moerlein portrays Captain America in the forthcoming cinematic video game Marvel 1943: Rise of the Hydra. [Image courtesy of SkyDance/Marvel]
The only difference is the environment. You are not in a typical environment; you’re not wearing the outfit of the character, and there are a lot of technological differences. I’m probably not going to get too deep into any of that [due to Marvel confidentiality concerns], but that’s the only thing.

People often ask, “how do you imagine that world around you, when it’s not there?” And in a sweet way, I’m always like, “that’s what we do all the time.” Unless you are in a Western, where you’re literally riding a horse amidst the cattle in New Mexico, you’re always imagining the set, the environment, the circumstances — let’s be honest, the circumstances are never real, we’re playing make-believe.

So yeah, in our self-tapes or auditions, we’re just in our clothing — just Drew’s clothes — we walk into a studio or we’re in my home studio, and it’s really just about building that in your own imagination. It’s the same exact process as film and television, in my experience; I treat it the same way, and it’s the same level in caliber for sure.

Captain America was created in 1940 as an explicitly anti-Nazi figure, and you’re portraying him in Nazi-occupied Paris. What is important to you about Captain America’s narrative at that point of history, and portraying it today?

Moerlein:  Oh, great question. I love this role. I like to believe that I live my life striving for the same moral fiber and compass that Cap lives by. I think his reason for being is to help good prevail over evil, as simple as that. He is a beacon of light, that is — in every single moment, in every fight, before he throws every punch — trying to not have violence; [only] if he must, to defeat evil with that violence. Sadly, based on the state of our world and our society, I think that sentiment of kindness and leading with goodness could not be more important today than it was then. Look around us — all of the struggles and conflict we’re looking at, on a daily basis — and just spread a little kindness, and lead with goodness.

Juxtaposing Bloodline Killer and Captain America is fascinating. There are risks and rewards to independently producing your passion project, versus acting for a blockbuster franchise. How do you evaluate what to pursue, in order to sustain a living in performance and production?

Moerlein: What’s fascinating about being an actor — and I love this — is that nothing is the same. There is no day that is the same for me, ever, because I’m working a different job; or I’m working the same job, but it’s different lines and it’s in a different location. Nothing is the same with different people around; so, there’s a thrill to that.

Interestingly, the creative stimulation — and the creative permissions and ownership that I feel — I actually feel for both projects almost equally, and that’s a testament to both teams. With Marvel and Skydance New Media, I think you could imagine that there would be a plan for “Drew, go execute this plan.” That is not what it feels like at all. It is a very malleable and living experience, being on set with this team. They’re open to what I bring, what I feel, and how Cap comes alive through me. And the journey of this game, I feel like they’re giving us a lot of room to play.

But yes, I totally see that we do all the things that we do to work, make money, and do our passion projects. I see a film like Bloodline Killer and go, “I’m going to use my resources. I’m going to use my abilities to make this happen as a producer.” I tell [budding creatives] all the time, “You’ve got to work. You make your money everywhere, so you can do what you want to do and create what you want to create.” People say, “I don’t want to do these things. I don’t want to do this [gig].” And I’m like, “Does it pay money? Let’s do it. Because then that gives me the ability to potentially one day not have to work this job. And I want to create this film; get some of our best friends and make a passion project.” And I’ve got the ability to do that.

As a working actor and budding film producer, what advice would you like to impart for our Film and Performance students?

Moerlein: First of all, you’ve got a high-powered, professional camera in your pocket; so you have the ability to learn what a shot looks like. You can watch a movie and say, “that’s a cool shot,” and you can figure out how to recreate that shot. You can learn how to interact with the camera, no matter how incredible of an actor you are. When you get on a set, there is a certain amount of experience, and a certain amount of understanding — where you are being captured from, what those angles are, what shot we’re on. “Are we on a mid? Are we on a tight? Are we on a wide? What is the coverage?” So those are things that I think you can learn; research them for free, at your house, with your camera. You can buy super-inexpensive LED lighting kits. If you’re auditioning, I’d highly recommend that you get a decent self-tape setup, and you can do that on a budget — that’s sort of standard, now.

For artist acting, train your craft like a muscle. It’ll atrophy if you don’t train it. Find and surround yourself with people who inspire you to dig deeper, who champion you to be yourself — that is key.

You need to use your voice. You are the only one with your unique set of life experiences; tell your story through your life lens. And that transitions to really important [advice]…

I’m big on business and managing your money. This is a business. You’re the CEO of your business and brand. Learn to make money, and manage that money; you can invest it into your career, and do what you want. And that’s one of the biggest things. You can be the most phenomenal artist; but how on Earth can that sustain you in our current society.

Lastly, do it all. Be a Swiss Army knife in the entertainment industry. That’s what I do; I write weekly, I produce, I do every single type of acting — because that gives me multiple revenue streams, to then be able to invest back into what I am passionate about.

Bloodline Killer premieres in select theaters and VOD streaming platforms Friday. Marvel 1943: Rise of Hydra is slated for release in 2025. Drew Moerlein’s official website is