As we walk up crowded Atlantic Avenue, where luxe Cobble Hill turns into deluxe Brooklyn Heights, Moss-Bachrach’s hoodie is no longer covering his head. He’s on the go. New Yorkers are generally pretty good about not bothering people they recognize (or maybe they’re just too busy to notice). “I’ve always sort of done what I’ve wanted,” Moss-Bachrach tells me when I ask about his slow-and-steady-wins-the-race mentality—although he’s quick to point out that it’s not about winning, but working, and doing it on his terms. “I never moved to LA,” he says. “Always New York. I always stayed pretty involved in doing plays. I was here for a pretty exciting period of New York cinema. I always made enough money to get by. I didn’t feel so strongly about getting rich and famous or anything. It’s nice to be getting more recognition now, but I was never asking when it was going to be my turn.”

Most people I know in the acting business are going crazy just trying to land non-speaking roles on pilots that have zero chance of getting picked up; how was Moss-Bachrach able to just put his head down and work? I ask if that took a great deal of patience.

“No,” he tells me. We’re crossing into Dumbo—down under the Manhattan Bridge—and a train starts rumbling over our heads. He continues after it goes by. “It’s not patience, because I was satisfied.”

That sounds like something somebody who has found success would say after the fact. But the more I talked with other people who know and have worked with Moss-Bachrach, I found that he’s always operated with the same mindset.

“I don’t envy any actor in the world. I think it’s a really, really difficult thing to do, and it’s a hard business. You’re beholden to everyone else on earth, and you have very little control,” says Jenni Konner, who was first introduced to Moss-Bachrach when she was working as coproducer and co-showrunner of Girls. She could tell right away that he was a guy who got very invested in every character he played and didn’t have grand ambitions of fame. “He’s just a guy who shows up ready to do his job, and he really likes doing that job.”

Moss-Bachrach landed a role in the show’s third season as Desi Harperin, a musician whom Allison Williams’s Marnie marries and later divorces. Desi was initially meant to come and go within an episode or two, but Konner and Lena Dunham both ended up loving the character. On the page, Konner admits, Desi was “a little bit of a ridiculous cliché”—a central casting Brooklyn musician-artist fuckboi. “But Ebon brought so much invention to Desi. He’s truly one of the funniest people I’ve ever met, as funny as any comedy writer I’ve ever worked with, and he’s also really easy on the eyes. It was a little bit like finding a unicorn.”

Moss-Bachrach’s Girls run—he stuck around through the show’s sixth and final season—may have been the first time viewers started taking note of his talents. But among his fellow actors, Moss-Bachrach already had a reputation. “He auditioned for a movie I wrote years ago, and he was so fucking good,” the actor and writer Bob Odenkirk tells me. The movie never ended up getting made, but Odenkirk says he kept an eye on the young actor, curious to see what he was up to. “He’d be doing some theater stuff here and there,” Odenkirk says, “and not until Girls almost 20 years later did he get a part that let him show a bigger audience what he can do.”

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