It’s quite a resume. Since ‘St. Elsewhere,’ David Morse has added a long list of TV, film and theater projects. His latest: ‘George B.’
TV audiences still know him best as the quiet, long-suffering Dr. Jack “Boomer” Morrison on the medical series “St. Elsewhere.” But since the demise of the Emmy Award-winning drama a decade ago, David Morse has developed into one of the most versatile actors working today in film, TV and theater.
He’s played his share of good guys (Sean Penn’s “The Indian Runner”) and bad guys (“The Getaway,” “The Negotiator”) and worked with such respected directors as Terry Gilliam (“12 Monkeys”) and Robert Zemeckis (“Contact”).
On the small screen, he’s starred in the Stephen King miniseries “The Langoliers” and countless TV movies, including “The Taking of Peggy Ann” and “Dead Ahead: The Exxon Valdez Disaster.”
Last year, he received rave reviews for his performance as a pedophile in the acclaimed off-Broadway hit “How I Learned to Drive.”
Morse’s latest film, “George B.,” opens Friday. In this small, independent production, written and directed by first-timer Eric Lea, Morse plays the 40ish George, the ultimate innocent, who works as a janitor and just wants to be happy. After hitting the jackpot gambling in Reno, Nev., George is able to keep the mansion he bought from an eccentric widower and start a cleaning business with some friends. But even his optimism is tested when he meets Angela (Nina Siemaszko), a young, saucy store clerk whom he thinks will complete his life.
Morse, who will also be seen next year in the film “Crazy in Alabama,” just wrapped “The Green Mile,” Frank Darabont’s (“The Shawshank Redemption”) adaptation of the Stephen King novel starring Tom Hanks.
The shy, soft-spoken 45-year-old actor, who lives in Philadelphia with his wife and three children, recently discussed “George B.” and his career choices in his trailer on the “Green Mile” set in Hollywood.
Question: You don’t seem like you’ve had much difficulty breaking out of your “Boomer” image.
Answer: I was stuck as a “Boomer” type in a lot of people’s minds. I will be always grateful to NBC. I got to do some different characters [in TV movies], but in terms of feature films, I would think that that image of that guy was so ingrained in people’s heads, they really believed I couldn’t do anything else.
Q: Then what changed producers’ and filmmakers’ perception of you?
A: Working with Sean [in “The Indian Runner”] sort of started it rolling. I don’t care about the money [when I pick roles]. That is not what’s going to be important here. I just need, as an actor, to do as many different things that I can to make me feel good about myself.
Q: “George B” is a low-budget independent film with a first-time writer-director. Did you do the film because George was such a different character?
A: That was certainly part of it. After “Indian Runner” and “Crossing Guard” [with Penn], I got a bunch of independent things offered me. The scripts--some of them were really good. To me there is something so appealing at the heart of “George B.” and that guy. I felt really attracted to that. It wasn’t until we started filming that I learned [George] was a real guy.
Q: You made this movie in the summer of 1996. Is it discouraging that it took so long to find a distributor and get released?
A: An independent film really has everything going against it. I had enough experience with them to know how difficult it is, so you can’t count on too much. You are really grateful for the experience.
One of the nice things about do ing them is usually the feeling. When people come together it is different than when they are doing a bigger film, because they are all doing it for the right reasons--the material or to move up and do something they haven’t done before.
Q: You’ve been working on “The Green Mile” for nearly five months. Is it difficult to keep the momentum going for that long?
A: It’s definitely draining. There hasn’t been a whole lot of breaks for anybody.
Q: What’s it been like working for Frank Darabont? How did it compare to working with a director like Sean Penn?
A: Well, he’s [Darabont] a writer, first of all. This is really his second film, so he’s really still finding out how to work with actors. He’s doing a good job. With every director, it’s different. Because he’s lived through the project and he’s heard it all and seen it all in his head, he has a very strong idea of what things should be. We’re really fulfilling those ideas as much as anything. That is what our job is on this film.
With Sean, he wants to be surprised. He doesn’t necessarily want what he’s written, although we’ll do what he’s written. He likes the danger of acting. He’s hired people and he creates an environment where that kind of work can take place.
Q: Do you prefer working that way?
A: I’m happy doing it either way. I just did a film called “Crazy in Alabama” (directed by Antonio Banderas), which also was a great experience. It was a strange hybrid of an independent film and studio film. It was a very limited time period for a small amount of money, so it had the feel of an independent film in a lot of ways. Because he had such a time pressure, there wasn’t a lot of time for that exploration of the “let’s-see-what-happens filmmaking.”
Q: Is it difficult to play bad guys? Have you ever turned down a role because you hated the character?
A: It depends on the film. For something like [an escapist film] “The Getaway,” the fun is just playing a really bad guy. In a film that is really trying to [say] something like Atom Egoyan’s “The Sweet Hereafter,”. . . . He asked me to do the role of the father who molests his daughter. I knew that was going to be a wonderful movie. The script was so beautiful to read. But I hated the character. I told him, “I can’t do this guy. I can’t justify what he’s done and how he’s done it.” Then I wound up doing a play in New York in which I was a pedophile. [That character] I understood completely.
A: Partly it was the man I was playing in “How I Learned How to Drive.” He was in love. He didn’t see he was a pedophile. He didn’t see he was an alcoholic. It was a time when people didn’t talk about it at all. He was a guy who really loved this girl and wanted to give her everything. There were things in him that were out of control. He just closed his eyes to those things which were out of control. I could understand that. But the other guy--I just couldn’t.