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A working equation

ROB MORROW is sitting on the floor of his trailer at a downtown Los Angeles movie and TV studio doing yoga stretches. There’s a scented candle burning on the counter and numerous pictures of his 4-year-old daughter, Tu, up on the wall.

He’s trying to stay limber and rested for another long day on the set of his hit CBS series, “Numb3rs,” which airs Friday evenings. “It is consistently in the 12- to 14-hour days,” explains Morrow, a youthful 43.

In the hourlong thriller, executive produced by Ridley and Tony Scott, Morrow plays Don Eppes, a by-the-book FBI agent who ends up recruiting his math genius brother, Charlie (David Krumholtz), to help him solve crimes. Judd Hirsch plays their widowed father.

Don Eppes is a far cry from Morrow’s Emmy-nominated character, Dr. Joel Fleischman, in the 1990-95 CBS series “Northern Exposure.” Eppes is a serious team player; Fleischman was a whiny New York yuppie doctor who reluctantly took up practice in the small Alaskan community that funded his education.

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Morrow has also mellowed from his “Northern Exposure” era, which found him embroiled in a contract dispute in 1992 and leaving the series after the airing of its 101st episode.

A co-founder of the Naked Angels theater group in 1985, Murrow has worked on the New York and London stage. He made his first short film as a director, “The Silent Arm,” in 1993 and has directed episodic TV and the feature “Maze.”

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The feature film version of the classic Michael Bennett 1981 musical, “Dreamgirls,” is shooting on this complex.

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I have been there a lot because I have a weird connection to [director-choreographer] Michael Bennett -- I worked with Michael Bennett and I met my wife working with Michael Bennett. And he cast me in my first play that I got an agent from and directed it. It was called “Third Street.”

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What did you do for Bennett?

I was on a production assistant circuit for a while in New York. You worked 15 hours a day and literally got $30 a day. They asked me if I wanted to be one of his assistants for the Los Angeles company of “Dreamgirls.”

My wife was a receptionist for him. We met and I fell madly in love with her instantly. This was like in 1982, but, yet, I could barely talk to her because I was so shy.

We stayed in touch over the years because we have the same birthday. It’s now also our anniversary.

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And now you’re directing some on “Numb3rs” -- you did this Friday’s episode. Are you also acting in that one?

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I was heavy in it, which was not part of the plan.

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How did it end up part of the plan?

The script came in and it was good, and I didn’t want to give them a hard time. Fortunately, they made me light in the show preceding it so I could prep, which was really crucial. And they made me light enough [this week] so I can get my time in to edit, so I can’t complain. It was good stuff. I ended up working [as an actor] six out of the eight days.

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What’s directing like for you?

It’s a totally different brain set. The right brain is acting, the left brain is directing. In a nutshell, acting is all intuitive and play and narcissism, cultivating narcissism, which gets really boring as you get older. Directing is about looking at the world and trying to create worlds and support people and help people do their best.

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Besides yourself, several of the stars of the series, such as Judd Hirsch and David Krumholtz, have theater backgrounds.

Theater is a great training ground. The scenes we get to do in the house with the family feel like a play, with Judd and Krummy [Krumholtz] and myself. It is like a break for me from doing the procedural stuff, which is all dry.

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Well, how do you make the procedural stuff interesting for you as an actor?

I try to make it as real as possible in terms of feeling like there is a world going on -- it’s not just standing in front of a camera spewing jargon. I overprepare for those scenes so I can be flexible, so you can inject life into the show.

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As an actor, you must also feel like a kid playing cops and robbers.

That’s the reason I did it. I could have either part. The numbers [expert] just felt familiar to me. The huge appeal was being able to play like cops and robbers because it is so much fun to run down the street and say “Freeze.”

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Was having a family one of the reasons you decided to return to a weekly network series?

I was open to doing a series. I was looking, but I was also circumspect because I know what it entails. I wanted to do something I thought I would enjoy.

It is funny. In a perfect world I would make one movie a year that I would either direct or act in and make $15 or $20 million. But that is not my world. But that said, I think I am happier and better off in the life of a series. I am built for it in a weird way. I am really disciplined.

And I get to be with my family. I am home for dinner a couple nights a week; I am there for breakfast a couple of days a week. I am there on the weekends. So many movie stars, their lives are [messed up]. You are on the road, if you are lucky, six or eight months a year. How do you carry on a life? When I went to do [the 2002-03 Showtime series] “Street Time” in Toronto, I took them all up there. At that point we could do that. And when they offered me this, they said they were going to Toronto and I said, “I can’t.” It worked out.

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In hindsight, do you think you would have handled yourself differently on “Northern Exposure” in terms of your contract dispute in 1992?

Definitely. I mean I don’t regret it because it has gotten me where I am and my life is good and I’ve learned a lot. I didn’t understand how the business was.

-- Susan King


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