“Tommy – do you mind if I smoke?”
“I don’t care.”
“…Well, even if you did, you’re not filming this… so tough shit.”
And thus began my interview with Jeffrey Dean Morgan, the effortlessly charming and hilariously blunt actor behind such memorable roles in film (Watchmen, The Losers) and television (Grey’s Anatomy, Supernatural). There’s just something down right likable about the guy – and it aids him when asked to play even the darkest of characters or moments. In the much-better-than-you-think The Possession, Morgan stars as Clyde, a neglectful father trying to rectify his fraught relationship with his daughters after a messy divorce. Of course – when an evil demon-in-a-box possesses his youngest daughter, said rectifying becomes, well, much more difficult. It’s a very strong performance that helps elevate The Possession over your typical exorcism and/or horror film.
In the following interview with Jeffrey Dean Morgan, he discusses his distaste for most horror films (and why The Possession is the exception to the rule), his penchant for playing absentee fathers and his upcoming slate of projects (including Magic City Season Two, the James Gunn scripted Pure, and the Chloe Moretz co-starring The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea). For the full interview, hit the jump.
*Bornedal is the incredibly talented and underrated filmmaker behind the Danish Nightwatch, The Substitute and Just Another Love Story, among others…
Jeffrey Dean Morgan: You and me both.
And he sets up such a mood in this film. Does that help you as an actor – especially the red light sequence with the glowing exit sign towards the end….
Jeffrey Dean Morgan: That was an added scene by the way. That wasn’t in the original of what we shot in Vancouver. We shot that in Miami – the morgue stuff – eight months later while I was doing Magic City.
What was the ending beforehand then?
Morgan: It was just the stuff in the hospital. That was all still there. I think they just wanted to add something. A little bit more tension. But I knew going in – and I’ve said this a couple times about Ole – I had seen his movies. And he uses the same DP – who’s brilliant. But the two of them together — they can set a mood so easily with lighting. That stuff’s really interesting to me. You’d be surprised how many directors just don’t know how to do that. They don’t know anything about it. And that added a lot to work with him. How he uses a camera. He knows where to put it. He knows the most effective place and that saves time. In a movie like this – I think we shot in thirty days. And I was really confident in what he would do in terms of camera and lighting. The reason this genre is so fucked up now is because people are just relying on blood, gore and loud fucking sounds. In talking with Ole and seeing his movies – he likes living in silence. In these moments, that I think are so effective, there isn’t any soundtrack. So it wasn’t just the lighting, it’s also what he thought and how he works with sound.
Morgan: Sure – I mean there was a story. There was actually a story to this because I’m not a fan of horror. I don’t think a proper horror movie has been done since The Shining. Really. I like Blair Witch as far as it was the first time somebody had come out with the found footage and the shaky camera. That was effective for me – but since then I just think it’s all garbage. So I wasn’t looking to do a horror movie. It’s no longer The Exorcist or Rosemary’s Baby or The Shining. It’s turned into the shaky camera, fucking gory, no story attached. Horrible directing and acting frankly. No one has the Sam Raimi Evil Dead thing down. That was his deal and it was brilliant. But it hasn’t been done in twenty fucking years. That being said – I got this script that actually had characters who were pretty fleshed out on the page and then talking to Ole before even before agreeing to do it – I knew he was going to let me play with it some more. Which as an actor is all you really need. Just tell me I get to fuck around. Just tell me I get to do some stuff. Most directors say yes – and they don’t let you do it. He actually let me play with it and trusted me with Natasha – which was the key. It really was that relationship.
What sort of stuff did you add into the film?
Morgan: Man – you’d be surprised how much stuff is in the movie that is just us fucking around. A lot of the stuff with me and the kids. A lot of it is improvised. There were scenes that were in the script certainly – but then we’d let the camera roll and a lot of those made the movie. Just little moments of this family trying to find their footing. A lot of directors and writers wouldn’t allow that stuff into the finished cut of a movie but he did – and I think that helps such a great deal to tell the story of what this relationship is. In less capable hands this would have been only a movie about a box with a fucking demon in it. And you wouldn’t have cared about the characters.
Speaking of Sam Raimi – how involved was he as executive producer on set?
Morgan: Raimi was much more involved in the story with the writers and the hiring of Ole. He watched all the dallies but he was never on set. He was prepping for the Oz thing at the time. We didn’t get notes either. The only note we ever got was that he was happy with what Ole was doing. So as long as we have the Sam Raimi stamp of approval, we all felt pretty good up in Vancouver… I still haven’t actually met Sam Raimi. I’ll see him tonight for the first time… I remember I was so stoked to hang out with Sam Raimi — [and then] I never saw him.
Morgan: I mean it’s a fear because I don’t have any tangible kind of thing I can pull from. I have not met any demons in real life – well, I don’t think. So my fear going into this was overacting. That’s kind of always my fear in anything. Doing this genre, I think what I’ve noticed is a lot of bad acting and I think generally that’s because people want to overact and I’m a big believer in subtlety – so really instead of thinking about facing a demon, what I tried to concentrate on was the fact that I had a little girl – my daughter was in trouble. That’s where I tried to pull from as an actor: the fact that there’s something going on with the person I love more than anything and I have to save her from it. So I played that angle more than the actual demon.
You tend to play a lot of absentee fathers – in this film, Watchmen, on TV in Weeds…
Morgan: …And Supernatural…
Yeah exactly – what is it about absentee fathers that interests you?
Morgan: Here’s the thing — I love conflict. I love a screwed-up guy. I want there to be more to a character than maybe what we see on the surface. And certainly I think being an absentee farther helps in adding a layer of conflict. Even if we play it or don’t play it – it helps a great deal and gives me something I can have in my head. The more conflict I can get, the better.
Morgan: I’ve read only two scripts. We haven’t shot anything yet. I leave on Thursday to go back to Miami and we start filming next week. I’ll say this – Ike’s in deep, deep shit. Far deeper than he got himself in season one. In talking with Mitch Glazer – we’ve just yet scratched the surface on the amount of trouble Ike gets himself into. So it’s going to be a bumpy road.
What are the differences for you between television and film?
Morgan: As a matter of fact – it’ll probably ruin my movie career – but I think better storytellers are in television. I think the way that landscape is right now movies like this are very rarely getting made. You’ve got the studios doing tent pole – “Avenger”, “Thor” things. There’s very few small films being made – which is a bummer because that’s where the great writing and great directing really get discovered. And right now because of, well, money mostly – those movies have been fazed out in the last five years. And the great thing about the world of television, now that cable’s around, all these storytellers are going [over there]. We don’t worry about anything there. It’s the Wild, Wild West on Cable TV. The directors and the writers and the actors – they’re all there right now. They’re used to be such a huge difference if you were doing movies or TV and there was a big stigma attached to it. But there really isn’t anymore. More and more of our finest actors are finding room for themselves in the world of television – but I truly believe it’s because some of the best stories are being told there.
Morgan: Yeah – Devil and the Deep Blue Sea still. A movie called The Rut still. Both of those are with Chloe Moretz. There’s a movie James Gunn wrote called Pure that I want to do.
What is that about?
Morgan: It is in a nutshell – I can’t even describe it. It’s the most original screenplay I’ve read in maybe my whole life – but it has to do with a serial killer who writes children’s books.
Would you be the serial killer?
Morgan: …Yeah. But that’s such a nutshell description. I can’t even begin to describe this script because it’s kind of indescribable. The landscape is so weird in film right now. You’re waiting on financing and all this crazy shit and with a movie like Devil and The Deep Blue Sea – it’s about our schedules and whenever one person is available, the other two aren’t so that’s been tough but I’ve got faith all this shit’s going to come together and we’ll see what happens come next year.
The Possession opens today in theaters everywhere.