|An interview with James Morrison
(1983) CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF.
"I saw the movie when I was a kid but I only vaguely remember it. I remember Paul Newman's eyes and Elizabeth Taylor's breasts -- that's about it." James Morrison is gently intense, smoking a Camel. His classic all-American good looks are the stuff of soap operas, movie magazines and Tennessee Williams' plays. For the moment, Morrison is inhabiting Brick in Williams' CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF. Is he afraid of the inevitable comparisons?
"No, I'm not. I have no idea what's been done with it before. I gather -- from someone I trust implicitly, Jose (Quintero) -- that the depth of Brick's pain hasn't been fully explored before. I'm perfectly willing to explore that -- it's the only way you can get to the truth. That's what ultimately happens: Experiencing a reawakening through re-discovering it. A rebirth."
Getting the part was "a fluke," the rangy actor acknowledges. "To tell you the truth, I'm not sure exactly how I got called in. I think it has a lot to do with my friend Paddi Edwards. I just knew I hadn't been sent in and was wondering why not. There was a little bit of confusion as to how old or how young I am. A lot of people thought I was too young for the part. It turns out I'm not. When Jose and I met, it was apparent I wasn't. I'm Brick -- at least now."
Brick is 27; Morrison is 29. "We both have older souls than we appear to have. I look younger than I am. When I first got here, I used to go on TV calls for 17, 18, 20 year olds. It was fine until I opened my mouth, then it was all over. When I went in for Brick, I was ready.
"I wouldn't be emotionally or spiritually ready to portray this alcoholic man -- with all the guilt and denial -- if I wasn't sober myself, sober in every sense of the word."
Another Camel, Morrison runs his hands through his hair and re-adjusts his feet. His hair and boots are dirty blond. His eyes are sky blue, cloudless.
"Do you remember the first time you felt like you lost your sense of innocence, when the world felt like a rotten place because everything was impure? I don't remember the first time I really felt like the world was a toilet and I was just kinda swimming around in it; I don't remember hearing the explosion but I remember being shell-shocked for a long time. That's what's happening to Brick. He's protecting his virtue in what he thinks the world should be but isn't. I have had periods in my life like that -- when the world was no longer such an idyllic place to live in. So why not just crawl in the corner and decompose? That's a terrible feeling.
"But my personal life has nothing to do with Brick's. My personal life is my personal life and if I start imposing it on the story, I'm not going to tell the story as it should be told. Sure, Brick and I have a lot in common. But my job as a storyteller is to tell Williams' story, not mine.
"I'm a free-thinking, adult male; I have no hang-ups about my sexuality. Brick certainly does. In order to feel that strongly about my sexuality as Brick, I have to think in terms of the story. I can't use my own life; it would be futile."
On Quintero: "He's different from anybody I've ever met. Besides possessing a touch of genius, he's incredible. Amazing. He operates from a base of vulnerability and compassion and incredible understanding of the human condition which I, at times, can't fathom. How can he lose? Working from that base is the height of human aspiration as an actor, as a human being. It forces you to be vulnerable.
"There's a great deal of tenderness in the story which I'm not sure has been explored fully in the past. Where other people will see the callousness or the impurities of the world, Jose sees tenderness. That's where he lives."
For Morrison, dreams of acting came early, while growing up in Alaska. "I remember seeing movies when I was a kid and acting out every part on the way home. I remember acting like a goon around people I really, really respected in order to get their attention and they would invariably say, 'What's wrong with this boy?' "
Morrison has only been in L.A. "about two years. This is the first American play I've done here." He's appeared in SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER at Theater 40, GREEK at the Matrix and CLOUD NINE at the L.A. Stage Company West. (He understudied in the latter two).
"I think this can be considered a payoff," he says of CAT. "This exposure should do something -- I certainly can't get more exposed." When asked if he wants to be a movie star, he says, "I'd like to work in films."
Morrison has discarded "romantic notions about life and love which proved to be nonsense." His personal pain is in remission; he has no time for it. "I'm no longer the King of Pain; I'm just the Prince of Snot. I'm real happy. And I'm perfectly happy being happy."
According to the dictionary, an informal definition of "brick" is "a splendid fellow." The same could be said for the Prince of Snot. Interview by Michael Kearns for Drama-Logue, August 11-17, 1983