By Una Fritz für 11th hour #11 April © 2000
Those eyes. That voice. That shock of silver hair.
As a genre fan, chances are you've enjoyed the work of actor James Morrison. He's been a very good guy (Lt. Colonel McQueen on Space: Above & Beyond, profiler and group candidate James Horn on Millennium); a very bad guy (dominant Lewis on Prey, Cotter, a hitman on Seven Days); and, on occasion, one hell of an unlucky guy (Dr. Robert Wiener on a recent episode of The X-Files, a tormented psychic in The Others).
But if you're thinking that he simply flits from one genre series to another, then he's not your guy. When not lending his commanding presence to roles on television and on stage, Morrison can be found directing, producing and writing his own plays and films (Parking and Nude Descending) and writing poetry.
For the experienced actor, this is hardly a challenge. Asked if he finds it hard to switch back between being an actor, director, producer and writer, Morrison freely admits in his best McQueen voice, "Not hard." After this dead pan comment, he elaborates: "When you are acting it is pretty much a job at hand -- it is a task. You are an actor being directed. On the other hand as a director or a writer I tend to steal from those I have worked with -- not ideas but how they treat actors and situations. I don't know if I quote it right but there is a saying: Amateurs borrow, artists steal."
After this confession
his face lights up.
Morrison maintains that Morgan and Wong are his favourite directors, producers and writers, and explains that his experiences working with Morgan and Wong have helped him behind the camera as well. The actor, who describes his work on The Others as "like coming home", adds, "They are wonderful persons in private and very talented directors, writers and producers. Great people. Space: Above & Beyond and [The] Wonder Cabinet were great experiences; Millennium was also good."
Asked about his days on Space, Morrison grins. "It was hard yet deserving. It is a pity this [show] wasn't continued. I had the chance to develop my character -- they took much from me but gave me back a very good experience." But many fans of the late, lamented series experienced a heart-breaking moment when James announced at the recent Neutral Zone 2000 convention that his original McQueen flightsuit was up for auction. "I'm not holding my breath for getting Space back," he explains. "The show has been dead for five years now ... though it was something special and new. It is sad and I wanted to keep the flightsuit for my son but as this auction is for a good cause [a charity for the blind] it was a good thing to do."
His voice takes on a somewhat sharper note as he continues: "People at that time just didn't take notice or had a hard time catching it on air. Fox didn't even bother to watch it. They didn't even know that McQueen did not have a father. We were at the Fox lot and someone mentioned this actor could actually play my father -- it showed me that the show had no chance."
Talking of Space brings the inevitable conspiracy theory to mind and it wasn't long before a commonly asked question was raised. "I don't think Chris Carter ever had the influence of having any say in the axing," says Morrison, shaking his head. "It was just misjudgment by Fox. If he had that much influence his own recent new show [Harsh Realm] wouldn't have been taken off the air."
But that's not to say that Morrison hasn't had dealings with Chris Carter or 1013 productions. James recently appeared in The X-Files' episode "Theef" as Dr. Robert Wiener, a successful doctor harassed by a hexcraft casting father (Billy Drago) who thinks Wiener was responsible of the death of his daughter.
"I auditioned for 'Theef' like everyone else, though it was the second time that I auditioned, as I was drawn into the closer picking of playing Bill Scully before. But it was all right that I wasn't taken on. Playing Dr. Wiener was a nice experience and very interesting -- gory even. And to work with Billy Drago was wonderful as he is a great actor."
During filming he even managed to score a job for one of his past collaborators. While he worked on "Theef", acting colleague David Duchovny had a chance to see James' film Parking, and based entirely on that, hired Paul Lieber for a guest part in an upcoming episode of The X-Files which Duchovny wrote and directed.
But perhaps he was just borrowing another trick he learned from his old friends Morgan and Wong, whose habit of recasting actors and bringing aboard crew members that they've worked with before onto their new projects is well-known. Morrison himself has benefited from his alumni status more than once. "After Space and the guest [role] on Millennium I was looking forward to working with Glen and Jim again, but was busy with my own projects," he explains. "So [I] was pleased that they had actually written a lead for me in their pilot The Wonder Cabinet."
However, talk of that failed pilot seems to be a sore point with Morrison. When allegations are made that it seemed very similar to several other genre shows, he shakes his head and explains, "Glen and Jim were going into a different direction." Morrison, who is currently working with Morgan and Wong on an undisclosed new project, remains philosophical about the series; asked to speculate on why it wasn't picked up for Fox's Fall 1999 schedule, Morrison smirks: "They didn't think a male lead with grey hair would work."
author and 11th Hour would like to extend special thanks to James Morrison
for his participation in this interview.