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Interview : Jeffrey Dean Morgan

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Jeffrey Dean Morgan has been “floating around this business for about twenty years” but it was a guest role on TV drama “Grey’s Anatomy” that would see his then-immobile star soar.

“Without a doubt I would not be here [talking to you in Australia about my new movie] without Grey’s”, says the amiable 42-year-old actor, who set hearts-a-racing when he played bed-ridden charmer ‘Denny’ on the hit series. “No doubt about it”.

There’s more to Morgan, who also had recurring roles on TVs “Weeds” and “Supernatural” before playing Seattle Grace’s favourite patient, than cute one-liners and a killer smile – and he’s prepared to prove it. In his latest film, a film adaptation of the DC comic’s series “Watchmen”, the Washington-born actor plays a disreputable and chauvinistic ex-superhero.

“Kudos to Zack [Snyder, the film’s director] for seeing past the role [in “Grey’s”] and believing I could play this role”, Morgan says of ‘The Comedian’, one of several screwed-up supermen that feature in the film. “I love playing Denny, and these romantic types that I’ve played in a couple of movies since, and I know I’ve made a couple of fans unlike the way, but as an actor I want to show audiences what else I’ve got. I might lose some fans after they see me in this – but I might gain some too”.

“Watchmen”, based on comics by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, tells of a masked vigilante named Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) who begins an investigation into the murder of a former colleague (Morgan), which begins to lead to a much more terrifying conclusion.

“I wasn’t really familiar with the comic books”, says the actor. “Not until I was contacted about the role. What happened was, my agent called and said ‘Zack Snyder, that did 300, called and he’s interested in you for this movie Watchmen’. I asked him to send across the script, but instead of that, they sent over a Xeroxed copy of the graphic novel. I got to page 3 of it, of course, called my agent ‘I just got thrown out of the window!? What the hell am I reading this for!?’ – he told me to keep reading. I read it and loved it.

“So I went and had a meeting with Zack – I don’t think I got a word in during the meeting – and he showed me the conceptual drawings, and some storyboards, as well as what the costume would look like that I’d be wearing”.

The Comedian’s costume consists is essentially top-to-toe leather.

“I thought it was the coolest-looking costume – but man, it was the most uncomfortable thing I’ve ever worn. I remember I was sitting in a chair at one stage, reading the paper before my next scene, and when I had to get up I couldn’t … I couldn’t get out of the chair!”

It took a couple of fights with the wardrobe department before the costume started to feel a little more comfortable.

“I was popping buckles and stuff – so something had to give”, says the actor. “We stretched it out a bit more. But I’m not lying when I say it wasn’t easy to wear”.

And the suit didn’t need to be stretched because Morgan was a bit corpulent – it was quite the opposite actually, he’d just done two months of fight choreography, was undertaken a rigorous daily fitness routine, and on a very strict diet.

“I worked out when I was young – I was an athlete – but I’m 40 years old now, so it’d been quite a while. I hated it. I literally started working out the day after that meeting with Zack. I was working out with these ex-marine guys who treated you like crap and really made you break a sweat. I don’t know that there wasn’t a day on that movie that I wasn’t physically hurting. I was incredibly sore.

“I did enjoy the fight training though. And I got to go to a shooting range and try out different guns – and a flame thrower, which was pretty cool!’’

Most of the actors were forced to stay away from Pizza and Beer for the duration of the shoot.

“With the exception of Billy [Crudup, who plays Dr. Manhattan] and Patrick [Wilson, who plays Night Owl II], most of us had to stick to a very strict diet. Patrick had a lot of fight training but he got to eat like Pizza’s for dinner! While we were eating Lettuce, he’d be ordering big bowls of Pasta!

“He’d rub it in, the asshole!” laughs Morgan. “Considering I was a guy who was used to acting from a bed, it was pretty heavy-going the whole diet and training thing. Once I’d finished the majority of my fight scenes I finally started eating carbs again”.

Twentieth Century Fox were originally planning to a ‘’Watchmen’’ movie a few years back. The difference between the version Warner Bros ended up making, and that earlier discarded incarnation, is that Fox wanted to use A-list stars in the film – for instance, Keanu Reeves and Tom Cruise were briefly mentioned for main parts.

“Warner Bros are a great studio – they really trusted Zack from the get-go”, says Morgan, “He wanted reasonably unknown actors – but good actors – for the roles because he knew it would be a physically demanding, and mentally demanding shoot. There wasn’t going to be room for egos. And you don’t wanna be distracted by watching say, Tom Cruise – then it just becomes a Tom Cruise vehicle, and that’s not what Watchmen is. Kudos to the studio for understanding that and going with [Zack’s] vision”.

Morgan personally hopes nobody at the studio wants to do a sequel though. He believes, and believes audience will too, that the film should be a “one-offer”.

“We are all signed for sequels, but, ya know, there’d be no Rorschach, there’d be no Comedian – – it’d be sorta useless”, he says. “It’d have to be a prequel. But I’d say unless Alan Moore says he’s gonna write something, we’ll never see Watchmen 2.

“There may be someone sitting in a room somewhere at Warner Bros waiting to see if this does OK – but I doubt Zack would do another, and without him, I wouldn’t go back, and I can’t imagine any of the other actors would want to either. It’s like the 300 sequel they’re talking about – how do you do that? I guess they can do a prequel – but it makes no sense.

“I’d love to be a fly-on-the-wall in the meeting in which someone brings up a Watchmen sequel – especially if it happens with Zack around, because he won’t want any part of it – because I think this is it; what you see, is what you get. It was always a oner for me”.

Morgan would love to work with his visionary ‘’Watchmen’’ director Zack Snyder on something else though, and hopes to god Warner Bros lets Snyder direct a film adaptation of Frank Miller’s Batman novel, ‘’The Dark Knight Returns’’ down the line.

“I’ve heard Zack mention he’d like to do it in the media a few times recently”, says Morgan of a novel that features an ageing Batman coming out of retirement to battle his old foes.

“I’d love to see myself in that role myself”, he cheekily adds.

Having said that, Morgan doubts Warner will want to do an ‘old Batman’ movie any time soon – not while Christopher Nolan’s Batman series is eating the box-office whole.

“The studio loves Zack though, and if Watchmen does as well as we hope it does, you never know, he might get a crack at this thing”.

Since “Watchmen”, Morgan’s finished up a return stint on “Grey’s Anatomy”, reprising the beloved Denny – now, obviously, a ghost.

“I have a certain allegiance and loyalty to Shonda [Rhimes, the show’s creator] for obvious reasons, and she asked me if I’d come back for a couple of episodes – only telling me it was for an important storyline – and of course I agreed”.

Why is Denny back? Not even the actor playing him knows the answer to that.

“I still don’t know what’s going on”, says Morgan. “I don’t doubt that the only person that knows is Shondra.’’

Denny’s on-screen love interest (in life and death), Izzie, played by Katherine Heigl, is rumoured to be leaving the series at the end of the current season. If she does indeed exit, there’ll be no reason for Denny to make another appearance.

“But that’s OK”, says Morgan, “I’ve enough going on”.

He has indeed – he’s got four films (‘’The Untitled Beatle Boyin Project’’,’’ All Good Things’’, ‘’Woodstock’’ and ‘’Shanghai’’) due for release this year, is about to sign for another big Warner Bros pic (“If I do that, you’ll hear about it real soon”), and in May re-teams with his ‘’P.S, I Love You’’ co-star Hilary Swank for the thriller ‘’The Resident’’.

“I’m like the bad guy in it. It’s a psychosocial thriller. It’s going to be a lot of fun. There’s basically no other actors in it but Hilary and I – it’s essentially just us. It’s a real character driven piece”.

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About Caffeinated Clint

The writer/publicist/producer who wears the editor hat on Moviehole. Favorite films include "Say Anything...", "The Hunt for Red October", "Jerry Maguire", "Almost Famous", "Die Hard", "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo", "Young Guns", "American Psycho", "Back to the Future" and the "Star Wars" series.
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