David Morrissey Interview, The Reaping

Posted by: Michael

Movies Online sat down with David Morrissey to discuss his new movie, “The Reaping,” a supernatural thriller directed by Stephen Hopkins. Steeped in atmosphere and anchored by one of contemporary film’s most acclaimed actresses, Hilary Swank, the film explores a series of bizarre occurrences in the Deep South.

Swank plays Katherine Winter, a former minister who turned her back on the cloth after losing her family while on a religious mission in the Sudan. She doesn’t believe in miracles -- she believes in facts. Now a university professor, she seeks answers through scientific investigation rather than prayer and has become the foremost debunker of supposed miracles. She is called to sites all over the world to investigate weeping statues, wall stains resembling saints and palms that bleed, and so far, there is no divine mystery she hasn’t solved.

But when small-town schoolteacher Doug Blackwell (David Morrissey) seeks her help with a series of bizarre occurrences the townspeople believe to be sent by God, Katherine and her investigative partner Ben (Idris Elba) come to learn that sometimes miracles can be treacherous, and the line between faith and superstition is dangerously thin. Hidden among the woods and swamplands of Louisiana, Haven is a town where the rules of reason seem to have been rewritten. A child has died and the river has turned to blood, which is only the beginning of what appears to be a revisiting of the Biblical ten plagues upon the town.

For the first time in her professional career, Katherine can’t explain these phenomena with science. The townspeople believe an enigmatic child named Loren McConnell (AnnaSophia Robb) has brought God’s wrath to their doorstep, but what they see as a harbinger of evil, Katherine sees as a lost child needing her help. The more she is drawn into the dark heart of the mystery, the more Katherine discovers her own role in a conspiracy that threatens to shroud the world in darkness.

For the role of Blackwell, Hopkins cast fellow Brit David Morrissey, who has garnered raves in various British productions, including the BBC drama “State of Play,” for which he earned a BAFTA Award nomination for Best Actor, and Anand Tucker’s “Hilary and Jackie.” Hopkins notes, “On the surface, Doug is a very nice man, and seems to be a very rational man as well. But there is something dark lurking beneath that surface, which David manages to balance in a very compelling way.” Producer Joel Silver comments, “David Morrissey is a fresh face for American audiences, but he’s very well thought of in the UK. He’s a great actor, and he and Hilary also have great chemistry onscreen.”

Morrissey relates that his character sees himself as the voice of reason in a panicked community, “The local people have witnessed these mysterious events, starting with a murder and then the river turning to blood, and immediately believe that they are seeing the wrath of God. Doug Blackwell takes it upon himself to calm the town council long enough to prove that whatever happened to the river is a natural phenomenon and not a plague set to curse them. He’s really pinning all his hopes on Katherine to help him.”

Morrissey most recently starred in the Channel 4 mini-series “Cape Wrath,” which is also set to air on Showtime under the title “Meadowlands,” and the television movie “Viva Blackpool,” in which he reprised his role from the popular BBC series “Blackpool.” His many other television credits include Stephen Frears’s controversial drama “The Deal,” for which he won a Royal Television Society (RTS) Award for Best Actor; and “Holding On,” which brought him another RTS Award nomination. Behind the camera, he was BAFTA-nominated for Best New Director for the 2001 telefilm “Sweet Revenge,” and later directed the BBC drama “Passer By.”

A graduate of the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Morrissey has played a wide variety of roles on the stage, including the title role in “Peer Gynt,” for director Declan Donnellan. He has also appeared in production for the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre.

Morrissey’s film credits include “Some Voices”; “Born Romantic”; John Madden’s “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin,” with Nicholas Cage and Penelope Cruz; Stephen Woolley’s “Stoned”; “Derailed,” with Clive Owen and Jennifer Aniston; and “Basic Instinct 2.” He next stars opposite Emily Watson in “The WaterHorse,” a fantasy adventure directed by Jay Russell and written by Terry George. He will also be seen in the historical drama “The Other Boleyn Girl,” with Scarlett Jonahsson, Natalie Portman and Eric Bana. Morrissey founded his own production company, Tubedale Films, which co-produced the award-winning Patrice Leconte film “The Man on the Train.”

David Morrissey is a fabulous guy and a very talented actor and we really appreciated his time. Here’s what he had to tell about making “The Reaping,” working opposite Hilary Swank, and dealing with wayward steers and other creepy critters in the Deep South:

Q: How tough was it for you to affect the Southern accent?

DAVID MORRISSEY: Well it really helped being there. It wasn’t like I was doing it in the studio in private or something. I was able to immerse myself down there with the people and stuff and hang around with their locals and stuff like that, so I was able to hear it every day of my life down there. It wasn’t as hard as it would have been somewhere else really, and I had an accent coach who worked really hard with me, and I’ve done accents before, you know. It’s sort of something I’ve done many times in my life and it was just another run, but it was important to get it right. It was kind just being in Louisiana. That’s hearing it all the time so that was good.

Q: What did you like about your character?

DAVID MORRISSEY: I like the fact that when we meet him he’s sort of the man with a history. He’s a man with a problem and he’s a man that you want to… you feel that he’s a good guy, that he’s trying to help somebody. That’s what you feel about him. And I liked the fact that he was an outsider inside his community and that’s always an interesting role to play. It’s always interesting because he has hills to climb, he has battles to be won, and my first insight into him was the fact that he was an outsider in a very tight knit community. Even though he had a major role in that community, he had a sensibility and an intelligence and a sort of humility and humanity that wasn’t completely shared by the people around him. He was trying to lead the community by an example of goodness I think, trying to.

Q: Horror films that skew towards the religious like “The Exorcist,” “The Omen,” and “Stigmata” always do really well and no doubt this will do really well. What do you think is the attraction for the audience? Do you think it’s because of religion that the audience is really coming out?

DAVID MORRISSEY: Well this has two things, doesn’t it? It has the religion and it has science. I think what’s really different about the film is the clash between those two worlds. You only have to open up any newspaper to see that that’s a clash that’s happening on a daily basis in our society. Certainly it’s happening in England and I’m sure it’s happening here in America as well. And that is a really interesting clash of ideologies I think. It’s really interesting to have one group of people saying, ‘You need proof. You need to be able to do an experiment and get to an end where A equals B or C.’ And then other people saying, ‘You need faith. You need to believe in something bigger than us.’ And of course that is a great, fertile land for storytelling and that’s what we do in the film I think because each debate has a very, very good argument going for it. It’s the spirituality versus the intellect, and that is what I think this has in spades. That’s what it’s working against, and it’s all of those worlds rubbing against each other. And also, I think the religious angle is that they are great stories. One of the thing about it is they’ve been around for a long time so they’re sort of immediate. There are certain elements of those stories that the audience is already up with them, they sort of know where they’re going. There’s a sense that in this film you know that there’s three plagues to go so that you’re in a race. You already have a chase going on inside the film that the audience is aware of. You know what’s coming next, even though you don’t know how big that’s going to be. So I think it’s a teasing thing that people enjoy really. With this film, you know it’s a horror film, but it also has the thriller elements of it -- who did it, why did they do it, who’s the good guy, who’s the bad girl sort of thing. That interests me a lot, and I think that interests an audience, but it has to shock as well. You have to jump out of your skin and it certainly happens in this. I watched it last night and people were jumping around and there was a girl next to me that I thought was really going to have a [inaudible] and usually I would lean over and say to her, ‘Are you alright?,’ but I didn’t think that was a good idea last night because I would just send her over the edge if I said, ‘Excuse me, are you okay?’ [imitates screaming woman] ‘Oh my god!!!’ [Laughs] That would be a little bit much. I did have a red shirt on and I was covered in blood at the time as well, but that’s a personal thing I do, you know. [Laughs] So there you go.

Q: How was the steer attack?

DAVID MORRISSEY: You know that went on for ages. One of things about it is you know when you film it, when you watch it and you go [makes strange sound] and that happened, that took ages to film it. I felt like I was in that truck for months, so it was really tough to film. And there’s that sense as an actor you have to remember that when this goes out, it’ll be like that [snaps fingers]. It’ll be so quick. And you’re sitting in a truck and it’s like day 12 and you’re like ‘how much crap can they throw at me? If that horn gets any closer, I’m out of here. So when’s lunch? What are we having? Beef? No, I don’t think I want that.’ There’s guys with buckets of grain and they’re throwing it at you and turning on wind machines and you take it personally. [Laughs] So when I see it, I jumped out of my skin because you sort of forget that it’s … Likewise, jumping into the swamp, I jumped into that swamp about 300 times. I got out and Stephen Hopkins would keep saying to me, [whispers] ‘one more’ like that, you know. We had this snake wrangler, this Australian guy, who just before I went into the swamp, went, ‘Hey, look at that.’ And he had this big snake and I said, ‘Where’d you get that one?’ and he went, ‘in there, boy’ [laughs] and god I was like, ‘I’m not going in there,’ and he said, ‘I got them all’ and I said, ‘How many did you get?’ and he said, ‘Eighteen’ and I said, ‘How do you know you got them all? How do you know there weren’t 25 in there before you...’ So I’m diving in there and at first I was nervous, then after a while I was thinking, ‘Oh get lost! I can’t be bothered with snakes, mate.’ It doesn’t matter.

Q: What about the bugs?

DAVID MORRISSEY: The bugs were different. I did take that personally. There were the make-believe bugs which were the locusts which was quite weird because they were… They had real locusts in a cage which didn’t want to perform. They just wanted to go back to their trailer already and have coffee. They sort of got out of their trailer and then, ‘No, I don’t want to do it today.’ And then we had plastic bugs which we had sewn onto us which were fine until we started rolling ‘round onto the floor and they were like you might as well just be eaten any way. And then the guy on the computer would show us what he was going to do and that was amazing, so that’s what we reacted to. But likewise last night watching it, it was amazing what they can do. The shot where William Ragsdale who plays Cade the Sheriff shouts [demonstrates how bug flies into his mouth], I was like ‘Oh my god.’ I remember watching him do that on that day and thinking ‘That’s brilliant, that’s brilliant,’ where now I watch it and think, ‘Oh my god.’ So you really have to – that’s your job – but you really have to commit to that world, so that was interesting. But then there’s the real bugs, the Louisiana bugs, which were quite frightening really and sort of bit you and did all that. There’s nothing you can do about that. I covered myself. And also, you being in costume, the crew of course would be in this whole mesh outfit like they were in Viet Nam or something, and then you’re standing there going, ‘Why can’t I wear one of them?’ If you can CGI 40 million locusts, surely you can CGI out me in a green sort of net costume. But no, they wouldn’t. I had to be uncomfortable.

Q: Were the maggots real?

DAVID MORRISSEY: Yeah, the maggots were real. I think CGI maggots, they don’t have to do that.

Q: When you go to work with somebody like Hilary with the accolades that she’s received, and she’s young and gorgeous, are you a little intimidated? Are you going to show her like ‘put those Oscars to work lady’?

DAVID MORRISSEY: Well, first of all, she doesn’t come to work in that way. It’s not like she’s wearing them as earrings or anything. It’s not as if she’s carrying that baggage with her. She’s very collaborative as a person. She’s somebody who the minute I met her, it was about a) we got along. It was a very funny experience working with her because she’s got a great sense of humor. But also it was all about character-driven work and also with Stephen Hopkins, one of the things about working on this film was we talked a lot about character and back story and relationships and stuff like that. You know in a film like this, it’s quite easy sometimes for that aspect of the film to go west really. It’s like he concentrated on that a lot.and Hilary really led from the front in that way. Everything came down to character. It was a real privilege working with her. I was always sort of amazed by it. We got on immediately. It’s interesting though I think in my experience as an actor, when you work on stuff like this, which is dark and difficult and sort of out there slightly, you tend to have a really funny time in your down time. You tend to… You’ve sort of exorcised something that’s been going on. Whereas when you do the comedy, you come home and it’s showers with the kids. I don’t know why. You just get really miserable. ‘It’s just not funny enough!’ You know, it’s like god! Whereas this, you’re so in that world that it’s like taking this massive weight off your shoulders when you come out and you’re slightly hysterical, and we did have a lot of hysterical times really because of that. There’s a levity to you personally because you’ve been delving very darkly in places when you’ve been working. It’s enjoyable to do this.

Q: How has having your own film production company changed the way you regard and choose roles?

DAVID MORRISSEY: What it does to you is it makes you more aware of how the business works because you’re suddenly wearing a different hat. It’s interesting for me having directed as an actor myself. It’s sort of made me a better actor because of more compliance with doing the scenes and things because I knew what was my priority. I didn’t have to worry about it. I knew that if I didn’t turn up on time, the knock on effect of that was disastrous for me. So as a director, it was very interesting. As a producer, it’s sort of… you know, those deals particularly in the climate in England that we have at the moment, it’s just a difficult thing to put a film together, so I have great admiration for people who put anything together really, and then you have to get over that admiration and read the script. There is a sense that it just makes you more aware of how everything works. I think it’s no mean thing for an actor to realize that everybody on a film set has a job to do and that you’re not the most important person in the middle of that by the way. It’s a collaborative process from top to bottom -- from the girls who phone you in the office to the guy who’s setting your props -- that everyone has a role to play and that role is important.

Q: Are you more conscious of the financial potential?

DAVID MORRISSEY: You are. Yeah, absolutely. I mean you have to be. It’s a business. You’re more aware of what you’re involved in as a business. I think British actors sometimes forget that it is that, that you’re not sort of transferring your stage experience into something like that. It actually is a business and there’s different levels of that business, but that’s a really good thing. It’s a very liberating thing I think.

Q: What can you tell us about The WaterHorse and The Other Boleyn Girl?

DAVID MORRISSEY: The WaterHorse is a film I did with an American director called Jay Russell who did a film called ‘My Dog Skip,’ and he’s a great guy and it’s all about the Loch Ness Monster set in Scotland, filmed of course in New Zealand. [Laughs] We filmed it at Weta which is the studios that Kong and Lord of the Rings were at, and there’s a lot of blue screen. I play a British officer who’s obviously thinking – now it’s set in the Second World War – that the Nazi submarines are invading, but in fact it’s the Loch Ness Monster. For me, the Loch Ness Monster was a little overweight guy in New Zealand with a very small Lord of the Rings T-shirt on who is carrying a scaffolding pole with a tennis ball on the end. [Laughs] So when you see the movie, that’s what I’m reacting to.

Q: So there is no ambiguity about whether it might be the monster or not? It is.

DAVID MORRISSEY: When you see it, well, for me, there’s lots of ambiguity. For a while I think that people are attacking, but actually when we see it, you see it.

Q: Have you gone to the real Loch Ness and do you believe it’s there?

DAVID MORRISSEY: I totally believe it’s there. Uh, I had been drinking. [Laughs] But I definitely saw it. It’s a beautiful part of the world. But I think one of the things about it -- because we did film a little bit of it in Scotland -- I didn’t get – talking about bugs – I got bitten more in Scotland than I ever got bitten in Louisiana. It was like a terrible plague of bugs. But it’s a great film in the sense that it’s about a little boy – it’s set in the Second World War – whose father had gone to war and he ain’t comin’ back, and the boy hasn’t accepted that and he meets the WaterHorse. He meets him and he bonds with him, and it’s actually a film about letting go. It’s about letting somebody you love or something you love go and be yourself, and that’s what the film does very well.

Q: And The Other Boleyn Girl?

DAVID MORRISSEY: The Other Boelyn Girl is all about Henry the VIII and Anne Boleyn and Mary Boleyn and Henry the VIII’s relationship with those two girls which is massively complex. It’s written by Peter Morgan who wrote The Last King of Scotland and he’s a great writer. He wrote The Queen.

Q: Are you Henry?

DAVID MORRISSEY: No, I play Norfolk who is Anne Boleyn’s uncle. He wasn’t a great uncle, I have to be honest. He was Anne Boleyn’s uncle and he was also Catherine Howard’s uncle, both of whom lost their heads. So, you know, he gave them Christmas presents, but there was a down side I think. It was great and Eric Bana plays Henry the VIII and the only thing I was upset about was he had a massive codpiece and mine wasn’t as big as his.

Q: Is Scarlett Johansson in that movie?

DAVID MORRISSEY: Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman. She plays Mary Boleyn and Natalie Portman plays Anne Boleyn and they’re both fantastic. They’re really amazing.

Q: Can you talk about being in Baton Rouge at the time of Hurricane Katrina? Did you guys bond as a crew?

DAVID MORRISSEY: Well it was a real bonding thing for us as a crew and actually not just as a crew. I mean it was interesting being there, watching on TV, and seeing how the world was perceiving it and getting calls from England and stuff like that. And, of course, there was the whole FEMA debacle and everything else and the appalling reaction to it. But in Baton Rouge which was effectively untouched by the hurricane itself, they had to deal with a refugee problem. There was a massive sense of solidarity in that town, I thought. There was a real sense of new community. There was a sense of people helping each other out. People were opening their homes to people that they didn’t know, and I was really impressed by that. That was the little bit of it that I saw and it was very much about a community helping each other out. Although when I turned on the TV scene and saw Anderson Cooper and people like that, that was something happening in New Orleans that was different from my experience. But my experience in Baton Rouge was one of solidarity and community really, and so I was really impressed by that.

“The Reaping” opens in theaters on April 5th. I invite you to read my interviews with the other members of the cast: Hilary Swank, Idris Elba, and AnnaSophia Robb.



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