Movies & TV / Columns Interviews: Actor Phil Morris

July 20, 2015 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Phil Morris

Recently, I got the chance to speak with veteran actor and thespian Phil Morris, a star of stage and screen and many of our favorite shows, both live-action and TV alike. Morris is probably most known to adult fans as the hilarious lawyer Jackie Chiles in Seinfeld. In the hit series Smallville, Morris portrayed iconic DC Comics superhero J’onn J’onzz aka The Martian Manhunter. His numerous other credits include such hit shows as Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, Love That Girl!, JAG, Mission: Impossible, and NCIS. In animation, Morris’ resume is equally vast and diverse, having given voice to such beloved characters as Sweet in Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Vandal Savage in the classic DC animated series Justice League and the animated movie Justice League: Doom, Imperiex in Legion of Super Heroes, and Doc Saturday in The Secret Saturdays. More recently, Morris portrays the narrator of the hilarious, new Machinima web series, Real Fake History. This is a series that sends up the Ken Burns documentary style, showcasing historic events from fictional media across movies, TV shows, video games, and comic books in a documentary style and interviewing faux-bystanders for various events. One episodes relives events from the Battle of Endor in Star Wars to the Battle of Castle Black in Game of Thrones to the Massacre at House of Blue Leaves in Kill Bill. I recently got the chance to sit down and speak with the accomplished Morris on becoming a viewer’s real guide through fake history.

Jeffrey Harris: In Real Fake History, how do you enjoy getting to be viewers’ “real guide” through “fake history?”

Phil Morris: *Laughs* I love the way you’re describing this Jeff. I know exactly what you’re saying, and I’ll step in. I feel amazing being the narrator of this Real Fake History. Why? Because I’m a huge fan of the Ken Burns documentary style, big time. I love documentaries full stop. I’m a big documentary fan. That’s my reality. I don’t like reality TV. I like it like that. I’ve seen a lot of the Ken Burns stuff and honor it. I love Keith David and all that. So when I was presented with this opportunity and I saw how clever the material was, I couldn’t wait to challenge myself to try and get in that neighborhood with a bit of a wink if you know what I mean. So that was really exciting for me. Tony Janning, who wrote it and is one of the actors in the pieces, he called me and told me he had this. He sent this, and I looked at it and said, “Man, I’m in.” It’s a great little roll out. It is the “fake” history of “real” stories that we have seen either on TV, video games, movies, comic books, you know, popular media. If it were in fact real, how would these bystanders, collateral damage victims would they relate to the story, and if we were to treat it in these actual universes of these stories, how would it go down? I just love it. I love that the takes that they came up with for these various properties.

Jeffrey Harris: So far it looks like there are 11 episodes. Do you know if there could be more down the line? Or are we just starting with these?

Phil Morris: I’m sure they are just starting with those. These are for people above my pay grade to answer, but if it’s popular — and I think it’s going to be — then sure, you’ll see a lot. There is an unending number of battles we could cover and send up in ways that the fans and we would love them.

Jeffrey Harris: The possibilities of where you could take this series are literally endless and only limited by the human imagination. You send up Star Wars, Avengers, and Pacific Rim. And then later on you have Starcraft and then The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones. There are so many possibilities you could take these episodes.

Phil Morris: Yeah. So if it resonates with fans — and that’s always the bottom line, fans have the final say — then I’m sure we’ll see more of it. I’d be honored to do it. I saw the first one today, and I cracked up. I literally laughed out loud. I saw how the sausage was made, and I still laughed.

Jeffrey Harris: As an actor, you’ve worked on a lot of genre shows. Is that by fate or happenstance, or do you think you naturally gravitate toward heavy genre material?

Phil Morris: Perhaps, and I don’t mean to be elusive, but maybe it’s a bit of both. I have less control over how I’m cast and the jobs that I get than people would imagine. Most of us don’t have control over that, but I think it’s a preponderance of your body of work. When you’re have known to do voice-overs for Justice League or Legion of Super Heroes or DC/Marvel, you’re kind of on that radar. When you do a ton of Star Treks over your career, then you’re kind of on that radar in a way. But that doesn’t mean you’re going to continue getting that type of work. It just means when you do that type of work, you’re more firmly tied to that genre. It’s like with Smallville, I’m sure those creators didn’t know I had done a ton of Star Trek work. I was just the right guy for the job. Do I gravitate towards it? You do what you are best suited to do, so in me being a comic book fan and a fan of genre from my father being in Mission: Impossible and the spy genre and all that, when I go to audition, perhaps I have a leg up because I understand the universe better. Just as an actor? I don’t know. Perhaps I am better prepared to create a certain amount of integrity in the character because I know so much about the parts of those universes. So perhaps it goes hand in hand, and I don’t shy away from it certainly. I think I have a great facility for it, so it seems to work.

Jeffrey Harris: Do you have a favorite segment so far for Real Fake History?

Phil Morris: The Ewoks is crazy. That’s how I look at them, what’s the most ludicrous one. I did this a little while ago, and I did them all together in one day. So they all blend together in my memory of them, but Pacific Rim was crazy/wonderful and so was The Walking Dead because I’m a big Walking Dead fan. Of course The Avengers — the collateral damage of The Avengers was kind of a funny reality.

Jeffrey Harris: Just the fact that you did a Mike Tyson Punch-Out episode blows my mind.

Phil Morris: *Laughs* Why? Because you’re a huge Punch-Out fan?

Jeffrey Harris: I was a huge Punch-Out fan, but the fact that people still know and get what it the game is is very charming to me. So I appreciate that. For Smallville, when you got to create J’onn J’onzz/The Martian Manhunter onscreen as really the first live-action version of the character, that must have been amazing experience to play around and create that character in the flesh?

Phil Morris: I wanted that part so badly, oh my gosh. And it took a while because I went and read with a bunch of talented actors. And again because I have a huge comic book collection since I was seven, and I still have the first books I ever bought, I knew J’onn J’onzz so well having done a few episodes of Justice League with Carl Lumbly having voices J’onn J’onzz and playing opposite him in some scenes. And having done the character of King Farady in Justice League: The New Frontier, I had such an intimate relationship with this character that going I just was like, “I got this. I got this!” And I didn’t hear from them forever. Then, a month later or so, the producers from Canada came down to read, and I did my thing and I thought it was even better than before. And nothing, they were like so poker faced. And I was like, “Wow! God, that was like a lead fart.” I’m never going to see them again, and then boom. They were like, “You’ve got it.” “What?! Huh?!” I just was thrilled, thrilled! The first time I saw myself flying out of the Kent barn in dailies when I was going in to loop my lines, I absolutely lost my stuff. “Play that back! Show me that again! Do it again!” I’m just a fanboy when it comes down to that. I was completely thrilled.

Jeffrey Harris: So when are you going to be on Arrow, Flash and Legends of Tomorrow?

Phil Morris: When they write the character that they want me to play. I don’t know that they are going to want me to play J’onn. It’s another universe. When they see that the fans, every time I do an interview, they ask. Every time I do an appearance, they ask. When they want to provide that for them, and I’d love to play opposite David Ramsey in Arrow. He and I know each other very, very well. And if they’re listening, I’m always available to play in that universe.

Jeffrey Harris: They should be knocking on your door and giving you like a buffet line of characters, and you should get to take your pick.

Phil Morris: *Laughs* I wish it were so. From your mouth to whoever’s ears man.

Jeffrey Harris: I know you’ve done a few video game roles. Has the opportunity ever come up for you to do a motion capture role in a video game, and would that ever interest you?

Phil Morris: I have auditioned for exactly two of them. One of them is recent, so I cannot say what it is because I don’t think they’ve made a decision yet. That format and that world is very new to me. I have friends that do it quite a bit: Nolan North and Yuri Lowenthal, some of the best out there do it quite a bit. I haven’t quite stumbled into that world quite yet. I’m in so many from sitcoms to movies to drama, network TV — I do my own show, Love That Girl! on TV One — and a lot of the voice-over stuff. I just never focused on that part of the industry, but I would love to. I’m a martial artist and know how to move very well and fight very well. So yeah, I’d love to. If it was good, I’d do it.

Jeffrey Harris: The Secret Saturdays, where you played Doc Saturday, was such a fun special show. It had great writing and amazing characters. That must have been such an amazing show to work on?

Phil Morris: From top to bottom. I hope — I’m going to tell this story and hope the producers don’t hate me for it, but we audition for a lot of things. And some of these things take a while to figure out. So when you get a job, sometimes you don’t know what job it is. So I’m in Vancouver to do Smallville, and I’m in the immigration line to pass customs. I get a call from my agent, “Congratulations Doc! You’re Doc Saturday!” I’m like, “That’s so crazy! This is great!” I hung up the hone from her, and I was like, “What show is that?! What is that I auditioned for that I just got?!” So we do Smallville, and I come back and go down to Comic-Con to appear in a panel for Smallville. As I get in the elevator, I kid you not, these dudes [The Secret Saturday producers] are like, “There’s our Doc Saturday!” They get in the elevator with me! And they’re like, “Oh man, we’re so happy! We’re so happy with your audition and so happy we got you!” I’m like, “Oh yeah. It’ll be great. It’ll be great.” They’re like, “Where are you going?” I said, “I’m going to the DC party.” “Wow! So are we!” So we all went to the DC party. They’re lovely guys, and talking me up as the star of the show, one of the leads of their show. I’ll be really honest with you. I could not for the life of me figure out what show it was that they gave me. So that’s how I started Secret Saturdays. I started it like, “Which one was it?” And then when we got to the first read, it hit like a ton of bricks how amazing this show was. You have to understand, when we audition for these things, they give us very little, especially when they’re big projects like Secret Saturdays or a super secret project like a video game where you have to sign NDAs. They’re not really able to express to you the entire universe you’re playing in for fear you’re going to go out there and spoil it. So I was not as clear as I could’ve been about the show until I was actually doing the show. I was a huge fan of Johnny Quest and the whole Hanna-Barbera 5 at the time. So when we started doing this, it was like ignorance sometimes is bliss. When I got to do this show with Nicole Sullivan and Diedrich Bader and Sam Lerner and Corey Burton and Will Friedle, anyone who was anybody came in there to play with us. Rob Paulsen and Kari Wahlgren — I could just go on and on and on. The Secret Saturdays was very rare and very fun and one of the greatest ongoing series experiences I ever had in the animation world.

Jeffrey Harris: Anything else you are working on you would like to share with us?

Phil Morris: I’m getting ready start this crazy show called Fudge Brownie. I haven’t signed the contract yet, but it’s for 51 Minds Entertainment, which is an offshoot of Endemol Beyond. It’s really stupid funny. It’s along the same lines of Annoying Orange. I just finished an episode of Girl Meets World, and I’m all over the Disney universe in one way or another. Those are the things I can actually tell you about.

Jeffrey Harris: Congratulations and thanks so much for your time.

Phil Morris: Thank you, and I appreciate talking to you.

Thank you to Phil Morris for taking the time to speak with us. Real Fake History if available now on Machinima’s YouTube channel.

article topics :

Machinima, Phil Morris, Jeffrey Harris