Movie fans, those with too much time on their hands, love to ponder the imponderable.
Why did America flock to see “Ted”? How did Tyler Perry build an empire by donning a dress? What is new about “The Hunger Games,” other than its haven’t-seen-many-movies audience?
And why isn’t Jeffrey Dean Morgan a star?
In an era when Hollywood has all but given up that Leo DiCaprio’s voice will ever change and has cast its net far afield looking for macho leading men — Gerard Butler from Ireland, Jason Statham from the UK, and Russell (Crowe), Joel (Edgerton) and Eric (Bana) from Australia — why isn’t the burly-baritoned Morgan the sleepy-eyed heir to Bruce and Sly?
“Luck,” Morgan, 46, says. “It’s so much to do with luck and timing. Until I get that piece of luck, I will keep plugging away and hope that this next project is “the one.”
The “one,” this time, is “The Possession,” a horror picture built around Jewish mythology’s “Dybbuk Box,” a container able to contain a demon. Until an innocent (in this case a child) lets it out.
Avoiding the genre
Morgan has tried his hand at many genres, but always avoided horror.
“They sent it to me with the caveat, ‘It’s a horror movie.’ I wouldn’t even read it. It sat around for days. But Ole [director Ole Bornedal] sent me this great [butt]-kissing letter, telling me how right I was for this part, referencing other things he’d seen me in, and what I could bring to Clyde. I was so impressed with [his] ability to kiss [butt] that I finally read the script.”
The salty, swarthy Morgan might have broken out had “Watchmen,” which had him playing a rapist-costumed comic book “hero,” been a blockbuster. The graphic novel adaptation “The Losers” actually played like an “Expendables” without the cobwebs, plastic surgery and steroids of the cast. That didn’t blow up, either.
Morgan did not one but two movies set at Woodstock, bombs made by big-name directors (“Taking Woodstock” and “Peace, Love & Misunderstanding”), so maybe it’s a judgment thing — his or his agent’s. Then, there was “The Accidental Husband,” cursed to be left unreleased thanks to a studio that went belly up, and “Shanghai,” a Far East period piece with Chow Yun-Fat and John Cusack that was not released in the United States.
Go to the movie buff’s website IMDb.com and here are “Possession” enthusiasts, referring to Morgan as “Jeffrey Dean Anderson” by mistake, or saying “I thought that was [Oscar winner] Javier Bardem” in the trailer, a sentiment film critic Carrie Rickey echoes.
“Whenever I see him, I think ‘Javier Bardem,’ ” Rickey jokes. “Maybe he needs a Spanish accent or marriage to Penelope Cruz?”
Well, they do look alike.
The TV factor
But a more likely answer to Morgan’s big-screen low profile is his work on TV. He broke out on “Grey’s Anatomy,” had a long stint on “Supernatural” and is currently star of “Magic City.” Working film roles in between TV seasons is tricky for anybody.
“The best storytellers right now are in TV, cable,” Morgan says. “That’s the world we’re living in now. And indie film and Hollywood just aren’t making as many movies.”
What an actor ends up doing is picking the best script offered that he or she can film in between TV seasons. Sometimes, that’s a remake of the high schoolers-battle-commie invaders picture “Red Dawn” (due out later this fall). And sometimes, it’s a horror movie.
“The horror genre is drowning in a sea of horse [excrement],” Morgan says. “It’s all shaky cameras, found footage, crappy acting, no character development. I didn’t see any of those things in this [“Possession”] script — well-formed characters, a place you could do some acting. A family going through a divorce, a child under attack by a demon, all these things I could relate to. That made it more real to me.”
A Seattle native, Morgan, a father of two, found the idea of a child in jeopardy compelling, reminding him of his favorite horror movies — “The Exorcist,” “The Omen.” He was impressed by the children cast in “The Possession.”
“The little girl had to be great. The film would ride on her performance. And Ole Bornedal had auditioned the perfect girl. He sent me a tape of Natasha Calis reading a little off the script, and him prodding her, getting into her head and seeing where she would go. She was chilling. I was in.”
The other thing Morgan is “in” these days is “Magic City,” the drama about the Miami mob in the late 1950s. Morgan says that now that the series has its “first year behind us, introducing the story, a world and characters, we can move things along much faster. Mach speed.”
And after a season of that, he’ll be fishing around for that next potential big break on the big screen.
“There are a lot of weenie American actors, and a lot of foreign actors are having the luck,” Morgan growls. “Not naming names, but it shocks me, some of the people who get the breaks.
“That being said, I’m not going anywhere. I know that my foot is firmly wedged in the door, and I’ll be damned if I pull it out, even for a second.”
Memo: ‘The Possession’
DIRECTED BY: Ole Bornedal
STARRING: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyra Sedgwick, Natasha Calis and Matisyahu
RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes