1883 Magazine

Actor Julian Morris is about to be all over our screens in 2017, and that is a testament to how much demand he is in right now. Acting since he was a child, his path from The Royal Shakespeare Company to international TV and film showcases a talented and versatile actor, who is determined to keep pushing himself into new experience and more challenging roles. 

Morris is perhaps best known for his roles in New Girl, Pretty Little Liars, 24, and Once Upon A Time. And as a good-looking guy who knows how to flash a smile, it’s easy to see why he’s been cast in his fair share of love-interest roles. But it’s the heavier roles which will be shaping 2017 for him. He’s acting opposite Liam Neeson in the movie The Silent Man, playing journalist Bob Woodward, who helped uncover the Watergate scandal. He’s also starring alongside Vanessa Redgrave in a two-parter for the BBC -- Man in An Orange Shirt -- which tells two gay love stories, 60 years apart. 

1883 met Morris at Ninetyeight Bar & Lounge near Old Street -- an eclectic venue boasting a plethora of sculptures and art, a tiki-style bar room, and a lounge which feels straight from Alice in Wonderland. It also has a bandage room, where everything is bandaged including the walls, the ceiling and the furniture. (Yes, it’s as just as cool and weird as it sounds.)

So 2017 is going to be a big year for you. You’ve got a film coming out, and you’ve got Man in An Orange Shirt with on the BBC. Tell me about that.

I’m really excited about it. It was the first opportunity I had for filming in London -- the city I grew up in, so that in itself was incredibly exciting. And it was with Vanessa Redgrave, who was phenomenal, and she was every bit as challenging and exciting and wonderful as I hoped that she would be. And then you have this material -- this searing, strong, deeply moving material -- that looks at the life of a gay man and, I think, at probably what’s true for many gay men and minorities, where you may be in a society that is welcoming of you, supposedly, but the shame that you grew up with becomes its own form of oppression. And I think that’s the worst kind of oppression, when it’s self-imposed oppression. 

How difficult is it to play a role like that? 

It was very difficult. It was probably the most difficult role I’ve played in terms of where the character goes, what happens to him. You know, there was a kind of rape scene of sorts, which was obviously very difficult to film... And surprisingly difficult, I didn’t think it was going to be that difficult. I thought I’d be able to handle it fine, but it did affect me... in quite a profound way. Shooting it, and certainly afterwards. But at the same time, the themes that were explored I believe are vital, and in that sense it was wonderful knowing that I was doing something that had higher aspirations other than just simply to entertain. It is entertaining -- it’s a beautiful love story at its heart and its core -- but it’s also an eye-opener. It certainly was for me, reading the script. I got to think about things that I perhaps hadn’t thought about. And I think when people see it they’ll enjoy the love story, they’ll enjoy watching it, but they’ll also get to think of things that they perhaps haven’t. In that sense it’s really important, and I think it will be really really special. 

So you grew up in North London, but you’re filming in L.A. all the time. What are the differences between filming with the BBC and filming in Hollywood?

[Laughs] The craft service! So on bigger-budget American stuff… it’s my favourite thing about being an actor, you get the crafty table, which is like a table of snacks. Or in L.A.’s case, it’s a room or a whole trailer. And it’s like munchie heaven [laughs]. So you’ll just go in, and anything you could possibly want, like popcorn, or little hotdogs, or sweets. And I have a huge sweet tooth, and I love to snack. So it’s like my dream… Whatever anyone ever tells you about acting, the best thing about it is the craft service! 

So the BBC don’t spoil you like Hollywood?

The BBC spoils you in other ways. That said, I didn’t really have a lot of time to sort of go and get snacks. 

You mentioned that the part you just played for the BBC was really challenging. I’m sure being an actor has huge ups and downs, so how do you reflect on your career’s trajectory so far? Has it been an upward curve?

I think what I’ve tried to do in the past few years is make careful choices, and so choosing the projects that I take on, I do with consideration to whether it will be an enjoyable experience, a challenging one, an artistic one… and also making the choice not to do something. The best thing you can do in terms of your career as an actor is to say ‘no’. 

And that’s got to be difficult. 

It is and it isn’t. It’s more difficult when you have the good fortune of being offered more than one thing at the same time. And they may be two or three great projects, great directors, and you have to say ‘no’ to two of them. That’s when it becomes difficult. However, I’m very clear on what I want to do, in terms of the challenges that I want to take on. I want to be scared by a role, by a project. And I’m director driven. So ultimately, it’s always the director. It’s my favourite part. It’s the relationship and the dialogue with a director which makes the character.  

You’ve been acting pretty much your whole life, very early on you were on stage with The Royal Shakespeare Company…

...Well I never saw it as acting. You know, it was always just fun.

But it seems like your life has always been propelling you in that direction. If you hadn’t done acting what would have chosen instead? Is there something else you would have loved to have done?

Yeah, I would love to have, um, I love the idea of working in a kitchen.  

Right. Another high pressure environment, I guess.

Yeah, I just think… I like the energy. And I think similar to when you’re on set, you’ve got a whole team of people making something, and you know, you’re stressed for time and everything else. That idea of being in a kitchen appeals to me. I love people, I love talking to people, and trying to understand people. So maybe journalism?

Yeah, journalism is alright! We get some perks too, sometimes. 

And I mentioned that you grew up in north London, but you’ve moved around so much. Does anywhere feel like home to you?

I feel very at home in London, and I feel very at home in Los Angeles. But, you know, if you were to ask which city do I feel most at home in it would be London. I love spending time in Los Angeles, it’s an amazing city, despite what some people may tell you. And despite what some people may tell you, it’s filled with phenomenal, interesting, very deep people, and that’s been a joy to be around.

So with all your travelling… how are you accents?

[Laughs] My accents?! I love doing accents. In fact, the thing I’ve enjoyed most over the last few years is doing accents for a character, to become another hook to understand a character and to portray the character. So whether it was Victor, in Kelly + Victor who was scouse, or Paul in Hand of God who has a slight southern twang, or even the character I play in the BBC show, who probably, I think, had a better education maybe than I did... so he speaks a little bit more posh. 

And you’re in a movie, The Silent Man, which is coming out this year as well.

Yes, I’m very excited. Another accent! Yeah, that movie was a dream come true. It’s playing Bob Woodward, a journalist, opposite Liam Neeson, playing Deep Throat. I think it’s going to be a phenomenal film. The performance that I saw that Liam gave was exceptional, and I think quite possibly one of his best. And I think the film’s subject matter couldn’t be more relevant or pertinent to the climate politically that we’re in now. 

And for an event which is that famous where, of course, you’re portraying a real person, what’s the pressure like for that?

The pressure is the same with any character. You want to move people. 

But the real person might be looking back at you, in this case.

It’s irrelevant. All that matters to me is am I able to convey the truth of that character in the way that I see the truth? And is the audience able to understand something about the person they’re seeing? And hopefully a great deal about the person that they’re watching through my performance. So whether Bob Woodward actually watches it, if he decides to do so... I’d like him to, of course... But whether he approves or doesn’t approve, whether he enjoys it or not, really doesn’t matter in terms of my grand mission, which is to convey an emotion of what a young man was going through, and who this young man was, in order to secure such information. Such… such flammable, important, dangerous information that it would eventually bring down a government. 

So we talked about Man in An Orange Shirt for the BBC, but the second season of Hand of God is also out this year.

Yeah, so I’m really excited for the second season. I think it builds terrifically on the first. Where my character goes and where he’s taken by the writers is really challenging and really exciting and really fun to play. It was awesome being back on set with the cast and crew who in the time between the first and the second season had become very good friends. So it sort of The Silent Man kind of like coming home in many respects. And I think the themes that are explored in the second season are really important and intelligent and imaginative. And I think people are really going to enjoy where it goes. 

You were in a music video, around a decade ago. 

[Laughs] I’ve been in a few music videos, yeah. Which one?

Sugar Babes, right? 

Well, I did an S Club 7 one as well.

Did you?! I’ll have to check it out. If you could choose any song to star in a music video for now, which song would it be?

One song if I was in the music video? That’s such a great question... Oh god there are so many I’d love to do... I’m thinking David Bowie, I’m thinking George Michael, I’m thinking the Smiths. But one song? One particular... Oh, this is the best question. This is the best question ever. 

[Julian leans back as he thinks, and hits his head on a shelf behind the sofa]

Oh shit. Fuck. I’m knocking myself out just thinking about it! [laughs]

[Laughs] We can come back to it at the end?!

No, I love music so I’m just thinking of all the things I’ve been listening to…Em, The Passenger - Iggy Pop. I think it would just be fun. 

Got it! So what’s next on the horizon for you? 

Next on the horizon...

...As if you don’t have enough happening at the moment!

[Laughs] So next on the horizon, I just want to continue doing what I’m doing. I want to just continue to work with great directors like I’ve been doing. Marc Forster, Hand of God; Peter Landesman, The Silent Man; Kieran Evans, Kelly + Victor; Michael Samuels at the BBC. Next is trying to find another project that inspires me, has a brilliant story, and a phenomenal director at the helm.

I mentioned The Royal Shakespeare Company earlier. Do you think that the theatre part of your career is behind you, or is it something you’d like to return to?

It’s something that I would love to return to in the future. I don’t know, I don’t have any plans to in the immediate future. Theatre doesn’t hold the same power to me as film does. I love film. I like photography. I love it. I like performing for a camera. I like the relationship you have with a director when you’re working on film, as opposed to when you’re in theatre. I like that during filming you’re going after moments each day and every hour, and have to nail them. As opposed to theatre where you kind of work and find the character before you start performing on stage with the audience. Em, I asked Vanessa Redgrave, ‘Should I do theatre to make me a better film actor?’, and she said, ‘No, I do film to make me a better stage actor’. And I think she’s right. So my journey right now is in film. But certainly, I’d be open to something terrific in theatre. 

Finally, you have to eat one food for the rest of your life. What is it?

Are we talking like an ethnic food, like italian, french, japanese? 

No, it’s one item, that you have to repeatedly eat.

Oh, easy! Roast chicken.


Easy! Roast chicken [laughs].

Not what I was expecting. Is that the Brit in you coming out?

No. So when I was doing the BBC show -- because I no longer have a place here in London -- I stayed with my parents a for lot of it. And every night my mum would make me roast chicken, and it was just phenomenal. It’s like my go-to home dish. I love it. I love it [laughs]. I could eat it every fucking night.


Man In An Orange Shirt will air on BBC Two this Summer

Interview by Louise Jo McLoughlin

Photography Yoshi Kono

Styling Sofia Khan

Grooming Chantelle Phillips

Styling Assistant Tamara Borodaneva

Shot at Ninety Eight Bar and Lounge, Shoreditch, London



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