Chatting with James Morrison
The Sci-Fi Channel's Dominion website hosted an online chat with James Morrison
on May 26 at 8:00pm EDT. Below is an edited transcript of the moderated chat:
Do you want to go ahead and introduce yourself and what you've done lately?
Well, you know that I'm on SAAB, of course...at least I hope you do! (why would you be
here if not?) I'm in Texas currently, shooting "Abaline," an independent film. While I love
Texans, it's certainly nice to here, mixing it up with you folks. The film stars Ernest
Borgnine, Kim Hunter and myself. And is written and directed by Joe Camp III. I know
they want to have a cut done by September or October to submit to Sundance... but we're
having a good time. It's a great group.
Any plans for more Space Above and Beyond episodes?
Well, I wouldn't be the person to ask about that, though I would be certainly on board
if the conditions were right... meaning if Morgan and Wong were in charge of it. I
doubt we'll do more episodes but it certainly would be nice to get together and do something.
A question for James - other than The Angriest Angel, which was his fave episode of SAaB?
Oh boy...(sighs) I liked Stay With The Dead. And I'm not really sure why... It just
touched something in me, I think. Plus, I thought Morgan was wonderful in it. But I really
don't have a favorite. I can't even for sure count Angriest Angel among my favorites. I
think it's an overall feeling that the whole experience left for me, that means more than
any one moment. I learned a lot from that experience.
Thanks So much for coming! I'd like to know what you liked most/least about the character
What I liked most about the character was that he was so flawed. He was a pretty angry guy
(laughs) and I think some anger management courses were in his future. He had a chip on his
shoulder and it would've been nice to be able to work that out. I think it's always interesting
to watch someone who's flawed who tries to works things out as we follow him, than to watch
someone who's got it all together. And makes everyone look bad by comparison! I think that a
guy like McQueen made other people around him look good because of his concern with doing what
was right for the bigger picture than for himself.
I thrive on bloopers. Any memorable ones to share?
You know, I was thinking about that one today... we all took ourselves so damn seriously,
and it was a MOTHER of a show to shoot and get done in the time allotted, it was a lot of
combat stuff, especially for the other five characters, most of the memorable bloopers came
from how tense everyone was working under the circumstances. I think Joe had the best sense
of humor among us. As we went along and got more comfortable in the skins of the characters,
we loosened up. But I can't remember any specific moments. There were no practical jokers on
the set, thank god. Everyone was respectful of everyone's space. I think if we'd gone another
season, we would've loosened up more. That would've been fun to see. The other thing, too,
since we were in the cellar (ratings-wise) we took that pressure on ourselves, and it made us
a little bit too serious. With success and acceptance comes a little relaxation, which you
don't get when you're lapping up the rear. (laughs) We were in the middle of a war...it wasn't
M*A*S*H, after all, and we needed to lighten up a little bit. (smiles) Oh, as far as the
bloopers: if any were to have been found, I think the best ones would've been of me trying to
spit out all that exposition and technobable...I took a lot of ribbing for that from the
What genre is the film (Abilene)?
Can you tell us more about your role in "Abilene"?
Abilene, it's a town in Texas...the genre is sort of sweet romantic comedy. It's a very
touching story about a couple of octagenarians who discover in the twilight of their lives
that there's hope for love between them. The character I play is turned around by
circumstances and learns that there's hope for him, too, in that respect. Most of my scenes
are with Ernest Borgnine, and we become friends in the story. I play "Bernie," the sheriff.
Probably the only sheriff for 100 miles or so. Very Checkovian, very character driven.
Small group of people stuck in a place they want to get out of, and we happen to be witness
to a very special 4 days in their lives. No sex, no violence, no drugs, no profanity. It's
a real sweet story. And now that I've disuaded everyone from coming to see it... (laughs)
You always play such serious characters. Any plans to loosen up and do comedy?
No plans to loosen up, ever! (laughs) I'd love to do comedy. Might find it hard to
believe, but I actually have made one or two people laugh in my life. People don't naturally
think of me when they're thinking light comedy, but it's in there somewhere. While this
character has certainly got his share of problems and gets a little bit testy at times, it's
lighter. This is a lighter thing.
James which of your many hats, actor, playwright, poet etc gives you the most satisfaction
as an artist?
I think its most satisfying, no matter what you're doing, when you touch somebody with it.
It doesn't matter what I'm doing - if it reaches someone and speaks to them, then that's
the most rewarding thing. That goes for anybody, I'm sure. If what we do gets through,
that's the reward. I don't really have a favorite thing. It's all a level of poetics
anyway, and I think...hey, if you're a basketball player and you reach a level of poetry,
that's the reward. It doesn't matter if you win the game - if you've exceeded yourself,
that's what it's about.
What real-life inspirations did you draw on to play McQueen?
I was given a tremendous amount just from the stories Morgan and Wong were able to
create. That was the basis of my inspiration, it's the basis of how I work. I love to do
research and I love to read about things I don't know about.... I loved reading about some
of the WWII battles and military history and protocal and things like that... but bascially
it came down to the stories they put forth, because that's what we were being paid to put
to life. I appreciate that they were generous enough to collaborate with me in that. The
whole thing, too, was about loyalty and finding a place in a family of brothers and sisters
that we didn't have before... each of us has that in us, somewhere deep; we want to belong
and help someone get along with us. That's where I drew it from, I think. I remember, I read
a quote years ago from Robert Duvall: you can do all the research in the world about a
part, but what it boils down to you and the other person, when you get right down to the
moment. I sort of agree with that.
Glen mentioned season 2 plans for McQ, including his rehab on Earth... was that storyline
more fleshed out than we've heard? Was there more to the story?
Well, we had talked some about what might happen, when they approached me about the injury
McQ would sustain in the final episode. It sounded really exciting to me to be doing a
"warrior without a war" storyline, the rehab thing. And the conflict that would arise if McQ
was given a prosethetic leg - sort of an AI leg - and that would've been interesting also.
We talked superficially about that stuff. Just enough to make me more disappointed when we
didn't get to do it. We didn't go into any great detail, though, because none of us knew what
the future of the show was.
Would you have liked to direct a Space episode?
oh, yeah. And I wouldn't have had to break anybody's arm, but I certainly would've done
some twisting to make that happen. Come to think of it, I would've broken some arms if I
had to. (laughs) that was one of my goals, to do that. I'm going to direct something anyway,
someday. I just know it's going to happen.
Do you keep in touch with the old cast and crew from SAAB?
The "old" as opposed to the new? Yeah, Joel and I keep in touch more than anyone else. I
talked to Morgan right before I came out to Texas, and spoke to Kristan briefly on the
set of Skip Chasers. Rob I haven't talked to in a while because he's busy with his series.
When you see these people again, it's like no time has passed. We were a family there for
a whole year. We were very close and you don't lose that. And there were no great rifts
that developed between people, that was nice too. (typist apologizes if anyone's name was
Were you surprised by the popularity of SAAB? And it's continued popularity?
Given our god-awful time slot, I was more surprised that we weren't more readily accepted
by the viewing audience. Face it, there's a lot of dreck on TV. We were pretty good
television. The production values were amazing. People just don't put that much care
into their work than we did on that show. The technical staff, especially.
Do you think that the future presented in SAAB is a plausible one?
(laughs) I don't think that any future projected by anybody anywhere is plausible.
Will you be attending any cons in the future?
I haven't booked any. I had a great time Newcastle and I met some really beautiful people
there. I miss them a lot. I don't know if I can top that, to tell you the truth. That was
really the first one that I've attended as a "guest," whatever... "a guest whatever" :)
There are no plans to do one next, though. If anyone online here was there: hello.
Mr. Morrison, were you surprised by all the attention the McQueen character got -
especially from the female fans? :)
I guess I was surprised. I never thought about that. But I must say, I thought the
character was so intriguing - *I* was intrigued, when I read the pilot - so I guess I
wasn't surprised that the character generated the interest that he did, but only because
the way he was introduced, he was a very mysterious man. That's always a benefit. That
very thing generates interest. I can't take any credit for that, certainly. But in answer
to the question...(laughs)...yes, I was surprised. It sounds like I said no, but I really
meant yes. I always felt like, whever I see a movie and I go "this guy's a romantic lead"
or whatever... to be the love interest, you have to kiss the girl at least once. McQueen
probably will never kiss the girl... and maybe only has, once... I don't play characters
that get to kiss the girl. (smiles)
You mentioned rewards earlier, how would you rate your experience in S:AAB among your
other acting experiences?
I learned more as an actor, and certainly a student of how films are made, from that
experience. So I'd have to rank it at the top. That's what it's all about. Whatever
lessons you go away with, the more valuable they are, that's how you should rate the
experience. Good or bad.
When will "Shadow of a Doubt" be released?
I have no idea. In fact, I learned through the Internet that the title had been changed
to Shadow of a Doubt, so I'm out of the loop completely. Last I heard, they didn't have a
What's the status of the feature film you were planning to make, "False Bravado"?
We're still talking to some people, and trying to raise the money. In fact, something
happened today that sounded positive, but can't really talk about it beyond that.
Is the smoke in Texas affecting your filming?
No. In fact, we're in the panhandle, we're in northern Texas. While it's a little hazy,
it hasn't become a health hazard. We're able to shoot some beautiful vistas. We're
shooting anamorphic, a wide-screen format, so the sky and landscape is actually becoming
another character in the film. I don't know if it's allergies or what, but my eyes and
sinuses are acting up. But you can definitely tell that there's smoke in the air. I guess
it's much worse around Houston and southern Texas.
Would you do Millennium again?
Yeah. Actually, I'd like to come back as some kind of really horrible murderer or
something. I've played too many good guys in a row. Now I need to do something ugly.
Glen said something about maybe James Horn coming back and being sexually molested by
Satan, but it never came about. (smiles)
Prey was ugly... but good! Did you enjoy that role?
Yeah, I did. Very much. I wish that the writers had done their homework because it
could've been a good show. It's always fun to torment people...under the guise of being
Given (as you said yourself) the amount of crap TV there is out there, is there
anything you'd go out of your way to watch every week?
I try to catch NYPD Blue whenever I can. That's really the only one. Speaking of flawed
characters, I really like the Dennis Franz character. And plus, David Milch is one of the
most amazing, creative minds in TV today.
what do u like to do when your not on set being filmed?
I like to go into the bank and be filmed! (because...you know...they have a camera running
in there a lot...) No, seriously... In Texas I've been living in a hotel, practicing my
guitar, my scales. It's sort of like being in prison. I always thought being in prison
I'd have a lot of time to practice my guitar...among other things... but certainly the
time off the set has been good for my guitar playing. I've been reading a lot here. I can't
write when I'm acting, for some reason. I don't know whether its justified laziness or that
I've given myself over to someone else's writing and can't split myself in half like that.
I've been hangin' loose in the Panhandle.
We've learned that the play "Parking" will be done in Philly... any news on that? How
involved personally will you be?
I guess it's the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. I won't be involved in that at all, unless
they ask me to be. I've spoken to the man who's producing it - I guess he's acting in it.
But that's about it.
I understand you write poetry. Do you write music too, and if so, have you changed any of
the poems to songs?
No. I used to, when I played the guitar almost 20 years ago I used to write songs, just
playing around. Nothing serious. None of my poetry, I think, is adaptable to songs.
Speaking of guitars, can we expect a duet with Tucker?
Sure - I don't know how you'd possibly hear it, but you can expect it! I would love to
play in a jam with Tucker sometime.
james, is this the first time you've ever chatted?
No, I'm pretty much a chatty kind of a guy. I love to chat. I did a couple of Internet
chats when we were on the air, with the Fox people. I talk to some AOL friends
occasionally, once every couple of months. The show has had an amazing following on the
Internet, so it doesn't make sense not to come aboard and say thank you for the support,
and say hello.
James, I think the "Moment" intro is very inspiring from the Chiggie Von.. edisode. I have
listened to it many times before trying events. What is your most inspiring scene from SAAB?
I think the one I remember most of all, and I remembered this at the time, too, was when
we're going off on the Chiggs aircraft we commandeered, and the realization that you're
going to your death is very freeing. It's a very freeing experience to be able to say
"I'm dead, and therefore it doesn't matter what happens to me, so I can win this battle." I
learned a lot from that experience, from that moment. You become fearless because you have
nothing to lose.
(passing on the question from McJames) Do you have any Scottish ancestry?
Yes I do. In fact, my father's father, James Morrison, his parents were born in
Scotland. We haven't gone back much further than that, but I come from a long line of
James Morrisons. And yes, we're Scottish.
James: S:AAB marines vs. ALIENS Colonial Marines?
Well, what kind of a battle would that be? In the shower? Because that might get
pretty ugly. But I think that I could probably whoop Michael Ironside, I know that for
sure... Extreme Fighting. Ironside vs. Morrison! And I'd tell him that to his face. I may
have...and if I haven't, I'll be sure to say it next time I see him, just so you know I'm not
blowing smoke here.
Can you tell us a bit about "Being Frank"? What motivated you to write it? I understand
there is to be a reading to raise funds for a charity? What charity?
Being Frank is a play about sexual disfunction and incest and child abuse. I wrote it
because it's based on something that happened to some people I know very well. It moved
me to write about their story, their journey - as harrowing as it is. We were going to do
a reading at the end of this month for RAINN, which is the Rape, Abuse and Incest National
Network. I wanted to do a public reading and raise awareness of the issue, and use this
play as a means to do that... it wasn't entirely altruistic - there were some selfish
moments, I wanted people to hear the play... We had a wonderful cast lined up, and we may
yet do it this summer. But this movie job pulled me away, and it's too personal a project
for me to hand over to somebody else. My friend Jake Johannson is going to play Frank.
Elizabeth Berridge is to be in it. It's on hold, but it hasn't been cancelled.
[RAINN's URL is http://www.rainn.org/]
Did you enjoy Science Fiction before you were involved in SAAB?? If so - favorite
I read Stranger In A Strange Land years ago and really enjoyed that. I'm not a big sci-fi
fan, though, only because I haven't read that much. I read a book called This Perfect Day,
by Ira Levine, which I remember vividly. I was a war-movie fan was I was growing up. I
loved the WWII movies. I used to ride home on my Schwinn and practice being the greatest
fighter pilot. It was fun getting to do that again, to pretend to be the greatest pilot in
James, how much of an influence on your portrayal of McQueen was your uncle, the Korean
War Air Force pilot?
My uncle Vince, Vincent Casey, was a Lt. Colonel in the Air Force. I may be mistaken, but
I think he flew in Korea. I remember him being this strikingly handsome man in a uniform.
And I remember when he came home, staying with my aunt and uncle, he was a very heroic
figure. But I never consciously thought of him while I was doing the role, oddly enough.
I can't honestly say I modelled the character on anybody. I just tried to inhabit as best
as I could. It was so sketchily drawn at first that I felt I *was* McQueen, and I'd be
cheating if I used anyone else. It was selfish - I wanted to be McQueen, and nobody else
There's been a rumor around that Tom Hanks is trying to do a film version of Stranger in
a Strange Land. Would you be interested in a role in that if it ever came about? If so,
Oh boy...it's been so long since I read it I couldn't be specific. But I would love to
work with Tom Hanks in any capacity.
if you were under chig fire which saab character would you want watching your 6?
(laughs) I think it would probably Vansen...if it were going to be anyone watching my
BUTT... but really...if I were under Chig fire, I guess I'd be running away... but I'd like
to see all of them there, really. All together. The Sci-Fi Channel is good to be running
SAAB, but anybody could do that. If they wanted to do something that was really smart, they
would finance a 2-hour movie and get us all back together. Get Glen and Jim to write a
follow-up to the final episode, and prove that Paul Wang is not dead, dammit!
Thank you for joining us, Mr. Morrison. Any final comments for the crowd?
Thanks for your continued support. Talk to you later...
For an unedited transcript, head over to
The Sci-Fi Channel Dominion.