Iris Interview: David Morse on “McCanick” (USA, 2013)

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Being released on Blu-Ray and DVD in Australia on October 23rd is the film McCanick, a film starring David Morse and the late Cory Montieth. Bill Craske, filling in for Larry Heath, caught up with Morse to talk about the film – which sees him take on the role of a narcotics detective, hunting down a “seemingly harmless young criminal” played by Monteith.

When you read a script like McCanick and see the daunting trajectory of the character is that exciting?

Of course. There wouldn’t be any point in doing the project if there wasn’t something exciting about it. The parallel story of his trajectory over the course of a day but also the revelation of what happened in the past – just those two things are very exciting for an actor to approach. There’s so much, emotionally, that happens and the tribulations add up to the very secret of the character.

The dynamic is interesting in that only he knows more than the viewer and other characters.

He’s the only one who knows the truth and that informs everything he does. He starts the day knowing that it’s his birthday and he expects it to be a certain type of day but at the beginning he finds out that Cory’s character got out of prison and nobody has told him about it and suddenly his whole world turns and the thing he has feared for years suddenly is right in his face and he’s got to do something about the past. For me as an actor it’s pretty clear the path you have to go and what you have to do and what’s at stake. That’s what is fun about [playing] the character.

You’ve worked with some great filmmakers over your varied career. How do you rate Josh Waller? Did he remind you of anyone who has previously directed you?

I’m going to compare him to someone. The first movie I ever did in my life was a Richard Donner film called Inside Moves. Richard Donner really set the standard high for how he treated people, how you treat your crew, how you treat your actors, how you treat anybody, it doesn’t matter who it is that works on the movie they are your family when you’re making a movie and you treat them well. There aren’t many people who have lived up to that standard.

Josh is one of those people. It doesn’t matter how obstructive things got on this movie or how tense things got he never did not treat people well or did not take in other people’s world views and he made a really good movie. He’s got the vision, he’s really talented. The only thing he doesn’t have is the experience that some of the other moviemakers have, you know, he’s going to have that because I think he’s going to get a lot of work after this. He’s got vision and he’s got energy and he makes things happen and I appreciate that.

There’s a lot of location work in the film. What kind of challenges does that bring up? What do you sacrifice in efficiency for the sake of an authentic atmosphere, one of, it should be said, the many virtues of the film?

We had very little time to shoot. We had three weeks to shoot. We originally had four but one of the investors pulled out some money just before we started shooting and so we didn’t have much time. Part of it is the cinematographer, Martin Ahlgren, who is great. It was his first film and he just put that camera on his shoulder and it was unbelievable the shots he pulled off. So that adds to the kind of energy of the film. I’d previously worked in the city of Philadelphia on a series called Hack and they’re incredibly supportive and helpful in terms getting the locations for the right kind of feel.

Your role in McCanick is kind of the reversal of the role you have in The Crossing Guard, one of my favourite movies of yours, in the sense that rather than being the hunted you’re the aggressor on this occasion. Did that occur to you?

We’re talking about one of my favourite movies too. I loved working on The Crossing Guard and working with Sean [Penn]. Like you I also saw the reverse there of what I’d experienced on that film. What’s compelling as a performer is the vulnerability on both sides of it. In McCanick it’s the fear of that revelation, it’s very vulnerable his secret. In Crossing Guard despite being the one being chased he almost has more power than Jack Nicholson’s character. Because he doesn’t care if he dies. He didn’t have anything he needed to do before Nicholson came and got him and over the course of those three days he found a reason to live. He didn’t think he had a reason to live at the beginning. So that brings with a vulnerability too and both of those I appreciated.

What was the first film performance you saw growing up that may have affected you or influenced you on your career path?

The people who first influenced me were people like Jerry Lewis, Dick Van Dyke, Tommy Smothers, Sammy Davis Jnr. Those were the people that I wanted to be. And somewhere along the way I became this guy who does these intense roles.

How did you find it working with Cory Monteith?

He took it so seriously. His discipline and attention to detail was evident from the first day.

…on Treme and working with David Simon

Well it’s a lot like working in Philadelphia. We work together like a family and get it done on the fly with support and generosity from the community so that you feel at home and welcome everywhere you go. It’s a real privilege.

McCanick is released on Blu-Ray and DVD in Australia on October 23rd.