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Q&A: Meet David Morse of ‘The Iceman Cometh’

Category Broadway

|by Jeryl Brunner |


David Morse reveals how he got his start as a performer

David Morse was reunited with his St. Elsewhere costar Denzel Washington in the Broadway revival of The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O’Neill. Set in a seedy saloon in 1912, Morse plays Larry Slade, the bar’s resident “foolosopher.” Directed by George C. Wolfe, the play has a dream team cast that also includes Colm Meaney, Bill Irwin, Tammy Blanchard, Carolyn Braver, Austin Butler, Clark Middleton, Joe Forbrich, Nina Grollman, Thomas Michael Hammond, Neal Huff, Danny Mastrogiorgio, Dakin Matthews, Danny McCarthy, Jack McGee, Michael Potts, Reg Rogers and Frank Wood. Morse is also known for his eclectic and vast film and TV roles in The Hurt Locker, John Adams, House, Outsiders and Treme. The Iceman Cometh was nominated for eight Tony awards, including one for Morse. 

 

David Morse as Larry Slade in ‘The Iceman Cometh’ (Photo: Julieta Cervantes)

David Morse as Larry Slade in ‘The Iceman Cometh’ (Photo: Julieta Cervantes)

What qualities do you like about your character, Larry Slade? 
David Morse
: Larry has always been connected to people. When he was an anarchist, it wasn’t to throw bombs. It was to fight for the people. And here he is in the bar fighting for these people. I love that about him. Larry ran away from all the pain in his past—his life as an anarchist, leaving the life he was so committed to and probably the one woman he really loved. And he escaped to this world in this bar. And these people became his family. When we started rehearsing the play, I started having some real fondness for everybody in the room.  I started to realize, “This is how Larry feels.”

Was there a moment when you knew you had to be an actor?
David Morse
: In high school I tried out for every sport there was. But none of them would have me. When I was a freshman, someone asked me to go audition for a play with them. I got in and didn’t want to do anything else for the next four years. From that point on, I couldn’t wait for the next play so I could be in it. I was a teenager and it was tough years for me. Being able to bring myself into a character and live in somebody else’s world was so important for me. I couldn’t express things well in my normal life. I was so overwhelmed by my emotions. This was a way to channel that and live fully in other people’s lives. It’s what I loved then and (I) still love it today.

How did you become professional actor? 
David Morse
: The man (Esquire Jauchem) who directed one of my high school plays was also forming a repertory theater in Boston. He suggested that I audition for the company. At 17, I became a member of the Boston Repertory Theatre. (The company became one of Boston’s most prominent theaters.) I had an opportunity pretty quickly, and performed with the theater for six years.

Didn’t you make your Broadway debut with On the Waterfront?
David Morse
: There was a this big search to get the best actors in the country to be in this production of On the Waterfront, which was going to be one of the most expensive straight plays in the history Broadway. Originally, they didn’t want to cast me. So they did rehearsals and, apparently, it was a mess. About five days before the previews were going to start, I got a phone call saying “You’re being offered the role in On the Waterfront on Broadway. It’s going in front of an audience in five days, and you only have two hours to make a decision because otherwise they have to offer it to somebody else.” The actor doing the role was quitting and they needed to cast it right away. I would be playing a priest. I had just played a couple of priests and wasn’t sure I wanted to play another priest. I called my best friend and said, “I’m not sure I want to do it.” And he said, “Are you insane? This is a great role. You have to do this role.”

When I got to rehearsals, the actors looked so depressed. Not that they were bad actors, but it was just a mess up on stage. They were really good actors. People were ripping up scripts and threatening to quit. Actors were fired. Another actor was brought in to play Charlie. We got terrible reviews but had to run for a week after. You could tell that the audience who came for that first performance after the reviews were depressed about spending money on the play. But over the course of the performance, I could feel their mood change. Like, this is actually pretty good. For a week I had people chasing me down in the street telling me that the play was amazing. So I got to be on Broadway for a week and had a great story.

Do you remember one of the first Broadway shows you ever saw?
David Morse
: We were touring with one of our productions and stopped in New York. I had almost no money but with the little bit I had, I got a ticket to see That Championship Season, way, way, way up in the back row in the balcony at the Booth Theatre. It was the furthest seat you could sit away from that stage. But the actors on that stage were amazing. I was thinking, “How do I get there? How do I get to be up there?” That is where I wanted to be. And then years later, in that very same theater, I got to do The Seafarer with amazing Irish actors. I went up and I sat in that very same seat and looked out at the stage.
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For more great New York theater, check out our list of Top Shows in July.

 

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