‘The Comeback’ actor Robert Michael Morris: The gay interview

RobertMorris2Lisa Kudrow’s Valerie Cherish might be the washed-up star of her own show, but it’s her trusty hairdresser, Mickey Deane, who makes her look like one.

For two seasons of HBO’s sharp reality-show satire The Comeback, Mickey Deane — played by Robert Michael Morris — has endured the plights of humiliation right alongside Valerie herself … all in the name of friendship. From Season 1’s cupcake fiasco to Val’s tasteless improv riffs after his cancer diagnosis during the second installment, the manny-pack-wearing Mickey’s seen it all as has “Red,” as he affectionately calls her. She once walked in on him in bed, sprawled out, naked.

As the entire 21-episode series (so far) hits DVD, the Kentucky-born Morris phoned to chat with our Chris Azzopardi about how that emotional finale was “all in Lisa’s eyes,” his former career as an English teacher and why he decided to bare his butt during the show. And no, he doesn’t do hair.

Dallas Voice: I just watched the season 2 finale for probably the 15th time. I can’t shake it. Those last few minutes are some of the most brilliant minutes in television history. What was the vibe of the cast during the finale shoot?  Robert Michael Morris: Well, I was away for most of it. The hospital scene — they were shooting other stuff, but I was just waiting in the hospital bed, so for me it was very easy. Just lie there! We didn’t wrap that last scene until 4:20 that morning, so it was quite late in the day. I keep using the word “honest,” and that’s the thing I always appreciated about the show. It seemed to me to always be so honest, and the relationship between Lisa and I really crystallized in that last moment.

That’s true. By the end of the second season, Valerie realized what really mattered.  Oh, she always realized it. It’s like you can’t walk away from a sick child, and when Mickey, who had always been with her forever — 25 years longer than her marriage — seeing him on his way out became the priority for her. I have got to get to him. I have got to get to him. When she gets there and finds out it was the medication and he’s just a frightened mess in the bed — and she’s comforting him for a change — it really revealed the depth of their relationship. A lot of times we skate on the surface, and it’s only when the rubber hits the road that you can plumb the depths of what it is.

Nothing has been confirmed regarding a third season of the show. And seeing it took nearly 10 years for a second season, it could be that long before we see a third. Did the uncertainty of the show’s future make shooting this past season emotional?  Oh, I don’t think that played into it — it certainly didn’t play into it for me. You hear actors say a lot of times they have to be in the moment, and if you’re playing something for effect, it rings false. HBO has always loved the show and they were incredibly supportive of this show. Well, the current HBO people. I think the first HBO person, whomever he was, didn’t get it. It was also, at that time, the only show that HBO had where there was a female lead. They were all male leads. And [the show] is about the business, which for them was uncomfortable.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

A very gay Emmy slate

Laverne Cox

NOTE: Edited to reflect more gay characters.

When the Emmy Award nominations came out yesterday, it was nice to see some gay-popular nominations of the list. But when you counted through all of them, an amazing eight LGBT actors were nominated. There are 96 acting categories (more if you count the variety category), so that’s not exactly a majority, but if you add in those who appeared in “gay” shows, or played gay characters, it goes up.

Laverne Cox, of course, became the first (known) trans performer to be nominated for an Emmy (and for guest actress, which is awesome) for Orange is the New Black. But other openly gay performers include Sarah Paulson (best actress in a miniseries, American Horror Story: Coven), three of the five performers from the movie The Normal Heart (Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons and Joe Mantello), plus a second nomination for Parsons as lead actor/comedy for The Big Bang Theory; Jesse Tyler Ferguson, best supporting actor from Modern Family; and Nathan Lane, for his guest appearance on Modern Family. And wanna add Kevin Spacey for House of Cards? Let’s go ahead and call it nine.

JESSE TYLER FERGUSON

Jesse Tyler Ferguson

Performers playing LGBT characters include Taylor Schilling, Natasha Lyonne and Uzo Aduba, Orange is the New Black; Mark Ruffalo, The Normal Heart; Andre Braugher, Brooklyn Nine-Nine; Fred Armisen (for some of the many characters he plays in Portlandia); Beau Bridges as the closeted provost as guest actor in Masters of Sex; Spacey also had a three-way in House of Cards which you can count if you wanna (I wanna). That gives 17 gay actors or gay characters in the race. Congrats!

And congrats especially to former Dallasite Allison Tolman, nominated for supporting actress in a miniseries for Fargo.

After the jump are the major nominees.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Emmy noms: Some of the gay stuff

The Emmy nominations came out this morning, and the details of them can be hashed over in the coming month, but I wanted to point out a few gay interest items on the list:

• Modern Family continues to dominate the comedy category, with the entire adult cast again snagging nominations, as well as for directing, writing, comedy series and guest actor/comedy Greg Kinnear.

• Once again, officially out actor Jim Parsons looks like the sure thing for actor/comedy for The Big Bang Theory, unless 30 Rock’s Alec Baldwin makes a comeback. His co-star Mayim Bialik was also nominated, but not Johnny Galecki. The show is also up for best comedy series.

• American Horror Story, created by Glee mastermind Ryan Murphy, was nominated in the miniseries category, including nods for miniseries, actress/mini Connie Britton, supporting actor/mini for gay thesp Denis O’Hare and two for supporting actress/mini — Frances Conroy and shoo-in winner Jessica Lange.

• Game of Thrones is again in contention, though only last year’s winner — Peter Dinklage for supporting actor/drama — is nominated for acting. The show has lots of nudity (including men!) and this last season a great gay storyline.

• One of the most welcome nominations was for Kathryn Joosten, who died just days after her touchingly hard-scrabble performance on Desperate Housewives ended with her death, was nominated for supporting actress/comedy. She’d won twice before in the guest actress category. Not in the supporting category? Previous winner Jane Lynch of Glee; Chris Colfer of Glee was also overlooked.

• The reality competition program continues to play it safe — in the history of the category, The Amazing Race has won every year except one, when Top Chef sneaked in. When will RuPaul — the show and the host — get the credit she deserves?!?!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

‘Trinity River Plays’ tonight at the Wyly

Dallas is the backdrop for actress-playwright Regina Taylor’s new trilogy

For Dallas native Regina Taylor, it was important to set The Trinity River Plays in her hometown. It’s something she intimately knows, which allows her characters to be grounded in a reality that’s close to home physically and spiritually.

“It’s not autobiographical, but it is set at home,” she says. “And that is as palpable as the womb in terms of identity.”

Dramatic storytelling is nothing new for Taylor, whose previous work as a playwright include Crowns and Drowning Crow. She’s also an accomplished actress with an amazing résumé spanning theater, television and feature films. She was the first black woman to play Juliet in Broadway’s Romeo and Juliet, but is probably best known for her role as Lilly Harper in the television series I’ll Fly Away, for which she won a Golden Globe and two Emmy nominations. More recently, she starred in CBS’ The Unit alongside Dennis Haysbert.

Yet even with her acting success, writing has always been one of Taylor’s truest loves.

“I started as a writer from as far back as I can remember,” she recalls. “I was writing my own children’s stories when I was little and it was with the encouragement of my mother who wanted me to live a creative life and empower me with the possibilities in terms of creating my own worlds. That changes your perspective on how you face the world and move through the world. It’s something I truly cherish.”

DEETS: The Trinity River Plays, Wyly Theatre, 2400 Flora St. Nov. 5–Dec. 5 (in previews through Nov. 11). $15–$85. DallasTheaterCenter.org.

—  Rich Lopez

A ‘River’ runs through it

Dallas is the backdrop for actress-playwright Regina Taylor’s new trilogy

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer stevencraiglindsey@me.com

Actress and Dallas native Regina Taylo
HOME AGAIN | Actress and Dallas native Regina Taylor comes home for inspiration for her new plays.

THE TRINITY RIVER PLAYS
Wyly Theatre, 2400 Flora St.
Nov. 5–Dec. 5 (in previews through Nov. 11). $15–$85.
DallasTheaterCenter.org.

……………………………………..

For Dallas native Regina Taylor, it was important to set The Trinity River Plays in her hometown. It’s something she intimately knows, which allows her characters to be grounded in a reality that’s close to home physically and spiritually.

“It’s not autobiographical, but it is set at home,” she says. “And that is as palpable as the womb in terms of identity.”

Dramatic storytelling is nothing new for Taylor, whose previous work as a playwright include Crowns and Drowning Crow. She’s also an accomplished actress with an amazing résumé spanning theater, television and feature films. She was the first black woman to play Juliet in Broadway’s Romeo and Juliet, but is probably best known for her role as Lilly Harper in the television series I’ll Fly Away, for which she won a Golden Globe and two Emmy nominations. More recently, she starred in CBS’ The Unit alongside Dennis Haysbert.

Yet even with her acting success, writing has always been one of Taylor’s truest loves.

“I started as a writer from as far back as I can remember,” she recalls. “I was writing my own children’s stories when I was little and it was with the encouragement of my mother who wanted me to live a creative life and empower me with the possibilities in terms of creating my own worlds. That changes your perspective on how you face the world and move through the world. It’s something I truly cherish.”

The trilogy consists of three plays, Jar Fly, Rain and Ghost(story), which unfold sequentially at each performance in the Dallas Theater Center production, co-produced with Chicago’s Goodman Theatre.

They follow the life of Iris Sparks, who is a writer, as she moves through these defining transforming moments in her life.

In Jar Fly, we see her when she turns 17 — the same age when jar flies (cicadas) go from little grubby worms living underground to insects climbing up a tree in the dark until the light of day hits it and it can shed its skin and spread its wings.

“It has this incredible voice that’s jarring,” Taylor says, “so you have this young woman trying to find her voice as a writer and a human being. It is the occurrences of this day that take her on this journey that will absolutely transform her life. And it’s what we do with these obstacles, this hard rain that inevitably comes in every life, many times and many seasons, and how we move through that.”

The second play, set 17 years later, focuses on that same hard rain.

“Iris is ready to face another storm as she’s 34 years old. It’s after the disintegration of her marriage and the diagnosis of her mother with cancer. You see this mother and daughter taking this journey together. And with that, there’s a transformation. Do we run away from the hard rain, try to outrun it, or do we stand our ground and take the nourishment from it to grow? We’re tested by life. How we meet those tests on a daily basis defines who we are. It’s an exploration of the human spirit and the tenacity of the human spirit.”

The trilogy closes with Ghost(story), which takes place the day before Iris’ mother’s funeral, then offers a glimpse at what her life is like — again, 17 years later.

“She’s trying to figure out where she’s going to go to move forward. And in that she wrestles with and embraces her ghosts. And that’s what we do. Our past is our shadows. Moving forward, we’re always circling back to deal with and wrestle with our ghosts,” explains Taylor.

Taylor wants audiences to embrace the humor and warmth of her Trinity River Plays, but most importantly, she wants to transport them to another place — even if the stories are set just a few miles from the Wyly.

“You have this arc, this journey, this development of the human spirit,” she says. “I think there’s poetry to the pieces.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 5, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens