“I shot it like a scene,” Morris tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I had another actor help me with it; he played Bloodshot and I played Wigans. We shot coverage, scored it, added sound effects and color-corrected it; we did everything. I used the British accent in the tape, and I booked the role fairly quickly.”
While filling in for an absent Kevin Hart, Morris’ gumption also came in handy during a table read for Jumanji: The Next Level. Recognizing a small role that had the potential to return in The Next Level’s inevitable follow-up, Morris nominated himself for the part to director Jake Kasdan.
“Once we got to the end of the script, there was this one character that pops up, and I requested that I play that character,” Morris recalls. “I knew — I just knew — that if Jumanji was to return, that my character would have to be in the next one if I played him in The Next Level. So, I just played the long game — the long con — and used nepotism a bit to get the role.”
On a sad note, Bloodshot includes a scene where Morris’ character pays homage to Kobe Bryant by saying “Kobe!” before shooting a makeshift basketball. Since the film had already been locked at the time of Bryant’s tragic death on Jan. 26, Morris urged the powers that be to keep the tribute in the film.
“[The studio] said, ‘We’re watching it, and we’re all just so sad. We are so hurt by the tragedy, and we don’t want to remind people of that,’” Morris explains. “I didn’t push back; I just said, ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea. I think we should definitely honor Kobe that way, because that is what you do when you shoot a shot.’ Instantly, everybody said, ‘Yes, you’re 100 percent right.’”
In a recent conversation with THR, Morris also discusses how his improvised Denzel Washington impression led to pivotal reshoots on Game Night; why he wants to move away from New Girl-type roles; and his excitement over his new Hulu show, Woke.
Before we get into Bloodshot, I’m curious about how things went once New Girl wrapped. Did you sit down with your agents and explain what you wanted to do moving forward, such as more feature work like you’ve been doing?
Actually, it was exactly that because I switched teams. Even on New Girl, the fans got a chance to see a little bit of what I was able to do towards the later years of the series. So, I wanted to showcase more of that to the industry as well. I didn’t want people to think I could only do one thing. So, we definitely had a strategy as far as features go, and we said that we wanted to take our shot at some darker toned things as far as TV goes. I just wrapped the first season of a show for Hulu called Woke. That’s definitely a darker tone than New Girl, and my character is more grounded and based in reality, even though the show has some absurd and surreal moments. But, yeah, that was definitely something we wanted to focus on; we didn’t want to see what other weird roles I could get based off of New Girl. We wanted to go out and attack some other things that could showcase some of my strengths.
There are places you can’t see anywhere else. If you’re in South Africa, your options are limitless. If you drive 45 minutes outside of Cape Town, you have mountains and oceans. It’s crazy. You can hike, you can surf, you can do all these different things with beautiful scenery around you. You also get a diverse group of people in Cape Town.
100 percent. I just got the chance to shoot in Mexico City and Cabo recently, and I was like, “Is this for real?” I was literally filming at the resort where I was staying. So, that was great.
Your character, Wilfred Wigans, is the source of levity in what would otherwise be a pretty serious sci-fi action movie. Did the director [Dave Wilson] give you a lot of room to play in order to have options in the editing room?
Absolutely. That was a point of emphasis, actually. You get the base structure of the character, and once you attach an actor to it, you never know what you’re going to get. You play to those strengths. So, Dave just allowed me to run and be free. I would say it was fifty-fifty; fifty scripted and fifty improvised, especially the scenes where I’m in a van by myself. Most of those scenes were improvised. Dave was behind me, telling me what’s happening with the other side of the communication that I was having with Bloodshot (Vin Diesel) and KT (Eiza Gonzalez). He was telling me what was happening because these were reshoots. So, I was just kind of winging it and gunning it — even when I was doing a code-off, if you will, with Siddharth Dhananjay’s character. Going back and forth with him — I didn’t know what he was doing, either. So, I’m making stuff up, and I’m hearing about what he possibly might do. So, you kind of have to have that strength as an actor — the ability to go off-script and improvise a little bit. Dave really allowed that to happen.
For example, I’d stare at a blank screen, and he’d tell me what I was staring at: “An explosion is going to happen, the levels will drop here, which means Bloodshot’s nanites are low. However you react is however you react, but just know that’s going to happen.” So, it was dealer’s choice if I wanted to be shocked, amused or not worried by it. Screens would even shut off or flicker behind me. Dave was very specific about what each screen was doing. Sometimes, with movies, you can just tell that each screen is bullshit, but Dave was very specific about why I was looking at each screen. I thought that was very helpful.
(Laughs.) Funnily enough, Dave and I were going back and forth with jokes, and Dave came up with that one. Dave Wilson, the director, surprised me with that one out of nowhere. I felt like that one was going to make the cut. I had about ten different jokes in that moment, and that was definitely his.
One of my favorite action movie tropes is when a character is tasked with delivering exposition about the hero and how much of a legend they are. “Jesus Christ, that’s Jason Bourne” is an example of that. Bloodshot subverted that trope by having a hacker character talk up your legendary hacker character. Did you get a kick out of this, too?
I did, I did. So, initially, it was just me being a mimic and doing impressions. When I hear something, I try to mirror it on a regular basis. So, I thought I could handle it. I auditioned for this role by sending in a tape, but it wasn’t your traditional tape. I shot it like a scene. I had another actor help me with it; he played Bloodshot and I played Wigans. We shot coverage, scored it, added sound effects and color-corrected it; we did everything. I used the British accent in the tape, and I booked the role fairly quickly. I hadn’t heard from Dave if he wanted me to keep it; I just assumed he did. So, once I got to South Africa, he was like, “Dude, the accent is great. What made you do a British accent?” and I said, “I thought you wanted me to do it?” Then, he was like, “No, you could’ve done your own but keep it!” Liz Himelstein is someone I’ve worked with here in Los Angeles; she is a dialect coach, and she helped me with a lot of technical stuff. When you’re improvising, you’re forgetting that there are certain words that you may not have heard a Brit say before. So, maybe it’s said differently. I’m improvising like an American with a British dialect. So, a lot of the isms that it would have, we don’t. I had to lean on her a lot for some of those things. Then, when I got to South Africa, we had a completely different dialect coach as well. All in all, I had three different dialect coaches between reshoots, ADR and all this stuff. They kept me on track as much as I could. The accent is something that I just have. I do that, I do Australian, I try to do as many as I can — even East African.
So, I have to ask you about the “Kobe!” line. For the majority of Kobe’s career, people would call out his name whenever they’d shoot a mini/makeshift basketball like Wigans did. Sadly, the line now serves as a different kind of tribute than the one originally intended. Was everyone on the same page as far as keeping it in the movie as a tribute?
Yes. Originally, there was some talk like, “Ooh, we don’t know if it’ll make audience members sad.” Right afterwards, they were suggesting that I possibly change it, and I thought, “Well, why would I change it?” They said, “We’re watching it, and we’re all just so sad. We are so hurt by the tragedy, and we don’t want to remind people of that.” I didn’t push back; I just said, “I don’t think that’s a good idea. I think we should definitely honor Kobe that way, because that is what you do when you shoot a shot.” Instantly, everybody said, “Yes, you’re 100 percent right. Hopefully, it’ll be more of an uplifting moment in the film, and it won’t bring anybody down.” And they were right. I got a chance to watch it with a full crowd, and it was a cool moment. Dave Wilson and I are huge basketball fans, and we both were like, “This is staying in the movie, 100 percent.” I think it worked out.
I only saw Kobe in passing at a local grocery store, but even I can confidently say that he wouldn’t want people to stop saying “Kobe!” when shooting their shots.
Absolutely! If you throw something into something, you say “Kobe!” That’s just what you do. I’m just pissed off that I missed the shot. (Laughs.) That was another completely improvised moment in the film that I didn’t even know was gonna be in there, but as I watched it back, I was like, “C’mon, dude, you could’ve made that shot.”
At age 7, Wigans changed the grades of every student at his school, and then he won some special grant at age 14. Did you build even more backstory on top of these pieces that the writers already gave you?
I had a different backstory that we didn’t want to actually add to the script. We were playing around with some ideas of why he’s working for these people and why he’s held captive. Perhaps, his skill set got into the wrong hands at an early age, or he got addicted to a certain lifestyle. I played around with the idea that he was a bit of an addict at times. That would keep some of his neuroses up and explain why he owes these guys his time. I played around with those ideas, and even though I didn’t use them or say them, they helped drive where my character was mentally. We did have talks about potentially exploring some of that backstory if there’s a sequel, and I’m sure we’d have a lot of fun diving into that space.
How on earth did he spend $812 in room service all by himself?
If you know Wigans, he has a weak spot for women. (Laughs.) I think he was just being strange in his room. He probably ordered a ton of adult films, and obviously some food and alcohol. Maybe, he invited some people up to his room, had the liquor flowing and was being Wigans. Keep in mind, he was stuck in a damn basement for so long, and when he finally gets all this money by robbing these people, it’s time to go play and have a little bit of fun. I’ll be honest with you: If Lamorne was stuck in a basement for a long time and finally got out with some money, man, $800 is nothing. What!? How about $8K. (Laughs.)
Speaking of basements, I was quite surprised by your last-minute appearance in Jumanji: The Next Level. How did that cameo come to be?
Oh, man. So, we had the table read for Jumanji; I wasn’t cast originally. What happened was Jake Kasdan, the director, wanted me to read for Kevin Hart at the table read. Kevin was on tour, and he couldn’t make the table read. Ser’Darius Blain, who plays Fridge in the movie, was filming in Vancouver, so he couldn’t make the read. So, Jake had me come in and read for those characters. It was pretty cool because I got to sit with Awkwafina on my left and The Rock on my right. I felt like a member of that cast, and once we got to the end of the script, there was this one character that pops up, and I requested that I play that character. I knew — I just knew — that if Jumanji was to return, that my character would have to be in the next one if I played him in The Next Level. So, I just played the long game — the long con — and used nepotism a bit to get the role.
Well, I hope it all works out since you helped set up a really tantalizing premise that brings things full circle with the original Robin Williams and Kirsten Dunst film.
Game Night is one of the most entertaining movies in recent memory. Did you already have a Denzel impression in the chamber before you shot the film, or did you have to develop one in response to the script?
So, I remember reading the script, and there was a Denzel reference. But, the directors had no idea that I did a Denzel impression. During one of the takes, I just did it, and then, we moved on; we never revisited it. I remember the punchline to whom my character’s wife (Kylie Bunbury) slept with, and originally, it wasn’t Denzel. It was somebody else, and it just wasn’t tracking when they did test screenings and stuff like that. Our journey and our arc as a couple wasn’t tracking that well with the punchline to the entire premise. So, we went back and did reshoots. The request was that we make it Denzel, and then I reshot a lot of those moments where I did a Denzel impression. So, that was pretty cool. It just shows that when you’re an actor, it’s okay to take chances and take risks on set. If you want to do a goofy bit, do a goofy bit. Obviously, don’t take up too much time doing it, but showcase some of your stuff. It gives writers and directors some ideas that they can potentially use later. I think that’s important for every actor to remember.
Has there been serious talk about doing another one?
For a while, we were, but it didn’t get too far. I don’t remember there being real, real, real conversations, but there should be. I definitely think it’s something we should do again. It deserves a second; it did really well, and it was a great movie [85 percent among critics in Rotten Tomatoes]. [Co-Directors] John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein killed it. The cast was great, and we set it up at the end for a sequel. So, let’s see, and let’s hope so. [Budgeted at $37 million, Game Night made an estimated $126 million between box office and home video.]
What was the cast’s initial reaction to what Jesse Plemons was doing?
We died laughing. (Laughs.) We were like, “Whoa!” Our initial reaction was great, especially because I’m a fan of his. I don’t know if he was channeling some Philip Seymour Hoffman or some Michael Shannon, but it was great. He was my favorite character in that movie.
What’s coming up that you’re excited about, currently?
I mentioned it earlier, but I’m excited about Woke, which is my new TV series on Hulu. I want to say it comes out in July, but we’ve got a great director and a great cast. This show is so near and dear to my heart. It just makes sense. Politically, it’s there; it’s saying something. It’s timely. Essentially, it’s a show about a cartoonist named Keith “Keef” Knight, who’s a real guy and he used to make really boring comic strips. One day, something happens to him involving the police, and it opens his eyes to the world around him — not just metaphorically but quite literally. He starts seeing things; these animations start coming to life and guiding his path. We’ve got Blake Anderson from Workaholics, who’s playing a roommate. We’ve got T. Murph, a comedian who’s so, so funny. Maurice Marable is directing. We’ve also got Rose McIver, Katt Williams, Cedric the Entertainer, Sam Richardson, Tony Hale, Eddie Griffin and Nicole Byer. It’s a pretty cool show with a pretty cool group, and I’m really excited about it.