“It’s funny,” says Jeffrey Dean Morgan. “You work for like three straight years, nothing comes out, and then everything comes out in a month.” Which is why you’ll see him in no less than three TV projects this summer—a movie, a miniseries and a series, playing very different characters in each.
First up, the Seattle-born thespian—whose credits include Weeds, Grey’s Anatomy and Watchmen—plays a Texas Ranger in the post-Alamo History Channel series Texas Rising, launching the first of five parts Memorial Day (9/8c). He’ll then portray baseball legend Joe DiMaggio in The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, airing May 30 and 31 on Lifetime, and on July 1 he joins Halle Berry for the second season of the CBS series Extant.
In this candid conversation, he waxes ecstatic about the Wild West, Halle Berry and Star Wars.
“As an actor, the dream role is to be in a western. To be on a horse firing guns is not a bad way to spend your day.”
You play a real Texas Ranger in Texas Rising. What kind of preparation did you do?
There wasn’t much information about the character I played, Deaf Smith, as on Sam Houston or Santa Anna, but I did as much research as I could. There were some conflicting stories, but I was able to find enough information to get a good kind of foundation about Deaf. He was born in New York and lived in every state down south and probably was considered the first Texas Ranger. He died of consumption, so for this movie I went through a physical transformation and lost 40 pounds, which I’m still hurting from.
How’d you do it? Diet and exercise?
I didn’t exercise. I didn’t eat. I ate a can of tuna a day. It was hard. You’ll see when you see me in it. I lost it in the course of filming. It was really noticeable when I saw myself with my shirt off towards the end.
What was the experience like otherwise?
The joy of this movie is it’s a western, and that’s the first thing that made us all want to do it. As an actor, the dream role is to be in a western. To be on a horse firing guns is not a bad way to spend your day. And the sets were amazing. The Alamo set in particular would take your breath away.
In The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, you play a much better known real person. What was that like?
Strange, but I had a really good time doing it. I knew who Joe DiMaggio was and I liked the people involved—Emily Watson, Susan Sarandon and Kelli Garner, who really channeled Marilyn Monroe, from what I’ve seen. I didn’t do any prosthetics, I just tried to get down to the essence of Joe. But I think that they were pissed that I was still skinny. It’s taken me a while to gain some weight back.
You’re Halle Berry’s new co-star in Extant. How did you come to join the show?
I talked about it with Amblin last year but my schedule was so crazy it didn’t pan out last year. This year they called again. This character was written for me. I was always a fan of sci-fi and [the series’ executive producer Steven] Spielberg so this is a new little jaunt for me into that world. It’s been a lot of fun. And the opportunity to work with Halle was so exciting. She’s the greatest leading lady I’ve ever worked with. Every scene I have with her is phenomenal. I’ve never laughed more with someone in my life. The pleasant surprise is every day we make each other laugh. When you’re working 17-hour days five days a week, it’s great to be able to have a giggle every chance we get.
What’s your character, JD Richter, like?
JD is a rugged man’s man, a cop, and this is all very new to him. I’m kind of the everyman in the show. What I heard about the show last year was that it was a little hard to follow at times. I hadn’t seen any of the episodes and they didn’t really want me to watch them because it’s such a reboot this year. I’m the one asking questions, the audience’s mirror. I guide them through the confusing parts because there’s a lot of science to this. Hopefully I’ll be able to shed a little light on what’s happening. I think the chemistry that Halle and I have is undeniable and that makes me feel good. It has a little bit of an edge and sex and I’ll be raising some hell.
None of these shows are very kid-friendly. Do you think about doing something your five-year-old son can watch?
Yeah, I need to get in one of these Star Wars movies. I need a light saber, man! I’m a big Star Wars geek and my son Gus is into Star Wars. Any time I see Darth Vader I get excited.
Father’s Day is coming up. Do you know what you’ll give your dad?
Something special. I haven’t put a lot of thought into it ’cause right now I’m in the middle of press and work. I just saw him a couple of weeks ago. It’s important for me to see my dad, spend some time with him.
What was the best Father’s Day gift you’ve received?
It wasn’t for Father’s Day, but my wife got me Marshawn Lynch’s shoes that he wore in the Super Bowl last year for my birthday. That was pretty cool ’cause I’m a huge Seattle Seahawks fan.