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Euan Morton: Through A Glass Darkly

2008 was a rough year for Tony-nominee Euan Morton. After ending his strike-abbreviated run in the Broadway revival of Cyrano de Bergerac, he found himself with a ruptured appendix while vacationing in Georgia. In a story eerily similar to Jonathan Larson's, his condition was dismissed as gastroenteritis and he was given antacids. "And four days later, my appendix ruptured, and I was rushed to the hospital," he notes dryly. "They didn't give me a very good chance for survival." By October, he says, he had given up on 2008 and was looking forward to 2009.

Fortunately, this year seems to be starting out well for the Scottish star of Taboo. This week, he opened in the American premiere Leaves of Glass, a four-person play by Philip Ridley currently running at Playwrights Horizons in which Morton plays the role of Barry. "I can't really say it's fun," he says thoughtfully about the play, "‘cause it's kinda dark and twisted and it's highly emotionally charged...It's a great play, and it's a great role for an actor. It's not exactly 'A Cratchit Family Christmas' for this time of year," he laughs, "but I think it's an important and meaningful piece. It's nice to be allowed to do that kind of work."

Morton's involvement in the project began when the play's director, Ludovica Villar-Hauser, with whom he had worked on another show, came to see him perform at the Metropolitan Room. "I guess she was coming to see if I was still any good," he quips, "and she brought the script along and saw the concert and handed the script to me and said, 'Would you read this and tell me if you're interested in the role of Barry?'" After reading the script, Morton called her and accepted the role. "It's a hard thing to say that I was attracted to the character," he says, "because it's such a dark story that he has." Barry's story involves childhood emotional trauma that results in adult mental health issues--a challenge for any actor, but one worth risking. "I wanted to play that life," he says. "I wanted to look into the darkness of that."

The play features an all-British cast and a British director (though the stage manager, Morton notes, is American), and is set in London's East End, where Morton lived for three years. "I feel like I recognize the characters and I recognize the area of the play," he says. "It's nice to have these memories of home brought to the room every day."

While playing a man still dealing with emotional trauma is challenging, the biggest challenge of Morton's career so far, he says, was creating the character of Boy George while the genuine article was in the room with him. "He was always in my life," he recalls, adding that he had grown up with George's music, "and I was gonna have to be this man and live this man's life, and that was...a great challenge, and a tough one, too." He would go through the experience again, he says, and says that he learned a lot from Taboo. "Going through those challenges, you get stronger, but it's definitely nervewracking," he says. Still, despite the constant presence of the real-life version of his character, Morton had a certain amount of freedom in his portrayal. "George never said, 'Play it this way; be this kind of person; this is who you must be.' He said, 'Look, just interpret it. Do your own thing. You're basically me, anyway, so just get on with it.' I don't know what he meant by that," he admits with a laugh.

When creating a role, Morton says, he builds the character from the emotions out, working with the other actors to make certain that everyone is on the same page--both metaphorically and literally. "You may have an idea of a scene somewhat differently than the person playing opposite you, and they're offering you something different, so your character reacts in a different way," he explains. "So it's a very organic process, and I'm much more of an emotional actor than a cerebral one. I mean, I analyze text and I understand how to, and text is extremely important-we're the messengers for that play-but I analyze it from an emotional place. The easiest part for me is understanding the character's emotional journey. Other people are great with text and know how to analyze why this line is written that way; for me, the character informs how the character speaks the text."

With his second CD (after 2006's Newclear) in the works, Morton is balancing two careers as an actor and a singer. "There have been times recently when I've thought, 'Do I want to keep being an actor?' Not because I don't love it, but because it's hard. It's hard work-I'm making this sound really dramatic," he interrupts himself, and starts again. "I mean, it's fun and I love it and it's my favorite thing-but I have those moments of doubt. But I look at the future and know I'll still be doing this because it's what I love to do. It's all I can do, really. I'm not really sure I can do anything else. I certainly can't count," he adds wryly. "I hope I'm still doing what I love to do in the future, and if I was able to balance both singing and acting the way I've been able to do so far, that would be great. I wouldn't like to have to choose one." Still, he says, "if I had to choose, I would probably choose acting. Even if I'm less successful at it, it's just more challenging and I enjoy it more." The appeal, he says, comes from being able "to go to play with other people [instead of being] all alone up there singing songs at people and hoping that they love you. It's a different beast."

"It's great to be challenged," he says about his two careers, "and it's nice doing other things-I mean, I love doing musical theatre, I love singing songs, and I love all the aspects of the industry, but...I love doing this, too. I love getting dark, and getting involved in something, and text and dialogue and other great actors to play with--and work with--and a great script. That's all part of the attraction, too."

Photo by: Origin Theatre Co.

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From This Author Jena Tesse Fox

Jena Tesse Fox is a lifelong theatre addict who has worked as an actress, a singer, a playwright, a director, a lyricist, a librettist, and (read more...)