Virtually very wannabe actor dreams of moving to Hollywood, going out on their very first audition and so knocking the reading out of the park, that they not only get the role, but they are cast as a series regular.
But everyone knows that only happens on television and not in real life. Especially when are sixty-something, are better known for your theater and writing work, and only became an actor because you’d been teaching about it for so long, you decided you needed some practical experience.
But that is exactly what happened to Robert Michael Morris whose first audition was in 2005 for Lisa Kudrow and her new sitcom The Comeback. One could argue that Morris’ luck ran out there as The Comeback only lasted for thirteen episodes, but even though those thirteen episodes were then the extent of his television resume, Morris went on to play parts on Will & Grace, The Class, Brothers & Sisters, and How I Met Your Mother.
And now Morris is again back to starring aa series regular on Fox’s new sitcom Running Wilde where he plays Mr. Lunt and stars alongside Will Arnett and Keri Russell.
Not bad for a guy in the business all of five years!
AfterElton.com chatted with Morris about his seemingly magic touch, auditioning for Kudrow, and being one of the few older gay men on television.
AfterElton: Let’s start off with you telling me and our readers about Mr. Lunt.
Robert Michael Morris: Running Wilde is about this character named Mr. Lunt… Okay, no, that’s not true. Mr. Lunt was Will Arnett’s nanny when he was a young boy and he’s been with the Wilde family as Steven’s nanny.
His job all of the boy’s life has been to protect him, to make sure nothing bad happens, and to provide what he needs and anything he wants. Now that Steven is an adult, Mr. Lunt continues as his personal secretary and is a little threatened by Keri Russell’s character when she shows up after many years being away. She can upset the balance of power so he’s a little suspicious and a little jealous of Steven’s infatuation with this gorgeous girl.
AE: Now when you say jealous, is he jealous in a parental sort of way, or…
RMM: Oh yeah. Mr. Lunt is not in love with Steven. He feels nothing but paternal or maternal affection towards him. He takes big pride in him…so you could say he loves him, but not in any kind of a sexual way.
AE: I’m told Mr. Lunt is gay on the show, he’s an out character.
RMM: Well, I don’t think he’s an out character on the show. If in fact he’s gay, it’s going to come as a revelation to Mr. Lunt because he doesn’t think of himself that way. He thinks of himself as "this is who I am."
As far as I know, unless the writers are keeping something from me, Mr. Lunt doesn’t have any kind of a sexual life. It certainly hasn’t been shown in the script so far. He’s never mentioned anybody or anything like that. He’s pretty much very dedicated to this man and he lives on the property, so he doesn’t go out or anything as far as I know.
AE: When you play him, do you think of him as a gay man?
RMM: Well, I took my cue from this: in my audition piece, there’s a thing where he explains to someone, "I’m not his nanny, I’m his personal secretary, but I still guard this boy like a mother guarding her prized cub."
I thought that was significant that he thinks of himself more in a maternal/feminine way than he does in a masculine/paternal way. I’m trying to play him in kind of a combination of Franklin Pangborn from the 30s movies and Dom DeLuise. If I can put those two together … because Franklin Pangborn always played a slow-walker. He was very prissy and I think anytime someone is prissy, you tend to think of them as gay.
AE: So what is it like working with Will?
RMM: He’s very funny and he’s very fast. He’s got a very fast wit and I think he comes out of an improv situation so you never know what’s going to come out of his mouth. It’s a lot of fun, and you really have to listen and be on your toes because you’re working with a pro here. You have to be very careful.
Morris with Will Arnett
AE: Given that you started working in television just five years ago, you’ve put together a pretty impressive resume with Brothers & Sisters, How I Met Your Mother, The Class and Will & Grace. How would you describe a Michael Morris character?
RMM: Well, I think the perfect Michael Morris character is probably some kind of gradation of the Mickey character. In all the roles that I’ve done – well, not all the roles I’ve done because I don’t think How I Met Your Mother was necessarily a gay character, or the one in Arrested Development, but certainly … do you remember The Class?
AE: I do.
RMM: Well, one episode of that– it was the Thanksgiving day episode – and the whole point of the thing was Sam Harris’s character was very effeminate. I mean, he was color-coordinated and did the cooking and dressed his little girl and stuff like that – and his father-in-law [played by me] was the same kinda guy.
I think the point they were making there is, there is a difference between being effeminate and being gay. And they walked that fine line where you were going, "Is he gay or not?" See, I think that’s really a healthy conversation to have because I don’t think sexuality – gay or straight- is so easy to define anymore.
AE: Any fun anecdotes about any of the shows you’ve worked on?
RMM: Well, I loved doing the Will & Grace episode for a couple of reasons. First of all, when I was going to lunch, I bumped into Rip Taylor and that was a little bit like bumping into God. I was agog with that. Everybody on that show was so nice – it was a real nice experience.
Recently when I’d been in New York, and they flew Mel and myself back to California for the opening of the show. You know, 39,000 feet in the air and I went to use the lavatory … I came back and the stewardess said "Excuse me, are you an actor?" and I said yes. She said "Were you in an episode of Will & Grace?" and I said yes. At the same time, both of us pointed and said "Tommy!" and I thought, “this is amazing. 39,000 feet in the air and you knew the character name.”
AE: It seems like when most people start in television, they have bit roles and have to start working their way up. But you were a series regular on your very first show The Comeback. How did that happen?
RMM: Well, that was actually the first show that I ever auditioned for in L.A. So it’s sort of like Lana Turner at Schwab’s.
AE: Do you know how many actors are going to hate you for that?
RMM: I know that but I’m sorry folks. It just proves that lightning can strike. I happened to have directed Michael Patrick King when he was a freshman in college … then fast-forward several years. King had moved to New York and I’d left my college teaching position and I moved to New York so I could find out what it was like to be a professional actor because my students were all asking questions and all I had was academic knowledge. I didn’t have any real professional knowledge.
King contacted me and said, "I’m working on a show with Lisa Kudrow and there’s a part in it I think you might be right for. I can’t make any promises and it may damage our friendship, but I think you should go for it." So I said sure! So I went and I auditioned … and I think I got the audition because when I was teaching high school, I had bought on eBay or someplace one of those necklaces that’s like silver chains with a cubic zirconia on it. I took it into my classroom as a prize for the girl in the class with the highest average that semester.
Morris with Lisa Kudrow
I had some extra ones, so I put some of them in my pocket for some reason. I don’t know why. But when I got up to leave after the audition I turned to Lisa Kudrow and I said, "Now Mickey wouldn’t have come to visit you without bringing you something, so this is for you." And I gave her the little necklace thing in this little pouch. She said, "Oh, that’s so beautiful" and I said "Don’t get excited, it’s not real." She said "Just don’t get close enough to know" and she gave me a big hug and I left an thought well, that was the end of that, wasn’t that fun, I got to meet Lisa Kudrow. I never ever had a thought in my head that I would even get a callback.
A couple days later I got a call from my and …she said "Your life’s about to change- you got it." And that, as they say, is history. That’s how I got the role. At that advanced stage, it happened.
AE: We don’t see a lot of older gay men on television, Michael. How do you feel about carrying that banner, so to speak?
RMM: I am delighted and I will carry it as long as anybody wants me to carry it. I don’t like labels. I don’t want people to make suppositions and I’m very comfortable with anybody making any kind of a supposition about me that they want, because if they knew me as a person…well, to know me is to love me as somebody once said to me. If they like my work and they like me, terrific. It can only help everybody else.