Want to delve deeper into the filmography of this Chestnut Hill-based actor? Check out these key shows and films from his career spanning decades.
To complement our in-depth interview with Chestnut Hill’s David Morse, we’ve combed through the actor’s extensive (and we mean really extensive) IMDB page and selected his 11 essential roles from big and small screen to give just a taste of their length and breadth of his career.
1982-’88: St Elsewhere
For his big part, Morse played doctor Jack “Boomer” Morrison in this gritty, critically acclaimed hospital drama that set the tone for all hospital dramas to come. (Hi, HE.) One critic said Morse, who was 29 when the show debuted, was a “fellow with a very distinctive tone … a major scene thief.”
1991: The Indian runner
Sean Penn, still trying to shake off his 1980s ambassador, gave Morse his first major film with this crime role as a cop whose brother, played by Viggo Mortensen, gets into trouble. A New York Times One critic wrote that Morse exuded “stubbornness, friendliness and a touch of suppressed longing”.
1995: 12 monkeys
Morse has a small but important role that shows casting directors aren’t exactly calling him the nice guy who’s there to save the world. (In this case, quite the opposite.) His scene with the underrated Madeleine Stowe shows what a disturbing creep this guy can be. Bonus: Shot in Philly.
1999: The green mile
This Stephen King adaptation has its fair share of haters. But for Morse, who plays death row jailer Brutus “Brutal” Howard opposite Tom Hanks, it was an opportunity to share some time with one of Hollywood’s leading men. Critics praised Morse’s “relaxed timing and sly delivery”.
2001: American Experience: Abraham and Mary Lincoln, a House Divided
The six-part PBS series shows just how effective a voiceover can be in the hands of a pro like Morse. His voice is representative of the narrator, President Lincoln, and his speech from the Gettysburg Address makes them something more than mere words on paper.
A well-received Philly-filmed CBS series about a Philadelphia ex-cop (played by Morse) became a vigilante seemed to have everything for it. Read our interview with Morse to see why it all fell apart.
2008: The injured locker
No list of David Morse films would be complete without this unnervingly tense war film from Kathryn Bigelow, in which Morse plays the colonel in charge of a group of crazed bomb disposal teams in Iraq, and his exchange with leading Jeremy Renner is one of the most memorable scenes from the movie – a kind of Duvall Sheen moment à la apocalypse now.
In Morse’s first major foray into the world of cable television, he plays a good cop in a city (that city is New Orleans, just after Katrina) that’s full of bad cops. Morse happens to be the guy who is secretly working with the FBI to root them out. He is a main character appearing in all four seasons.
2015: True Detective: Season 2
Yes, the second season of the HBO hit was vilified as much as the first season was praised. But I checked it out again recently, and it really isn’t that bad. In a mix of seedy, compromised characters, Morse, who played the female lead’s oddball cult leader father, was the rudest of them all.
I’m not sure why this little fictional series about power struggles in the Appalachian outlaw culture never started. It could just be that most people have never heard of WGN, the network behind it. Morse, who plays the leading role, is outstanding – or what diversity shall we say “great”.
2018: Escape at Dannemora
This Showtime series about the wild 2015 prison break in upstate New York works. For real Good. That’s thanks in no small part to incredible performances from Benicio del Toro, Paul Dano, Patricia Arquette and, yes, Morse, who plays the main guard in charge of the rioting inmates.
Published as The Essential Viewing Guide to David Morse in the June 2022 issue of Philadelphia Magazine.