If there ever is an actor who always gets the cool jobs, it has to be Phil Morris.
Even when he was a child, one of his acting gigs was a guest slot in Star Trek: The Original Series. He was one of the kids who would eventually beat the hell out of William Shatner in the episode “Miri” (he’s the kid in the army helmet).
The son of actor Greg Morris (who forever be Barney Collier on Mission: Impossible), Phil caught the acting bug early and made the most of it. For instance, he not only was in Star Trek:TOS, but also in the movie Search For Spock and the Trek TV sequels, Deep Space 9 and Voyager. He scored a recurring role in Seinfeld as Kramer's opportunistic lawyer Jackie Chiles. He even played the son of Barney Collier in an update of M:I. And of course he has another recurring role as Martian Manhunter on Smallville.
His animation resume is also pretty impressive. They include Sweets in Disney’s Atlantis, Thurgood in The PJ’s, a number of roles on Kim Possible, and currently you can hear him as Doc in Secret Saturdays.
But today we're here to talk about Batman: Brave & Bold and true to his luck and talent, Morris has scored a recurring role on that series. This weekend he will make a return visit as Jonah Hex in the episode “Duel of the Double Crossers!” He made his first appearance as the scarred DC bounty hunter in the episode “Return of the Fearsome Fangs!” (interestingly he had a second role as Fox of the Terrible Three in that one). In this episode, Jonah kidnaps the Caped Crusader to be part of Mongul’s games on the War Planet. As one can imagine, it won’t be long before the carved-up cowboy and the Dark Knight are fighting together.
From there, you’ll have to see the episode.
Anyway, Morris is an incredible fan of comics and animation, and seemed to openly welcome this opportunity to wax on the matter. Here’s what he had to say:
NEWSARAMA: Now it’s an honor and a pleasure sir. I mean any dude who can go back and say he was in the original Star Trek and a number of other incarnations afterwards…
PHIL MORRIS: I’m telling you, I don’t think anyone will be able to do that again.
NRAMA: Let’s start simple enough. When you were giving William Shatner all kinds of trouble in that episode of Star Trek, were you yet deep into comic books and cartoons?
PM:: I don’t want to say of course, but yeah!, I was like eight years old, the golden age. I remember my very first comic book was Tales of Suspense, a double issue featuring Iron Man and Captain America. I got it in Cleveland, Ohio. My dad was from Cleveland and we went back to see the folks. My grandma bought it for me at a drug store. That’s how tied into it I am. I remember when I got my first comic book. I remember looking at the comics and saying ‘Grandma, can I have one of those?’ and she saying ‘Yes, but just one.’
Now I didn’t have a clue about them. I just picked out the most colorful one. When I opened those pages, they just transformed me. I became one of those kids who used to get those flower seed packets, sell them and use the money to buy comics.
I’m a major martial arts student, too. I remember I literally stopped going to class one time because it was interfering with my Saturday morning cartoons.
NRAMA: Was there any favorite cartoons?
PM:: Jonny Quest was absolutely huge, which is why I’m so glad to be playing Doc Saturday on the Secret Saturdays. It’s very much like Jonny Quest meets Herculoids. I was also a big Japanese cartoon fan. I don’t know if you remember 8 Man. I have the complete series on video tape. That’s how freaky I am. I love Gigantor. I was way back when. I loved it all.
NRAMA: How would Batman fit into there? Were you more a Marvel head and didn’t have room for DC?
PM:: I love that you say that. Back then, if you were a for real fan, you were DC or Marvel. You were one or the other.
NRAMA: I knew a lot of Marvel fans who did have room for Batman.
PM:: Batman kind of transcends all that. Still, in terms of titles, you were either one or the other. I was Mighty Marvel Marching frakking whatever. I loved Stan Lee. I loved Jack Kirby. I loved Steranko. I loved all the guys who created that world. I loved their humanity. I thought DC was a little behind on that until the mid-70s.
NRAMA: But getting back to Batman. Was he cool in your universe even if you were a Marvel-ite?
PM:: Absolutely. He embodied all we wanted to be. He did extraordinary things without having any superpowers. He was always flying by the seat of his pants. He did it with his wit, intellect and physical acumen. He also always got the job done. In a way, anybody could have been Batman. His extraordinary skills were those he developed himself. I think there was honor and respect among all comic book fans for Batman because of that.
NRAMA: Haven’t you worked on other Batman animated shows?
PM:: Justice League mainly. I was Vandal Savage. I also was on New Frontier, King Faraday. Not too many Batman things. This is the first real Batman foray I ever had. I’m loving it.
NRAMA: Now this Batman isn’t the Dark Knight type. He’s a bit lighter. At times I wonder how Diedrich Bader can say some of his lines with a straight face.
PM:: If you know Diedrich, you know the answer. He’s quite the cut-up. I personally like the changes James Tucker and Michael Jelenic have done on this particular iteration of Batman. He’s kind of a more user-friendly, not-so-dark Dark Knight; more broad stokes and fun. I find that more engaging than some of the others.
I also like the humor. Diedrich said something the other day about Will Friedle, who plays Blue Beetle. He said how Will has really captured the humor of this particular version of Batman. It’s really the guest stars who bring the humor to Batman: The Brave & The Bold. Batman only has to add little touches, usually through dialogue. Diedrich had to discover that through the process for himself. The guest stars come in and handle the funny. That’s the successful formula of the show.
NRAMA: But to counter this, you play a dark, honery, serious cuss.
PM:: Exactly. When we get together, it’s going to be a duel between Batman and Jonah Hex as to who is going to be the more tongue-in-cheek and crack the most cutting line, the one that will leave you howling in your mug.
NRAMA: What do you think of Jonah? In your comic days did you pick up his titles?
PM:: I liked Jonah Hex early on, but he kind of fell by the wayside later. I love his integrity. In that I think he rivals Batman to a degree. He’s always trying to do the right thing, even though he comes from a pretty dark place himself. That’s just like Batman, you know?
NRAMA: One thing you have to say, you had that short bit as Jonah in the episode “Return of the Fearsome Fangs.” Yes, you also were in the main segment afterwards. Still, with “Duel” this is your second appearance as Jonah.
PM:: That’s actually now part of the show. The formula is now to introduce a new character in the opening segment. It’s kind of like a prologue. Then bring him back for a later episode, the main body of the show, five to seven episodes. It’s kind of only then do you get a full feature on the character. Then they’ll pick him up again later on.
NRAMA: So would you say your Jonah is lighter than the one in the comics?
PM:: I think he’s the way he should be for a hardcore DC fan. He’s more in the Jimmy Palmiotti style. He’s far more straight, no chaser. It’s the characters around him that provide the humor. I find it more entertaining, really.
NRAMA: Think you’ll be doing more Jonah?
PM:: You know every actor normally says he was so happy, if they call him back, he’ll play. In this instance, I know I’ll be back. I have a great love affair with Andrea Romano. Also, when you get in to Warner Brothers and they decide they like you, they really like you. I know I definitely like working with them.
Besides, and I say this not because of this interview, I’m into this world whether I work in it or not. So getting a chance to put my particular spin on a character, is a personal dream. I feel I’m representing the rank and file when I’m here. I’m just fortunate to be making a living at it.