Supernatural Anatomy
by Christina Radish
(May 8, 2006) (Source)

In their career, most actors dream of getting that one great role. Not only has Jeffrey Dean Morgan found that great role, he's actually found two of them, simultaneously. As Denny Duquette, a marine biologist in need of a heart transplant who is vying for the affections of Dr. Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl) on the mega hit Grey's Anatomy, which has its explosive 2-hour finale tonight on ABC, and John Winchester, the ghostbusting father of two estranged brothers (Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki) on The WB's Supernatural, the Seattle native certainly has his hands full.

With his charming, humble demeanor, it's easy to see why millions of TV viewers are falling for the 40-year-old Morgan. Splitting his time between Los Angeles and Vancouver, when both shows are in production, Morgan doesn't get much time for rest and relaxation. Even so, he still took time out of his insane schedule to talk with MediaBlvd. Magazine.

"I had no idea I'd end up doing what I'm doing. I thought I was going to be a great writer and a painter. I was doing graphic art in New York and moved back to Seattle and started a graphic art company there. A friend of mine, who was an actor in Seattle, was moving to Los Angeles, and I drove the U-Haul down and never left. I got a Roger Corman movie, where I played a killer pimp, and I've been here ever since. That was in the early 90s. I fell in love with acting and got the bug, and that was how the love affair started."

Since then, a string of guest starring roles on such television shows as ER, Angel, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and The O.C., among others, eventually led Morgan to the role of the mysterious John Winchester in the pilot for Supernatural. "It was a possible recurring role, if the show got picked up. My whole thing was, 'How could I recur because I'm not going to be old enough to play their father, and I don't know how that would work.' But, sure enough, it got picked up and I was back to work."

Right after he shot the pilot in Vancouver, he was cast as Mary Louise Parker's dead husband, Judah Botwin, on the Showtime series Weeds, about a suburban mother turned marijuana dealer. "No one knew what that was going to entail. It was a big casting process and they saw a lot of people. We all just wanted to work with Mary Louise."

Already a big fan of Grey's Anatomy, Morgan says that his work on Weeds helped him to secure his role on that show because it caught the attention of series creator Shonda Rhimes. "I was actually on my way to Canada to shoot an episode of Supernatural, and I was sick and late for my flight and had to cancel my car. I said I would swing by because I didn't believe the fact that she actually wanted to see me. I was sick and just didn't think it was going to be a very good meeting. I met with her and [co-executive producer] Peter Horton, and they had me read. I was sick as a dog, and they said, 'Can you act sick all the time?,' and I said, 'Well, I'll sure give it a shot.' I left there and got on a plane and, by the time I landed in Vancouver for Supernatural, an offer had come in for Grey's and the 9/11 Oliver Stone movie, at the same time."

"I had to choose between the two of those, figuring that I could make Supernatural and one of them work. Little did I know it was going to be what it has been, for the last three months, where it's been just crazy, doing two shows full-time. Ultimately, I turned down the Oliver Stone movie just because no one would show me the material, and I couldn't base a decision on not seeing any material first. I knew what Grey's was going to be, and my family probably would have killed me, had I not done Grey's Anatomy because they're such fans of the show. And, I've got to say that it was the best decision I've ever made."

A self-professed homebody, who loves to cook, read and hang out with his dog, Morgan says that the Grey's cast couldn't have been more welcoming to him, when he joined the show. "I couldn't have walked into a better cast and crew, as the new guy. They've really become my second family. I love them to death. That show is so well done and so well cast, and everybody is so happy to be there. A lot of those actors, myself included, have been kicking around this business for a long time and, to be on a show that is having the kind of success that Grey's is, really just puts a smile on your face, so going to work every day is great and you're happy to be there. It's a real cohesive unit. Shonda did a superb job of putting that guest together and, on top of that, it's got a great crew. From top to bottom, that show is number one. It's such a well-oiled machine."

The scripts for Grey's Anatomy are kept ultra top-secret, with the cast having to sign agreements to say that they won't reveal any upcoming plot points. Because of that, Morgan reveals that all he can do is hope that there will be a good outcome for his character.

"At this point, every day I walk in with my picket sign that says, 'Keep Denny alive.' Denny's been through the ringer, man. Keep the guy alive, for God's sake. Let him and Izzie ride off into the sunset together."

One of the aspects of being a part of Grey's Anatomy that Morgan enjoys most is the time he spends working with former Roswell star Katherine Heigl. "It's been the best working experience I've ever had, as far as working with an actor. I could go to work and work with her every day, and I'd be the happiest guy in the world. She's incredibly generous, as an actor, and on top of that, she's just a sweet person. I very much consider her one of my dearest friends. We've been working together since November, when I did my first episode, and we've had a nice run. I just adore her. She's an outstanding person and an amazing actress. I think this storyline has given her something to sink her teeth into and, lord have mercy, she has."

If Supernatural gets picked up by the new CW network, which it almost assuredly will, and Denny will be around long enough to return to Grey's Anatomy next season, Morgan is still game to juggle both roles. "As hard as it is, I'd be crazy to say no to either one. I love Jared and Jensen. Going up to Vancouver is like going to camp. We have so much fun, and it's pretty much just the three of us up there. There's a lot of giggling. The three of us together act like little kids. They're both fun as heck, but they're both so different. Supernatural is the most difficult because I could never get used to working nights. Working exterior nights in Vancouver, when it's raining and snowing, is a little daunting, when you haven't slept. The show is extremely hard, physically."

"And then, on the flipside of that, I'm working with Katie Heigl on Grey's and the storyline is, sometimes, very emotional and hard, but as an actor, you love that because you've got something to sink your teeth into. Both shows are great, and both are fun. I wouldn't change the last six months of my life for the world."

Playing two vastly different characters helps Morgan to keep the two roles straight, but he admits that there were days where it did get a little confusing. "I'd work a 20-hour day on Grey's, come home at one in the morning, have a car pick me up at four in the morning, go straight to the airport and right to the Supernatural set, on no sleep, trying to figure out my lines. It would take me a minute to get Winchestery because he is very intense, very ex-military and kind of gruff. The man loves his children, but he's a little on the stern side. To get into that mode is hard, sometimes. It's much easier for me to get into Denny mode than it is Winchester mode, especially if you're looking at Jared giggling at you from across the camera. Working in the rain, getting chucked against walls at five in the morning with those boys, as handsome as they are, it's a lot easier being in a nice, dry studio looking at Katie Heigl."

"It was a tough deal for while, working on both shows. I was being scheduled so much on Supernatural, and I was still working four or five days a week on Grey's, and so, the schedules would have to be flip-flopped, and we'd work weekends on Supernatural. Any time off I had was spent flying."

All things considered, Morgan is definitely not complaining. "As an actor, the last six months have been a dream. I get to play two completely different dudes who have completely different things to say, and who both see life completely different. To be able to do that and flex your acting muscles is awesome, and I think very few people get that opportunity. I've been waiting for it my whole life, and here it is. It's about taking advantage of this moment. I hope all the viewers are digging it 'cause it's been a lot of fun. As tired as I am, it's been awesome, and I wouldn't change a thing."

Morgan loves playing Denny Duquette and John Winchester, but admits that his favorite role, thus far, is Denny because he loves the man that he is. "I love how he looks at life. He's the man I want to be. He's the man I strive to be, but without the heart problem. He's just a great guy. He sees life and seizes those opportunities, and he's able to laugh, even when things are not looking good. I think that says a lot about that character. I learn something every day that I get to step into his shoes, and that's a real privilege."

Now that he is working so much, Morgan is getting recognized on the street a lot more. But, he is just happy to have all of his hard work acknowledged. "I've never been on a show that 25 million people watch. It's pretty cool. That's never really happened. I call myself a blue collar actor because I work, but I'm not famous. People don't normally recognize me. When that kind of recognition comes, it's nice. It's flattering."

In addition to all of his success on television, Morgan has also managed to work in an independent film, called Jam, opposite Marianne Jean-Baptiste, William Forsythe, Tess Harper, Jonathan Silverman, Amanda Detmer and Alex Rocco, about eight sets of unrelated travelers whose lives intersect following a rural highway collision.

"I had already shot the pilot for Supernatural, and I'd done Weeds, but it was before I got Grey's and before Supernatural started up again, so I fit it in. We shot it in 15 days, for no money, but it had this wonderful cast. If I fall in love with the material, like I did on that, I'll figure out how to do it."

His current success has allowed Morgan to be more choosy in his roles now. Instead of just needing to pay the rent, he has the luxury of looking for those projects that he really responds to. "With the opportunities that I have now, I can look at stuff in a different way. When you're getting by, as an actor, you'll pretty much do anything. But, having some success, I can look at stuff in a different way. I can look at material and scrutinize it more and go, 'Well, this is such a brilliant character.' I don't care if it's film or TV, if it's well written. I'll do it for free, if it's a great role."

Although he is currently enjoying success that many actors only ever dream of, Morgan's career wasn't always so bright. "There's a lot to be said for persistence. It's not that I never worked, because I always did. It's just that you have years where, financially, they're pretty good, and you're making a living. And then, you have years where you're like, 'How am I going to plan my future? How am I ever going to survive when I'm 60 years old, if I'm making X amount of dollars and I've got nothing in my bank because I'm living hand-to-mouth?' It got to a point, when I was 33 or 34, where I was like, 'I've got to figure something else out. This is ridiculous.'"

"I moved to San Diego and started doing a show about extreme travel. I had just done a series here and I got fed up because I'm not good at playing the Hollywood game. So, I moved to San Diego and I didn't act for a couple of years and, frankly, I just started missing it. I love what I do and, stepping away from it, gave me a whole new appreciation for it. When I came back to Los Angeles, about four and a half years ago, everything changed for me. "They take me for who I am, at this point, and are being very accepting of it, which is great. It's a whole new level of maturity, as a person and as an actor, that I've never had more, and I couldn't be more appreciative."

Looking back on his career and gaining some perspective, Morgan remembers when his former manager dropped him because he just wasn't getting work, and wonders if she is watching him now. "The day before I got Supernatural, she said, 'Jeff, I can't resurrect your career.' I often wonder what she's thinking now. It was a bummer, too, because she was a very good friend of mine. But, there's always been detractors, even me. I would sometimes question myself and think, 'Was this the right decision? What was I thinking, 20 years ago, wanting to be an actor?' But, there's nothing like hitting that scene the way you want to hit it. And, to be recognized for it is really special. But, you know how this business goes. You can be on top of the world one minute, and then they're like, 'Who the hell is that?' I've been in this business long enough that I know how it works. I know how quickly it can all go away. So, I'm going to be smart and see what happens. I've got some great people around me now, who are all part of my team, and I love them to death. It's going to be real interesting to see what's up next."


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