A fixture of 1980s TV series and movies, prolific character actor David Morse became a reliable and much lauded supporting presence in feature films from the 1990s onward.
Raised in Hamilton, MA, Morse began his professional career after high school, joining the Boston Repertory Theater in 1971. Over the next six years, Morse acted in over 30 productions, amply preparing him for a move to New York theater in 1977. Morse subsequently got his first big movie break when he was cast in the drama Inside Moves (1980). Though Morse proved that he could handle lighter films with Neil Simon's comedy Max Dugan Returns (1983), his detour into television in 1982 was initially more fruitful. As Dr. Jack "Boomer" Morrison, Morse spent six seasons on the esteemed hospital drama St. Elsewhere, co-starring with, among others, Denzel Washington. During his stint on St. Elsewhere, Morse also starred in a diverse collection of TV movies. He was a priest in love with Valerie Bertinelli's nun in Shattered Vows (1984), a prisoner attempting a breakout from Alcatraz in Six Against the Rock (1987), a detective in Down Payment on Murder (1987), and a mental hospital escapee in Winnie (1988). Continuing his presence on the small screen after St. Elsewhere, Morse appeared in several more TV movies, including starring as a deranged kidnapper in Cry in the Wild: The Taking of Peggy Ann (1991).
Though he co-starred as a drifter in the indie film Personal Foul (1987) and appeared in Michael Cimino's noir remake The Desperate Hours (1990), Morse did not concentrate most of his energies on feature films until the 1990s. After starring as Viggo Mortensen's brother in Sean Penn's directorial debut, The Indian Runner (1991), Morse moved to more mainstream work with supporting roles in The Good Son (1993), the Alec Baldwin-Kim Basinger version of The Getaway (1994), and medical thriller Extreme Measures (1996). While he appeared in Terry Gilliam's thoughtful La Jetée (1962) remake 12 Monkeys (1995), faced off with Jack Nicholson in Penn's The Crossing Guard (1996), and starred as a janitor-turned-rich man in George B. (1997), Morse really captured audience attention in a concurrent string of high-profile projects. Returning to Alcatraz, Morse projected quiet menace as one of Ed Harris renegade Marines in the blockbuster hit The Rock (1996). Morse tapped his bad self again in the action romp The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996), then cemented his versatility with a small yet vital role as Jodie Foster's gentle father in Contact (1997). Notching his third major summer release in a row, Morse played a SWAT team commander up against Samuel L. Jackson's wrongly accused cop in The Negotiator (1998). Returning to serious blockbuster fare, Morse then co-starred with Tom Hanks as prison guards who witness miracles in The Green Mile (1999).
After a foray into comedy with Bait (2000), Morse stole hostage drama Proof of Life (2000) from his glamorous tabloid-ready co-stars Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe with his intense performance as Ryan's kidnapped husband. Even as he became a popular Hollywood second lead, however, Morse wasn't afraid to veer away from the multiplex, winning an Obie Award for Paula Vogel's acclaimed play How I Learned to Drive and putting a believably human face on an utterly hateful character in Lars von Trier's bleak, award-winning musical Dancer in the Dark (2000). Continuing his protean career, Morse appeared in another gentle Stephen King adaptation Hearts of Atlantis (2001) and starred in Diary of a City Priest (2001) for PBS. Morse followed the ill fated Hearts of Atlantis with a lead role in the indie drama The Slaughter Rule (2002), which was well received on the film festival circuit. Morse subsequently returned to series television, and received top billing, in the CBS drama Hack (2002). Starring Morse as an ex-cop-turned-cab driver, Hack was pummeled by critics, but audiences took to Morse's well intentioned, marginalized law enforcer and Hack became a modest ratings success. He had a recurring part on the medical drama House as a police detective driven to put the title character behind bars. In 2007 he played the bad guy in the teen thriller Disturbia. He appeared in a pair of award-winning projects in 2008 - he was a military man in The Hurt Locker, and tackled the role of George Washington in the Emmy-winning miniseries John Adams for HBO. In 2011 he had a major part in Drive Angry, and the next year he was in the family-oriented fantasy film The Odd Life of Timothy Green. ~ Lucia Bozzola, Rovi