After playing grudge-obsessed detective Michael Tritter in House, a shady cop in 16 Blocks, and a serial killer in Disturbia, David Morse is back on the Broadway stage and he wants your sympathy. In Conor McPherson’s amazing new play, The Seafarer, Morse plays James “Sharky” Harkin, a lonesome Irishman who can’t hold down a job or get laid, but finds himself pitted against Satan in a particularly high-stakes game of cards. Morse talked to Vulture about the stagehands’ strike, vitriolic fans, and playing the villain to one of TV’s most beloved doctors. The Seafarer opens at the Booth Theater tonight.
How do you gear up for opening night?
Opening night is the most artificial night of the whole run. Everybody you care about is there — my mother, my wife, my kids, friends — and the problem is, you want it to be such a great show for all of them, but more often, the plays are better when you don’t know anybody there. So I’m trying not to think about it.
Aside from you, the characters in the show drink pretty much incessantly. Did that continue after-hours?
Well, I don’t drink much, but we all kept waiting to see what would happen when we got together because we didn’t really know each other before the play. We kept waiting to see who would turn out to be the drunk, but amazingly, there isn’t one! Everybody is quite sensible.
In the play, your character meets the Devil. How did you prepare for that?
It’s a couple of things. If you think about it in terms of meeting someone like Jesus, and he says he’s the son of God; you’d say “Are you out of your mind?” Here’s a man in this play who is essentially saying he’s the Devil, which is about as absurd as it gets: This guy is out of his mind, or it’s a joke. Obviously he does things in the play that convince me that he’s way more powerful than anything I’ve ever met. But the thing I really get confronted with is my own life, and that’s what I have to deal with.
Your character really gets shit on a lot during the play. What attracted you to the role?
The thing I liked about Sharky, beside being so complicated, is that he is so much in need of being loved, really. He’s so damaged.
Which certainly plays in stark contrast to your other roles. You’ve played a lot of creeps
Needless to say, I have done a lot of characters who have been called the bad guy. And you know, as fun as they are to do, after a while, you get a little tired of people telling you how much they hated you on whatever they were watching. And then they always say, “Oh, but that’s a compliment, that’s a compliment!” I think the only one that people really get worked up about is when I did House, because people love House’s character so much. And as much as they thought it was fun to have somebody stand up to House, in some ways, they really felt defensive and protective of him.
Does your wife have to bear the brunt of your creepy roles? Does she ever wonder why you take those roles?
Well, maybe it’s just the real life she has to bear the brunt of. [Laughs] Part of it is you just have to look at the work that’s offered. It’s only a select number of actors who have access to those lead, good-guy roles. And, well, if you’re not able to get those roles, usually the most interesting character other than that is the bad guy. Other than that, there’s the best friend. The best friend is there to tell stupid jokes and get killed three-quarters of the way by the bad guy. Anyway, you can’t just look at the role; you have to look at the script. There are certainly movies that I’ve done that I would not go and see now.
I won’t say. [Laughs] That would come back to bite me.