News

Just Mercy Star Rob Morgan on Channeling His Grandfather, Joining the Marvel Universe, and the Future

The accomplished actor also chats with RT about working with RZA and Tom Hanks, and how he stays true to himself.

by | December 20, 2019 | Comments

George Pimentel/Getty Images
(Photo by George Pimentel/Getty Images)

When Rotten Tomatoes spoke to Rob Morgan during his Just Mercy press run, we described the interview as a victory lap, of sorts. Morgan was humbled about the description (“Aww thank you. Rotten Tomatoes for the win, baby.”) The description is apt: Morgan has had a busy 2019. He ended his run as Turk Barrett, the connective tissue of the Marvel Netflix Universe. Not to lag behind, Morgan began doing the film festival circuit with two heavy hitters. The first was he Joe Talbot-directed The Last Black Man in San Francisco, which premiered at 2019 Sundance Film Festival and in which he plays Jimmie Fails’ father James Sr. The second was the Destin Daniel Cretton-directed Just Mercy, based on the book by Bryan Stevenson, which premiered at 2019 Toronto International Film Festival.

Morgan has become known as a scene-stealer, playing understated but impactful roles. As Herbert Richardson in Just Mercy, he commands attention in one pivotal scene in which we follow Richardson in his routine before his execution. It’s equally disturbing and mesmerizing, with Morgan acutely tapping into the emotion of a man who knows his end is near.

We spoke to Morgan about that scene, how he doesn’t lose himself in his roles, what he has coming in future projects, and his skill in industry relationship building: “My most high-profile work comes from directors want to work with me.”


Warner Bros. Pictures
(Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures)

Joi Childs for Rotten Tomatoes: How did you prepare for the role of Herbert Richardson in Just Mercy? Especially that heart-stopping scene as he prepares for his execution?

Rob Morgan: Well, Herbert Richardson, he actually was executed, so I didn’t really have live footage to go off of. I had two pictures of him, and I would just stare into his pictures and stare into his eyes and try to download his spirit. Bryan Stevenson wrote a phenomenal book, Just Mercy, and it was filled with all kinds of information that helped me tap into Herbert’s spirit. And also, just my everyday experience as a Black man in America, I get information that informs me in ways that I can parallel my own life with Herbert Richardson. Maybe not to the high degree of being on death row, but I can still parallel some of his oppressive conditions with my own, just walking around in this society. So, I took a lot of that in my imagination, and when Destin [Daniel Cretton] said action, that’s what we came up with.

RT: Your characters in Just Mercy, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, and Mudbound have the common thread of living through hard times. When you give these understated but powerful performances, how do you avoid losing yourself too much?

Morgan: I trained with the American Theatre of Harlem, and by the grace of God, that was my foundation to understanding the art of storytelling and understanding that I’m blessed to be in a play. I’m not showing up to do brain surgery. I’m not showing up to cure cancer, but I’m showing up to play and give voice to the voiceless. I love who I am as a person. So, I love my lifestyle. I love playing chess, you know? I love fumbling around on the guitar, I love being present with people. So, I don’t lose myself so much, because I love who I am. It’s a skill of being able to go in and understand that I’m doing this for a slice of time compared to somebody that actually had to live this for their whole life. They couldn’t stop when they said cut. They couldn’t take the outfit off, you know, like, Hap Jackson, the sharecropper I played in Mudbound.

Warner Bros. Pictures
(Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures)

You know, my grandfather, he had that lifestyle, so I was able to tap into my grandfather. I actually used his name in the movie, I ad-libbed because I was pulling from him so much. I know these people and these people are in me. So, I used the ability to tap in when I need to to tell those stories. But at the same time, I love who I am enough that when they say cut, I’m able to come back and be Rob Morgan.

RT: Let’s pivot to something a little lighter: You truly are the connective tissue of the Marvel Netflix Universe. What motivated you to continue to be a part of all those series, even in small moments?

Morgan: Well, I mean, Julie Schubert, a casting director in New York City, called me in to audition, and they seemed to have liked my take. And the character Turk Barrett is actually written as one of the only characters that goes in and out of the whole universe. He was so much more in the actual comic book world that we didn’t get a chance to explore, but I pretty much just showed up when they called my name. When they said, “Hey, Rob, we got a scene for Turk. Come through,” that’s when I showed up. Yeah, I mean it was a fun experience. I didn’t realize how the fan base was just so heavy. You know, I get recognized for Turk Barrett probably more than any of my other roles, even more than the Stranger Things role. But yeah, I just auditioned, tried to be an actor to get a job, and fortunately, they liked my personality and style and saw what I could bring to the character, and I just showed up when they called me.

Jake Giles Netter / © Warner Bros.
(Photo by Jake Giles Netter / © Warner Bros.)

RT: You have a busy 2020 with three anticipated films: The Photograph, Cut Throat City, and Greyhound. Can you speak about the projects?

Morgan: [For The Photograph] Man, that was a great project to be a part of. And for them to trust me with the character, I was completely honored. I think Issa Rae has a great finger on the pulse of getting good content out there. So, I thought it was just a win-win situation to be working with that caliber of visionaries and storytellers, you know, of our time. And my man, James Lopez, who was one of the producers, he gave me the thumbs up on Stella Meghie. Again, Stella Meghie, the director of the movie, she had all these options, and she was like, “Scratch all these names off. Get me Rob Morgan.” That’s really how that happened, too, again. My most high profile work comes from directors who want to work with me. That’s how I got that, too. Stella Meghie was basically like, “Nope, I don’t want to see none of these people. Show me Rob Morgan.” And I went and met with her, we clicked, and I got the job.

Cut Throat City, William Clevinger is one of the producers. Kyle Tekiela was one of those producers on Mudbound, so they were familiar with my work. The project came up, my window of opportunity was open, and they squeezed me in. I thought it was a treat to work with some hip hop royalty. I feel like [RZA is] a successful composer of music in films, and then for him to go into his directorial thing, I wanted to be there and support the brother. And he trusted me with his vision, and it was kind of like a powerhouse cast movie, because you got Wesley Snipes, Isaiah Washington, you got Denzel Whitaker. I mean, you got, like, Eiza González, you know, you got so many heavy hitters in this movie, it’s like, “Hey, man, I’d love to come down there and play with them.” You got TI in the movie, you know, Tyron Woodley from the UFC. So, it felt like one of those movies that was just going to have a huge market of eyes on it. Where it’s at right now, I don’t know. I think it’s coming in South by Southwest — I’m not sure — but I don’t know where the movie is now.

[For Greyhound], to work with Tom Hanks and to see how open and giving he is as such an A-list actor, it just shows you how it’s not the heaviest stuff we do. Tom Hanks, when you meet him, he’s a such a cheerful, open, giving, fun guy. You would imagine this star that’s been in our living room for 20-plus years would have this kind of personality, but he’s still a beautiful, giving human being. And it was a real treat to work with Tom Hanks. And now, when he sees me, he’s like, “Rob!” I’m like, “Tom!” It’s like, “Wow, I actually can call Tom Hanks a friend.” So, yeah, it was beautiful.

RT: Last question: What’s your personal secret to building relationships in this industry, especially with an expansive resume like yours?

Morgan: I always say my work is my best agent. My work is my best PR. And that’s basically how I get around it; I get the work I get by just people seeing my work.


Just Mercy is in theaters everywhere January 10. 


Like this? Subscribe to our newsletter and get more features, news, and guides in your inbox every week.

Tag Cloud

TCA Winter 2020 Sundance TV crossover Action boxoffice Reality spain APB renewed TV shows Dark Horse Comics south america best Writers Guild of America Syfy politics ratings christmas movies Interview TIFF Disney streaming service independent Spring TV Nat Geo MCU true crime Columbia Pictures anthology Creative Arts Emmys MTV See It Skip It LGBT facebook Best and Worst Rock Musicals cartoon Anna Paquin composers IFC 2020 Netflix President Sony Pictures cancelled DC Universe comic science fiction Hallmark FX Emmy Nominations CW Seed Captain marvel historical drama Teen scary movies social media BBC binge Marvel Mindy Kaling Superheroes Chernobyl Spectrum Originals Country toy story GoT FXX Amazon Studios YA National Geographic Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt HBO Max Premiere Dates YouTube Premium dceu slashers movie PBS teaser The CW Peacock BET OneApp blaxploitation Watching Series VH1 YouTube Red cancelled TV shows harry potter hist revenge Black Mirror batman ESPN dark serial killer Apple TV Plus Martial Arts movies Holiday USA Network Comic Book festivals Infographic Disney+ Disney Plus Arrowverse psychological thriller Lionsgate El Rey Britbox hispanic green book Starz blockbuster TCA 2017 San Diego Comic-Con Rom-Com SDCC ghosts rotten movies we love Ovation zero dark thirty Food Network reviews thriller Mudbound Paramount Network Hallmark Christmas movies Calendar game show television Fox News award winner TCM Photos BBC America TruTV Funimation Nickelodeon Discovery Channel Tubi Netflix Christmas movies Paramount CBS All Access Turner justice league franchise screenings 007 TV documentary Hulu Reality Competition Travel Channel American Society of Cinematographers Hear Us Out DC Comics supernatural YouTube latino tv talk animated 2015 cars dramedy Disney Channel canceled cops sequel Avengers doctor who Tarantino cinemax Summer Tumblr Sneak Peek First Reviews CMT vampires GIFs History strong female leads crime Spike medical drama Set visit SundanceTV natural history miniseries cats NYCC breaking bad theme song HBO Warner Bros. robots war free movies period drama GLAAD screen actors guild Family First Look Epix stand-up comedy The Walking Dead Trophy Talk 45 Winners Trivia Schedule Classic Film Adult Swim Pop TV comedies Box Office spanish language Pirates Sundance Now Amazon Prime streaming romance A&E The Purge Red Carpet kids The Witch criterion stoner Apple Crackle Bravo game of thrones a nightmare on elm street Comics on TV Black History Month zombie Fantasy IFC Films parents Tomatazos New York Comic Con Super Bowl Ghostbusters casting Nominations Disney singing competition 2019 werewolf VICE Rocketman Polls and Games RT21 spy thriller Cosplay Freeform book Awards 71st Emmy Awards 20th Century Fox PaleyFest all-time reboot richard e. Grant Fall TV diversity joker adventure sitcom crime thriller die hard based on movie Marvel Studios Showtime video zombies Mystery police drama Biopics dogs TV renewals Amazon Prime Video halloween crime drama RT History transformers Pixar sag awards Comedy Walt Disney Pictures indie anime Esquire Endgame Pop romantic comedy E! TCA Animation spinoff cancelled television Lifetime Women's History Month Mary poppins Extras Baby Yoda Shudder Television Academy Masterpiece Valentine's Day versus Star Wars DirecTV DGA TLC space concert 2017 WGN Holidays technology witnail chucky foreign Logo 24 frames Christmas Music Winter TV canceled TV shows TBS Elton John MSNBC Election adaptation Thanksgiving golden globes Apple TV+ Ellie Kemper Chilling Adventures of Sabrina SXSW children's TV mission: impossible 21st Century Fox asian-american Character Guide comics Stephen King discovery The Arrangement E3 Drama dragons dc Sundance talk show jamie lee curtis DC streaming service NBC quibi Awards Tour comiccon FOX mutant Cannes what to watch Pride Month Song of Ice and Fire Academy Awards Video Games USA X-Men ABC Family CNN Certified Fresh biography Podcast name the review TV Land sports Universal Grammys Lifetime Christmas movies aliens Star Trek Acorn TV travel Toys docudrama WarnerMedia Opinion LGBTQ Vudu unscripted 4/20 directors CBS cancelled TV series Mary Poppins Returns psycho Crunchyroll Kids & Family Film political drama series Binge Guide Emmys Turner Classic Movies Countdown Marathons Shondaland Western Musical Trailer Disney Plus Rocky Comedy Central child's play ITV TNT Superheroe Mary Tyler Moore 2018 Sci-Fi universal monsters Year in Review disaster Horror Oscars Film Festival Brie Larson critics Amazon mockumentary finale FX on Hulu ABC OWN elevated horror A24 nature Lucasfilm Marvel Television spider-man Pet Sematary Cartoon Network cults AMC Heroines 2016 Quiz cooking