“You from Chicago?” Rob Morgan’s rich voice rumbled with a comedic lilt, acknowledging the area code on my cell phone. After I confirmed, he followed up with a question that further cemented my love for him: “You step?”
From that very moment, I settled into what was to become one of the most endearing interviews I participated in. I had grown to respect Morgan’s talent throughout the years; the quiet power with which he approached his various characters reverberated in a way that was impossible for me to miss. Somehow, even when in scenes opposite distinct powerhouse leads—such as in This Is Us, Mudbound, Just Mercy, and The Last Black Man in San Francisco—Morgan always manages to snatch our attention. He takes full advantage of every single frame with an unrelenting command that leaves you wondering, “Who is this guy?!”
With his work, Morgan has essentially acquired a reputation as a scene-stealing supporting actor, with many fans wondering why he hasn’t had more leading roles. His latest project, Bull, satisfies that wish.
Directed by Annie Silverstein (who also co-wrote the film with Johnny McAllister) and a 2019 Cannes Film Festival selection, Bull’s synopsis is as follows:
Bull centers around 14-year-old Kris (Amber Havard), who, after trashing her neighbor’s house in a fit of youthful defiance, seems destined to follow in her mother’s footsteps to the state penitentiary. To make amends, she is forced to help Abe Turner (Rob Morgan), an ex-bull rider scraping by on the Texas rodeo circuit, with errands at home and at his work. While traveling with Abe, she discovers a passion for bull riding. Yet, as Kris sets out to learn the dangerous sport, bad influences lure her back into delinquent ways. Meanwhile, Abe struggles with the aches and pains of growing older and aging out of the only life he has ever known. Together, Kris and Abe forge an unexpected connection, helping each other see new possibilities and hope for the future before it’s too late.
Born in New Bern, North Carolina yet molded by Brooklyn, New York, Morgan immersed himself in Bull, shot on location in the rural city of Decatur, Texas and soaked in the historic significance of black cowboys.
“We’ve been rewritten out of the history of cowboy representation in America, when the original cowboys and cowgirls were black men and black women. [So] I was excited about this movie [and to] play this black cowboy,” Morgan told The Root.
Bullriding is quite a physical sport (especially in a professional rodeo), so I had to ask Morgan if he did his own stunts.
“I did ‘em up to a point,” Morgan confirmed. “And then we would switch, like, I did ‘em about right up to the point where you had to actually touch the bull, so I was in the arena running around and all of that stuff. But, the point where you actually had to touch the bull, we would switch out with my man, Wayne Rogers, who is a phenomenal bullfighter. He’s highly respected around the world. This movie actually made history with Wayne Rogers being the first black fighter to ever touch the soil of the PBR—the professional bull riding competition.”
“I actually got on the back of a bull,” Morgan added. “I know what it feels like to be on the back of a bull in the chute, which I found out is the most dangerous part, because when you’re locked in the chute with the bull, you can’t get out. So, I got to experience that safely by the grace of God.”
Adding to the many reasons why I respect Morgan, the actor confirmed that he had to shoot Bull, Just Mercy and This Is Us all in the same week. Knowing each character (Abe, Herbert Richards and Councilman Sol Brown, respectively) is vastly different, for Morgan to switch from each so effortlessly, especially within days of each other, is quite a feat to consider.
“Oh man, I got to salute my very first acting coach, Keith Johnston, coming through the American Theater of Harlem and being introduced to my instrument by him and understanding that, essentially, what we do is play,” Morgan said. “[For Example,] in [Just Mercy], I get electrocuted. So [while] I’m not really going to get electrocuted, I can play the circumstances in my imagination in [my] mind as if I am and play it to that reality and be respectful of the person who actually did live this in their real life. [I am] grateful that I just get to play it, and not actually live it, in these particular circumstances.”
“I really attribute that to my training, being able to understand that if I don’t have fun, the audience can’t have fun,” Morgan continued. “I’m not one of those actors that feels like, if my character is high on heroin in the movie, then I must be high on heroin in life, you know? I’m a method actor, but I still love myself. And I find my life just as exciting, fruitful and beautiful as the characters that I play.”
The respect fans have for Morgan is certainly mirrored by his peers. “All the moments [are my favorite moments shooting Bull]. Rob and I are good friends and have great chemistry. I can’t wait to do more with him. That’s why I’m currently writing something for us,” Yolonda Ross (The Chi), who portrays Sheila in the film, told The Root.
Speaking of writing, Morgan is taking control of his narrative and writing the role he has always wanted to play.
“Well, I got a script floating around the industry called Pharoah Flack [that] my partner John Lord and I wrote; that’s pretty dope,” Morgan said, his excitement radiating through the phone’s speakers. “And, you know, I’m one of those brothers, man, in an industry that I know [doesn’t] really cater to my desires, my needs and what I want. So if I really want it, I’ve got to make it myself. So, within the past year, I’ve had the blessing of writing my own story and idea; my agent and manager seemed to be pretty excited about it. So, we’ll see how it goes. Hopefully, you’ll see Pharoah Flack. You’re the first person I’ve even told about that.”
Well, I’ll be the first in line to see it.
Bull is currently available via Video On Demand (VOD) on participating platforms.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.