Journey 2019: Sunflower County actress Maury Morgan makes her way in HollywoodBy BY MARK H. STOWERS FOR THE E-T,
The fertile Delta soil has kept generations of farmers busy scratching out a living.
And those that farmers rely on also bank on that rich dirt to peddle fertilizer, seed, farm implements and much more.
Maury Morgan was born and raised between Indianola and Ruleville and spent plenty of time on turnrows with her grandfather, George Fondren, as he visited many a Delta farmer.
“He was larger than life and I went out on many of his sales calls for Orgill Brothers,” she said. “He sold everything from lumber to dolls. He hunted and fished and just knew people.”
Her dad, Steve, was a local pharmacist in Ruleville and her mom, Anne, had a flower shop and later worked as an RN at the hospital.
They now live in Tennessee. But it was her first year of school that she realized her dream – acting. A kindergarten play sparked a lifelong fire to entertain and act and has taken her to Philadelphia, PA, New York City, Colorado and now Hollywood.
“Allison Land was my kindergarten teacher,” Morgan said. “She put me in the lead role as Mrs. MacDonald in Old MacDonald’s Farm, our kindergarten play. I remember that to this day. That set it all up. My mother had entered me in beauty pageants and that was not my thing. But Mrs. Land giving me a costume and lines in every play at North Sunflower Academy up until sixth grade and it just fit me like a glove.”
Her grandparents’ interests also fertilized and nurtured her acting dream.
“I’ve been acting since I was old enough to walk and talk. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents and every night my grandfather would turn the TV so it would face the dining room table,” she said. “We’d eat supper and watch whatever was on at the time. It was things like Hee Haw and he loved John Wayne and all those old war movies. Between his love for the movies and my grandmother’s love of literature (she was the Indianola Public Library librarian.) I was swept away. I read a lot at the library after school or I watched movies with my grandfather. I was in love with Hollywood from the get go.”
Growing up in an admitted “chaotic household, the movies were an escape. People were happy a lot of the times. Things worked out well and there were these grand adventures for a girl in the Mississippi Delta. This was glamorous and different.”
As an admitted extroverted introvert, Morgan noted that she could experiment and stretch herself in the freedom that the stage offered her. After moving to Virginia and then Tennessee, Morgan attended University of Tennessee-Chattanooga majoring in Marketing and Communications.
“I graduated early, threw all my stuff in a U-Haul and headed to Philadelphia (PA) because I knew people there and wasn’t quite ready for New York,” Morgan said.
She took acting classes, worked in theatre and regional television honing the craft that Mrs. Land uncovered all those years ago.
“I got my feet wet and then went to New York but realized I didn’t know a lot of what I needed to know and I went back to Philly to learn more,” she said. “Then I went back to New York and did the rounds of auditioning and getting an agent.”
But then, September 11, 2001 happened. Morgan had actually been working in the Twin Towers with a temp firm for a financial business but didn’t like her job and switched with another temp co-worker. They were both happy. Morgan was out of the Towers and working north of the site.
“Technically, I should not be here. The woman I replaced at Showtime took my job at Cantor Fitzgerald. She wanted to be in a different environment. So, I took her job, she took my job. I’m here. She’s not.”
But still being in the city was a devastating encounter.
“It wasn’t about being close but it was the experience. They evacuated the building and I was with a co-worker who was eight-and-a-half months pregnant. Bridges were closed, everything was closed and I remember beating on the windows of this Lincoln Towncar limousine and convincing this driver to drive my pregnant friend and me to my apartment at 98th street,” she said. “For days after you could see the smoke rising. It was apocalyptic. I used to walk around New York saying ‘I’m an East Coast girl and I’ll never leave for LA.’ But that changed my attitude. I still love New York.”
Needing a break, she and her then boyfriend moved to Colorado because she “needed a break from tall buildings.” By 2006, she had moved to Los Angeles to continue her Mrs. MacDonald career and began splitting time between LA and Atlanta, an up-and-coming Hollywood-esque opportunity location.
Morgan has stayed busy enough to create a full career and be a member of the actors’ union, SAG-AFTRA and most recently had appearances on the ABC hit show, This is Us as a dance studio owner. She’s appeared on Superstore and has a May 7 shot in For the People.
As an actress she’s constantly asked by others how to make it in her chosen vocation.
“The first thing I tell them is, ‘If you can go do anything else and be happy, go do that.’ Except for the lucky few, this is an interesting lifestyle,” Morgan said. “It’s something that you have to love in the fiber of your being, you have to love it in your soul, you have to need to do it. Because there’s no 401K retirement package at the end of the line that’s guaranteed. There’s no career trajectory. You can’t plan it.”
Morgan showed up with her East Coast theatre background and she noted that was completely different in LA.
“Besides it being a huge place to figure out and understand it was a horse of a different color. So, I started taking classes, got an agent, started learning what it takes to not only successfully interview and audition for TV and film but what it takes to do the job when you’re on the job on set. There’s a lot of trial and error to figure out those things. It’s different for everybody. Every actor has to figure out the process of how to bring themselves to a role.”
Morgan has done more theatre and plays in Southern California and has pursued TV.
“I got my first TV job on Criminal Minds,” she said. “I’ve made appearances on Bones, Superstore and NCIS.”
Criminal Minds, one of her all-time favorite shows, was a dream come true as well as she was now side by side with characters she absolutely adored and had followed for several seasons.
“I loved the show and watched all the episodes. You feel like you know these characters and then I book the job and I’m at the table reading where everyone reads the script out loud. It was such a surreal experience after watching all those episodes here I am sitting at a table and everyone is live with me,” she said. “I had auditioned for that show several times over several years before I got a part.”
Her first feature film was the reboot of Spiderman but on set problems had her sitting in her trailer for a week but the part never made it in the final cut due to the technical problems. With actors and actresses all over LA, it’s not unusual to see just about any one of them just about anywhere. But it was those days of watching TV with her grandparents that led to her most star struck moment.
“When I first got to LA I was working at a wine bar and I remember there was a gentleman and his wife sitting at a table. We were talking and there was a twinkle in his eye and it struck me as familiar. It was Harvey Korman and I’ve loved Harvey Korman since I can remember. I watched Mel Brooks movies and the Carol Burnett Show and all these things I watched with my granddad as a kid and here he is talking to me.”
When it all hit her, she froze but the Kormans did their best to alleviate her star-struckness.
“I remember him looking at his wife and saying, ‘honey, should we help her out?’ I went numb. I couldn’t say anything and literally time stood still. His wife saw how freaked out I was and said, ‘now, honey, stop it. And leave her alone.’ I have no regrets in my life but that moment. If I could redo anything I’ve ever done it would be go back to that moment and say ‘oh, could you?’ or ‘thank you, Mr. Korman, what a lovely offer’ but unfortunately all I remember is literally this blinding panic. I’m a good southern girl and we’re taught to be self-reliant and be polite and not ask for anything. That was my biggest star struck moment.”
Her acting journey has brought plenty of stars through her life and working with them has been eventful and a blessing. She’s worked with Robin Williams and John Travolta as well as the cast of the hit ABC show.
“Everyone at This is Us is fabulous, warm, supportive – that was a really great Hollywood moment,” she said. “Being in the same room with Robin Williams is fascinating to watch. He would be sitting there shut down all by himself and then this switch would get flipped and he would be spewing the most hilarious things you’ve ever heard in your life. The kindness of that human was palpable. As an actor it’s really hard to be good if you don’t have a deep sense of humanity and you aren’t open and vulnerable.”
Working on the hit show this season with three appearances, she understands the “characters that aren’t Pearsons you just hope you get to stay in the episode. You just hope they find a way to bring Liz back in season four.”
Though many actors don’t get to drive their career, Morgan’s dream role would be to portray a rock and roll legend on the big screen.
“My dream role is someone like Chrissie Hynde or Janis Joplin in a movie. Having a Rami Malek role in Bohemian Rhapsody – if I could have a female equivalent in a movie, that would be it.”
Morgan also is working on her screenwriting skills and has plans to visit the Delta to reconnect with friends and family and work on a treatment for a Delta-inspired TV show.
Mrs. MacDonald has come full circle and will certainly inspire a new crop of acting talent across Sunflower County and beyond. That Delta dirt just keeps growing great things.