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reed magazine logoSeptember 2010

Star Struck continued

Morgan Spector on stage

Cast as the rakish Rodolpho, Morgan Spector (center) charms a spellbound Catherine (Scarlett Johansson) while the volcanic Eddie (Liev Schreiber) seethes with rage.

photo by Sara Krulwich/The New York Times/Redux

After that Morgan didn’t work as an actor for almost a year. He wondered if he would end up like so many others who came to New York to hit the big time. “I was tired of being not quite what I want to be,” he says. Waiting tables and catering were co-workers “who wanted the same thing I did and they’ve never gotten it and they’ll never get it. It takes a certain amount of hubris to think you’re going to be different than them—because why would you be? They had talent, they had focus, they wanted it too, and they didn’t get it, and you start to see that and it’s terrifying.”

But Morgan stuck to his guns, and slowly his luck turned. He landed a bit role on an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and a small, nameless part as a soldier in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender, following these with an appearance in a couple of episodes of HBO’s How to Make It in America. This led to a chance to audition for the role of understudy in A View from the Bridge.

To prepare, he locked himself in his room for a week and threw himself into the role. “Miller has done so much for the actor in this play because he’s written the language so specifically, it’s almost notated for you,” he says. “And with that notation comes the character’s world view and perspective. There’s so much material given to you in this play, it’s a tremendous gift for an actor.”

All right, he thought. If they don’t cast me, then they didn’t want me, but at least I didn’t fail myself. I didn’t fail my own vision of the character. A few days later his agent called with the news. Morgan was so excited he jumped up on a fire hydrant at 45th Street and 6th Avenue. He felt his whole life had been leading up to this moment. Then fate intervened again.

Morgan was backstage in Broadway’s Cort Theatre in early January when a carefully choreographed scene between Eddie (Schreiber) and Rodolpho (Santino Fontana) went terribly awry. The script called for Eddie to return home drunk, where he encounters Rodolpho. An argument escalates until a rageful Eddie pins Rodolpho to a table and forcibly kisses him—except Schreiber stumbled and Fontana’s head smashed into the table. Fontana managed to finish that show and two others, but was diagnosed with a serious concussion and couldn’t continue. Morgan would have to step in for a few days.

Johansson was nervous. Over the course of several weeks, she had forged a bond with Fontana, and Morgan knew that last-minute substitutions like this just don’t happen in Hollywood. After the initial shock, however, Johansson was very supportive, holding Morgan’s hands onstage, offering encouragement offstage, working with him to bring magic to their relationship. Meanwhile Schreiber liked Morgan’s energy and interpretation of the role, far different from Fontana’s.

“The first performance in a situation like that, if you don’t fall down and don’t stop the play, you’re a hero,” Morgan says. Then came the next show, and the next. When Fontana proved unable to return, Morgan expected to be replaced by a well-known actor. Instead he stayed on as Rodolpho for the entire run.

Back in Red Hook, rain clouds gather in charcoal skies. Morgan and I duck in for a drink. If the self is expressed through a series of performances, thus far Morgan has inhabited the roles of the dedicated student, the struggling actor, and the triumphant understudy, but his denouement is not yet actualized. Like an unfinished script, his character is left hanging with imponderable questions: Where will his story lead? What other roles will he inhabit?

At least one thing is clear. Finally, his career is on the upswing, with his agent sending him on more auditions, and more opportunities coming his way. More to the point, perhaps, he hasn’t had to tend bar since November.

— By Adam L. Penenberg ’86

Adam L. Penenberg is a newly tenured associate professor at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University and author of three books.

reed magazine logoSeptember 2010