SC: How did acting become part of your story?
MDJ: I was actually quite a shy kid growing up. My mum and dad used to say that as a very, very young kid I would scream if anyone left the room, because I would want someone to pay attention or entertain me. Growing up I was a very introverted and shy kid, and my parents thought it would be good to put me in a drama program to get me out of my shell a little. I think I was in grade 7 and after the first night I came home and said I wanted to be an actor; I think much to my parents’ dismay. I remember one big thing that happened when I was dragged to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Brisbane Botanical Gardens. I distinctly remember kicking and screaming, I wasn’t the greatest little kid, but within 3 minutes of watching these actors, I was captivated. Honestly, I can still tell you what all the actors were wearing, what they were doing, what their transitions were of the scenes to a different area. I was so struck by that, and I think that it catapulted me that I fell in love with storytelling, being somewhere different, and being a completely different person. So, that was the biggest change.
I got an agent when I was 13 or 14 and I got my first professional theatre gig when I was 14. It has just continued since then and I’ve been very lucky. It was a pretty incredible start as little kid learning from all the most amazing people that I was able, and grateful to have had that experience.
SC: Now that you are a full-time actor and live across the world, do you think your parents slightly regret encouraging that avenue?
MDJ: I do wonder. I remember when I was really determined during high school and mum had read Robin Williams’ biography and he did IT (Information Technology), so she was like “Morgan, you need to act as well as have a backup career.” I studied Computer Studies, not that I really wanted to, but as a backup career. It was only at the end of grade 12 that I auditioned for all of the drama schools, and I was really young, only 16, and I got down to the final twenty from 10,000 applications, and I think that was when my mom was like “Oh okay, this could actually be a career.” It’s tough being so far away from home, but I think they’re just so happy that I get to live my dream. I think they would want me to come home and work, and that is my dream. I’d love to go home every year and work for a few months.
SC: What drew you to Canada?
MDJ: I left Australia doing A Streetcar Named Desire with the Sydney Theatre Company and we toured from Sydney to Washington, D.C. to New York. It was directed by Liv Ullmann and had Joel Edgerton and Cate Blanchett. It had a huge cast, and I was so lucky that at 26 I was travelling the world with this incredible story and incredible cast. I had always wanted to move to Canada and had been planning to do it before doing this tour. I was doing a class while still doing the show and one of my classmates was like, “by the way, I’ve booked my trip to Vancouver.” It felt like everything was aligned so I said that I was going to come too and literally that night applied for my visa.
I love the States, but it’s never been on my heart to live there. Living in Canada, I can have a different career to be able to support me. I don’t have to be just an actor which having that balance is really important to me. I didn’t feel like I could have a healthy balance if I moved to L.A. I went to Vancouver, and I really loved it there, it’s beautiful, but I definitely needed something a little bit busier. If I’m going to live in a city that’s beautiful and outdoorsy, I will go home to Sydney. But when I landed in Toronto, I remember my best friend looked at me and said “well, you’re home” and I haven’t looked back. I love Toronto, it’s so busy here, and the industry is building and is getting busier and busier every year. I love my life here and I think it’s incredible to be so close to the States and have the opportunities that we have here, and I’m so grateful for that.
A part of me knows that I’m a big city snob and I want a coffee shop at every corner I can possibly think of. I lived in Seoul for a bit for a show and I loved the dense quality and overflow of people. It brings a spark to me, and I like being in the middle of it all. I just went to a cottage with friends and it’s so beautiful to get away from the city too, but then I’m ready to get back to city life, because the busier the better.
SC: Would you now consider yourself more of an introvert or extrovert?
MDJ: I'm definitely an extrovert. I think that introvert (as a child) ship sailed. I think I needed the safety knowing it’s okay to jump off that little ledge. I’m definitely the loudest personality in my group of friends and also the loudest in my relationship. I think I didn’t know my place when I was little and I was worried, which is what drew me to acting. It allowed me to come out of my shell and once I found this energy and kind of groundedness of who I was, I could never look back. I’m still shy in certain situations like the first week of any show, as I’m 100% convinced they booked the wrong actor. Even after filming for 3 days, I’m waiting for them to tap me on the shoulder and say that they cast the wrong Morgan. I’m a bit insecure in that way, but otherwise the extrovert comes through.
SC: How difficult is it for you to transition in and out of your accent?
MDJ: I went to an amazing drama school; the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts and we did Accent dialect through the entire three years of study. As an Australian, in order to be able to work anywhere other than Australia, you have to be able to do an accent. In Australia I really only worked in an American or British accent because of the productions that we did and with Streetcar we had a dialect coach to work through it all with us. I remember when I moved to Vancouver, I think early on was a little struggle in my first couple of auditions, just because I had to do it every single day. I worked with an amazing voice coach in Vancouver named Tony Alcantar, and I still work with him to this day. He gave little tidbits of information and direction, but now that I’ve been in Canada for over 11 years, I’m surrounded by it, so to fall into it is really quite easy for me now.
When I have a script, I know there are some words that I can’t say in a row if there are so many l’s and r’s and put them together, so I have to find a different way to say it or change the sentence structure around or flip things. It’s changing something that fits better with you and your character, and with Riverfront Romance, this is my first lead role in an American accent. With Romance Retreat, I was able to do an Australian accent, so I was a bit nervous about the American accent with Riverfront. After hearing and seeing myself in the ADR (Additional Dialogue Recording), I can trust that I’ve got it and all in all it’s not as difficult as you might think. It also helps with the amount of auditions we have, so I do it every day. I also run a self-tape studio out of my apartment, so I work with a lot of actors and so I’m constantly using an accent. I’m lucky to be living in this country because that allows me to be surrounded by the sounds.
SC: Australian actors are not only used to learning additional accents, but is it true that like here in Canada Australians are exposed to a lot of American TV?
MDJ: We’re inundated with it. I grew up with American TV, so for Aussies to understand and hear that sound, we are so aware of it and it’s common for us. I kind of equate that with an American trying to do an Australian accent, because they haven't grown up with Australian television, they don't know the ins and outs of all the different kinds of accents throughout the country, so that's definitely going to be harder. But I do feel that especially with British or Australian that we are very lazy, so our tongue doesn’t really do anything. I find it easier to be active to do an American accent that you use your tongue, but for you guys who are so active with your tongue, to stop it from doing something is harder. I think we have an easier kind of edge on that.
We also shorten everything and put an o on the end: so, a service station or petrol is servo, where you buy liquor is called a bottlo, and if your name is Wayne you become Wayno. I don’t know where it came from or how it started.
I remember when I did an episode of When Hope Calls and for some reason, I hadn’t receive the new script. Morgan (Kohan) and I were about to do it and were saying our lines back and forth and she’s like “that’s the old script. Have you not got the new one?” And it was 3 pages of new dialogue, and I was like “I have to learn this, and I have to do it in an accent” so thank goodness I lived in a place where I was surrounded by the accent and I didn’t have to think about that while memorizing lines.
SC: You've done a lot of work across different genres, and so do you have a preference to the type of characters or stories that you like to portray?
MDJ: I actually don't. For me personally, I love the variety. I like to try something different and new every single time. Doing Riverfront Romance, I loved being the romantic lead, I loved how honest and direct he is, and I would love if someone wanted to make it a series. Everyday going to work would be a really lovely fun experience, especially working with Tammy as we had such a great rapport. But I also love playing the not-so-nice guy, someone who’s a little bit devious, and I get cast as for a lack of a better word, the douchey arrogant kind of guy. I really kind of revel in that because that’s not who I am in real life, but it’s kind of fun to play someone who is manipulative or really out for themselves and has to step over someone. I want to say that I want to play it all and I want to continue to play it all.
SC: What keeps you connected to the family-friendly genre?
MDJ: I grew up in a Christian household and went to Christian School with church. To be honest, that genre was a lot of the stuff that we watched and the things I connected to. Little House on the Prairie was one of our favourite shows and Anne of Green Gables, all of these family-friendly stories was my kind of childhood. I think it’s a nostalgic thing for me, and I also love how clean and simple the stories are, so as an actor it’s an easier task to just truly connect and tell that story. I find that it’s light and that is something that I’m really drawn to, and I love going on set.
With Riverfront Romance, I wrote to my agent saying that was one of the most incredible experiences of my entire life. Every single day on set everyone wanted to be there and tell this story. There was no pressure, there was no stress, and there was no kind of in-fighting or ego. I think because the subject matter is love and romance, you just can’t approach it in a different way. I get swept up in that experience and why I’m 100% drawn to it. That’s why I would love for it to be a series, and I remember shooting and saying to them, “can we just make this a series?” because to film this every day would be the biggest blessing of my life.
SC: Speaking of Riverfront Romance, can you tell us a bit about your character?
MDJ: Yes, I play Riley Evans and I’m an architect. I am employed to oversee the production of a dam and unfortunately it happens to be right where Tammy's character’s beautiful dream home and property is. My character is an optimist who knows what he wants, and he also understands why he's doing the work that he needs to do. He’s fully aware in that if someone shows him a different point of view he’ll consider it, as he’s not ego driven, and he can set his job aside, step back and see it objectively. I think that is one of his biggest and strongest character traits. He then he makes the choice for himself, not for anybody else.
SC: Was this your second leading role within the family-family genre?
MDJ: Yes. Romance Retreat was my first, which was great. It’s funny as I actually got cast as John, a supporting character, in Romance Retreat. Then a couple of days before filming, unfortunately the lead actor couldn’t do it, so they asked me to step up, so it was an interesting progression. This time for Riverfront Romance, it was the first time that I was cast for a part I originally auditioned for the lead. It’s a big undertaking, but the great thing with these is that as a male actor, it really is about the female’s journey. Obviously in this movie, my character Riley has his own journey, but it’s really the way I approached it is: how is she developing? What are the roadblocks that she needs to be going through and how do I fit into that? How do I enhance her? How do I make it more difficult for her? That is the meat and why it’s so much easier as the pressure is off my shoulders. It really is about her. So good luck Tammy! But she does it perfectly. What I’ve seen of it and what I’ve seen of her on set, she really plays it so well. The comedic and the romantic is a fine balance, and she really plays that line perfectly, so I’m really excited for people to see it.
SC: And where in Ontario was Riverfront Romance filmed?
MDJ: It was a little south in the Hamilton and Brantford area. We were off on this beautiful property and the house was incredible. The house was on top of the hill and then it also had the creek running through. It was so picturesque, and we were able to disappear for two weeks. It’s nice to kind of leave your life for a bit and only focus on one thing. I had never been down to Brantford, so it was really beautiful and picturesque.
This was the first time I’ve worked with French hours, so you only worked on set for 10 hours, and for actors that meant 9.5 hours because you had ½ hour for lunch. Beforehand I wasn’t sure how that was gonna work because sometimes you do 15-16 hour days, but everyone was efficient. You made it work. You knew what you had to do and then you were only there for 10 hours. The next day you’re fully rested and not exhausted. Every single day you’re so peppy and I found that formula incredible. I would jump at the chance to work like that again. This type of hours guaranteed a fresh start every single day, which for me only produces better work.
SC: Is there anything about this movie that might surprise the viewers?
MDJ: For me, what I was so drawn to in this show was that I loved the script. I think the writing is some of the best movie of the week writing that I’ve read in a long time. Usually, the setups have tension between the lead male and female. They want polar opposite things and in a way that does exist. But with this movie there’s not as much tension, as it’s really about the town and the family, and how much certain things are going to affect the lives of everyone around. It’s not just her journey and coming to terms with whatever he needs to deal with, but it really affects everyone around and I think that broader picture is what really makes my character change his mind about things. I think what drew me to this character is that he’s not just a headstrong egotistical man, they butt heads, and there’s a big journey but it’s really not about just them. With Tammy’s character, it’s not just about her and her property. She loves the town and loves her community. When I think of movies in this genre, the focus is really on personal development and the things they have to go through. I think that’s what’s so beautiful about it, is that it’s above and beyond the individual, it’s about the community. It’s similar with Covid right now, like we may not want to be doing certain things we’re doing, but it’s not just about us, it’s about the larger spectrum of society. If we can all just grasp that, then I think we can probably get better.
SC: Were you aware of When Hope Calls and that it was a spinoff of When Calls the Heart prior to your involvement?
MDJ: Yes. When we had the first round of auditions, I actually auditioned for Gabe, the Mountie. Then I immediately got a call for Hank. It was very clear that it was for When Hope Calls, a spinoff, and obviously Morgan (Kohan) had already been cast because they had done the (Christmas) movie. I immediately watched the movie to get an idea of who they were and the genre. Obviously, there was going to be parallels, but it was going to be its own show. I think it does have its own tone. It’s a little bit younger in its casting as well, but I think it has a different rhythm to it than When Calls the Heart. So yes, I 100% knew about it, and I had auditioned maybe 5 or 6 times for When Calls the Heart when I lived in Vancouver, so I was well aware of these shows, and I really wanted to be on them.
SC: Did you know about Hearties fan base during all of this time too?
MDJ: I didn't, not until it started airing and then everyone started posting. I was like “oh wow” and then I went with the hashtag. There is a strong group mentality that they have, which I think is fantastic.
I actually was in Virginia and went to a restaurant with my partner and there was a group of ladies that I believe would be in their 60s and 70s who sat down at the table next to us and they were a riot. There were four sisters and one of them recognized me from Pride, Prejudice & Mistletoe, and she’s the biggest Hallmark fan. So, we pushed our tables together and we had dinner with these women and photos together, and that’s why I love this genre. There are people who are diehard fans who watch everything, and they truly love it and are invested. Without them we wouldn’t have jobs and we wouldn’t have the opportunity to be able to do it. So, I’m like bring on the Hearties, bring on When Hope Calls season 2.
SC: What was it like for you to work on the period piece, with period clothing and on a fully contained film set?
MDJ: I love period pieces and I think my love for theater allows my first fascination of being able to jump into a world that doesn’t exist, hasn’t existed, or existed in the past. As an actor, I feel that’s where it’s part of my genre, where I thrive, so the more period, the better. Being a ranch handler was a lot of fun and it’s very not Morgan, so the further I can get away from myself, the more I enjoy it. The set was gorgeous and built on a lot. Wendy Crewson’s character’s house was a façade of a house, just so it looked great. I find it incredible that with our imaginations, we can just fall into this world.
The set and costumes departments were so talented, and it shows from watching it. Here’s a fun thing: I was actually shooting a show for Netflix during the same time as When Hope Calls and I had white hair. I’d have white hair and then had to dye it back for When Hope Calls, then bleach it again for the other show, so my hair was falling out halfway through. If you watch the episodes there’s a slight change in the colour of my hair every episode because I had to dye it back.
The set dec work tirelessly. When we’re shooting in one room, they are spending hours decorating another, so that when you come to that room you might walk past it, but there’ll be something in the window or somewhere, and the shot is set up perfectly. And with that attention to detail, I don’t think they get enough credit. With the film community, every single person is important and without them, it wouldn’t work. People often put actors on a pedestal, but we are the last. We get as many takes as we want to get it right. These other departments have to get it right away, so actors definitely have it easier.
SC: Had you ever been up in that North Bay area prior to filming When Hope Calls?
MDJ: I was on V-Wars which I think was in Sudbury and I did Carter for CBC, so I’ve done a couple shows up in that northern area. But When Hope Calls was the longest that I had spent up there and obviously went up every episode. I think it’s really beautiful and as an actor it’s nice to get away from your home to act, because then there’s no distractions. Obviously, it’s hard as you miss your family or your partner, but there’s just something about leaving, and that my world becomes this show. I think I thrive in that kind of environment.
SC: What was it like to work with the animals and could you share more about your experience working with them?
MDJ: I love animals. I have dogs and I love horses, they’re an incredible powerful beast of an animal. For us it’s unpredictable because we don’t know them, but I think they had about 6 horse and cattle handlers there, as well as teaching us and making us feel as comfortable as possible. But I went to a school, for some reason in grade 10, we had the opportunity to have horse riding as a sport, so I chose it because I thought how cool. I had never ridden a horse before, so I did a whole year and a half worth of horse riding. I then fell in love with it and would ride horses on the beach, so I had a lot of experience in that kind of way. For me there were no nerves, it was pure excitement and another challenge because they can be unpredictable animals. You never know what could spook them. And then to see the young costars at the ages of 8-9 light up, because it’s a pure joy when they see these incredible majestic animals. So, I will jump at a chance to work in that kind of way again.
SC: What was it like working with bigger Canadian names in Ontario, including Wendy Crewson and Megan Follows?
MDJ: Wendy’s a dream, and she’s so fantastic to work with. I’ve worked with her on The Detail, a television show shot in Toronto, so I had already met her but hadn’t worked alongside her at that point. It was great to be her ranch handler on When Hope Calls. I’ve worked with Australian greats, but to see a Canadian great, that was probably the most starstruck moment for me. But she’s so gracious and giving, and she would be like, “do you need anything right now? Can I help you with any moment?” so she embodies that community service spirit.
To be honest, with Megan Follows though, I had no idea that it was Megan Follows that was Anne of Green Gables. I had auditioned and worked with her on the television show Reign and if I had known, I wouldn’t have been able to say any lines. I was so starstruck by her, and then when she directed the last episode of When Hope Calls, I was like sweating, because you’re Anne of Green Gables, I can’t believe this is who’s talking to me. So it was probably a blessing that I realized much later who she was. But yeah, to tick off those boxes of meeting some of those greats. Megan is also an incredible director and was leaving our show and was headed to direct two different movies directly after. It’s just so fun and fantastic to see the breadth of her talent shine through. I feel very lucky to have had those experiences. If my career could get half as big as that and half the length of that, it would be incredible.
SC: Do you have one show that stands out where you say that you’d really like to have a role on that specific show?
MDJ: My next big journey that I would want to be a part of, and maybe it hasn't come up yet, but I would love to be part of a limited series that is a little bit more dark and gritty, and where everyone is a flawed human being, which I think we all are. To work on something that has a bit more gravitas would be a dream. Something like Mare of Easttown on HBO, so those types of shows is something I think would be a really nice stretch as an actor. I just finished doing a superhero series, which is completely polar opposite to a cowboy period piece. I would like to go to that side of the world, get kind of dirty, and maybe not be the nicest person. I think that would be really fun. Then there’s something like Firefly Lane that would be something. It has a genre but there’s a playfulness to it, and I would jump at the chance to be part of as well. But if I was ever to be known for something that’s the role I’d want to go.
SC: If you could have switched places with any character in Brookfield for a day, who would you have wanted to play and why?
MDJ: I think I have to be Gabe. I want to be a Mountie and wear the outfit. I want to feel empowered by the responsibility and I think he’s heroic. That would be the leading man, powerful kind of moment and I think it would be a blast. And just to be the most charming hero of them all. He’s like a Disney Prince, how could you say no?
SC: You have worked with a phenomenal range of talents all over the world. If you had the opportunity to choose to work with anyone, who would that person be?
MDJ: Jodie Foster. Hands down. I mean, there are so many people I would love to work with like Edward Norton and Meryl Streep and all these people but growing up I watched every single moment that Jodi Foster’s ever recorded, from her directing to her acting. There’s something about her that I’m drawn to, and I find her raw talent just invites me in and I just live in her world. I don’t know if I can play her younger brother or older son or something, but not just to have a couple of scenes, but I would want to have a journey with our characters that we create together. I think that would make me a better actor, working with how great she is and also as a human being. I really admire her journey and relate to her journey, so that would be something I would personally love to grow from.
SC: Is there a movie of hers that stands out to you, or do you have a favourite?
MDJ: You can’t ask me that, that’s mean. How do you pick one of your favourites from a favourite? I love Contact, I think that’s one of the best Sci-Fi shows, but her performance in Nell is extraordinary. She’s found in the middle of the woods, and she’s never seen anyone else. Her mother had been paralyzed from one side of her face, so she taught this character Nell to only speak from one side of her face. Her English is this kind of half-paralyzed, so it’s a completely different language. She’s never met anybody else outside her family who have passed away. It was so intriguing, and she just falls into this character, and the play and range that she has is extraordinary. That’s when I’m in awe to just sit back and watch. She’s just so phenomenal and different from role to role.
SC: Windfields and Brookfield are thumbnails compared to the large urban life of Sydney, Vancouver, and Toronto, but Morgan David Jones is the perfect fit wherever he goes. His energy, sense of adventure and humour add a spark to the small towns that he finds himself in on the screen. If you haven’t had a chance to watch Riverfront Romance, head over to Super Channel Heart & Home On Demand to see this sweet story, and then be sure to let Morgan know if his dream of turning this into a series should come true.
Self-tape Studio website: https://theselftapestudio.ca/