Family & Companions
A reliable and versatile character actor, and occasional lead in television and film for almost two decades, David Morse rose to fame in the early 1980s as a tragedy-plagued doctor on "St. Elsewhere" (NBC, 1982-88). The sympathetic role led to a string of similar performances on television and features, including Michael Cimino's "The Desperate Hours" (1990) and Sean Penn's "The Indian Runner" (1991). After several celebrated runs in off-Broadway productions in the late 1990s, Morse settled into a string of impressive performances in features and television. Tall and stoic in delivery and demeanor, Morse was best used as an imposing authority figure like his prison guard in "The Green Mile" (1999), a kidnapped husband in "Proof of Life" (2000), a tough football coach in "The Slaughter Rule" (2001) and a detective with an axe to grind in several episodes of "House" (Fox, 2004-12), which earned him an Emmy nomination. He netted a second Emmy nod with his portrayal of George Washington in the HBO miniseries "John Adams" (2008), marking Morse as one of the more a formidable performers working in Hollywood.
Born Oct. 11, 1953 in Hamilton, MA, Morse was the eldest of four children born to his parents Charles, a sales manager, and Jacquelyn, a teacher. He gained his first exposure to acting after high school, when he began studying at the William Esper Studio. He was a fixture in theater productions with the Boston Repertory Company during the 1970s before moving to New York to pursue work with the Circle Repertory. His feature film debut came with Richard Donner's "Inside Moves" (1980), which cast him as a likable basketball player turned bartender. Though nominated for an Oscar, the film's relatively low profile at the box office kept Morse from becoming a household name. After playing the bit part of shoe store cop in "Max Dugan Returns" (1982), Morse landed the role that soon brought him his first taste of national attention.
As Dr. Jack Morrison on "St. Elsewhere," Morse gave the show its heart and soul during its early seasons. In a cast filled with eccentric, bigger-than-life characters, his character struggled with very human problems, like a sickly wife, a newborn son and the stress that both could play upon an already taxing job like resident at a major metropolitan hospital. Morse invested himself deeply in the role, which was at the center of some of the series' most dramatic moments, including the death of Morrison's wife, the challenges he faced as a single parent and a notorious story arc which saw him sexually assaulted while treating a prisoner. In addition to his starring role as Morrison, Morse also stepped up to direct, helming two episodes of "St. Elsewhere" in 1987.
In interviews, Morse was appreciative for the stardom he received from "St. Elsewhere," but also voiced regret over the way his character was battered around by the writers and producers. He also lamented over the typecasting that occurred after the series left the air in 1988. Morse, who also remained busy in TV movies and the occasional film during its network run, was cast in a series of Sensitive Young Man roles in made-for-television movies. Eventually, his portrayal of Dr. Morrison faded from memory and Morse began branching out into meatier character parts, playing a paid assassin in the two-part miniseries "Brotherhood of the Rose" (NBC, 1989) and a crazed kidnapper in "Cry in the Wild: The Taking of Peggy Ann" (NBC, 1991). Thanks to his quiet, authoritative screen presence, Morse was perfectly fit to play morally ambiguous and even dangerous characters, and was soon tapped for supporting roles in "The Rock" (1996), "Extreme Measures" (1997) and "The Long Kiss Goodnight" (1996). His most layered performance during this period came in Sean Penn's directorial debut, "The Indian Runner" (1991), which earned him an Independent Spirit Award nomination for playing a police officer who wrestles with the death of a suspect by his own hand, as well as the reappearance of his violent, anti-social brother (Viggo Mortensen) after a stint in Vietnam.
While his movie career was rising to a slow boil, Morse remained busy with numerous projects. He earned perhaps his greatest acclaim with a shattering turn as the monstrous, combat-scarred Uncle Peck in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, "How I Learned to Drive," which depicted the complex psychological and sexual relationship between a naïve young Southern girl (Mary-Louise Parker) and her uncle, who cares for his niece while committing atrocious acts upon her. Morse was richly rewarded for his performance with Drama Desk and Obie Awards, among other laurels, while the role itself forever dispelled the image of Dr. Morrison. Charged with the acclaim that surrounded his performance in "Drive," Morse returned to Hollywood for a string of blockbusters and acclaimed independents. He was a tough, but sympathetic prison guard in "The Green Mile" (1999) and easily stole "Proof of Life" (2000) from stars Russell Crowe and Meg Ryan. He also impressed with his performance in Lars Von Trier's "Dancer in the Dark" (2000), which required him to perform song and dance numbers, then played a hard-edged high school football coach in the critically acclaimed indie, "The Slaughter Rule" (2001). Morse also became the first English-speaking actor to land a nomination from China's Golden Horse Awards, which he earned for his performance as an FBI agent in the thriller "Double Vision" (2002).
Despite his active career in films, Morse also kept a hand in television during this busy period. In 2002, he starred as a former police officer turned cabbie who can't quit the business of solving crimes in the television movie "Hack." It fared so well in ratings that a series was ordered (CBS, 2002-04), though critics and audiences alike failed to respond to the project. But the show did connect Morse with writer and executive producer David Shore, who approached the actor for a recurring role in the third season of his new hit series "House." Morse played a police detective who makes life miserable for the irascible Dr. House (Hugh Laurie), after the doctor humiliates him during a routine examination. House is soon arrested for possession of narcotics and undergoes a demoralizing trial that forces him into rehab. Morse received an Emmy Award nomination for his chilling performance.
Morse kept busy in features after his stint on "House" with unsympathetic roles in "Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story" (2005), the underrated urban crime drama "16 Blocks" (2006) and "Disturbia" (2008), a teen-oriented remake of "Rear Window" (1954) which cast him in the ominous Raymond Burr role. Morse also appeared as Dakota Fanning's libidinous father in the controversial "Hounddog" (2007), and found time to return to Broadway to play an alcoholic who attempts to stay sober in Conor McPherson's Tony-nominated play "The Seafarer." Back on the comfortable confines of the small screen, Morse donned a powdered wig to play George Washington in the critically praised HBO miniseries, "John Adams." Morse received one of the project's 23 Emmy nominations as the reluctant, battle-weary general and eventual first President of the United States.
Cast (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Began acting on stage with the Boston Repertory Theatre
Acted with New York's Circle Repertory Theatre
Made feature debut in Richard Donner's "Inside Moves"
TV-movie debut, "Our Family Business" (ABC)
Series debut as Dr. Jack "Boomer" Morrison in the NBC medical drama "St. Elsewhere"; made directorial debut with two episodes in 1987
First collaboration with director Sean Penn on "The Indian Runner"
Re-teamed with Penn who directed him in "The Crossing Guard"; earned an Independent Spirit Award nomination
Portrayed a Catholic priest in the one-person play "An Almost Holy Picture"
Played title role in the quirky romance "George B."
Received critical praise for his performance in the play "How I Learned to Drive"
Appeared as Jodie Foster's father in "Contact"
Played a prison guard in Frank Darabont's adaptation of the Stephen King novel "The Green Mile"
Acted in Lars von Trier's award-winning "Dancer in the Dark"
Played Meg Ryan's kidnapped spouse in "Proof of Life"
Portrayed the main character of Bobby Garfield as a grown man in "Hearts in Atlantis"
Cast as an ex-police officer turned cab driver in the CBS series "Hack"
Co-starred with Dakota Fanning and Kurt Russell in the family drama "Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story"
Portrayed a man dealing with the loss of his wife in "Nearing Grace"
Played a recurring role of a detective on the medical drama, "House" (FOX), earned an Emmy nomination for Guest Actor in a Drama Series
Co-starred in the thriller "Disturbia," a high-tech teen update of "Rear Window"
Appeared opposite Dakota Fanning in Deborah Kampmeier's controversial drama "Hounddog"
Portrayed George Washington in the HBO miniseries "John Adams"; earned an Emmy nomination for Supporting Actor in a Miniseries
Played Colonel Reed in the Oscar-winning war drama "The Hurt Locker"
Was a series regular on the New Orleans-set HBO drama "Treme"
Featured in the action-comedy "Drive Angry"
Landed a recurring role on the second season of "True Detective"
Played the late Pittsburgh Steelers star, Mike Webster, in the NFL drama "Concussion"