Want to dive deeper into the filmography of this Chestnut Hill actor? Watch these key shows and movies from his decades-long career.
As an accompaniment to our deep-dive interview with David Morse of Chestnut Hill, we researched the extensive actor (and we refer to the extensive) IMDB page and selected his 11 essential roles, on the big and small screens, to give only a taste of the length and breadth of his career.
1982-’88: St. Elsewhere
For his highly successful role, Morse played Dr. Jack “Boomer” Morrison in this critically acclaimed hospital drama, which set the tone for all future hospital dramas. (Hello, ER.) A critic said that Morse, who was 29 when he started the series, was “a guy with a very distinct tone … a major stage theft.”
1991: The Indian runner
Sean Penn, still trying to shake his 1980s representative, offered Morse his first major film with this role in a crime drama, as a cop whose brother, played by Viggo Mortensen, has problems. A New York Times the critic wrote that Morse “radiates stupidity, kindness and a repressed trace of longing.”
1995: 12 monkeys
Morse has a small but key role, which illustrates how casting directors don’t consider him exactly the cute guy who’s there to save the world. (Quite the opposite, in this case.) His scene with the underrated Madeleine Stowe shows how disturbing this guy can portray. Bonus: filmed in Philly.
1999: Mila verde
This adaptation of Stephen King has a fair share of haters. But for Morse, who plays prison guard Brutus “Brutal” Howard with Tom Hanks, it was a chance to share some screen time with one of Hollywood’s most important people. Critics praised Morse’s “relaxed timing and cunning delivery.”
2001: The American Experience: Abraham and Mary Lincoln, a Shared House
The six-part PBS series shows how effective a voiceover can be in the hands of a professional like Morse. His voice replaces the narrator President Lincoln, and his Gettysburg speech makes him more than just words on paper.
A well-received CBS series, filmed in Philly, about a former Philadelphia police officer (played by Morse) who became a justice, look to have everything for that. Read our interview with Morse to see why it all fell apart.
2008: Wounded closet
No list of David Morse’s films would be complete without this worryingly tense war film by Kathryn Bigelow, in which Morse plays the colonel responsible for a bunch of bomb blasts in Iraq and his exchange with leader Jeremy Renner. is one of the most memorable scenes in the movie – a kind of Duvall-Sheen à la moment Revelation Now.
In Morse’s first major foray into the world of cable television, he plays the role of a good cop in a town (New Orleans, right after Katrina) full of bad cops. Morse happens to be the guy who secretly works with the FBI to get rid of them. He is a main character, appearing in all four seasons.
2015: True Detective: Season 2
Yes, the second season of the HBO hit was as denigrated as the first season was praised. But I’ve seen it again recently, and it’s not that bad. In a mixture of weak and compromised characters, Morse, who played the role of the strange cult leader, the father of the female role, came out as the most rude of all.
2016-’17: From outside
I’m not sure why this little fictional series about power struggles in the Appalachian outlaw culture never took off. Most people may never have heard of WGN, the network behind it. Morse, who plays the lead role, is remarkable – or, like variety put it“superb”.
2018: Escape Dannemora
This Showtime series is working on that wild escape from the 2015 prison in upstate New York. Really good. This is largely due to the incredible performances of Benicio del Toro, Paul Dano, Patricia Arquette and, yes, Morse, who plays the role of the main guard dealing with the rioting detainees.
Published as “The Essential Watching Guide for David Morse” in the June 2022 issue of Philadelphia magazine.