INTERVIEW: One Life to Live's Jessica Morris previews her super thrilling Lifetime films and shares Llanview memories

Posted Thursday, August 19, 2021 3:28:51 PM
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From getting murdered on One Life to Live to causing a drunk-driving accident in her new Lifetime film, Danger in the Spotlight, Jessica Morris (ex-Jennifer Rappaport) has tackled a lot of dark material. Find out why she's naturally attracted to thrillers and get the scoop on her many upcoming dramas in a new Soap Central interview.

You might want to grab a coffee for a little caffeine buzz, as that's one of the only ways to keep up with Jessica Morris, who has about 100 irons in the fire and tells Soap Central that she's got plans for 100 more!

Having gotten her start as One Life to Live troublemaker Jennifer Rappaport in 2001, the Florida native has gone on to cultivate a seriously long list of credits in various television shows and independent films. She has appeared in primetime series like Party of Five, Rosewood, and Perception; tackled comedies like The Upshaws and Role Models; taken on horror films like Living Among Us, The 6th Friend, Art of the Dead, and Haunting of the Innocent, the latter of which won her a Best Actress award at the 2015 Fright Night Film Festival; starred in several holiday films like A Christmas Cruise, Shoelaces for Christmas, and A Husband for Christmas; and starred as one of the leads in Amazon Prime's Daytime Emmy-nominated series Ladies of the Lake, which earned her a nomination for Best Lead Actress in the Drama category at the Indie Series Awards.

However, Morris is arguably best known these days as the queen of Lifetime thrillers. Not only does she already have countless titles at the network to her name, but she also has three more coming up, one called Danger in the Spotlight that will premiere on Friday, August 27; one called Web of Deceit that she co-wrote with her former OLTL co-star Melissa Archer (ex-Natalie Buchanan); and one called A Mother's Terror, which reunites her with her Llanview brother, Jason-Shane Scott (ex-Will Rappaport).

Soap Central was lucky enough to catch up with the super busy actress to get the scoop on her upcoming Lifetime projects, as well as some of Morris' memories from her days in Llanview. So, chug down that coffee and get ready for the flurry of details. Like we said, you're probably gonna need the caffeine to keep up!

Soap Central: Jessica, you have so many projects coming up -- have you had time to live, or have you just been working the entire year?!

Jessica Morris: [Laughs] I have been working a lot, and it appears that I'm working all the time, but I do have time in between. Most of the time I have a couple of weeks or a month in between projects, so it gives me time to breathe and feel like a normal human being for a second.

Soap Central: Do you have a process for decompressing after one role to then get yourself in the right headspace for the next role?

Morris: I don't have anything formulated, but what I've noticed that I do is, number one, I get a lot of sleep, because usually I need that after a shoot. Two, I do yoga. I find that yoga really helps me; when you're on set for long hours, you don't have a lot of time to work out or you can feel a little bit stiff from standing between the scenes and everything, so yoga helps me physically -- and mentally, as well, because I usually play these very intense, dramatic roles, and you're crying every day. You have to sort of find something that's going to calm your mind and shake off all of that trauma that your character has been going through that you kind of internalize. So, a lot of relaxation processes and also getting out in nature, getting some sunshine, hanging out with friends, just feeling like, "Okay, I'm just a normal person." That's always nice.

Soap Central: When you're playing really dramatic situations day in and day out, you obviously know it's not real mentally, but your body doesn't know it isn't real!

Morris: Exactly! If you're doing your job and you actually really are encompassing these roles, it's impossible for it not to bleed over into real life. If you have a partner that you live with, you come home after a full day of that kind of thing, and it is a little challenging to just snap right out of it, and hopefully you're with someone or have people in your life who understand that and give you your space to decompress and get back to your normal, happy self.

Soap Central: Speaking of having to play intense scenes, your new Lifetime film, Danger in the Spotlight, had you playing some very dramatic material. How would you sum up the general story of the film for fans?

Morris: So, my character, Martha, she's a recovering alcoholic. She had lost her young son and because of that started drinking heavily and kind of spiraled out of control. She was a nurse and lost her job at the hospital, and she lost her husband, and she was also losing custody of her daughter. After about a year of her being clean and sober and trying to get her life back together, she blacks out one night after an A.A. meeting, and she wakes up, and there has been a car crash, which appears to have been her fault. The other woman is unconscious, and it seems like Martha has been drinking, but she doesn't remember drinking. And because her hearing is the next morning to get shared custody of her daughter, even though it's the wrong thing to flee the scene of a crime, she decides to leave because she doesn't want to jeopardize getting custody of her daughter. So, she leaves, and then it turns out that the woman in the other car is a famous ballet dancer who is paralyzed. So, my character seeks her out and ultimately becomes her at-home caretaker.

Soap Central: You must have been doing a lot of yoga during this one, because that sounds really intense!

Morris: I know, right?! [Laughs] The other actress who played Daphne, Anna Marie Dobbins, she was in a wheelchair for most of the movie, so she had it kind of easy, just rolling herself around! I had a lot more action, for sure.

Soap Central: What was it that attracted you to the project and to that role?

Morris: In a lot of these Lifetime movies, I end playing the protagonist or the victim who has to fight back, and a lot of times, they want those characters to be very innocent and squeaky clean, which I understand, because you want to really find them likable and root for them the whole movie. But what I really liked about this character, and what I thought was a little bit different, was that even though Martha is a good person and she's trying to get her life together, she has a lot of demons, and she has a lot of things she's trying to bounce back from. She has a lot of character flaws that she's fighting against because of some traumatic things that happened to her, and that made it more interesting for me to dive into. It made it more relatable. I like good people who are flawed because that's more like real life to me. There's no one that is all good or all bad. It's all just experiencing things and trying to do the best we can.

Soap Central: I always hear that when you're working on comedy projects and sitcoms, the behind-the-scenes mood is all about levity and laughing. What's the mood like on a more serious project like this?

Morris: You can definitely still have moments of fun, but if you want to really get into what you're doing, you have to be a little quiet and thoughtful and take that time to get into your character. But at the lunch breaks and if we're waiting around for a long time [between scenes], we still have a lot of laughs. Me and Anna Marie Dobbins, she and I became friends during the shoot and have remained friends, and she was great to work with. I remember one moment, she has to help me up the stairs, let's just say, and she's very petite -- I think smaller than I am -- so it wasn't an easy chore for her to be pulling me up the stairs! The camera was more of a closeup shot, so she's dragging me, and my whole upper body has to remain still, but my lower body is helping her out, so if you could actually see the whole picture of what's happening, it's really silly and ridiculous looking! So, in the middle of the scene, we are really serious, but as soon as they say cut, we're just cracking up.

Soap Central: You've done a lot of genres over the years, obviously a lot of drama, but also some smatterings of comedy and horror. What is your favorite genre and/or the genre you feel most comfortable in?

Morris: I like thrillers, and I like drama. I'd like to do more straight dramas, maybe based on true stories, because I love telling stories of real people and what they've gone through. But the thrillers are fun, and I'm used to doing a lot of those now. I like the arc of starting out and everything is fine, but slowly, things get more threatening and scary, and then they have this climax of the whole fighting back kind of thing, and then you get to have your hero moment of surviving whatever is coming to get you. That's really nice -- there's something satisfying about that.

Soap Central: And what about the comedy world? You recently appeared on the Netflix sitcom The Upshaws --are you comfortable in that kind of acting environment?

Morris: I think because I haven't done a lot of sitcom acting -- I've done some comedy movies, but I don't have a lot of sitcom comedy experience -- and since it's kind of newer to me, I have to say that entire day of shooting, I was sweating so much because I was so out of my comfort zone! [Laughs] I was so nervous. But I would love to have more experiences like that because I think the things that make you uncomfortable are the things that maybe you should push yourself to do more of. So, we'll see.

Soap Central: What was it like to work with The Upshaws stars Wanda Sykes and Kim Fields?

Morris: Kim Fields played my friend in the show, and she was just such a sweetheart and such a pro, obviously. I've loved her ever since she was a little girl on The Facts of Life. I wasn't in any scenes with Wanda Sykes, but she was behind the monitor as one of the producers, and she was giving me feedback and helping out, so that was priceless to me.

Soap Central: Another thing you're working on is Web of Deceit, a film that you wrote with your friend and One Life to Live co-star Melissa Archer. How did you guys come up with the idea for that?

Morris: We've written quite a few scripts since then, but this was the very first script that we ever wrote. We started it many years ago, basically as a fluke. We were having margaritas by the pool and started saying, "You know what? Let's make up a story." [Laughs] And we just started coming up with these characters and we were like, "We should go inside and write this down." So, that's what we did, and little by little, we just started doing it, almost like a hobby, when we would hang out. It was something to do, and it was a fun, creative outlet for us. It almost got produced a couple of times by different people in different ways, but it fell through a couple of times, and then finally it ended up being made by MarVista and will be airing on Lifetime at some point, probably at the end of this year. So, I'll keep everybody updated on it! But yeah, it was just so amazing to finally see our words coming to life, and we got to shoot it in Chicago together. It was a dream come true for us.

Soap Central: What is the story about?

Morris: I play a college professor, and one of my students who I see a lot of potential in, he has been going through a really challenging and tough time -- his parents died when he was really young, and he just is not having an easy time adjusting to college. I kind of take him under my wing, because I have a similar past with losing my parents, and then he ends up becoming very fixated on me. There is a way that my character is connected to Melissa's character, because she ends up being his older sister, and basically, there is a web of connections that leads to this traumatic event that happens, and we don't really realize how we're all connected. Her character is having a relationship with my character's fiancé, and everything kind of comes out in the end, leading to destruction.

Soap Central: Do you consider Melissa your creative soul mate? Because you've done a lot of stuff together!

Morris: She is one of my soul mates in general, just as a person! We were fast friends as soon as we met in New York. When she came to One Life to Life, we were instant friends. There are some times when we didn't talk as much when she was still in New York and I was back in L.A. and vice versa, but we have just always understood each other and made each other laugh. We love being around each other, and since we're in the same industry, too, it's just kind of naturally happened that we've ended up having projects together.

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Soap Central: What do you remember about sharing scenes with Melissa at One Life to Live? You worked together quite a bit, right?

Morris: We did! We were antagonists. My character was dating Cristian Vega, David Fumero's character, and then she came between us, and they fell in love, so we had a lot of catfights. It was really fun. Especially when you're working with a friend -- you trust each other, so you can get nasty with each other in a scene, and then it ends, and you don't take it too seriously.

Soap Central: Were there times when it was difficult to not laugh?

Morris: Oh, many times! Oh, yeah, so many times. When we were in each other's faces... I'd just see these little hints of a smile in Melissa's eyes, and I would just lose it.

Soap Central: As you said, you and Melissa have worked on a few things together over the years. Have you seen growth in each other from when you were first working together at One Life to Live to now?

Morris: Oh, absolutely! Especially as a writing partner, it's helpful to have a partner, but it's not always easy because sometimes you have to compromise. You might like something a certain way where the other person doesn't and vice versa, and Melissa and I both have very strong personalities; we're very willful in what we see and what we envision, so there have been times where we've butted heads over the years. But we have grown past that, and now we are to the point where we work so well together because we're able to know when to pick our battles and step down and submit to the other's wishes, and we also know when to really fight for something when we really believe it's right in the story. We're really good at listening to each other and taking the other's thoughts into consideration. And we also have certain strengths and weaknesses that balance each other out.

Soap Central: It's great that you two have stayed in contact and work together so much now. Is there anyone else from One Life to Live that you'd love to team up with now?

Morris: Well, I love that my One Life to Live brother, Jason-Shane Scott [ex-Will Rappaport], he's doing so well as a writer. His writing career is just booming, and I love that it's something that runs in our little fake Rappaport family, that we became writers! [Laughs] We worked on a handful of Lifetime movies together, and another one that I have coming up on Lifetime after Danger in the Spotlight is A Mother's Terror, which he plays my boyfriend in, and he was also the writer on that project. So, you know, if we could ever collaborate on something, that would be amazing for me.

Soap Central: While you were on OLTL, you also went head to head with Catherine Hickland, who played Jennifer's mother, Lindsay Rappaport. What was it like working with her?

Morris: She was great! Her character was so fascinating, too. Lindsay was really insane. She was troubled and caused a lot of mischief, but also to the point where there was a part in the storyline where she was full-on in a mental institution. What I liked about that was that it gave my character some redeeming qualities. My character took after her mother and followed in her footsteps and caused a lot of trouble, but at the same time, you were like, "Well, that's how she was raised and that's all she knows!" She was trying to fight against her own natural instincts, but it was hard sometimes.

Soap Central: If Jennifer had not been murdered, what do you think she'd be up to today?

Morris: Oh, wow! I still think she probably has an evil twin or something! [Laughs] But if she had come back from the dead, she would probably still be causing some trouble, but I think she would have grown up a little bit. I can see her being a sassy businesswoman. At some point, I think she would have started her own business, and she would put some of her energy that she had that she spent meddling and causing drama, and she would spend that energy being successful in whatever career path she chose. That's what I would have liked to have seen for her.

Soap Central: You mentioned the evil twin thing, so I'm wondering if there is a super soapy storyline that you didn't get the chance to play that you'd love to tackle?

Morris: I would love to do the twin thing, to be able to play two different characters, two different versions of myself. I actually did write a script that is about twins, so I'm hoping that can get produced soon. Because, yeah, I've always wanted to play twins. I think that would be a great challenge as an actor, just to see how you can make them so drastically different even though I look the same.

Soap Central: Another script?! Do you have extra hours in your day than the rest of us?! I don't know how you're doing all these projects and writing at the same time!

Morris: Seriously, I am exhausted at the end of every day! [Laughs] But I get a good night's sleep. To be able to function and do all of the things that I want to do -- and I'm still not doing all of things that I want to be doing, because there are so many dream scripts that I haven't written yet and traveling that I want to do! -- but I have to get seven or eight hours of sleep to make sure I can function properly. That's really important.

What do you think about our interview with Jessica Morris? Which of her upcoming projects are you most excited about? What are your favorite memories of her as OLTL's Jennifer? We want to hear from you -- and there are many ways you can share your thoughts.

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