Jennifer Morrison's Trek to Once Upon a Time
Jennifer Morrison seems to bounce from hit to hit to hit. She played Dr. Allison Cameron on House for nearly six seasons, tackled the recurring role of Zoey Pierson on How I Met Your Mother, and currently stars as Emma Swan on the fantastical series Once Upon a Time. And, let’s not forget her brief but pivotal turn as Winona Kirk, who gave birth to James T. Kirk, in Star Trek (2009). StarTrek.com recently caught up with Morrison for an interview in which she recounted her Star Trek experience and talked about Once Upon a Time.
Take us to your audition for Star Trek (2009)…
Morrison: They gave me sides that had nothing to do with the movie, that just had a lot of emotions that I guess would be comparable to what the character was going to go through in the movie. I went in and read for (casting director) April Webster. It was a crazy scene where I was supposed to be in some sort of water thing where the walls were closing in. It was me and my husband and we only had one air tank. I wanted him to take the air tank and he wanted me to take it. So I had to watch him drown while I took the air tank, and then I had to swim with him and get him to shore and then resuscitate him. I mean, this is a lot when all you have is a room and a chair and a camera. It was one of those things where you just had to completely go for it or you’re going to look like a crazy person.
Your scenes in Star Trek (2009) looked chaotic. How chaotic were they to shoot?
Morrison: Working with J.J. Abrams is a dream. He’s one of those just extraordinary human beings and crazy-crazy-crazy talented. It didn’t matter how many takes or how many angles we did, he’d always come in with a new idea. I always come in crazy-prepared. I’m very anal. I do tons of research. I come in with all this stuff… and he put me to shame with the amount of ideas he came up with. We were on the 50th angle of however many-th take and he’d say, “What about this? What about this?” As an actor, that’s just so great because every take feels new and fresh and inspired. It was just incredible.
Did you have any clue that, in essence, you were giving birth to the renewed franchise?
Morrison: I didn’t think of it that way, but I’m thrilled that we succeeded in doing that. I just felt lucky to have been any part of that at all. It’s fun to be a part of that whole world. There’s a whole mythology to Star Trek. I was excited, too, because as far as I knew, no actress had ever played Winona Kirk. She’s been discussed in the mythology, but never played before. So it was fun to be the first actress to play her on screen.
Actually, how aware of Star Trek were you before you landed your role in the film?
Morrison: I did not know a lot, to be honest, and I thought that was really going to hurt me. I ultimately ended up finding out that that helped me, because J.J. wanted to honor the franchise, he wanted to do it right, but he also wanted to make it fresh and new. So it was fine with him that this was my introduction to that world and my education in that world.
A few months ago, people had their doubts about two similar-sounding shows – Once Upon a Time and Grimm – making it. But both are doing well. How confident were you that Once Upon a Time would find an audience?
Morrison: I was fairly confident that it'd have a pretty wide range of ages interested, just based on knowing the stories that were coming and knowing that the show had a definitive direction. But I was privy to inside information, which was the scripts I was reading and the scripts I was shooting. I could see how, just based on one episode (the pilot), people could be skeptical and ask, “OK, where is this heading? How do we answer all these questions? What is this curse?” I certainly never jumped to any conclusion because you just never know how shows are going to do and how people are going to react. But I knew it was definitely something I’d watch. My family felt like it was something they definitely wanted to watch, and my friends felt it was definitely something they wanted to watch. Having a little bit of a tester, people I know feeling that way and feeling strongly about it, made me hopeful that there’d be a wide range of an audience.
Your character, Emma Swan, is a bail bond collector/bounty hunter/deputy sheriff who happens to be the daughter of Prince Charming and Snow White. When you read the script, did you think, “What the heck?” or “Count me in”?
Morrison: Well, here’s the thing. Thank God no one pitched this script to me. I don’t know that I would’ve been able to wrap my brain around it if it were pitched to me. It was such an extraordinary script, and it was given to me as a script with no pitch. I read it completely blind and was just absolutely blown away. Honestly, as I read it, I kept saying, “I can’t believe this works. I can’t believe this works. But this really works.” It’s a concept that’s incredibly tough to articulate, but it all came together in a way that made sense.
The first half of the season will end Dec. 11 with the episode “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.” Give us a two-sentence set-up.
Morrison: We’re starting to see how different people’s lives were in Fairy Tale Land, before they were sent to Storybrooke. A lot of what’s been set up – with the curse, with how Emma being in Storybrooke is affecting things – comes to a head at that point.
Let’s try to link Star Trek and Once Upon a Time. Damon Lindelof has been described by your executive producers, Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, as the show’s “grandfather.” So, did Damon have anything to do with you getting the role of Winona Kirk in Star Trek?
Morrison: Damon is very close with Eddie and Adam because they worked with him (as writers and producers) on Lost, and he’s been so supportive and such a strong advocate of the show. But I don’t know if he was involved in any of the casting decision making. I know that Eddie and Adam were interested in me from having seen me on How I Met Your Mother. And I know that when they were going forward with pursuing me as Emma Swan that they did talk to J.J., knowing that I had worked on Star Trek. J.J. had very nice things to say, which I truly, truly appreciate. It means a lot to me that he’d have nice things to say and that he was a part of reassuring them that I would be a good choice.