American actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan has probably become most well-known as the bat-wielding Walking Dead villain, Negan, and John Winchester on the fantasy horror series Supernatural. Although he has seen his fair share of apocalyptic mayhem over the years, Morgan was excited to star opposite Dwayne Johnson in New Line Cinema’s epic adventure Rampage, a film that tells the story of three animals that fall victim to evil genetic manipulation and mutate into giant beasts.
Morgan’s character is named Agent Russell and works for a covert government agency that is attempting to take the animals down. Not surprisingly, he is described as having swagger and attitude, which seems fitting for the actor who recently become a pop culture icon. He recently put down his famous baseball bat to discuss Rampage.
QUESTION: How did the filmmakers pitch you Rampage and the character of Russell?
JEFFREY DEAN MORGAN: The first pitch came from producer Beau Flynn, who had produced San Andreas, which I had really enjoyed. Beau said Rampage would be a huge popcorn movie. He knew that Dwayne [Johnson] and I would have a great time with our roles and going toe-to-toe with each other.
Later, I spoke with [director] Brad Peyton. I really liked him, and soon understood that he was a filmmaker I wanted to work with. He explained the movie to me, and I realized this is much bigger than anything I’d done before. Movies like this are why I became an actor. And, of course, the chance to work with Dwayne was a big draw.
QUESTION: So, what was it like going toe-to-toe with Dwayne?
JEFFREY DEAN MORGAN: Dwayne is exactly what I’d hoped he would be, and maybe more. I honestly don’t know how he does so much work. I thought that my schedule was nuts, but I’ve never seen anybody work as hard as Dwayne does. He’s also the most charismatic dude I’ve ever met. At the same time, he’s a guy you want to have a beer and hang out with. Dwayne steps in front of that camera and doesn’t mess around. He knows his stuff, which I appreciate, because I’m old and tired and I like that in an actor (laughs). We had so much fun working on Rampage.
QUESTION: Russell works for an ultra-covert agency called OGA – an abbreviation for Other Government Agency. What kind of agent is he?
JEFFREY DEAN MORGAN: Russell is very mysterious; who he works for is never stated. We just know that Russell has a lot of pull, and when he walks into a room, people listen to him. We never really dive into the specifics of the agency. It’s like the dark web – something we’ve heard of but don’t know a whole lot about. Russell certainly never offers any explanation. He’s not that kind of guy.
QUESTION: Russell’s wardrobe is also unexpected. How does that help define him?
JEFFREY DEAN MORGAN: Russell wears cowboy boots and a huge belt buckle. The first thing Brad selected for Russell was a gun with an ivory handle and lots of scroll work. Definitely not a subtle look. I wanted the gun to be a little bit more worn. We ended up agreeing on everything once I started trying on stuff. Brad’s very good at incorporating what an actor is thinking into his vision.
Initially, it was scripted that when we meet Russell, we see that he’s wearing alligator boots. That was a little too much, even for that character, so I toned it down. I said, “Give me a good pair of western-style roper boots. When Russell is not on some OGA mission, he’s probably out riding a horse. I like that aspect of him.”
QUESTION: We were on the set for a few days when you were filming the interior of the C-17 military transport plane. That looked like a very physical scene.
JEFFREY DEAN MORGAN: It was great – until Dwayne landed on top of me with the full weight of his body (laughs). That knocked the wind out of me, but the filming really was a lot of fun. This is the stuff you dream about as an actor.
I remember walking onto that set for the first time and it’s all on a gimbal – it’s moving and shaking. It’s a very important sequence because it shows George, the gorilla, going out of control. Obviously, we weren’t filming with a 40-foot gorilla, and it was challenging working with green screen, because I had never done it before. Luckily, Brad showed me a few computer mock-ups of exactly what was going on, which explained why I was being yanked around by cables: a giant gorilla had just hit me in the face! It’s a huge puzzle doing a movie like this, and Brad knows where every piece is in advance, like no other director I’ve ever worked with. It was fun to watch him work. I found myself hanging out behind him even when I wasn’t shooting, just to watch him put it all together.
QUESTION: What was it like working opposite performance capture artist Jason Liles, who plays George?
JEFFREY DEAN MORGAN: Early on, during camera tests, Jason introduced himself to me. I didn’t think much about it – until he showed up later in his performance capture suit and the big arm extenders he was running around with. He was in full gorilla mode. I remember when the day was over, saying to Jason, “Dude, that was awesome.” It was not only a huge help to me, but it gave me a really good idea of what George was going to be, and Jason did an amazing job.
QUESTION: What do you hope audiences take away from Rampage when they see it in cinemas this April?
JEFFREY DEAN MORGAN: Rampage is a popcorn movie to the nth degree. That was Brad’s original vision, and it exceeds my wildest imagination. I think the audience is going to have a blast. You’re going to laugh, the movie’s got heart, and it’s got Dwayne Johnson. How can you not love that?
Based on Rampage (arcade game) by Bally Midway Manufacturing Company, the film is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures and releases in South Africa on Friday, 13 April 2018.