Jennifer Morrison: Wish Upon A Star
Jennifer Morrison isn’t a princess — she just plays one on TV. But the star of ABC’s “Once Upon a Time” is the first to admit that she’s lived her own fairy tale, rising steadily from bullied high school bookworm to prime-time heroine. “There’s definitely something to the Cinderella story that continues to relate to my life,” she says. “When you feel misunderstood, and then you finally find yourself and start expressing yourself, things come together. I’m living the adult side of that fairy tale in the sense that I now get to do what I love every day.”
Before 2011, you might have recognized the Arlington Heights native from her supporting role on “House M.D.,” her lengthy guest stint on “How I Met Your Mother,” or her parts in films like “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” and “Star Trek.” But these days, Morrison, 34, is a star in her own right, playing the lead role on “Once Upon A Time,” now in its third season. The hit fantasy drama follows a cast of fairy-tale characters (think Tinkerbell, Cinderella and Rumplestiltskin) in Storybrooke, Maine, a fictional town oft-threatened by evil forces. Morrison’s character, Emma Swan, is the town’s unlikely savior: a bounty hunter who grew up in foster care before finding out that the biological parents who abandoned her at birth were Snow White and Prince Charming.
Morrison’s own tale begins like many storybook classics: with a bookish, small-town girl who harbors big dreams. “I always thought of myself as an actor,” Morrison says. Her music-teacher parents were skeptical of Hollywood (“They’d heard horror stories”) and insisted that the burgeoning dramatist focus on her schoolwork. So Morrison spent much of her time engrossed in her second love: literature. “I always loved reading, and I was very introverted,” she says.
But as in any fairy tale, there were villains — Morrison’s studious nature and love of the stage made her a prime target for bullies. “I was labeled a nerd,” she says. “My parents raised us to turn the other cheek, but when you’re in junior high and high school, and you choose not to stand up for yourself, it can turn out disastrously.”
Morrison found refuge from the harassment on weekends, when she participated in plays and fashion shows at Woodfield Mall. After several talent agents approached her to star in commercials and print ads, Morrison wore down her reluctant parents. “I negotiated,” she laughs. “I said, ‘If they ask us for money, and something bad happens, we’ll stop!’ ”
After booking several smaller gigs in the early ’90s (like the cover of Sports Illustrated for Kids, where she appeared next to Michael Jordan, sticking out her tongue), Morrison graced the silver screen in “Intersection” as the daughter of Sharon Stone and Richard Gere, garnering even more unwanted attention from her envious peers. But after one made fun of Morrison’s younger sister, the quiet teen finally stood up for herself. “I lost it,” she says. “That was a huge life lesson for me, to figure out ways of putting my foot down, figuring out my own identity and how to protect that.”
Her newfound confidence put Morrison on a determined career course. Post-graduation, she enrolled at Loyola University to study her two passions — theater and English — while training intensively at Steppenwolf Theatre with founders Gary Sinise, Jeff Perry and Amy Morton. But Morrison never stopped dreaming of Hollywood. So after graduating early, she set off for LA, where her years of hard work (and characteristic good luck) helped her nab parts almost immediately. She booked smaller films like “Urban Legends: Final Cut” and guest-starred on “Dawson’s Creek” before “House M.D.” propelled her to national stardom in 2004.
Looking back at the acclaimed series, which ended in 2012, Morrison is wistful. “I miss being [Alison] Cameron,” she says of her character. She still keeps in touch with most of the show’s tight-knit cast, catching up with Hugh Laurie whenever both are filming in Vancouver and occasionally touching base with ex-fiance Jesse Spencer. “Every once in a while, I text with Jesse and we see how each other are doing,” she says. “[He’s] someone I’ll always be on good terms with.”
Upon receiving the pilot script for “Once Upon a Time,” Morrison was similarly swept away. “I felt like everything about it was extraordinary and unlike anything I’d ever read before,” Morrison says. This season in particular — in which Emma and the rest of the cast travel to Neverland to save her son Henry from the clutches of an evil iteration of Peter Pan — has been particularly enjoyable for the actress. “There’s been an ease and an effortlessness to it that I haven’t felt in other seasons, partly because I’ve been playing the character for so long, but partly because there’s a depth of experience I can reach into for intense moments,” she says. “There’s a certain amount of strain that comes with spending 12-15 hours crying, but [I’m] relating to the emotions and feeling they’re earned.”
In a nod to the identity she forged as a teen, she’s learned to express her feelings off-camera as well. “On set, I’m always very clear about what I actually feel,” she says. “I try to avoid passive-aggressive behavior, so people know if I’m happy, I’m happy, if I’m frustrated, I’m frustrated. I mean what I say.”
Morrison is just as forthright about protecting her personal life, keeping mum about her previous relationship with Spencer and her recent breakup with co-star Sebastian Stan, and says she does her best to avoid reading tabloid interpretations of both. “I don’t look at any of it,” she says. “It’s unfortunate, because it’s just not normal for things that are so personal to be out in the world.”
Instead, she prefers to control her own public image, speaking to her fans directly through Twitter and making sure Emma Swan’s positive message — which bears a striking resemblance to her own — is heard. “The show is about hope, about finding your true self,” she says. “I hope young women watching it see somebody who’s human, who’s searching for herself, who makes mistakes, but who gets up and tries again and moves forward in life.”
Morrison’s own fairy tale is far from finished. The actress is set to star in two upcoming films next year — an experimental thriller, “Event 15,” and a rom-com, “The List” — and says she’s open to returning to her Chicago theater roots once “Once Upon A Time” ends. But beyond that, she’s hesitant to outline the next chapter of her story. “It’s always hard to project those things,” she says. “I feel like life always works out in a better way than you ever imagined.”
To thank her parents for their ongoing support, Morrison recently took them on a whirlwind trip to — where else? — Disney World. “My parents are obsessed with Disney World. We went so many times as a kid, but now it’s a total different experience, as I’m sort of a Disney princess in a sense — I can’t really walk around Disney World by myself. They set it up so I could have a tour guide and security, a very backstage experience, and they’d never seen that version of it. It was really fun to be able to do that for them.”
“No matter what level you reach, there’s always some form of rejection. People really like to tear you down. There’s always going to be those people that decide they don’t like what you do or how you look or what dress you’re wearing, so I do the best I can to be involved with people who are positive about what’s going on. You’re never gonna get every role that you want, and you’re never gonna please every fan or audience member, so it’s about resigning to all of that and doing the best you can to focus on the positive.”
On her crazy schedule
“[The cast of ‘Once Upon a Time’] gets along, and we do hang out a little bit, but I don’t tend to stay [in Vancouver] on the weekends. I maintain my life elsewhere because I can’t just stop my life everywhere else. My parents are still in Chicago, my sister and her husband are in New York, and my brother is in Texas. So for short weekends, I go to LA, and long weekends I go to New York, and try to spend as much time with friends and family whenever I can. “
Sarah Bolger was filming over the weekend, so I still think its EPISODE 12 and then continue for episode 13?
Are we sure these are 3x12 and not 3x13 BTS pics?
They are still on 3x12 from what I was told!
I’m getting a massive headache right now trying to figure out what’s happening from the set photos!
At first I thought its a flashback scene but then seeing MRJ there threw me off. On another note, Aurora is seen in the background?
WHAT IS HAPPENING???
the-queen-of-wonderland asked: So he's not grown up Henry or something? That theory really scared me.
That is one question I cannot answer. It sounds ridiculous though for him to be ADULT Henry! :) I’m still going with my guess that he’s her foster brother.
the-queen-of-wonderland asked: Oh dear. Lucky you! Just tell me this. Is he a new character?
He should be since we haven’t seen him in any episodes right? :):)
the-queen-of-wonderland asked: You really know?? Who is it? Please don't do this to me I can't wait till March lol :D
Of course I know, I was there watching that scene last night! :)
Just saw them film some scenes for episode 12 yesterday (November 21st) and its gonna be exciting and interesting! :):)
Ginny is pregnant
So as you know weeks ago, Ginnifer Goodwin was filming at Steveston and I got a photo of her looking like she’s pregnant. Many people started speculating about it: some believed, some didn’t, other even thought i photoshopped the photo.
Well now I can say I was right all along! She is PREGNANT. Congratulations to you both, Josh and Ginny :):)
Just want to clarify I am not a pap. I’m just a fan who happens to go to set filming whenever I can :):)