Post-'Woke', Lamorne Morris Wants to Continue Doing Something That Means Something

Lamorne Morris, star of Hulu's 'Woke', talks being No. 1 on the call sheet, director's chair aspirations, and the importance of this series in today's America.

Lamorne Morris in Hulu's 'Woke'

Image via Liane Hentscher/Hulu

Lamorne Morris in Hulu's 'Woke'

Being the person I am, when Hulu announced that Lamorne Morris was cast as the lead for their original series Woke, I grinned. Announced around the same time Allen Maldonado was announced for Complex's original Netflix Sneakerheads, it's been dope seeing Black creatives who've been showing and proving for years finally hit No. 1 on the call sheet.

New Girl fans know what time it is; Lamorne played Winston Bishop on the acclaimed series, has been the face of commercials for everyone from Taco Bell to Twix, as well as appearing all over BET (including co-hosting BET Now). He's been putting in that work, and even with 2020 being shaken to its core because of coronavirus, police brutality, and the deaths of everyone from RBG to Kobe Bryant, a series like Woke is necessary. Even if it leans into its goofy—we're talking about a show where Morris argues with a Sharpie marker (voiced by J.B. Smoove) and has whole conversations with 40 bottles—the concept of someone becoming "woke" all at once and how that will impact their lives is vital to the conversations that hit our timeline on the regular.

Complex caught up with Lamorne Morris roughly two weeks after Woke's release (and Lamorne's subsequent media blitz). Lamorne opens up about what Woke has meant for his future decision-making, working with young talents like T.Murph, the director's chair itch, and more.

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How's your summer been? Busy?
Oh my gosh. It's been very busy. It's been very, very busy, surprisingly, because obviously the world is going through something silly. But you would think that I would just be chilling and doing nothing, but the show's been keeping me pretty busy, to be honest with you. Also, just developing. Sitting at home all the time makes you want to write and create, so I've been pretty busy.

How are you feeling about the response and the talk about Woke?
I'm feeling pretty good. I was nervous because of the subject matter, I didn't know how people would take it. I didn't know if people would think it was too hard, too light. It's different from your typical television show. A show like this definitely sparks conversation and people don't always agree with the sentiment on the show. So it's fun to look at. I try not to check Twitter just because I'm scared. I always get scared of what people would say that had nothing to do with the show at all. Like, "Hey, there's gaps in his teeth." Damn it, you're just insulting me.

I was watching your Breakfast Club interview and really realized, "Damn, Lamorne's really been out here." We're now in a situation where you are at the top of the list. Your face is the show. How's it been stepping up to that challenge being the number one on the sheet?
I've always been prepped for it and ready for it, ever since I started with New Girl, just kind of watching Zooey [Deschanel] and how she operates, how she kind of helps run the show a little bit. She's the captain of the team. And it's more than just having more lines than someone else or having more screen time. I took my problems to Zooey. I had issues, I would ask her questions about this or about that, and if I had anything that I needed to get done, she would definitely help facilitate.

So on our show, that was a conversation that myself and Mo Marable, the director, had a lot where he would kind of... We were shooting in Vancouver in the winter and there was a lot of weather conditions, a lot of schedule changes. So there were a lot of hiccups along the way while filming. And he would always implore to me that, "Hey, man, you're going to have a rough week coming up next week, so I need to do to hold it down." Or he's like, "I'm not going to be on set today, so I need you to hold it down." You're kind of an extension for the director at times. So it was cool, man. It was fun. But it was easy for me because our cast is so easy and dope and professional. So I mean, we already had headliners, like Blake Anderson or Rose McIver or T. Murph. Even though T. Murph was a new actor-

T. Murph was funny though. T. Murph is hilarious.
Yo, even the first time I ever saw him at his audition, I was like, "All right. Yeah. This guy, we got to put him on the show."

I feel like I might... Did I see him on Wild 'n Out? I forget where I saw him first.
Wild 'n Out, Kevin Hart's special. He's done a lot of stuff, a lot of standup and comedic stuff. And as far as on the acting tip, this was one of his first gigs and you would not know it. He's already a leading man.

T. Murph, Lamorne Morris, and Blake Anderson in Hulu's 'Woke'

Early on in the series, when you have the conversation about why Keith might not have thought that he was someone that would have to deal with a situation with the police and being accused of being somebody that you're not, and you would think that Murph's character was, and it's kind of like... I wasn't expecting his reaction, and the way he stepped into the scene, you would think he'd been around for a bit. It was really good seeing him be able to step into that role and feel like it was effortless.
Oh, 100 percent. And to be fair, that's a lot as a director, too. We as actors sometimes have these instincts to go a certain way, and that was even with me having the instinct to go... I'll go like big comedy. I'm going to go a big joke here, and the director would pull you back and say, "Hey, in this moment, this is what we need. This is what's going to set the scene for us." So even in that moment with Murph, it was a lot of back and forth and talking between those two, between the director and Murph, to get them to this place. And he crushed it. When I say crushed it, I mean, that dude-

Killed it. He killed it. It's interesting to think about the idea of a show like this where someone literally awakens to the idea of what's underlying in a lot of the stuff in the world. And I was wondering with you, and especially with people like Sasheer because she was in the SNL game for a while and has been doing her thing for a minute, were you guys just having long group chats about the concept of the show and different ideas that could be worked into the series?
Here and there. I'll be honest with you, a lot of that was moreso with the writers and creators of the show. But we were in a group text with the creators, not just the cast, and they would put ideas in. Sometimes it would be, "Hey, guys, we have this episode, less comedy, more conversational, all takes place in the loft. Here are the themes that we're attacking. And here we are doing some rewrites, so what do you think about this?" So then we would have our input on our personal lives and how we think the scene may go, where it may flow. So in that instance, yeah, for sure. We would kind of talk about the dynamic. But not necessarily in text form, but in person, we'd try to hang out on the weekends with the creators as well, and we would talk about different episode ideas for the future. So if we get a second season, there's definitely a wealth of information that came from Keith Knight's brain that we can explore. We definitely were collaborative in that instance, but that's all credit to the writers. I think they did most of the heavy lifting on that side.

Are you a big TV guy?
Oh my God, huge fan. We all grew up watching TV, right? That's our favorite pastime. You come home, you sit down and put the TV on. Now, I was a big fan of the old multi-cams back in the day, The Jeffersons, Martin, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, all those types of things, The Jamie Foxx Show, et cetera. So to be on one, it's insane. From the time I stepped on the set of New Girl, I just couldn't believe that this was happening and this is my life. So yeah, I've always been a fan of it. It's always been definitely a thing that kind of moves culture, and even just internally in my household.

Big Game of Thrones fan, for example. I've been watching Lovecraft Country recently. Oh my God. I checked out the first... Man, that show is insane. The Boys on Amazon Prime. I love that show. So I'm a big TV guy. It inspires me. Animation, in general, as well. That's something that I'm trying to create more now. Like I said, during the pandemic, we're just sitting around a lot, so I'm thinking of a million TV ideas. Hopefully, with the success of Woke, we can start exploring our more creative options.

I was going to say, it sounds like you're in that mode. It's still early, but let's say Woke gets a Season 2. Would you be in a situation where you're like, "Okay, maybe I try my hand at a couple of episodes where I'm helping writing or writing myself, maybe step in a director's chair." Are you thinking about that right now?
Absolutely. Are you kidding me? Are you joking? I wanted to do it in the first season. I got the directing itch and the writing itch from New Girl. I wrote an episode, directed an episode. And I will say, even though you're familiar with the material and the characters and the cast, it's daunting at times if you're coming from a place where you're only acting, but it's still fun. It's fun. It's cool because you'd have ideas. Keith Knight's walk in life definitely mirrors my walk in life. I like to say that we're very similar people in how we think and how we dress and how we move and how we talk and our relationships with our friends and the diverseness, or the diversity, I should say, in our group of friends. I feel like I would have some ideas to bring to the table.

As far as directing, I definitely shadowed Mo a lot and Chioke Nassor, who directed a couple episodes as well. He's fricking brilliant. So I definitely watched them on set and collabed with them on set. "Why are you shooting it this way?" Not to be a critic or a skeptic. Just I'm wanting to know why you make choices so I can figure out how I would do it. "Oh, that's interesting to hear, to convey more sympathy for a character. You shoot like this because this character is in control now. I get it. Oh. You talk about emotional moves of the camera." That's something that Mo would always talk about. He would say, "I'm moving the camera this way because emotionally, without the acting, the tone should feel like this so this is why you move the camera this way."

Lamorne Morris in Hulu's 'Woke'

You mentioned something that I wanted to touch on, something else that you mentioned in the Breakfast Club interview, about how you connected with Keith on a couple of levels. With the way the character evolves throughout the season, are you now looking at the roles that you're taking differently now because of working on Woke and getting a better understanding of what's going on in your place within everything?
I am. I am. But I'm trying not to take it too seriously. You know what I mean? What I don't want to do is just do a massive leap into all social, super deep, thought-provoking things. I still want to... Listen, I'm a silly person. I do want to do some mindless stuff still. I want to get slapstick-y. I want to get weird. I want to do stuff that doesn't carry too many stakes. But I definitely want to lead with things that mean something to people. Any other show, I probably wouldn't be talking to you right now. This show definitely carries something that a lot of people can identify with, and I'm excited about that.

That was another thing about New Girl as well, was that there were episodes that meant something to people and people felt the connection to the characters. And I want to take it a step further. It can mean something to the culture, and there can be a group of kids out there who don't feel represented in television and movies. When you see black comic book-loving nerds, you go, "yeah, maybe there's two or three we can point to possibly," but black is a spectrum. We everything. I want to do material that showcases that. I don't want to play a stereotype, unless it's a cool character. I will leave it open and play it all if I can.

Woke is a perfect example of that type of show where...I don't think you can get much zanier than Keith wrestling with his Sharpie, who's really trying to educate him about institutional racism and there's just the structures in the world. You can balance the line. It's just making sure that that content can be made available to the people.
Yeah, exactly. I think with this show coming out, hopefully, it does encourage other creatives to say, "Hey, I do want to talk about something." And I think with the success of Woke, this is the concept. It works. We can talk about these things. We can talk about relevant issues and make it light, make it funny, and make it still, in certain moments, hard-hitting and thought-provoking, where it's not too preachy. It's not like we're going to bash you up over your head with this information and it's kind of a soapbox to talk about it. No, but there are moments that we can lay a heavy hand on it from time to time and then pull your foot off the gas a little bit to let people breathe and go, "All right." This is definitely something that we should think about. And hopefully, it gives those creatives out there that motivation to make it.

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That's dope. That's dope. Speaking of being inspired by creatives, I thought it was great that you get to have a Mookie in Do the Right Thing moment, hurling a... How did that feel as a black man in New York, or what is said to be New York? How did that feel to be able to fight the oppression?
You know what's crazy is that the only thing that was going through my mind was, "I hope, if Spike Lee sees this, that he smiles." You know what I mean? Because I was like, man. That's such an iconic moment in cinematic history, and I think it's funny how they wrote it that it just doesn't work out the way I planned-

At all. At all.
At all. And it was fun, man. It was fun. It was a lot of things going through my mind, a lot of, "I can't believe I'm here." You know what I mean? I can't believe I'm doing a show that's paying homage to one of the more iconic moments in cinematic history. And all I kept thinking about was, "Please don't hate me, Spike Lee, if you don't like it."

What's on the horizon for you post-Woke?
Let's see. I have a few movies that I'm signed up to do. I can't really speak on them. And I'm developing a show right now. I want to know if I... Hmm. I'm not sure if I can say...[Ed note: We are redacting the tidbits of information Lamorne gave about the project he's been working on. If you're curious about what the situation is, just know that his answer left us saying...]

Wow. What the hell are you working on, Lamorne?
I'm trying to change the world.

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