In a career that spans 50 years, starting with his uncredited debut in the first season of Star Trek, Phil Morris has been constantly working in movies and television. Best known as Jackie Chiles, the enigmatic lawyer from Seinfeld, and John Jones, a.k.a. Martian Manhunter on Smallville, Phil Morris returns to narrate the Machinima web series Real Fake History, debuting today, Tuesday, July 30. Real Fake History is a History Channel parody series in the "Ken Burns" style. These shorts are about the greatest fictional battles and most inspiring stories in movies, TV, and video games. From Endor to Gotham City to Mike Tyson's Punch Out, Real Fake History brings the never before seen tales of those who witnessed these defining fictional moments. Phil Morris provides the narration for each episode, which includes interviews with the fictional characters that made these Real Fake History moments happen. I had the chance to speak with Phil Morris about Real Fake History, which kicks off today with Star Wars: Battle of Endor, following two co-pilots on the Millennium Falcon who couldn't understand what Nien Numb was saying the entire time. Here's what he had to say below.
This is quite an intriguing idea for a series. Can you talk about the inception of this or when you first became involved?
Phil Morris: Well, I wasn't the one who came up with the idea. I was brought in a little bit later, after this train was firmly on track. I had worked with a gentleman named Tony Janning, who had written all of these, and is also an actor in a lot of on camera interview portions, and he's one of the producers. I had worked with him on a short film called Instant about a year ago, for the Gene Roddenberry people, his son's company, and I really liked him. I thought he was a great guy, very creative, and he came to me awhile back and said, 'I've written this thing, and we were trying to figure out who the narrator will be... wait I just worked with Phil Morris. He'd be great.' So he ran it by them, they signed off on it, he called me and told me the concept, and I said, 'Man, that sounds super clever. Send me the material.' He did, and it was super clever, I totally got it. I've seen or been in or around many of those properties and I was a big Ken Burns fan. So I said let's do this, let's light this candle.
What's the production schedule on a show like this? How often would they call you in to narrate these episodes?
Phil Morris: For me, it's a pretty cakey job, meaning I don't have to be on set to shoot any of this stuff. I come in after it's all put together, and I just lay down the narration, which is pretty much already written by the time they go to picture on the other stuff. I could literally probably voice all of it at the same time, but what we ended up doing on this one is, after they had shot all of the photography, all of the principal, I went in a booth and ran all of those history segments together. I did each one of them, in a booth, in one day, literally. I know what I'm doing. I come in with a great deal of preparation, and they've been working on this for months, and they know what they want to hear. We come together, put it in the mix, and then we're really working. It doesn't really take that long if we're all on the same page, and we get it. We were all on the same page, and we did get it. It was super fun and super funny, and I ad-libbed a bunch of stuff, some of it was used, some of it wasn't used. It was a great day.
When he came to you with all of these ideas, was there a particular one that you were really intrigued by?
I grew up on Mike Tyson's Punch Out, so I'm looking forward to that one.
Phil Morris: Did you ever beat it?
No, but I have a funny story about that. This is like 1989 or 1990, and I get a call from a friend of mine, who is freaking out, saying I have to come over right now. He lived down the block, and I ran and grabbed my bike and headed down there. I'm thinking something is devastatingly wrong, and I find out that he had paused the game, and he needed someone to witness that he had beat Mike Tyson's Punch Out.
Phil Morris: That is like urban legend (Laughs).
Part of me was pissed, because I thought something was wrong, but part of me was like, 'That's amazing. You actually beat it?'
Phil Morris: (Laughs) So, as you see, their choices are sort of varied and diverse for the first go-round, it was fantastic. It reigns a lot of us in and it appeals to a lot of our fandom and genre nerdiness. I thought it was brilliant.
I imagine if this is popular, you'd do some more, so has the show had you thinking about what they could do next?
Phil Morris: I'm sure they're thinking about that now. I think as we get responses, like you guys who are interested in the concept and guys who have seen bits of it, who are interested enough to talk to me or members of our creative staff, they're going to be seeing about where else they can go. It's infinite, the places they could go with these Real Fake History scenarios, based on books, comics, movies, TV, video games, whatever, and every day, it's being re-created again. Every day, there's more material in the pipeline for these guys to cull from.
You talked about how quickly you went through the narration, so were you working directly with Tony Janning in the booth?
Phil Morris: Yeah, Tony was there, the director, producer, all of the guys were there. I'm in the booth and they're outside pointing at me and laughing. It was fun, watch the monkey in the cage, hilarious. No, they were all there, collaborating with us together, on the day. It was one big happy family. It was great.
Is there anything else that you're working on now that you can talk about?
Phil Morris: There's a ton of stuff I'm working on. I'm doing a bunch of LEGO stuff (LEGO DC Comics Super Heroes: Justice League Vs. Bizarro League), a bunch of LEGO Scooby-Doo stuff, just finished some Disney stuff, Girl Meets World. I have a podcast that I do on https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/phil-morris-living-the-dream/id954977611?mt=2|iTunes, called Living the Dream with Phil Morris, and you should check it out. It's all about process, how we as people get to where we want to go. Not necessarily what you have, it'd be a quick interview, 'I've got a car, I've got a wife, I've got a dog...' It's about the struggles or the ups and downs of your process. When you hear people talk about what they've been through and where they're trying to go, we can relate and we don't feel as alone. We feel part of a greater community, and I think that's missing. We think we're separate and what happens can happen only to us, and the places we want to go, we can never get there, because it's so hard. When you see and hear stories of people who struggled, whether you know them or you don't know them, famous or not, it informs you a little bit more about who you are and your process. For me, that's valuable, so I wanted to create a podcast and inform myself, selfishly, and for others.
People have been talking about the entire run of Seinfeld now on Hulu. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on that?
Phil Morris: Oh, of course I have thoughts on that. I loved that show, man, loved those people. I want them to make as much money as they can possibly make, in as many outlets as they can make it, and I want more generations to see shows like Seinfeld, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, All in the Family, classic comedies that hold up and resonate forever. Seinfeld is certainly one of those shows, and I'm thrilled that Hulu is where they decided to hang their hat. They could have hung their hat anywhere, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, anywhere. I'm really thankful. I think a whole new generation will tap in and dig it.
What's always fascinating about the series to me is that it was almost canceled after the first season, and it goes on to become this iconic show. It says a lot about how little a chance shows these days get, and if Seinfeld were to be picked up this year, would it even go on for nine seasons?
Phil Morris: Yeah, it's quite a unique story, the fact that they struggled to gain acceptance, and then when accepted, were so widely accepted. It's kind of part and parcel of what a lot of people and shows go through, and that's why I do my show, my podcast. It isn't always the 'up' that we should be highlighting, it's the struggle, because we struggle far more than we're on top. We're underneath it way more than we're on top of it, and, unfortunately, we gear our lives to just accept when we're on top, and not accept the struggles in total. You see shows like Seinfeld, not one of them was new. Jerry Seinfeld was a veteran performer. (Series co-creator) Larry David was almost a failed stand-up comic, a very, very niche comic. Michael Richards was a veteran actor, never a star, so these people were not new at this, and they brought their talent and experience to this, and ultimately, they were going to win, because they had the goods. But the struggle is part of that story, part of all of our stories.
That's my time. Thank you so much, Phil. It was a real pleasure talking to you, and I'll definitely check out your podcast.
Phil Morris: My pleasure, man. You have a good one. Thank you for your time, and take care.
Phil Morris provides the narration for the new web series Real Fake History, debuting today on Machinima. New episodes will debut each Tuesday on Machinima's YouTube channel, so stay tuned for new episodes every week. In the meantime, you can check out the first episode below.