John Booth in the Crossing Guard

David Morse - Proof of Life

Roanoke Times & World News


Anthony Breznican

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES In his own way, David Morse is no stranger to being kidnapped.

The actor, who plays an American held for ransom by South American guerrillas in Proof of Life, says his Hollywood career often steals him away from his quiet life in rural Pennsylvania, where he lives with his wife and three children.

Morse loves acting, but the price is steep for a family man.

"You go into a marriage because you want to be together. Then you find yourself leaving home for two months to shoot a movie, and it turns into five months," Morse said. "It's not natural. So you have to try hard for a balance."

He does savor the sense of family among his co-workers. It was strong on independent films like Dancer in the Dark and The Crossing Guard, Morse said. It was sometimes overwhelming on the 1980s TV hospital drama St. Elsewhere.

That feeling is usually absent from big-budget studio movies like Proof of Life, Morse said, but this time the danger of the production brought people on the set together. Most of Morse's scenes were filmed with an international cast in Ecuador's rugged Andes. It rained every day. Dozens of people collapsed from lack of oxygen in the 14,000-foot mountains.

Then a truck carrying several crew members and extras veered off a road and tumbled 450 feet into a gorge. Morse's stand-in, Will Gaffney, died in the crash.

"Something happens to people in adversity," Morse said. "You form a very strong connection with each other."

Morse squints as he sits on a hotel patio in the glare of Southern California's winter sun. He seems to talk reluctantly, a soft-spoken man with a private nature. With roles in blockbusters such as The Green Mile, The Rock and Contact, he has an every-man face that many people recognize-even if they can't quite place the name. Now the name, too, may become familiar with his intense performances in Proof of Life, starring Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe, and the art-house musical Dancer in the Dark, starring Icelandic pop singer Bjork.

During the lengthy, troubled production of Proof of Life, Morse toiled in cold mud, battled altitude sickness and quickly shed 25 pounds.

"Was it fun?" he shrugged. "There were probably a couple of days when it was fun-out of five months."

Meanwhile, a real-life romance brewed far away between Ryan, who plays his wife in the film, and Crowe, the ransom expert planning his rescue. The not-so-secret affair grabbed worldwide attention when Ryan separated from her husband, actor Dennis Quaid.

"That all came out after we were finished," said Morse, who shared only one scene with Ryan and Crowe together. "We didn't know anything about it at the time."

"Proof of Life" director Taylor Hackford said he sees parallels
between Morse and the kidnapped character, Peter Bowman, whose
dedication to his work costs him his freedom. But Morse has balance that the character lacks, the director added.

"David may be quiet and sweet but he's driven. He's quite ambitious when it comes to both his marital and professional life," Hackford said. "In this instance, he had to play someone who lost that focus but comes to realize his priorities."

After spending much of the past year away from home, Morse said he was grateful that his wife, Susan, would be with him to watch the film's Los Angeles premiere last week, even if his children would not.

"I don't know if this one's for the kids," he said. "This might be too much." After all, his character is shot at, stabbed and beaten by his captors.

Morse guards his family's privacy, but a father's pride shines through when talk turns to his 11-year-old daughter and 9-year-old twin boys.

"It's hardest being away from them," he said. "They visited the
Ecuador shoot, but it wasn't much time because of school. It's just hard for them to get away unless there's a break."

The same goes for Morse. After promoting Proof of Life, he's off to Montana to shoot a football picture.

But Christmas is coming, and he's looking forward to a few days in Pennsylvania.



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