Jennifer Morrison talks directing new music video, what to prepare for on ‘OUAT"s midseason finale

Jennifer Morrison, who is known for playing The Savior (aka Emma Swan) in ABC’s Once Upon a Time, has an intimidating resumé. She’s starred in House as the very smart, full-hearted Dr. Allison. She’s been in How I Met Your Mother and Star Trek, and that’s not all. She also has really, really great hair. But that’s beside the point. The point is that Jennifer Morrison can do anything she sets her mind to, so when I learned she had directed her first music video (technically, it’s four stand-alone videos combined to create a 10-minute narrative) for the indie rock band Wild Wild Horses, I wasn’t surprised. Like, at all.

Morrison, who previously directed the film Warning Labels this year, has a keen eye for beauty — and for darkness. In “Demon Days (Do It All Again)” she captures a couple (played by Grace and Frankie‘s Geoff Stults and iZombie‘s Rose McIver) haunted by a ghost of the past. Morrison embodies this ghost in the video, and half-joking and half-serious, she tells me her role  is “Ghost Girl,” the woman who is the manifestation of McIver’s paranoia, but we’ll get to that part later.

What stands out most is the tension, and the poetry of the setting. You can feel McIver’s character panic when she thinks she sees Ghost Girl by the side of the road, or Ghost Girl laugh-kissing Stults. And you can sense the dysphoria in the birch trees, the way moss envelopes almost everything. Essentially, Morrison elevates “Demon Days” and visually transforms it so that what we see feels intimate, as though we are standing very, very closely to something that is about to shatter.

Watch Wild Wild Horses’ “Demon Days” exclusive music video premiere right here:

Wanting to know what makes Morrison’s smart, creative brain tick, I asked her a few questions.

HelloGiggles: So, I watched your video for WWH like, two or three times, and I mean, it’s just so visceral.

Jennifer Morrison: I’m so glad you like it! I’m excited to get it out there, you know? It’s something I’ve stared at over and over again. You know when you look at something too many times and you start to get nervous about it? [Wild Wild Horses] came to me and proposed the possibility of doing this, I feel like, it was six weeks ago? This is the fastest I’ve had to create something and have something in final form.

HG: That sounds stressful!

JM: It’s been great! I really care about it, I believe in the band and I believe in their music and I wanted to make something as special as possible to go alongside that.

And what appealed to me about taking this on is was that I thought it was such a unique, creative perspective they were taking on it. [The band] came to me and asked if I could basically make a silent film that the band’s music is the score to it. And to me that was an exciting proposal.

HG: It’s a super evocative music video. It’s haunting, and you create great tension between the characters. And you make a cameo in there! You’re like, the woman haunting the other woman, right? 

JM: Yeah! I made it open-ended enough so that other people could assign whatever meanings they want to assign to it or they could see what they want to see in it. But yeah you’re right, the character I play, we called her “Ghost Girl.” And she was intended to be the projection of the girl’s paranoia.

HG: So, what’s it like being the one behind the camera instead of the one in front of it? You’ve been in so many shows, movies. And now you’re switching gears a bit.

JM: Yeah! I feel like it’s a new thing I’m adding to the whole journey. Everything in my life makes sense when I’m directing. I love acting, I’ve been doing it my whole life, basically, and I can’t imagine not doing it. But when you’re acting, you’re always at the mercy of so many elements. You do all the research, you build the character, you come up with the physicality and the emotional backstories and you come up with all the foundational elements of who these character are. But ultimately at the end of the day someone else edits it and someone else is telling a bigger story that you fit into. So, as a director there is something really invigorating and exciting about being the one who tells the big story.

HG: You’ve worked with so many directors and writers. Have any of them influenced you in any way? 

JM: There’s something so intimate about the way we all have to work in this business, you inevitably soak up things both good and bad. There are some things I’ve learned from bad experiences enough not to do. Bryan Singer was an incredible director I got to work with. Gavin O’Connor. Mark Rydell directed the first film I did when I was 13, [and he] is one of my heroes. I also feel like Pam Fryman, who directed HIMYM, she was a director who stood out in the sense that she has the most elegant command over a set that I’ve ever seen. She was absolutely kind and at the same time demanding of people’s best. I’ve joked for the longest time that when I grow up I want to be Pam Fryman.

HG: And speaking of directors you’ve worked with, especially Pam Fryman, I think we’re sensing a shift in Hollywood. It seems like more and more women are being given more opportunities than before to direct films. What are your thoughts on that? 

JM: I do feel like we’re getting better at it. We’re definitely moving in the right direction, and we’re hopefully going to start leaping forward as our younger generation starts to grow up and move into these positions, because girls are being raised to think of themselves as leaders and writers and CEOs, and a part of it is our own mindset. A lot of it starts within ourselves.

And then I think it becomes about the way we support each other. Men have done a really good job of this. They build each other up, and they support each other, have each others’ backs. Whereas historically, often times, women have torn each other down and have not been so great to each other. A big part of the shift is that women have to really band together and support each other, and know that if any one woman moves ahead, it means that every woman is moving ahead. If we do this, we’re building a foundation where we have equal pay and we have equal opportunities, and we have a balance between men and women in all these departments. I think It’s a combination of starting internally in the individual woman and her realizing that her worth and her value is all the things she’s capable of and mixing that with how we support each other.

HG: That’s so smart and eloquently put! You know, a lot of our female readers at HG are budding writers, they’re interested in media and creating movies, and I was wondering if you have any advice for them? 

JM: My advice is to always make stuff! I think people get really caught up in making THE thing instead of SOMEthing. We’re in an age where you can make a movie on your iPhone. You can write 20 pages of something and post it online. We live in a world where we have immediate audiences, and niche audiences. We have access to people in a way we never did in the past. You have to start somewhere. You can’t get in your own way by thinking it’s THE thing. If you jump in and do it, you’re gonna learn from it no matter what.

HG: Our readers are also really into OUAT…and I am too! And the mid-season finale is [today], so I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions about the show.

JM: Sure!

HG: So. Would you say that you’re like your character, Emma Swan? You two seem to share the same go-getter, leadership mentality. Like, when you decided to pursue directing! I think that’s something Emma would totally do. If she had time, that is. 

JM: Ha! When she’s not slaying dragons! Sure, there are certainly things about Emma that I relate to, that are a part of me. Definitely I think I have a natural instinct to lead. I guess I’ve always seen her as different than me, because she’s had such a rough upbringing and she has such a rough exterior. And I don’t see that as a part of who I am. I was incredibly blessed and lucky that I had a very a warm childhood. I don’t have those same walls up that Emma has had up so long. I feel like once I reach the Dark Swan arc, and I started to have an opportunity to break Emma out of those walls and into a place where she was more vulnerable and available more emotionally, THEN she started to feel more connected to me. Because I feel like I operate from a more vulnerable place.

HG: Do you guys have weird rituals or traditions behind the scenes?

JM: Ah, no. Our show is sort of always…camping. I am never in my trailer! Ever!

HG: If you could pick any princess or prince (or fairy tale character) to appear on the show, who would you choose? 

JM: Maybe Aladdin and Jasmine? We haven’t done that yet.

HG Maybe anyone from the Pixar movies?

JM: Oh my gosh, can you imagine Toy Story? It would be fun if all our toys came to life.

HG: Can you imagine if there were all those toys in Mr. Gold’s shop, and they came alive and destroyed his life?

JM: Oh god that would be so creepy!

HG: What’s one thing that fans should prepare for on Sunday?

JM: It’s gonna be…a lot to go through.

HG: Sooo, we’re going to shed many tears.

JM: Well, I certainly did, as Emma. It’s a heart-wrencher for sure.

Here’s the full narrative:

And you can watch each individual WWH video below:

“Secrets”

“Youth”

“Ordinary Life”

(Image via Twitter/Jennifer Morrison)

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