Actor's life was easy choice

Kathryn Morris warmed instantly to `Cold Case' role

October 04, 2004|By Roger Catlin | Roger Catlin,HARTFORD COURANT

Despite being the star of the most successful new TV drama last season, Kathryn Morris can still go unrecognized in a crowd - mostly because she smiles. She hardly smiles when portraying strictly business Philly homicide Detective Lilly Rush on CBS' Cold Case.

"Cold cases are not exactly the most chipper kind of work," Morris says. "She's not that perky about it because it's very serious."

But the actress has a lot to smile about. She's engaged to an investment adviser. And Cold Case, unique among the police dramas in that it's led by a single actor, returned last night with considerable traction for its second season.

Besides the numbers, though, Morris says she's been "amazed to see the response" of fans who approach her, most of whom tend to be working women.

"It's not just about being a cop," she says. "It's almost like I feel like I've become almost like a spokesperson for the working woman."

Morris, 35, began flirting with theater in junior high school in Connecticut, "in plays and things like that.

"I felt very comfortable there," she says of the stage. "I grew up in a family of performers and [it] just was a very natural place. It just seemed like something our family always did.

"We had a little singing group when I was a kid - you know, sort of Partridge Family-like," she told TV reporters in Los Angeles in the summer. "We traveled around the South, and sang gospel music."

At 5, she was the youngest member of the group with the inevitable name Morris Code. She continued with the family band through junior high days, though it had its drawbacks. "If I had a late-night gig, and ... we got in at 3 in the morning, I still had the spelling test ... I somehow got it done. It works really well for what I do now," she says.

"Acting became something that I was more interested in," Morris says. Besides, "if you're not born with the Barbra Streisand voice, you know, it's not going to work out.

"So when I didn't really fit in, in sports and other areas, I just got on the stage, and I didn't get stage fright and things like that. I just felt like this was what I was supposed to be doing."

James Gatto, a teacher at her middle school in Farmington, Conn., encouraged her to go to Wesleyan's Center for Creative Youth one summer in Middletown, Conn.

"He got me a scholarship," Morris says. "It changed my life. It exposed me to something I'd never be exposed to in the regular classroom. While there were a lot of rich kids there, as a place where their parents dumped them, I thought, `This is where I belong.'"

She also recalls as influential her favorite teacher at Enrico Fermi High School in Enfield, music teacher John Gionfriddo. "He came into school when I was a freshman," she says. "Chorus went from 11 to 100 people."

She knew she was onto something when her first big high school role came "as a junior in the senior play," Oliver. The next year, she played Kim McAfee, the role that made Ann-Margret famous in Bye Bye Birdie.

While attending Temple University, Morris had thoughts of going into communications, as a journalist or filmmaker, but "if you perform your whole life, it's unavoidable," she says. "It's like Michael Jordan trying to switch sports."

Nevertheless, having studied cinematography, editing and writing, she says, has been helpful in her career as an actress, which has included credits in the films Minority Report, AI: Artificial Intelligence and As Good as It Gets.

Despite scattered roles in TV series, including Xena, Warrior Princess, Murder, She Wrote and The Mind of the Married Man, Morris says she wasn't planning on "doing TV."

But when she saw the role of Lilly Rush in the script for Cold Case," she was taken.

"It was really original," she says. "And I thought: `Whoever does this, I hope she does right by her.'"

She's been impressed with the money producer Jerry Bruckheimer invests in each episode, which includes getting the rights to the kind of music not often heard on series television, from Aerosmith to Bruce Springsteen.

"Really, it's like making a movie in eight days," she says of each week's episode."

The Hartford Courant is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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