One of Us: David Morse

The Chestnut Hill resident and star of screens big (Concussion, with Will Smith) and small (his new series is Outsiders) on fleeing L.A., his dream co-star, and why haters of the second season of True Detective (he was in that, too!) are wrong.

Illustration by Andy Friedman

Illustration by Andy Friedman

My name is … David Bowditch Morse, after Nathaniel Bowditch, the father of modern navigation. He was a relative from the 1800s and a remarkable guy.

I am a … father, husband and son, most importantly. More obviously, an actor.

I live … in Chestnut Hill. We’ve been here for quite a while — since 1994. It’s lovely.

I grew up … mostly on the North Shore of Boston, but you spend so much time growing up, including right up until now.

I got my big break … from Mrs. Ferrini, a high-school teacher. She was my inspiration for something that turned out to be a lifelong passion. But a lot of people got to know me on St. Elsewhere.

We moved to Philadelphia … after we lost our house in the 1994 earthquake in Los Angeles. We sort of came here as refugees. My wife, Susan, grew up here, and it seemed like a safe place to park our family. Life turned out to work here, and we’re very happy it did.

My next TV show is … Outsiders. It takes place in the Appalachian Mountains, and I play the head of a clan. We’re in a battle with a coal company for this mountain.

One person I’d love to work with on-screen but haven’t is … Sean Penn. I’ve done two films with him directing — The Indian Runner and The Crossing Guard, with Jack Nicholson and Robin Wright — and I would love the opportunity to act with him.

People who hated the second season of True Detective are wrong. The unfortunate thing about the second season was that it was clearly meant to stand on its own. If the first season had not existed, people would have thought of it very differently. But the first season was truly an extraordinary event.

My favorite restaurants in Chestnut Hill … are right next to each other: Osaka and Mica. Mica is so wonderfully creative with me and all my allergies. There’s a great long list of things I’m allergic to that would take up your whole column.

One album I always turn up is … one I got for my birthday a number of years ago: Roseanne Cash’s The List. We happen to know her, and I love her as a person and an artist. I love to sing to it.

I am currently reading … How Green Was My Valley. I tend to pick books to read when working on a character, and I read them as the character, out loud, to work on accent. It’s a way of practicing.

On Sunday mornings … you will find me in church, sometimes. St. Martin in Chestnut Hill, where my wife and I married and our kids went to church school.

My favorite Philadelphian of all time … is my father-in-law, Michael von Moschzisker, who was many things in this city. He came up with the one-percent-for-the-arts program, which requires any new construction to set aside one percent of its budget for the arts. He was the chairman of the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority.

The best part of my job … is actually getting to do my job. Not everyone is that lucky. The worst part is time away from my family. There were years where I was gone six to nine months. My wife was essentially a single parent.

When people recognize me on the street … it’s still a lot for St. Elsewhere. And then other people think we went to high school or played basketball together and then suddenly it hits them and out comes the cell phone. A lot of selfies, including with people who don’t know how to use their phones.

Published as “One of Us” in the January 2016 issue of Philadelphia magazine.