Sam Morgan is a familiar face on the film scene and comedy circuit of Devon and Cornwall. He has most recently been seen as part of the tight-short-clad crew in the badminton gang movie Shuttlecock. And despite his comic leanings and being a key member of the South West improv landscape, Sam’s been known to delve into the darker roles. He has a powerful stillness that holds a dangerous authority.
“I’ve done quite a few films over the years,” he says when we catch up.
“I’ve been in Devon for a little while and there’s quite a big film community, as you know.”
After a touch of the legal profession, Sam ventured into the world of acting
“I decided it would be a great idea to jack the job in and go to drama school, which was kinda bonkers. I did some training. I learned a lot. Then moved to Devon in 2003 and started to get involved in the acting and improvisation community that’s here.”
Swimming in that creative pool got him involved in film, which was an ideal opportunity to stretch his skills.
“You progress the more you do it,” he says. “And the more you do, the more you have respect for people who do it.”
In terms of acting, the more you do, means, essentially, doing less.
Doing it by not doing
“The skill is doing it by not doing. Trying and not trying at the same time. And making it look easy and natural, depending on what sort of film it is,” says Sam.
“The camera sees everything, it never lies and it picks everything up – even micro-movements. And you can’t necessarily know what you’re doing all the time. It’s storytelling, ultimately.”
As well as being able to tell the difference between a good performance and a bad one, Sam Morgan thinks you can feel the difference, too. And he highlights the changing acting styles over the ages.
“There’s a different style from the 60s, 70s, and even 80s to now, which could be down to technology as well.
“Years ago the ordinary person wouldn’t be able to make films. Unless you’d gone through the film industry you wouldn’t have that opportunity. But now, we’ve all got mobile phones, we could all be filmmakers. Alongside that there’s the rise of Netflix and other streaming channels, they need to fill content. I’m not saying it’s better. I’m just saying it’s more.”
That growth of a filmmaking community is something Sam has witnessed since the early 00s. And it’s driven by passion.
“The amount of time and effort and love that filmmakers have is extraordinary,” he says. “I only turn up and learn the lines and don’t knock into the furniture.
“In Shuttlecock, we worked long hours for three days. And that’s just when I was there for the shoot. Nothing to do with pre-production, or the script, or makeup, or lights and so on… and nothing to do with post-producing. It’s an extraordinary amount of work. And I love that people must have the sheer enjoyment of seeing their creation come to life. It takes a lot and unless you’ve seen it or done some yourself, you don’t realise the sort of effort that goes in. You must admire it.”
With comedy and improv as a focus, I ask about the more dramatic roles Sam Morgan has played.
“People who do light-hearted stuff, are often quite serious people. There’s a duality to that. I tend to get those roles for some reason. I don’t know why,” he says. “I enjoy both.”
“Improv is a collective thing. I don’t want to be a stand up. I like to work with people – that’s when things are interesting. I like working with people because they can surprise you. And teaching is also very surprising. Even people who haven’t done improv before come up with the most amazing things if they are given the opportunity and facilitated in such a way that they can let themselves go. It’s fascinating.
“I didn’t think I’d ever teach, but I’ve had pupils with me for four or five years and you can see them progress. And you just think ‘wow’, I remember when you started. In some respects, I’ve learnt more about comedy and acting by teaching. When you’re watching people and really observing, it is an eye-opener to understand what’s good and what works and what doesn’t work. It’s made me more relaxed about it. And it’s made me better. The more relaxed you are, the better you are. The harder you try, the worse it gets. That’s life.”
That relaxation comes with confidence, not pushing at it, allowing things to be and seeing how it goes.
“Mistakes are good in comedy,” says Sam. “Sometimes they are good in film. I know it’s a cliche, but it’s a process – and it’s much more interesting as a process.”
The improv Sam teaches attracts all kinds of people. People who want to perform. People who have never performed and people in between.
Improv develops people’s confidence. And it teaches people how to play.
Learning to play
“As adults, we forget to play. Life is serious. But sometimes we need to learn how to play again. Acting, and certainly improv, is a moment-to-moment thing. You need to learn to enjoy what happens and to enjoy mistakes. In the real world, we’re not allowed to make mistakes and we’re not allowed to get things wrong but in the improv world, it can be whatever it can be. We don’t learn by getting it right, we learn by making mistakes,” says Sam.
Sam is always open to more film roles. And he continues to teach improv on a Sunday morning in Exeter.
“I’m finding the pleasure in why I do it,” he says. “I don’t want to be famous. I just want to be good at what I do. And that’s it, I’m satisfied. But you can never be the master of what you do.”
And that sounds just fine.
For more on Sam Morgan, his acting, improv or to join in the classes, go to his website. Read Sam’s take on comedy in his Q&A with the School of Laughter. And to see a selection of the films he’s been in, check out his IMDB page.