Sunday, February 22, 2009

FLASHBACK: Soap Star Finally Gets Big-Screen Role 1997


By Denene Miller
New York Daily News
November 22, 1997

She is, perhaps, the most recognizable African-American on daytime television--next to Oprah, of course--but that never quite translated into a ticket to Hollywood for actress Debbi Morgan.

Soap stars, after all, are to La-La land what, say, maggots are in the food chain of the wild. And Morgan--even with her Emmy and her visibility and her decades-long career as "Angie" on the popular ALL MY CHILDREN--was no exception to the "Ugh!-you're-a-soap-star-never-will-you- be-seen-in-a-screen-test-much-less-a-movie-of-mine" rule.

Couple that with the perils of being a black actress trying to make it anywhere in a business that doesn't necessarily value, well, black actresses, and you can understand why you've never seen Morgan on the big screen.

You want to see the not-easily-bothered Morgan seethe?

Ask her about that.

Continue reading...

"What I find disturbing is when an actress comes in and auditions for a part, and she's clearly what they're looking for and she gives the best screen test, and then the powers that be say, `Yeah, but you're on a soap opera,' " Morgan says, exasperated.

"I could be walking down the street with friends of mine who are doing film and get recognized much quicker than they do. I mean, does Hollywood think that people who watch soaps don't go to the movies--that all they do is watch soap operas? They think because they don't watch soaps, that nobody does. Wrong!"

Wrong, indeed--and thank goodness Trimark Films got over it and cut the lady some slack, because for the first time in her some 15 years as an actress, Morgan is finally getting to the big leagues. She is starring in Eve's Bayou, a film about a little girl coming of age in a black, middle-class Louisiana family in the '60s. Morgan plays Eve's clairvoyant aunt, opposite Sam Jackson, Lynn Whitfield and Diahann Carroll.

It's been a long time coming for this South Bronx native, who comes from a neighborhood where even the dreams of little girls were filled with practicality--like, "when I grow up, I want to be a teacher and a nurse."

"That was like the epitome of our careers," jokes Morgan, as she finishes up a Danish and tea at the elegant Essex House. "But I do remember putting towels around my head and rosary beads and my mother calling the principal asking for guidance because she was sure I wanted to be a nun.

"Of course, by the time I discovered boys, all of that went out the window. But it was about creating those characters. Probably at a young age, I liked acting out, but I didn't perceive it as `Oh, one day, I want to be an actress,' because in my neighborhood, you didn't think about things like that."

That is, until she met off-Broadway producer Jim Mendenhall, brother of a teacher at the Catholic school she attended. After seeing her perform in several school plays, Mendenhall convinced Morgan and her mother that little Debbi was a natural.

She would go on to act in several commercials and tour with a national theater company before landing a role in Alex Haley's "Roots: The Next Generation." On ALL MY CHILDREN she was "Angie Hubbard," the sweet, doe-eyed doctor whose marriage to "Jesse" (Darnell Williams) had little girls skipping school to see what kind of mess he was going to get his wife into next. With the role, Morgan earned an Emmy in 1989 for outstanding supporting actress, the first African-American actress to do so.

Currently, she plays "Dr. Ellen Burgess" on the new soap, PORT CHARLES.

Of course, none of her experience as a soap star prepared her for her role as "Moselle" in Eve's Bayou. A trip to a seer in Nyack, N.Y., did.

The psychic convinced Morgan that clairvoyancy is "from a spiritual place," and that even she could read into someone's past. Morgan tried it.

"She didn't say anything; she just let me sit there until my mind was blank," Morgan recalls. "Then I started getting this warmth from her, penetrating through my chest--and I started feeling this woman's energy. When I opened my eyes, I started to cry.

"I told her she had experienced a lot of pain . . . pain so intense that she considered taking her life. Then she started crying. Her brother had died of AIDS about seven months ago, and she considered jumping off the roof of her house. And I just sat there; I had chills."

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