To Leslie Director Michael Morris Bought Assist from Higher Name Saul Friends – The Hollywood Reporter

For the final 15 years, Michael Morris has been one of the vital revered and prolific TV administrators within the enterprise, and now he’s taken the leap into options with To Leslie, one of many best-reviewed movies of the 12 months. Presently, the Andrea Riseborough indie automobile is licensed contemporary by Rotten Tomatoes, boasting a 98 % rating. The drama chronicles a former lottery winner named Leslie (Riseborough) whose alcoholism has value her the whole lot, forcing her to return dwelling to West Texas and face the music.

Morris, who lower his tooth as a theater director in England, instantly linked with Ryan Binaco’s script, and having contributed to present worlds on TV for a few years, he yearned to construct a world from sq. one once more, much like his early performs. And as rewarding as tv has been for him, he additionally wished to maneuver away from the conventions that include the medium.

“Leslie is someone that actually appealed to me, and I very a lot wished to inform a narrative the place a lot of the storytelling was subtextual quite than textual,” Morris tells The Hollywood Reporter. “With sure exceptions, you don’t get to discover that as a lot in tv the place there’s a requirement, oftentimes, for plot or plot growth or sure issues to be spoken. So I used to be actually thinking about a film which allowed us to be a bit extra elliptical throughout.”

A kind of exceptions is Higher Name Saul, and Morris performed a key position in placing the ending touches on the critically acclaimed Breaking Dangerous spinoff’s closing season, which concluded in August. After serving as a visitor director on seasons 4 and 5, Morris was invited to be an in-house director/EP on season six, becoming a member of Michelle MacLaren (Breaking Dangerous) as the one two exterior administrators to obtain such a distinction within the Breaking Dangerous universe.

“I used to be honored, I used to be stunned, however I used to be delighted,” Morris says. “Working with that staff, I don’t suppose that you would be able to have a greater expertise. Beginning with Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould and Melissa Bernstein, it’s a gaggle of people that deal with everyone with limitless respect. It’s simply so simple as that.”

Morris has served the director-producer position on a number of different exhibits together with the Kyle Chandler-led Netflix collection Bloodline, which is the place he met his future To Leslie stars, Riseborough and Owen Teague. 

In a latest dialog with THR, Morris additionally discusses how supportive the Saul staff was of To Leslie and the additional mile they went to as a way to guarantee its completion.

Effectively, I first turned conscious of To Leslie in such a weird method. I used to be doing analysis for an interview with Andrea Riseborough in December 2020, and I went down such a rabbit gap that I managed to come across mobile phone footage of the opening motel scene.


So I instructed Andrea about it, and he or she turned noticeably flustered as a result of that’s clearly not how she needs her work to be seen.

Wow, that will need to have been some member of the general public, saying, “Hey, they’re filming one thing on this place right now,” after which they posted it.


That was our first day, truly. That was the primary scene that we shot of the film with any dialogue. Our very first day of manufacturing started with the early montage of her within the bar, however there’s no dialogue in that. After which we went exterior and did that motel scene. So it was a fairly intense day, however all of them had been, truly.

Michael Morris

Andrea Riseborough in Michael Morris’ To Leslie

Courtesy of Momentum Photos

You’ve been a prolific TV director for a very long time, and to make an impartial movie like To Leslie, it’s really a labor of affection. So what was it in regards to the materials that drove you to take in your first function?

I arrived into the world as a theater director and segued into tv. While you mount a play, you create a panorama in a world and forged it with individuals and create a visible language. However in tv, oftentimes, you’re moving into worlds which have been created and populated, so that you’re contributing to that, which I like. It’s very tough to speak about this with out making it really feel like there’s a price judgment; there isn’t. However I’d wished for a very long time to construct one thing from the bottom up, and I’d learn quite a lot of fantastic scripts that I simply didn’t have a connection to. In case you don’t have a gut-level reference to one thing, it’s simply too laborious, and the journey’s too lengthy, particularly with a small movie. However the whole lot about To Leslie linked with me.

For many who don’t know, you’re an Englishman, in order that’s actually saying one thing.

Yeah, I’m not from Texas. I’m not a single mom. I’ve by no means gained the lottery. There are quite a lot of struggles on this that I haven’t struggled with in my very own life, so it’s truthful to query what I noticed on this. However the film, to me, is about love. I do know that sounds extremely generic, however love is a scary idea, typically. We harm the individuals which can be closest to us. The individuals we love essentially the most are those that we’re capable of harm essentially the most. The individuals who love us essentially the most are ready and outfitted to harm us essentially the most. So what’s it to like someone within the face of that?

There was such specificity about this character, however to me, specificity is a method of creating one thing common. In case you attempt to make a personality common, you’re almost certainly going to make one thing generic, I fear. So, To Leslie was a really particular character research that was written by someone who has a really particular relationship to this world and these struggles. And in consequence, it opened me up to have a look at it from a fowl’s eye perspective and go, “I’m Leslie.”

The truth is, I want I had the resilience of Leslie and her innate energy to very not often be defeated. She has horrible challenges, and he or she has traits which I hope to not have. However at her core, she’s someone that actually appealed to me, and I very a lot wished to inform a narrative the place a lot of the storytelling was subtextual quite than textual. With sure exceptions, you don’t get to discover that as a lot in tv the place there’s a requirement, oftentimes, for plot or plot growth or sure issues to be spoken. So I used to be actually thinking about a film which allowed us to be a bit extra elliptical throughout.

In order that was my preliminary intuition, and I can’t say sufficient about Ryan Binaco’s script. He under-wrote in the entire essential methods to me. He was capable of perceive that scripts aren’t all the time completed blueprints and paperwork that you simply hand over, as a result of there might have been half a dozen administrators who would’ve seen sure issues in a different way. So for a few 12 months and a half, we had been capable of actually hone the script into a very good blueprint for this film. 

Every time I see Owen Teague, I see Ben Mendelsohn Jr. from Bloodline, however then I remembered that Andrea and Owen additionally performed mom and son on Bloodline. After which I noticed that you simply directed a couple of episodes of Bloodline as nicely. So had been these simple telephone calls to make? 

Yeah, I directed an episode of Bloodline within the first season, after which I joined the second season as an government producer and director. So I used to be primarily a part of the furnishings all by means of the second season, and Andrea’s character got here in in the course of the second season. So I used to be very fortunate within the sense that I used to be capable of work with Andrea. She’s an artist of the primary order. Nothing is unintentional for Andrea. She builds the voice and historical past that her characters have. There’s no arbitrary choice together with her, from the best way her hair seems to the best way she’ll sit on a bar stool or on a chair. And I used to be very fortunate to try this together with her on Bloodline, too.

Owen is an unbelievable story as a result of he was not a recognized actor. He’s from Florida, and though he was forged to play a younger Ben Mendelson, he was so good that he ended up taking part in Ben Mendelson’s character’s son. That’s a conference that I don’t suppose I’ve ever seen earlier than or since on a present that’s not a kind of magic realism present or one thing like that. He’s simply that skillful and gifted.

So I knew I wished them each. Had been they simple telephone calls to make? Yeah, however calling Owen, he’s like a bit brother in a method. He’s actually busy, however he was capable of come and do that in just some days. However with Andrea, it’s a a lot larger dialog. She’s in each body of the film, and it takes her to some extraordinarily difficult and darkish locations. So we met, we talked it over, and we simply aligned in sure methods.

I wished to make a film of empathy, not judgment, and I wished to assault the fabric from a unique level. There’s this excellent film known as Wanda by Barbara Loden. She made it within the Seventies, and it’s the one film she made. But it surely communicated what I’m thinking about, and so I discussed it in passing to Andrea. And he or she was like, “That’s my favourite movie.” In order that turned the lens by means of which we checked out this, and to me, that was once I knew we had been going to make the movie. 

Michael Morris

Andrea Riseborough in Michael Morris’ To Leslie

Courtesy of Momentum Photos

Leslie has a really difficult relationship together with her hometown, specifically due to her household, and as I used to be watching her work together with Marc Maron’s character exterior the motel, it occurred to me that Marc usually talks about his personal difficult relationship together with his hometown and household. Did this ever come up between the three of you? 

I don’t know that it did. We shot this in peak Covid, and the one rehearsal we had been capable of do was on Zoom. Andrea and I had been capable of do common Zooms main as much as day one, however we by no means did what I all the time do, which is sit round a desk and skim it out loud. And even after we had been capturing, it was masks and shields, and as quickly as I shouted lower, everybody went to separate locations.

So I by no means talked to Marc about that, however what Marc has in his bones is a deep understanding and empathy of dependancy challenges and people sorts of struggles. In order that was extremely helpful when it comes to creating a personality in Sweeney. Clearly, Marc is a podcaster and a comic, however he’s a beautiful actor as a result of he was capable of be current in these scenes with Leslie, with out ready for his second to do one thing. He would react in a in-the-moment method, with out in search of a consequence.

I used to be with Marc when somebody mentioned, “She’s such a great actress. How can you be in these scenes together with her whenever you haven’t carried out a lot performing?” And he was similar to, “Hey, man, I’ve had expertise with individuals like this earlier than, so I hearken to her. And I feel, ‘Yeah, I can assist her.’” And I used to be like, “That’s performing.” He was capable of erase the distinction between himself and the character.

You shot on movie, which is kind of unusual for a low-budget indie. How did you persuade your producers to conform to this?

Proper at first, I knew that I wished this to have the feel and grit and grain of movie. I wasn’t instantly attempting to make a Seventies film, however I knew it might carry that sort of environment about it. A whole lot of the visible references truly had been from mid-century road photographers, who clearly shot on movie. 

When [DP] Larkin Seiple got here on board to shoot it, we checked out one another and we had been like, “This must be on movie, proper?” [Writer’s Note: Seiple shot the Daniels’ Everything Everywhere All At Once.] We examined 35, 16 millimeter, and a few digital grain filters. But it surely was clear after the take a look at that there was just one selection, and I didn’t need pretend grain on this. I wished to be ingrained in additional of an American look.

So we simply have some unimaginable producers, and regardless of the low funds, we got here in saying, “Oh, and by the best way, we’re capturing it on movie.” And their response was, “Let’s make that work. How can we make that work?” And so I’m absolutely conscious that this could be the final time I ever get that response, nevertheless it occurred, which was nice.

Since Chelsea Handler gave Marc Maron the laborious promote about becoming a member of the forged, did Allison Janney obtain a name from one Mary McCormack [Morris’ partner]?

(Laughs.) Mary McCormack is the best supporter anyone might have. I’ve additionally been fortunate sufficient to know Allison since Mary was on The West Wing together with her, and he or she’s only a terrific human being. By way of her taking part in this character, it was a bit like Andrea. Individuals clearly need Allison to do quite a lot of issues on a regular basis, so the method started together with her studying the script. After which she and I went out to eat and talked intimately about who this individual is and why I assumed she ought to be performed by Allison. So it wasn’t similar to, “Hey, come be in my film.”

I’ve by no means seen Allison fairly like this, and identical for Stephen Root. And that is likely one of the the reason why I like them each within the movie as a result of I don’t suppose they’re taking part in the film model of this couple. I feel they’re simply taking part in this couple. So though I like Allison and we all know one another, she positively needed to weigh who this character is and if she was keen to go there.

So editor Chris McCaleb lower “The Man for This,” which is one in every of your 5 episodes of Higher Name Saul. And when you couldn’t have gone fallacious with any of Saul’s editors, what made Chris the man for To Leslie?

Chris and I turned shut after we had been engaged on Saul collectively. And also you’re proper: that’s the most effective editorial staffs you might want for, up and down, from help onwards. Skip MacDonald, Joey Reinisch, they’re all sensible. So it isn’t a case of, “Oh, I went to Chris as an alternative of Skip.” I had simply been speaking to Chris individually about different issues, and we had quite a lot of issues in frequent, from the sort of movies we preferred to the best way we watched movies. And the best way he approaches reducing could be very a lot from a character-first perspective. He’ll all the time discover the cool pictures that you simply do. He makes use of them precisely proper as a result of it comes from the character and never from the surface in. And figuring out this materials, that was what it wanted to be. Each single time we made a lower, it wanted to be on level with the story, and Chris is simply an uncommonly delicate human being.

By the best way, he personally rescued the movie in plenty of methods. I moved to Albuquerque to really begin season six of Higher Name Saul, and the Saul staff had been wildly supportive of this movie. We had been about to start out this epic closing season, which was a very long time within the writing and a very long time within the planning. However they allowed Chris to maintain a while at first of the schedule as a way to be free to complete the movie, which I’ll always remember. So Chris packed up his belongings in his automobile and drove to Albuquerque, and I rented a home large enough for the each of us. So we completed the movie there. I imply, think about that. I used to be on set or location scouting all day on Saul, and once I would get dwelling, we might start the method of this. So with out that sort of dedication from Chris, I’m unsure how I might’ve gotten the movie completed.

I seen you thanked [Saul executive producer] Melissa Bernstein, Skip MacDonald, Juan Carlos Cantu and [First AD] Wealthy Sickler, in order that possible explains it. 

There’s a protracted record of thanks whose style and instincts I actually respect. And people individuals that you simply talked about, comparable to Melissa Bernstein and Wealthy Sickler, watched early cuts and had been capable of give me suggestions when the film was nearly three hours lengthy. I knew that I needed to make some very important time financial savings, however I didn’t wish to do it in the best way that we might do it with quite a lot of tv, which is by eradicating pauses. That’s not going to inform the story. So it took me a very long time to take it from two hours and fifty minutes down to 2 hours.

Michael Morris

Michael Morris on the set of Higher Name Saul

Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Photos Tv

Within the Breaking Dangerous universe, you and Michelle MacLaren are the one two visitor administrators to develop into in-house administrators/EPs. Had been you honored after they supplied you that gig on the ultimate season?

100%. I used to be honored, I used to be stunned, however I used to be delighted. Working with that staff, I don’t suppose that you would be able to have a greater expertise. Beginning with Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould and Melissa Bernstein, it’s a gaggle of people that deal with everyone with limitless respect. It’s simply so simple as that. Showrunners are famously busy, however they’re by no means too busy to respect intimately, not simply the work that individuals do, however what individuals carry.

In case you learn their scripts, they convey so fantastically what the texture is. Vince and Peter are cinephiles. I imply, Peter was a movie professor, and his data of the medium is fabulous. In order that they’re capable of point out the sort of factor that we’re going to be engaged on, however then they love nothing greater than for a director and the heads of division to say, “What about if we took it right here?” And so their entire course of is mostly a pleasure. They have fun element within the smallest kind, which is a superb lesson to study whenever you’re making something. So after they requested me to hitch, it was one in every of my proudest moments.

There’s a Breaking Dangerous scene the place Walter White (Bryan Cranston) approaches Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) at a bar and suggests offing Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), and Mike proceeds to punch Walt to the bottom. Due to such loyalty, I used to be shocked by how little Gus and Mike obtained alongside on Higher Name Saul. So in your final episode, “Enjoyable and Video games,” what did you make of their parting seems within the tunnel earlier than they went their separate methods?

I can reply it from my perspective. I directed the episode and labored with the actors for these seems, however I simply don’t wish to restrict what it means for everyone as a result of that’s the great thing about this collection. However I do suppose this can be a second the place Mike might need been ready to listen to that it’s over and that they obtained away with it [Lalo’s assassination]. Gus went off to Mexico earlier than that to see Don Eladio [Steven Bauer], and Mike, fairly probably, additionally thought he was by no means going to come back again. Gus might’ve been present in judgment, however he wasn’t. So he not solely got here again, however he got here again together with his place and much more. It’s a win.

And for Mike, the tip of their relationship in Higher Name Saul is attention-grabbing as a result of, even then, it’s a second to know the dimensions of what he’s coping with in Gus Fring. Gus has been given this additional territory by Don Eladio, and he now has this untold energy in a method. However he’s nonetheless going to start out right now on ending the lab, so it’s by no means going to finish. There’s no finish to this. So I feel it’s a second of Mike going, “I perceive now the place I’m and what my future is.” It was an unstated method of claiming, “I perceive we’re in a everlasting state of battle, principally.”

In 601, whenever you shot Kim (Rhea Seehorn) and Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) by means of the barred home windows of El Camino Eating Room, had been you excited about the collection finale at that second? 

I knew the place the collection was going, however I like these sorts of motifs generally. In 609, we shot Mike and Nacho’s dad [Juan Carlos Cantu’s Manuel Varga] by means of the fence, and so I like these methods of implying that these individuals are both in jail, the literal model, or they’re nonetheless entrenched with one another on this area. They will’t get out of what it’s that they’re doing. So the [601 shot] actually foreshadows the tip of the season, however I don’t suppose that Peter had written the tip of the season but. So I didn’t know apart from some dialogue with Peter about the place it might finish. So it might be unfair to say, “Oh, it was a deliberate wink to the tip.” If something, I wished to indicate that they’re entering into this plan that they might not be capable of get out of.

Bob had his cardiac occasion in the course of 608, however when he ultimately returned, he went straight into your final episode, 609. What had been these preliminary days like for you?

The entire thing was extraordinarily complicated at first and clearly wildly upsetting. It was an actual rollercoaster as a result of it was an unthinkable sort of second. It felt like a tragedy unfolding. Bob’s been very open with simply how severe it was. I imply, his life was saved repeatedly, however that’s just the start of these items. There’s the sense of, “He survived. My God, that’s a miracle,” however then you definitely don’t know when or how he’s going to come back again.. After which regularly you understand that he wasn’t simply again, however he was completely Bob. And he was weirdly spared quite a lot of the precise reminiscence of what occurred.

So when he got here again to set, he was incredible. He was such an incredible chief. All of us obtained the corporate collectively, the forged and the crew, and welcomed him again. Everybody was thrilled. And so far as I keep in mind it, he spoke and simply mentioned, “Hey, you keep in mind this greater than I do. So I’m simply glad to be right here and I’m able to go.” So he led from the entrance, and he made it in order that we might work once more, with out everyone getting nervous and apprehensive about him.

Lastly, within the collection finale, Saul actually 86ed himself to indicate Kim that Jimmy was nonetheless inside him someplace. How’d you are feeling about Peter Gould’s masterful collection finale?

I feel you mentioned it fantastically. For me, it was such an sudden strategy to go, and it’s so traditional of Peter and Vince and the best way that they’ve all the time instructed Jimmy McGill’s story. They discovered a method for him to be himself. He’s obtained all these completely different personas, however his peak self was Jimmy, who does the nice factor however within the Slippin’ Jimmy method. That, to me, was so satisfying, and it was a lot lovelier than different avenues they may have gone. He sacrificed himself for the one factor that he wished, which was Kim. And for Kim to see him do this, she was truly capable of perceive that their life wasn’t a fraud and that Jimmy is who he’s. I feel that’s a ravishing story, personally, and it was instructed very successfully. It gave us the possibility to see Bob play that character once more and be that individual once more, which I discovered to be fantastic. 


To Leslie is now accessible in choose theaters, in addition to on Digital and VOD, from Momentum Photos. This interview was edited for size and readability.