Interview: Cindy Morgan, Star of TRON

PrintE-mail Written by Martin Fisher

Starburst: When you started in the entertainment business, would I be right in saying that you began in the local TV news rather than as an actress?

Cindy Morgan: Correct. I was in broadcasting. In fact I was in broadcasting when I was on college. I went to a school that put me into an accelerated curriculum, so when I got into college, I got into a speech class, I was very shy, I had a stammer. I was a terrible speaker but I was a good writer. And for the first time in my life, someone called me over and said “you should think about doing this, maybe getting into broadcasting”. So getting into speech and communication got me into broadcasting and I never looked back.

Your first screen role was as Lacey Underall in Caddyshack. Did you find the experience daunting, with so many well known faces along side you in the cast?

Yes. The experience could be daunting but I had all the intentions of doing the job. So once I got the role, first of all I thought it was silly, they’d never hire me for this. This is not me. If I were to be this character, this is what I’d do. When I got the job, I was like “ok, this is what I’ll do now”, so I stopped watching any Saturday Night Live. Previous to that I’d seen the show, liked it but I didn’t make a personal connection. Once I knew I’d be working with a couple of those guys I stopped watching the shows. So when I got to the set, I would just have a first reaction. I wanted to eliminate the absolute potential for being intimidated. I couldn’t afford any more intimidation than what I already had going on.

Caddyshack is known for having a lot of lines improvised on the set. Did you get to improvise anything yourself?

I improvised as much as I had too. I had a wonderful coach with me called Harvey Lembeck who would say “Morgan, stop going for the joke. You’re the straight! You set up the joke, you follow along, you score when they score. Stop going for the joke”. I did radio; I was a disc jockey so I was always going for the joke. And thank god he did. Because I was working with some strong, smart, funny guys and the best work I did was reacting to what they did. And working with Chevy (Chase) that was a challenge. The piano scene where I said “sing me a love song”, that wasn’t in the script. That was not rehearsed. We didn’t even discuss that ahead of time. I was getting my make up touched up and Harold Ramis, the director, said “go sit at the piano and tell Chevy to sing you a love song”. I said “Why? For what?” and he said “Just do it”. So I sat down, I said the line, and he launches into this song, sniffs the salt, throws a tequila over his shoulder, and looks at me watching him. I can see out of the corner of my eye that these guys are recording this thing. I thought ok, I’ll play. I had a big wad of gum in my mouth and I blew a big bubble in his face and that was the button on the take. So yeah, we improvised.

Were there any big egos amongst the cast on Caddyshack?

Where do you want me to start (laughs). When you’re working with strong talented people, ego is actually a part of the equation. They’ve got to have a good strong sense of self to get in there and do what they do. It’s understandable. Even when egos go head to head, you can get great work out of it. There were giant egos all over the place.

Before you did science fiction, did you have any appreciation of the genre?

I love science fiction and always did. I was always a nerd. I was going to go to the Illinois institute of technology to study mechanical engineering, coming out of an all girl’s high school. I was accepted, I was very excited about it until I went to the open house and saw that it was 4 girls and all guys. And I thought “Whoa! I’m already behind the 8 ball here being so shy. I don’t think I can live through this”. So I made a hard left turn and went to north Illinois University and got a degree in communication. So yeah, I always loved science fiction.

After Caddyshack, you did TRON. Even though the film was pushing the boundaries of technology, did you have any feeling that you were making what is considered now a classic?

You know it was a mixed bag going along. It was a very new concept, a lot of the terminology and language was boarding along the lines of being stilted. I was going a couple of rounds with Steven Lisberger (the director) and I said “I can’t say this”. The thing is when you go to the director and say you can’t say this, you don’t like it, and the director’s the writer, you have a tough time winning that argument. So some of it was tough for me but he really held true to his vision and I think maybe why it did so well was because over time, people fell in love with it. It has a real human element that’s unmistakeable. It's original, it's one of a kind, it has the human common denominator that people can relate to and holds up over time. I think it’s wonderful the way it turned out.

It must have been strange doing TRON on an all black set, with only your fellow actors to work with?

It was strange except for the fact that I was working with two absolutely gorgeous actors. (Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxlietner). I got up looking forward to going to work in the morning. Every day was a great day. I looked forward to it. As far as the script goes, I had no idea what Steven was talking about. Just like in Caddyshack, I would get dressed, show up and see what we were doing that day. The only time I took issue was the Solar Sailor. A couple of things were going in there. I came in and they said “Ok, you’re on the Solar Sailor. You’re crossing the game sea”. So I said “Ok. I gotta ask. What the hell are you talking about”?  So Steve showed me these wonderful Syd Mead (conceptual artist on TRON) drawings and explained to me how this was being powered forward, so I looked down and there was pretty much a banquet table covered in black felt. And that’s it. Steven said just do anything. So I looked down and I had to see something, the audience always knows when you’re lying. And in my mind I saw a sound board. And somehow this sound board was manoeuvring this machine forward. The other thing that was going on that day was I had been wearing that god awful skull cap. First of all, nobody looks good in a skull cap. It was glued to my skin for days and weeks and yanking on it. So of course my skin blistered up and they would glue it to my blisters. And then they were yanking on the blisters. And right about the time we got to the Solar Sailor I said “That’s it! This is painful. It’s starting to bleed. It’s over. Give me one of those damn hockey helmets like the guys are wearing. It looks better and it’s not going to hurt”. It looks better and it felt better.

I imagine when you first saw TRON all completed, there must have been a sense of awe, looking at that computer world?

Some senses of awe. I was floored. Like when I saw Caddyshack. There were a couple of things going on. First of all I saw me, thinking “what is all this stuff I’m saying.” But then there was “What is all this stuff going on around me and why.” What’s wonderful about working with talented, seasoned professionals is you throw everything you’ve got together, you do your best stuff and you come up with all this movie magic. Caddyshack was like being struck by comedy lighting. You can’t plan that. With TRON, it all came together and it didn’t get the recognition that probably it deserved on so many levels. And now, 30 years later, it just makes me smile to see how well it’s doing.

After working with Bruce Boxlietner on TRON you worked together again on Bring ‘Em Back Alive (an adventure series, set in the 40’s broadcast in 1982-83). Was it good to do that again?

Bruce and I knew each other on TRON, where we shared a great chemistry together. It was wonderful to work with him again. Bring ‘Em Back Alive was a very challenging job, lots of stunts, lots of work outside, and incredibly long hours. One of the big challenges was that I was a woman wearing open toe shoes and skirts running up and down the same wooded hills as Bruce. He was wearing Khakis and boots, appropriate wear for this environment.

Over the weekend I would go for a massage and a pedicure. My masseuse wanted to know where all the bruises were from and the woman who gave me the pedicure wanted to know how twigs ended up under my nails.

You returned to TRON to voice MA3A in the game TRON 2.0, was it a good experience doing voice acting rather than camera acting?

It was really funny. Right from the start of TRON, Yori ran with him, jumped through hoops with him, but she never picked up a weapon and was never allowed to fight. Which was strange because I could out run either of those guys (Bridges and Boxlietner). My father was a small arms instructor in the US Army. I just smiled about it. I never took it personally. But afterwards, the Yori character was developed in the game. It was explained to me that some people missed Yori, and they wanted to give her something to do. And since they had already put the game together without Yori, they developed the character of MA3A. So that somehow, some part of Yori was included. My background is in voice work since I had 5 years on broadcasting. I was sent 3 pages of line copy. I was living in New York at the time. The director was in LA. It was one of the rare snowstorms that shut down the subway system in New York. I had to commandeer a gypsy cab to take me to the soundstage where the assistant sound guy was waiting. The actual sound guy couldn’t get in. so I put in the headphones, with the director in LA giving me direction. It seemed like an extreme circumstance but the job got done.

Even though your character Lora Baines wasn’t in TRON Legacy, did you expect the call to come to play her again in any potential sequels?

Absolutely, I wouldn't have known this if Legacy hadn't come out and the fan support wasn't so strong. Through all the internet media: Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter there was such an international groundswell of support for the character of Yori and Dr. Lora Baines that I became aware of the fan support. Thanks so much to Disney for releasing TRON Legacy, creating the upcoming TRON Uprising, and re-releasing the original TRON because they put Lora Baines and Yori back on the map.

I've known better actors, people who really deserve this and it's such a great honor that people remember and love these characters 30 years later.

Is it right that you’re writing a book about your experiences in the business?

Yes, I'm writing, From Catholic School to Caddyshack. The first inception is a coffee table book which I'm frantically trying to finish. The second will be more inclusive of the rest of my career and will include TRON.

Apart from writing the book, what other work have you been doing?

I've been lucky enough to make appearances around the country and some out of the country appearances in the future. It's the greatest experience to go into a city where I've never been before and have people welcome me as family.

From all your work, what has been the most satisfying and rewarding experience for you?

That 30 years later the characters played in TRON and Caddyshack are very much alive in people's hearts and in pop culture. You can't change a channel without Caddyshack or TRON being on some place.

What would you say are the most important lessons you’ve learned in your career?

I depend on common sense, business sense, and a sense of humor. Life is too short and too crazy, humor eases us out of stress. It's important for people to know who they are and where they came from.

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