In Hulu’s new dramedy series, Woke, New Girl co-star Lamorne Morris plays cartoonist Keef Knight, a character who has everything lined up — the relationship goals, the new place, and the big career move. But when a thread gets pulled, things get unsettled quickly as the larger world becomes more apparent.
Created by Marshall Todd and Keith Knight (the real-life inspiration for the main character) Woke feels like a slight departure from Morris’ past on-screen work, specifically in New Girl. And that’s by design with the actor setting his sights on TV work that could specifically move people or otherwise stoak some conversation while also making them laugh. And the show definitely has that ability, launching a story that first focuses on the sometimes forgotten concept of someone too busy or caught up in their own life to get involved in the swirling storm of politics or pay too much attention to the utterly broken justice system until it directly and forcefully impacts them. How many people think like that?
As we discuss with Morris ahead, people don’t necessarily want to be as fixated on everything going on in politics as they are right now, they feel compelled to and he feels compelled to. And for Morris, Keef’s journey to wokeness and using the power of his voice feels relevant and recognizable. Something born from all he has in common with the character and something born from a close collaboration with a team of writers that, in his words, have taken “similar walks in life.”
Curious about how this came to you and also how much time you spent with Keith just trying to get the vibe of the character and what he was going for. Obviously it’s a very personal project for him.
It came about a couple of years ago. I read the script post-New Girl. I thought I’d want to take a break from television and just try to shoot my shot at film, just all film, and keep it two months on a project, take a month off, go back to work, something like that. And so we read a bunch of scripts and shot a couple of movies and I just kind of missed television a little bit. I remember reaching out to my agent saying, “Hey, what’s going on out there TV-wise?” And I got a lot of multi-cam shows, which were pretty funny, and a lot of sitcoms, which were pretty funny, but I said, “Well, I just did something that was really, really just pure comedy based.” I wanted to shoot something that kind of had more heart to it. Something that when you watch it, you kind of feel moved in some sort of way where it would have some sort of cause for discussion.
And I remember reading the script and just going, “Holy crap.” It’s kind of brilliant because it also mirrors my life and how I view the world. And so we went in and auditioned. I had a meeting. I had a meeting with the director and EP, Mo Marable, who’s fantastic. We vibed pretty well. I remember spending a little bit of time with Keith in Vancouver, texting a lot, talking a lot on the phone. Just kind of getting a sense of who he is and some of his mannerisms. I do impressions of certain people and if I really hone in, but he didn’t want that. They wanted it to be about his life and not necessarily doing a spot-on mimic him.
When I hung out with him, we spoke about his references and what he pulls from when he’s creating. The music that he likes, things like that. His family life. When you watch the show and you watch him, there are some isms that I wanted to pull from him. And I think it was a pretty good blend. It’s awkward and odd though, when he is on set, staring at you the entire time.
The music specifically is really great. Does his taste get into the soundtrack?
A thousand percent. He had his hands all over that. I think the opening title sequence has a very nineties punk feel to it. And that’s him. That’s when he was in a punk/hip-hop band in the nineties. That’s all him. A lot of times when you watch TV, if you see a predominantly black cast, a lot of times you’ll only have hip hop. That’s what you see as the soundtrack, as the backdrop. Hip-hop, hip-hop, hip-hop, and R&B. In this show, we blend a lot. Alternative, synth music, all kinds of stuff. A lot of hip hop, obviously just because it’s the best form of music to me in my opinion. But we throw a lot of punk in there. Like I said, as far as the opening title sequence.
To amplify what you were saying about the soundtrack, I really, really appreciate the diversity of sound in there. And you’re right, it’s not something you see a lot of. I think High Fidelity was another version of that where that kind of popped up. Sorry, Hulu people on this call, but they unfortunately canceled High Fidelity.
Oh, I know. When I heard about that I was so heartbroken. Just because I really do love that show.
Yeah. It was so good. I’m curious about comic book culture and cartoon culture. Is that something that you’re kind of immersed in or have been immersed in? Or is that something that you took to anew?
Anew… well, when I was a kid, obviously. I think that’s most kids. Comics and especially from our generation… I was a Marvel guy, DC guy. Oh, and I did a film called Bloodshot for Valiant Comics. And prior to it, I had already known about the character because coming up, my cousins had the comics. Now, on the comic strip side, I’d read a little bit in the Sunday paper, but I wasn’t too familiar until reading this script and obviously just doing research and having to dive in a little bit with Keith. I tried drawing. [Laughs] On set, I just remember going, “No, I’ll do it. I’ll do the drawing myself. Show me something, I’ll make it work.” And obviously we have to cheat some things, but it didn’t work out. I tried. [Laughs]
You mentioned before that the story kind of speaks to where you are in your life. Is that in regard to just being aware and socially conscious? Have you always been very engaged on social issues and very vocal or is that something that you’ve kind of grown into?
Grown into. And that’s what I mean by his journey kind of mirrored mine. Because he was always aware of what was going on, but it did take an incident to become activated and really engaged and really use his voice and platform to try to learn as much as he could. And if you can affect change somehow then do it. When I say I was the last person you’d want to ask about politics or anything happening in the world, I was the last person. I remember growing up on the Southside of Chicago and not knowing that we were different. Not knowing that there was an economic struggle. Not knowing that my mom was working 50, 60 hours a week and not making that much money and how real the struggle was. Not knowing that 30 minutes down the road, not even, other kids were getting a better education. Other kids were getting more funding for their schools, more funding for their basketball teams, more time at home with parents because they don’t have to work as hard. Or there were two parents in the household. There were all these things that you don’t pay attention to because you’re just born in it.
I remember being the smartest kid in my class on the Southside of Chicago and then moving to the West burbs of Glen Ellyn when I was about 14 or 15, something like that. And I remember going to this school and being so far behind. And I just thought, “How did I go from the top of my class? What they put in front of me, I learn it and I excel at it. What else do I need to do?” That above and beyond attitude was just limited to what I had access to. And when you move to a different side of town, you then realize, oh no, no, you’re far behind because the books are more up to date. They have computers at the school. I remember seeing my first computer when I moved to Glen Ellyn. I remember going to school and we had a computer lab class and people were legit learning how to code and build websites. This is not a joke, and I have the pictures to prove it at home and almost teared up the other day when my mom gave them to me. I hadn’t seen them in years. I was just so happy to print out photos. I just thought, “Wait, what?” Because I used to collect basketball cards, like a massive amount of basketball cards. And I just remember going to school going, “I can print out a picture of Michael Jordan and Vince Carter? I can just do that? I don’t have to go to the store, beg my mom for a few bucks so I can get some money so I can buy some cards so I can hopefully get it? I can just print it out?” I thought that was the coolest thing in the world. And the other kids were fascinated at the fact that I didn’t know. It was almost like you came from a third world country. You were like, “Wait, what?”
So even during that time, I wasn’t politically activated. I just thought, “Well, you got some catching up to do.” And I kind of struggled a little bit through school. But as I got older, then more and more I felt like my voice mattered. The more and more I would… when you’re hanging out with friends or older people who want to speak on politics, I always found myself lost in the conversation because I knew what was going on. I didn’t care to speak about it. I didn’t care about it. But in the past few years, just when you see what’s going on in our country and even in our world, you start to question things and you start to think, “Well, what can I do?” And then I just thought, “Well, you have this platform, you have a social media platform, you have TV shows and movies and stuff. Just talk about it. Speak to what you know and just try to encourage other people to get activated.” Encourage people to vote. Encourage people to pay close attention to other aspects, not just the President. Congress, things like that. People who can make change in your neighborhood. Your alderman, the mayor. All those people who can actually create change in your immediate life, that will hopefully make a happier, better living situation for you and your family. Let’s pay attention to those things as well.
When I said it mirrors him, that was the same thing. He wasn’t really speaking on it until things happened to him. And it opened his eyes to the life around him. And for anyone out there who feels the same way, it’s never too late. I’m always learning. For me, I use my instinct. Sometimes you’ll see on a post, I’ll ask, “Hey, let me know if I’m wrong on this. Somebody talk to me about something.” I get a lot of my information from my DMs where people will DM me and enlighten me on certain things. And then that’s where I kind of learn. That’s where I’ll start to do my research and do more investigating on what it is I’m talking about or what it is I think I’m talking about. So I’m still a work in progress on that end. It’s something that I would love to dive even harder into, hopefully not out of necessity, but just out of sheer curiosity and wanting to. I don’t want it to be a need. What’s happening in our world now and in our country, it’s something that I definitely don’t want to continue to happen and I don’t want to have the need to keep speaking up.
So, last thing, checked out a few tracks from the Lamorning After Pill album. How did that come together? Because it’s insane.
Oh, man. I used to joke around with my friends and freestyle and all that kind of stuff. It honestly came out of boredom. And I became good friends with this guy named Jukebox. Now he’s like a brother to me. And he’s a music producer and I knew nothing about it. I would be in the studio with him at his house sometimes literally just hanging out and different artists would pop in and out from time to time. And I just thought, “Man, that’s so fascinating how easy they make it look.” They would come in and a singer would come in and I’d be there for the whole process. In two hours, they would have this beautiful song. And I was like, “Man, that’s crazy.”
As an actor, we got to do so much to get five minutes of footage and they go in there and they just knock it out of the park. And so we would goof around the studio and I would just literally, as a joke, I would be in the booth and joking around and he would be recording and then he would make something out of it. And he said, “Man, you should actually try it for real. Obviously comedically as a joke because no one will take you seriously as a rapper for real. [Laughs] But try it as a joke.” And I was a huge fan of Weird Al Yankovic and Chris Rock, his comedy album and some of the just goofy things that would come out of that. And I decided, hey, I’m going to try it. I’m going to make a few songs.
The Common song, “Common Hates Oprah,” how did you talk him into that?
Some people that work at New Girl, like Jake Johnson, Damon, Max, they all thought the songs were funny. And I wasn’t going to do anything with it. I just had the songs. And I shot Barbershop with Common. And that’s when I took it seriously. Because on set, Common would like to freestyle. He’s an amazing freestyle artist. His performance at this past Oscars was absolutely incredible. And Common said to me, he goes, “Oh man, G, like you could actually kind of rap a little bit, bro. I’m for real, you should probably record some stuff.” He said that to me and I said to him, “It’s funny you say that because I have this album.” I sent it to him. Didn’t think he was going to listen to it. He flew back from Atlanta and said, “Hey man, I just listened to the four songs you sent me. These are pretty funny and actually really good. The production quality, the beats. You should really consider making an album.” And he’s like, “I’ll jump on that album if you want me to.” And my mind was blown. I just thought this is Common, he’s one of the greatest rappers of all time and he wants to get on an album with my silly, goofy ass. He came to LA, came to the studio and stayed as long as we needed to. And I remember even that process, I didn’t know what I was going to do just because I was so used to being by myself in the studio and just saying nonsense. And then he was like, “So what’s the concept?” And I thought, “What? What are you talking about concept? You just rap and I’ll rap.”
So he actually wrote his verse — not even wrote, he doesn’t write words down when he’s in the studio. He just freestyles it and does take after take until he gets it right. And then once he was done, I just thought, “I know exactly what I’ll do. I’ll go over his stuff and just negate what he’s saying. And then make Common out to be this horrible person because everyone loves him. Everybody loves Common.”
Until they hear the song.
Yeah. I mean, when they hear the song, hopefully, they’ll learn better because he’s not what he’s cut out to be. [Laughs] He’s like Santa Claus, you know what I mean? Santa Claus is the only guy that can break into your house and you don’t call the police. In fact, you leave him cookies. That’s how Common is. I’m fully convinced that Common could break into my house, kidnap my family, and I would go, “Great. When are you going to drop them back off?” He’s that type of guy. He’s so sweet. Whatever he wants, he can have it from me. I don’t care. He can kick me out of my own home if he wanted to. He can have my wife. “I’m leaving you for Common.” I’d go, “Great! He’s an amazing guy.”