Jonathan Murphy likes to wear a lot of different hats and sometimes all at the same time! This multi-talented actor from Arlington Texas is looking at his future projects and finding ways to expand a successful acting career. Having starred in various TV shows and soaps, Jonathan got his first big break in October Road and later in the American version of the cult classic Life On Mars. Today Murphy has expanded his resume by adding writer, director and talent to a new film short called Pull the Trigger, Mr. Wigger, a thought provoking work that poses some tough ethical questions. This week we are excited to see Murphy make his way back in front of the camera again to star on NCIS Los Angeles and this week’s episode Paper Soldiers. Welcome Jonathan to the NCISLAfamilia!
You grew up in a very traditional family far from the entertainment industry… but in high school you got the bug and decided to become an actor. What lured you to the footlights?
I was the guy who always played sports and I feel like I reached this thing where sports wasn’t doing it for me. A friend of mine at the time was big into the theatre and he said why don’t you come out and do this and give it a try. From what I can remember from my earliest time, when I went to see a musical or a show, I was always enthralled and stayed up late watching TV instead of doing my homework. So there was always something wanting to exist in the entertainment industry that has been in me as long as I can remember. The first thing I remember when I was six, I went to see a production of the Wizard of Oz and I can still remember thinking ‘how do I do this….how do I get into something like this’? It was hard to admit to somebody that I’m going to move out to LA, hundreds of miles away and try to be an actor with the other millions of people who are trying to do the same thing. But it caught me and bug has not let me go since!
After you enrolled in college, you immediately quit and made the move to Los Angeles. What motivated you to make the move at that time?
There was this thing called the Modeling and Talent Search of Texas, and I had no idea what it was but I was sitting in my dorm room looking for theatre auditions because there are tons of theatres from the Dallas/Fort Worth area where I’m from…so I was basically looking for a gig and this search said you could come out and do a monologue and there is going to be a casting directors there so I thought I would give it a shot. I was 19 years old and wanted to give it a go. I ended up getting a performance scholarship and met my first manager Craig Wargo there. He said to me, ‘I think you’re great, but you live in Texas, if you ever move out to LA give me a ring and I’ll see what I can do for you’. Two weeks later I was giving him a ring!
You have been on a few TV series but one of the most memorable was your work on the American version of Life on Mars. What was it like to work with that extraordinary group of actors?
That was a very good time and something a little different from your run of the mill cop shows. We had a very devoted fan base not only with the UK version but the US version as well…they watched and they liked that show and I appreciated that. That was a special experience. It was the first time I had been to New York because we shot the whole series in New York and I packed up from LA and moved out there and I didn’t know what to expect because I didn’t know anyone except the producers. Obviously, I was familiar with Mike (Imperioli) and the work he had done on The Sopranos and the accolades that came along with that. Then there was Harvey (Keitel) and his long career. But a lot of actors try and get on a show and be a regular and I was lucky enough to bond with not only people who had extensive film credits but people like Michael who worked a long time on television and also talented people like Jason (O’Mara) who was just breaking out. But I think I was in awe of the whole experience of moving to New York and touching that dream that you thought about for so long. So you learn and Mike and I developed chemistry not only on screen but off screen as well and I still speak with Jason and see Gretchen (Moll) too and I feel like we created a bond that surpassed the 17 episodes that we did. But if you are someone who is sitting on a set and not willing to watch and learn from people who do what you do at such a high level and so consistently you miss a big opportunity. I think the biggest thing I took away from that whole experience is that you have to be individual in the decisions that you make and the things that you want to do and you can’t rely on someone else to fulfill everything that makes up all your dreams. I got to the do the work and enjoy the experience and it was only after so many years and now away from the series that I can look back and say, ok… the costumes were so great and the music was so great and I know people still talk about it and say they liked it so much as a viewer. So now I can look back in a nostalgic way and say I agree with them.
On NCIS Los Angeles you play Ian Bruckhurst in Paper Soldiers. Without going into anything specific about the plot, can you tell us a little about your character? What was it like to work with this cast and crew?
This was kind of my first foray into any of the medical world jargon because I play a character who works at the LA Coroner’s office. My character is a guy who handles the body and when he hears what the coroners are saying, they don’t match up and sound suspicious and that’s when Sam and G come around asking their questions. My scenes were all with those guys (Chris O’Donnell and LL Cool J) and when you do a one-off guest appearance you always hope that you get to work with the leads of the show because it’s a good thing for your face and your level of performance because you are hopefully matching their level of performance. But I was lucky because my scenes were with Chris and Todd.
I can tell you from experience that a lot of people don’t understand the amount of work and time that goes into being number one, number two, number three on the call sheet and the extra-curricular work like being hosts of the Grammys and all the extra stuff they have to deal with for them to be able to come to a set and be as cordial and as nice as they are. They are so nice and it filters from them all the way down to the sound guy, the grips and of course, the director. Those guys are the face of the show but they really set the standard and they set a great working atmosphere.
Any stories you can share about your time spent on set?
There was one scene we were doing and I noticed Todd was sitting over there reading his lines and I took note of it and the next day I sat next to him between takes and I said ‘Is that woman that you are sitting next to yesterday your acting coach?’ And he said that yes, she goes over everything with him and I told him that I respected that. Because a lot of guys in that position don’t have to be making that extra effort and have an acting teacher working with them nonstop on every scene… but the dedication and the amount of work and everything that goes into that and on top of them being cordially and introducing themselves and saying hello at the table read sticks with actors like myself because I’ve seen how difficult it to be a regular and how time consuming it is but they are able to manage that and still be able to be nice guys and I appreciate that. They made my job 10 times easier.
You have recently written, directed and starred in your first short film called Pull the Trigger, Mr. Wicker. Can you tell us how that all came about and what it was like to wear so many hats?
I loved it. That idea was a short scene idea that I had stewing around in my brain for a while. It was a desire to want to wear all those hats that created the essence of wanting to pull it all together. But I didn’t just want to go out and make a short film because I wanted to have written something, and directed something and starred in something …my goal in accomplishing the goal of writing and producing and all the stuff that comes along with all that pre-production was that the content was relevant and as I told my actresses, we want this to be the first ten minutes of a conversation that lasts a lot longer than that. We want people to watch this and say what choice would I choose, because in the end my character has to choose what his fate will be and my ultimate goal in doing it was to plant some sort of seed in the viewer’s mind that says what fate would I have chosen? And if we can get them to ask that question then I think our goal has been realized and hopefully that is translated into what I would choose and why I would choose this and hopefully it would start a debate. It has been received well by the people who have watched it and I hope that I can leave the audience behind with a piece of it and take something away with them. That was our goal.
What’s up next for Jonathan Murphy?
I can tell you there is a script that I have written and a producer who saw Mr. Wicker at the Unexpected Film Festival in LA and he is interested in getting this project off the ground. But in living the life of an actor you never know what is right around the corner and in the mean time I have spent a lot more time with my writing and after Mr. Wicker was done I was trying to delve into that part of this industry because I respect guys like LL Cool J who create different venues like he does with his music and his hosting besides his acting. And that’s what’s next for me, not just another job but looking to expand a career. I want to build a career so people can’t get enough of me yet!
Thanks go out to Jonathan for talking the time to speak to NCISLA Magazine! You can watch Jonathan’s new short film on YouTube, Pull the Trigger, Mr. Wigger . Follow Jonathan on twitter @jonathan3murphy and on his website: www.hollowtreeproductions.com.