John Robert Morris was born on April 29, 1940, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Mr. Morris moved to Japan in 1967, eventually returning to Canada in 1972. In 1968, he appeared as Lt. Morris in the cult classic The Green Slime, alongside Hollywood stars Robert Horton and Richard Jaeckel. In February 2021, Mr. Morris answered Brett Homenick’s questions about his experiences as an actor in Japan.
Brett Homenick: Why did you decide to come to Japan?
Jack Morris: A very good friend of mine from high school, Bill Murray, wanted me to go with him to join a judo club. I did not want to join judo. The guys at the club seemed very friendly and tried to get me to join. So finally my [five-pin] bowling career finished, and I decided to join the club. As we entered the club’s mat area, there was a bloodcurdling scream, and I saw a guy’s leg bend the wrong way — sideways. They all said this was the first time this had ever happened. So I began practicing judo. Then every weekend we started going to Japanese movies to watch judo in the movies. The heartthrob was [Yuzo Kayama]. The main actress was a young woman in her 20s. Her name was Yuriko Hoshi. My goal was to meet her in Japan. So I decided to take a trip to Japan and find some work and search for Hoshi. I did end up meeting her in Ginza, Tokyo, one day when I randomly ran into her in the street.
BH: How was it adjusting to life in Japan?
JM: I found it easy adjusting to life there. I started my days there by carrying around an English/Japanese dictionary with me everywhere to assist in me learning the language and translating what I needed to day-to-day. After three months, I thought I would try to go out without the dictionary and found that I was good enough at that point to get by day-to-day.
To give an example, one day I left home for a trip to southern Tokyo, and I had grabbed the dictionary as I always did to take with me before I left. That day, I took it back out of my pocket and threw it down on the tatami mat. “I am going to try without [it]!” At most restaurants at that time at the front doors, they showed the menu items in a variety of different languages, including English.
This day, I entered the restaurant and took a seat. At the time, the waitress came over and said hello, and I said hello back. She handed me a menu, and I noticed some English item names: spaghetti and meat sauce, hamburger[, etc.]. So I decided I would order one of these items and see what would happen. I ordered the menu item in Japanese. The waitress said OK and left. I then received the order, and it was what I ordered. I thought, “OK, I can do this. I will do this again tomorrow.” And, from that point on, I no longer left the house with my dictionary by my side!
BH: How did you get cast in The Green Slime (1968)?
JM: My cousin Bobby had gone to Japan before me because I fell in love in Canada and couldn’t go. I finally went to Japan once my relationship ended in Canada. The day I arrived — August 5, 1967 — my cousin met me at the airport. Bobby explained that he had a casting [call] to go to tomorrow — he worked for a modeling agency as a model.
So, the day after I arrived, we went to the casting [call] together at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. It was an old hotel with a huge auditorium, and we were all waiting in the hallway to go in to [get] cast for a job. They called in Bob for his interview. Once he came out, he looked excited and said to me, “They are going to call me,” with much confidence that he had gotten the job himself. They had given him a blue card.
They then called my name for the casting call next. Bob had to sign us into the building once we arrived, and I guess he added my name as well, which is where they got it from, but I am still not sure. I opened the door to the auditorium, and it was a huge room. There was a long table with 15 or 20 people behind it. One gentleman asked my name, age, and experience. He said, “Look at the big clock on the wall over there; remember that that clock is a bell. Remember that clock is a fucking bell.” I was told pretend you are walking down a pathway. “I will then yell bell, at which time you are to turn around and face the bell and pretend you are fighting a monster.” I asked, “What kind of monster?” He said, “It’s your monster, sweetheart.”
So I started walking down the imaginary walkway, and then he yelled “bell,” so I spin around to look at the bell, which is now behind me, and start swinging my arms like I am fighting the monster. Then I shot my feet out waist high and landed flat on my back, making huge noise in the auditorium. It was very loud!
He then yelled, “Cut!” He liked my reaction when he yelled “bell,” he told me. He then came from the desk and handed me a blue card, which was a different shade of blue from Bob’s blue card. He said, “We will call you.” I then left and told Bob they said they were going to call me! After talking to Bob about it after, it turns out that they didn’t have him looking at the clock/bell or fighting the imaginary monster — weird. But I can’t remember what they had him do.
A couple of days later, both Bob and I got calls. We were both told to meet the casting team at the studio two days later. Once there, we were sent to wardrobe to get fitted and given a schedule as to where to be and when we would begin shooting. At this point, neither of us were given any insight into what roles we would be playing.
BH: What role did Bobby play in The Green Slime?
JM: He played an extra [in] a couple scenes.
BH: You shared a lot of screen time with Robert Horton. What can you tell us about him?
JM: We met Horton and [Richard] Jeackel and ended up going for lunch every day together. Horton commented one day that he liked my moves, and he thought he and I moved similarly in the movies. He said there were a few things [for which] he wanted me to stand in for him. One of the stand-in [sequences] he requested was [for me] to run and slide under a falling solid door on a sound stage one day. The falling door shook the entire building once it fell. This was a dangerous one! I can see why he didn’t want to do it himself.
He also wanted me to show him how to fight, as I was a black belt in judo at that point, which I got in three years and usually takes five years. [He] and Jaekel had one fight scene which I directed, and he didn’t want to look like a hero. He didn’t want to arrogantly win in the fight scene, but graciously just get the job done.
BH: What was Richard Jaeckel like on and off the set?
JM: Jaeckel had just gotten an Academy Award for The Dirty Dozen (1967) movie, I believe. This was a big movie for him. He was very nice and had been in movies all of his life. I really liked him.
About a year later after the filming of Green Slime, I was heading to a studio for a different job. At these Japanese studios, you need to show ID and sign in whenever you enter the lot. I did not have to, however, because they knew me well and just waved me through.
This day, the man at the gate asked if I was here to see Jaeckel. “No, I am not here to see him.” Then he told me that Jaeckel was here on sound stage 6. I didn’t even know he was in the lot the day. As I [was] walking towards sounds stage 6, I see Jaeckel, and he looks up at me and says, “Morris, Jack Morris, you son of a bitch!” He walks towards me with a crowd of people behind him. He gets to me and gives me a hug. He then turns to the crowd behind him and says, “This is Jack, a very good friend of mine; I worked in a few of his movies.” He said “a few of his movies” to make me look good. He knew I was a new actor.
BH: How about Luciana Paluzzi?
JM: We hung out a couple of times outside of work — a dinner and a movie. She insisted on paying for dinner, which I found interesting and unique for the times. She was very nice and very professional on set.
BH: Would you happen to remember Bill Ross, who often worked with Western talent in Japanese movies?
JM: Yes I remember him. We worked together sometimes. No big parts — mainly extra work.
BH: Of course, there were many other Western actors in background and supporting roles. Did you get to know any of them?
JM: I know two of them lost their jobs to me, but I do not recall their names. That is really all I remember about that.
BH: The movie is most remembered for the alien creatures. What can you tell us about being on set with the actors in the alien costumes?
JM: One thing I will never forget is that the director [Kinji Fukasaku] had a bunch of people jumping around getting ready to film a scene, and I noticed that inside one of the monster costumes was the director himself. He did not play the scene in the costume, but it was all in good fun; he wanted to try out the costumes.
BH: Your character appears on a number of different sets throughout the film, such as the asteroid, the rocket ship, and the space station Gamma 3. Does anything stand out about being in these sets?
JM: There was a scene when all of the monsters were attacking us on the spaceship. Horton and I were supposed to shoot all of the aliens. And then we found out that we shouldn’t be shooting them as their blood would form into new monsters.
BH: Do you remember how they made the ray guns?
JM: Unfortunately, I do not remember.
BH: Do you remember director Kinji Fukasaku? How did he direct you and the other actors?
JM: [On] the first day of shooting, I remember that whenever the cameras pointed my way, I tried to get out of the way. Kinji specifically told me not to get out of the way; he was specifically wanting to shoot me in the scenes. I didn’t want them to see me because I was self-conscious, as I was not actually being an actor. Horton and Jaeckel helped me overcome this by saying if he didn’t want you in the scene, he would not be pointing the camera at you.
BH: Did Mr. Fukasaku communicate with you in English or Japanese?
JM: Only in Japanese. Not sure if he spoke English, but he didn’t have to, as I spoke Japanese.
BH: Was the character Lt. Morris named specifically after you?
JM: Yes, it was. We were having lunch once day, and were talking about it. “Morris, isn’t that a good Welsh name?” Horton said one day at lunch. [From] that point, it was decided. But he did not tell me that. He waited until we were actually filming the first scenes with me in [them] that I would be named Lieutenant Morris for the movie. He just began calling me that during the scene. So I didn’t hear it or know it was going to be used until there was a camera in my face, filming!
BH: What was it like flying on the wires?
JM: Jaeckel was a real joker. He would be singing “Fly Me to the Moon” when on the wires. It was a lot of fun.
BH: How many days did shooting last?
JM: I remember it as filming for three months, but cannot be sure.
BH: From when until when during the day would filming take place?
JM: Depends on the day and what was needed on a specific day. Some days, it was just the morning, and some just the afternoon, and some just part of the evening. There were long, full days as well. Kinji had his own schedule going on as well that we worked around, as he was also filming a Japanese movie at the same time.
BH: Was there anything particularly challenging about making the movie?
JM: The most difficult thing for me from the beginning was from the first day with the support I was getting for being an actor. This was my first movie, and it was a big one. I know that I had already been given roles in the script that did not originally belong to me. I had not been in a supportive environment like that before. A lot of the other actors were mad at me for taking their roles. Of course, I did not mean to take their roles; this was the decision of the director.
Horton one day was telling me that we had the same body movements onscreen. He thought of himself when looking at me. This enabled him to give me some of his own scenes near the end of the movie, as well. The scene when Horton was sliding under a falling garage-like door, that was actually me doing the rolling under the door. He did not want to do it and thought it would look better if I did it. So I ended up taking some scenes from other actors that the director wanted me to do, and then I was offered some scenes from other actors who didn’t want to do certain scenes that were theirs.
I was additionally directing a fight scene once, and the leads liked that because I made the scenes very easy and straightforward for them. Horton didn’t want to look like a hero in all of his scenes, so he appreciated the way I directed those fight scenes.
BH: Overall, what was it like working at Toei Studios?
JM: They gave me a lot of respect because the two biggest stars in the movie turned into my friends throughout the filming process.
BH: What was your favorite part about shooting The Green Slime?
JM: There was not really any specific thing that stuck out to me; I really enjoyed the entire process collectively. I had just arrived in Japan and was working alongside actors that I had been [a] fan of before this. I considered myself very fortunate just to be there. Being young and full of energy was just amazing, and I made the best of it.
BH: Did you socialize with any of the cast away from the set during filming?
JM: Almost 100% of the time, Jaeckel and Horton and I would go for lunch together. I hung out with Luciana Paluzzi at dinner from time to time as well. I would also hang out with the script girls from time to time. The script girls were assisting everyone on set with anything [that] was needed. They were essentially assistants to the actors. If you were important enough an actor, you would get your own script girl per movie.
BH: Is there anything else about The Green Slime the we didn’t cover that you’d like to share?
JM: From my memory, that pretty much covers it. If you had called 10 years earlier, I may have had more for you. (laughs)
BH: Did you appear in other films in Japan?
JM: Yes, I did — mostly as an extra but also had “parts.” The ones I remember are Tabi ni Deta Gokudo (1969), The Man from Abashiri Jail Strikes Again (1968), Battle of the Japan Sea (1969), Furyo Ban Chou, Okane ga Kowai, Sanshiro Sugata (1970), [and the] Key Hunter (1968-73) TV series.
After The Green Slime, I was heading to Korea, as my Japanese visa had expired, so I had to apply from outside of the country to renew it. At the train station I was headed for, there was a guy looking at me funny. The guy came over to me and asked my name and asked me if I was interested in being another movie. He was a director’s assistant and wanted me to be in Japanese movie. I said I can’t, as I need a sponsor. I asked, “Will Toei Studios sponsor me?” He said, “Yes, they will.” After going to Korea and coming back, I went to Toei Studios to see Shinichi Chiba. One of the scenes I had with him in the new movie was me getting shot, then falling down a flight of stairs. Since this was such a big part of the movie, Chiba remembered me.
BH: What could you tell us about filming The Man from Abashiri Jail Strikes Again?
JM: I went to Hokkaido to film. I played a bad guy, a prisoner. Don’t remember the name they gave me. I filmed for two weeks. I remember it was supposed to snow. But it didn’t. I had two days off when I got there. Then, the first day of shooting, the director said they would [shoot] without snow. Don’t recall exactly this incident. But I remember him saying, “OK, let’s shoot with snow.” I think we maybe shot two days without [snow], and maybe re-shot the same scenes once it started snowing on the third day.
BH: What role did you play in Battle of the Japan Sea? What do you remember about shooting this film?
JM: A high-ranking officer in the Russian navy. Don’t remember too much. We were fighting Japan. The set was somewhere in Tokyo.
BH: How long did it take you to film your part in Battle of the Japan Sea?
JM: A couple days. My part was small.
BH: Do you have any other memories of Shinichi Chiba?
JM: Yes, he was a famous actor, and he treated me like an equal.
BH: How did you meet Kyu Sakamoto?
JM: We were on location together for Key Hunter outside of Tokyo. I recognized him, as he was the most famous person in Japan. He recognized me as just a white guy and an opportunity for him to study English.
BH: Why did you decide to leave Japan?
JM: I left because I wanted consistent work, and I wanted to move back to Canada to start a family, as I had just got married.
BH: What’s your connection to the Cheech Marin film Born in East L.A. (1987)?
JM: No connection at all. They just happened to use the Jesus portrait that I modeled for.
BH: After leaving Japan, what career or business did you pursue?
JM: When I came back, I wanted to get back into working in the stock market, but guys I knew in the business — guys I actually hired before coming to Japan — told me not to come back because it wasn’t a good time, and I trusted them, so I listened. My friend John Hurmuses wanted me to come and run his fish plant, Arctic Seafood. I had no experience at all, but he wanted me to run his fish plant. So I took the job. Then, several years later, I ended up at Ocean [Fisheries, Ltd.], then a few years later worked at Kibun.
I had gotten to know everybody in the fish business and was good at what I did, so I decided it was time that I started my own company. I called it Saurian Seafoods, as saurian meant dragon. Plus, I was born in the Year of the Dragon and also of Welsh descent, and the dragon is a symbol of the Welsh flag. I ran Saurian Seafoods until I retired several years ago.