In a documentary on the new Blu-ray for Caddyshack, the film's female star, Cindy Morgan, talks briefly about how guys approach her even today and tell her that she was "their first." Their first what, they don't quite specify, but when you've played a comely caddy jockey in Harold Ramis' directorial debut and a science fiction icon in Steven Lisberger's groundbreaking CGI opus Tron, what's most interesting is that there are more options than "just" an adolescent fantasy figure, especially given the way that she plays both.
When Tron Legacy was announced more than a year ago, Morgan's was unfortunately not among the names of cast members who would be returning from the original film. But an effective online campaign launched by her fans to revive her character Yori earned her a spot in some of the film's wildly successful viral marketing campaigns, including an appearance at the 2010 San Francisco Wondercon, where she smooched her on screen husband Bruce Boxleitner before being interrupted by the derring-do of an anarchic base-jumper.
Since then Morgan has been working on a coffee table book about her experiences on both Caddyshack and Tron, and waiting to get back on the game grid for more Tron Legacy events. Cinematical caught up with Morgan last week via telephone for a lengthy chat, where she dazzled us with anecdotes and offered reflections on these two films that have fueled the fantasies of their viewers for decades. (And incidentally, if you get to see Cindy at this year's Comic-Con and tell her that she was your "first," you can thank us later.)
So I just watched Caddyshack again last night because they put it out on Blu-ray.
Morgan: I understand that everything's clearer, but thank God it's 30 years later because I can smile about it. You know what I mean by "everything's clearer."
I know what you mean.
Morgan: I'm like, oh boy!
Since you had done radio and news broadcasts prior to making the film, what sort of crash course was it in acting when you signed on to do Caddyshack?
Morgan: That's a good question, because I did take a crash course. [Actor] Harvey Lembeck had at that time three classes of 24 and he was the best. I went into my agent's office and I pulled the resumes of people I recognized; I figured even if I don't learn anything, at least I'll have something to talk about in the meetings. So I took two classes, one to lose my talking like a disc jockey, and I got into this comedy improv class. I was in his lowest class, but in his masters class he had Penny Marshall, John Ritter and Robin Williams. This guy taught comedy by the numbers, and he was taught by the old vaudeville comedy rules, where you're the straight man and you shut up and set up the comic. As you can probably tell, the hardest thing is to let me let someone else get the joke, and thank God he did. Because I was stuck in this situation with four of the funniest men on the planet, and all I could do is hang on.
You know the stories about how much of it is ad-libbed? For example, the piano scene with Chevy [Chase] where he plays the piano, not only wasn't that in the script, it wasn't rehearsed or even discussed ahead of time. It was hot in Florida and I'm getting my makeup touched up, and Harold Ramis, he was always whispering in your ear, and he said, "go sit down at that piano and tell Chevy to sing you a love song." I said, why? It's hot, I'm tired, and we've got scenes to do. He said, "just say 'sing me a love song'." So I did, and if you look at it again, watch my eyes because when he took the tequila, out of the corner of my eye I see the damn camera light is on! I thought, son of a gun, this is going to be in the movie.
Was that before or after your altercation with Chevy?
Morgan: That was just before the altercation. It wasn't an altercation, it was a somebody said something, somebody said something, it was hot, we were tired, we probably had been up most of the night before, and somebody wouldn't work and somebody wouldn't apologize. Well, I wouldn't apologize (laughs). So he came back and Harold Ramis negotiated a truce so that we'd do two master shots, and so again, watch my eyes there. When Chevy dumps that bottle of oil on my back, I go, you son of a b*tch! And I'm like, alright, pal, I'm not going anywhere. I'm staying right here (laughs).
In the moment when he attempts to perform acupuncture on you with an olive on a toothpick, you seem genuinely worried.
Morgan: I didn't know what the hell he had in his hand that time! I also knew that things were heated. But the good thing that came out of it is that passion reads as passion, and good acting, just think something – it doesn't matter what you're thinking, just have a thought in your head, and love and hate are a lot closer than people realize. So that scene I think worked because we were really going for it. In sports you play up to the level of your opponent, and I did some of my best work with Chevy, and I'm so grateful to have worked opposite him. He was a handful and a challenge and he made me step up to the plate.
What I think distinguishes Lacey Underall from the fantasy women in other comedies is that she isn't just beholden to the males who pursue her.
Morgan: She's in control. She chooses and she likes to have fun with people. And one thing to remember is that was shot in 1979 and a lot of guys go on [about] "you weren't wearing a bra," and I say, you know what year that was shot? Women had just literally or figuratively burned their bras. It was very much a political statement. But I don't tell guys that because they don't want to hear it (laughs). But I'd got my back pushed into the corner so many times by these guys; the first scene that we shot was the nude scene, and I had to go head to head with Jon Peters. That's where they took away my paid ads and my billing in introducing Cindy Morgan as Lacey Underall, that's where they took my name off the credits – they broke my contract – and my agent refused to back me up. I came back and fired my agent and he became the head of casting at ABC and I never worked at ABC to the best of my knowledge. And it was over wanting me to shoot the nude scene for Playboy. I agreed to the nude scene and I knew I wouldn't be comfortable, but I knew I could focus in and do my job. But he made it so impossible because I was the Irish Spring girl at the time and I knew very well that it was a conflict, and it would be a business mistake for me professionally, and personally I was uncomfortable with it. I have no problem with Playboy – I was flattered – but I couldn't do it, so Peters said "you're f*cked in this business and you'll never work again." That was my second scene, and that was the day Lacey Underall was born, because I'm not a confrontational person, and that was the day Lacey makes love with Danny, and it turned into Lacey makes love to Danny, because I came out swinging.
It's interesting that unlike someone might expect, it wasn't the nude scenes that were most challenging, it was sparring with these comedians on set.
Morgan: You're right – there was sparring, but that makes for good comedy. Good comedy is getting in there, and that tension is something that I'm not the kind of actor that can do that by just studying it. It's much better if it's real, and that was real. And I think that's why people still like it today – because they know something's going on, they just don't know what.
How was it to go from an environment like that to Tron, the demands for which seem like they would be 180 degrees in the other direction?
Morgan: You think? Did you know that some people don't know it's me in both movies? Tron was a lucky break. The way I got it was after Caddyshack I was dating one of the actors from Harvey Lembeck's comedy class, and he took me to this lunch because he was in this cartoon he was talking about. I was like, okay, and I'm listening to this cartoon and I really wasn't paying attention, and after I did Caddyshack I didn't work for a good year and a half. And then suddenly Disney called and I get called down to the studio, I got called right in to meet with the director and Jeff Bridges. I went in and they put me on camera and it was down to me and Debbie Harry and I got the job. That lunch with that actor was [about] Tron! The reason I got that job is because I went to that lunch. But talk about a different process, there was no ad libbing. We were given the script, we were given storyboards, it was not shot on blue or green screen, it was a hundred percent black sets, and the suits were down there all of the time watching what we were doing. It was very specific.
How tough was it to get acclimated to that shooting style? Today we almost take for granted the fact that actors have to deal with imaginary sets but at that time it must have been pretty unusual.
Morgan: I would listen to [Steve] Lisberger say "do this, do that," and for me, I found the reality in the other actors' eyes. If you look at David Warner and he's telling you you're going to die, you believe him! There's no acting involved. There was one moment where we were in this completely black environment and there was a black felt riser there and it was basically a banquet table covered with felt, and he said, "go up there. You're on the Solar Sailer crossing the game sea. Cindy, you're flying it. Now go." I said, alright, I've just got to ask: what the hell are you talking about? And he brought out this Syd Mead graphic and showed me what it would look like, and he said, "whatever you do, the animators will put in." So when I looked at that table, in my mind I saw a sound board, since that was the closest thing I came to running anything mechanical, because I ran my own board for five years. So I saw a sound board and that was what was in front of me.
When did you start to realize that Tron had become a bona fide phenomenon?
Morgan: The answer is a year ago is when I realized it, because I knew they were doing it and there were different stories about whether [my character Yori] is in there or she's not. But what made me realize it was this incredible groundswell of people going "Yori Lives." I thought, that's very sweet, but more and more people from all over the country were weighing in on this character and this film and I realized how important it is to people. It seems to touch people a little bit closer to home. It's really incredibly touching and really humbling and a little confusing, because it didn't have the success. But now because of the internet and the fans who love the film are making decisions, I'm very impressed with the fact that the studios are listening to them and they have the power. I know for a fact that [they're listening]; did you know Disney included me in some of their promotions a couple of months ago?
I was going to ask about that because I saw you at Wondercon in San Diego.
Morgan: That was out of the blue. I got a call and they said, "you can't tell anybody about this, but we're bringing you in." and I thought, why? And it's very touching and it's very sweet, and studios generally don't do that. But I also knew I couldn't back off from it, out of respect for the thousands of people who weighed in on my character. I had to go, whether I felt comfortable or not. So I went in and luckily I met a lot of the guys who are in production at Disney, and I just had to smile. I was sassy and I had to ask, what are you, 25 years old? And they were sweet and they were laughing, and honestly it was so good to meet them. I couldn't have been happier about it. So we'll see where it goes and the producers were telling me they want to take this forward, and my managers said, "well, does that mean Cindy's in it?" They just kind of looked down at their shoes, so we don't know what's going to happen. But when somebody asks me if I'm going to be in Tron, here's my answer: it's science fiction, so anything is possible. I know that the film was shot the night before [the Wondercon event] that's probably going to end up in the film, and I know film was shot that day because I got it. So who knows? But to know that the fans are in charge, do you know how good that makes me feel?
So you think that stuff from Wondercon could end up in the actual movie? Or is it just part of the viral marketing?
Morgan: I think that these are very smart, savvy people who are watching this situation and I think that moreso than ever they read the web-crawlers in the morning, and they want this to be a success for the fans, so I think the decisions are being made as they go. I don't think when this thing started out that they had any intention of me being included in the promotion, but this "Yori Lives" campaign has been mentioned in [places as big as] the LA Times. You can't write the story to please everybody, but obviously people have a warmth and a love for this film, so I think it's evolving as we speak.
I know you have a book that you're working on that features a lot of photos from Caddyshack and Tron. Where did the pictures come from and how did you collect them?
Morgan: A lot of the photos I'm getting are coming from the fans. Somebody who was ten years old on the set [of Caddyshack] got ahold of me when that Blu-ray was released and said, "I bet you don't have these photos." He's got a gorgeous photo of me and Bill Murray out of character but in costume. You can see me looking like who I really was just standing there going, what? While Bill's got his arm around me pointing at something and telling me what to do. This is the real stuff that was going on behind the scenes, and the way it's being released is kind of a slow progression. I know Sports Illustrated has a story coming out about it in July, so I know there's going to be promotion, but I still have time, although a literary agent isn't burning down my door yet. I've got 30 pages that I put together for the presentation so he could see that I can speak English (laughs), and he loved it. He said, "no ghost writer – you're that good." I've got a graphic designer who's a good friend of mine and we're working together and she's helping me edit – because as you see all of the stories come out simultaneously (laughs). So the presentation is done, the rights are secured for the photos and we're ready to rock, but I've just got to finish my homework.
Are you going to be doing any promotional stuff at Comic-Con this year?
Morgan: We'll see. I feel like it's the prom and I'm waiting to be asked – that's pretty much the thing. But that doesn't mean that just because I'm not invited to the prom I'm not going to look at the pictures. But we'll see – I'm just waiting to be asked.
It seems like this would be one of the best years to attend, even if you go by yourself, because I don't think there's anything more eagerly anticipated than Tron Legacy.
Morgan: I think you're right. You know what? You just changed my mind. I am free that week, and it sure would be fun to do!