In many ways, Jeffrey Dean Morgan isn’t your typical Hollywood actor. He’s got charm, rugged looks, and a commanding presence, sure. But his ‘rough and tough’ acting style has meant that we seldom get to see him as a leading man. Thank goodness for comic-book movies, then. It’s in these films that the actor really gets to sink his teeth into a role – no matter how small, or peculiar. And he always stands out.
It might surprise you to learn just how many comic book characters Jeffrey Dean Morgan has effortlessly shrugged on throughout his career. In fact, the only high-profile actor to rival Morgan is Chris Evans, who has made the role of Captain America his own since first appearing as Steve Rogers in Captain America: The First Avenger in 2011. Having since reprised the role in a further seven MCU movies, audiences have all but forgotten that he was once The Fantastic Four’s Human Torch. Not to mention his roles in The Losers, opposite Morgan himself, and Scott Pilgrim Vs The World.
But Morgan remains versatile in the world of comic-book movies, bringing an elusive sense of familiarity mixed in with a batch of unique qualities to each character he’s played. Morgan is the go-to guy for casting agents when it comes to finding an actor with the right blend of charm, authenticity and characteristic comic-book hyperbole to pull off any role, whether anti-hero, villain or bit part. Here, we celebrate the varied comic-book faces of Jeffrey Dean Morgan and explore what makes the actor so effective.
Negan – The Walking Dead
Perhaps his most famous – or should that be infamous – role, when it was announced that Jeffrey Dean Morgan would be the one to shrug on the chaotic persona of The Walking Dead’s Negan, it seemed like a match made in zombie heaven. And how right we were. A man who enjoys his share of violence when he deems someone to have stepped out of line, Negan is one of the few survivors of the apocalypse capable of dismantling Rick’s core group, continuing to terrorise where The Governor previously failed. Morgan first made his appearance as the character during the Season 6 finale, where he immediately made an impression by killing not one, but two long-running cast members.
Armed with his trusty baseball bat “Lucille”, Negan has always ruled his community of Saviors by fear, with a few apparently loyal hand-picked deputies by his side to follow orders and help run the operation. Jeffrey Dean Morgan was already a fan of the show before accepting the role, and while watching him as Negan toy with others, it’s been impossible not to love hating him. The finale of Season 8 saw Rick and Michonne wipe that smarmy grin off his face, but for how long will he remain subdued? With The Walking Dead set to return very soon, only time will tell.
The Comedian – Watchmen
Rumour has it that after discovering his character dies just a few pages in, Jeffrey Dean Morgan initially refused the now iconic role of The Comedian. History tells, however, that he eventually came around, going on to fully embrace the nihilistic sensibilities demanded of the role. The Comedian/Edward Blake’s murder is what sets this satirical story of outlawed superheroes in motion, paving the way for one of the most accomplished — but also divisive — comic-book adaptations ever, inspired as it is by Alan Moore’s and Dave Gibbons’ original 1986 masterwork. As The Comedian, Morgan gets to exercise that eagerness to embellish and overplay his comic-book role — it’s a requisite — as he attempts to embody why superheroes are thought of as they are in this universe.
The Comedian is arguably Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s most complex comic-book role on this list, as he’s challenged to portray the character by turns as a younger man who is largely innocent while in his prime, all the way up to womaniser and person who mistreats his team, through to his eventual death. The sequence of events is jumbled when playing out on screen, but through Morgan’s cigar-chomping performance we get a feel for The Comedian’s slow descent into insanity and destruction.
Lt. Col. Franklin Clay – The Losers
Before they joined the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy respectively, Zoe Saldana and Chris Evans already had experience being part of a team of outcasts. Based on the Vertigo comic of the same name, 2010’s The Losers is a film not too often referenced these days. A shame considering that it was here where Jeffrey Dean Morgan got to show off his chops in a starring role. As Special Forces operative Lt. Col. Franklin Clay, Morgan could truly make a character his own without having to bow to a preconceived idea of what the man should be — The Losers being less well known than the likes of Watchmen or the Avengers, and not iconic in the way those properties are.
While, at first, Clay seems to have the best interests of the misfit team in mind, it soon becomes clear that there’s an ulterior motive. Eventually, they overcome their differences to take down the greater threat, and you believe it all thanks to the inherent charisma and wit of Jeffery Dean Morgan as an endearing scoundrel who’s past his prime. The Losers is an otherwise so-so movie elevated thanks to Morgan slipping into the tux. Interestingly, Morgan followed his 2010 appearance in The Losers with an uncredited role the same year in another comic-book adaptation — Jonah Hex.
Thomas Wayne – Batman V Superman
Remember when we said that Jeffrey Dean Morgan doesn’t get to step into the leading man role often? Well, here is the (brief) performance that proves it. Appearing at the very beginning of the all-too-dark and drab Batman V Superman, Morgan portrays Batman’s father, Thomas Wayne, in yet another recreation of that superhero-defining scene in Crime Alley. Director Zack Snyder, however, probably delivers the most artistic version we’ve seen on screen to date, made all the better by Jeffery Dean Morgan’s intensity. Alongside his Walking Dead co-star Lauren Cohan as Bruce’s mother Martha, the earnestness of Morgan’s fleeting performance sets up the rest of the film’s tone – for better or for worse, but nevertheless proving Morgan’s power and influence as an actor.
You have to imagine that DC, Warner Bros., and Snyder cast the recognisable actor in such a prestigious albeit small role in the hope of laying the breadcrumbs for what could possibly be a Flashpoint movie. In this alternate timeline explored in the comic books, it was Bruce and not his parents who lost his life at the hands of a cold-blooded killer, leading Thomas to take on the role of Batman. Will we ever get to see an older Dark Knight who picks up the Batman mantle later in life, fighting crime while tormented by the loss of his son? It’d be cool, and a take on the Caped Crusader we’ve never seen before on screen. Morgan would 100% be the man to do it — going the way of Chris Evans, and making the role of Batman all his own.