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'Street Time' role exposes Morrow to darker world

Saturday, July 06, 2002

By Dave Gordon, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Kevin Hunter is a lot like most of us. He struggles at work, juggles money problems and tries to spend time with the family. He also just happens to be a drug dealer.

Rob Morrow plays Hunter in the new Showtime series "Street Time" (11 p.m. Sunday), about a parolee just released from a five-year prison term for trafficking a million dollars' worth of marijuana. He is trying to distance himself from the elements that led him to jail but winds up taking over his drug-dealing brother's nightclub.

"I really like him," Morrow says of his alter ego. "He's an interesting character for the times in a post-modern sense of moral ambiguity. Of what I can gather, everything about him is all positive. He's into his family. He'd put his life on the line for them. He's got rectitude about his life. It just so happens that he smuggles pot."

The 39-year-old New York actor is best known for his role as Joel Fleischman, the New York fish-out-of-water doctor in Alaska on the hit series "Northern Exposure," which ran from 1990-94.

But how does an actor go from playing a character who prescribes drugs to one who traffics them?

"The distinction is you always have to try to find a way to empathize with your character. The way the people in the 'Hippie Mafia' are distancing themselves from the rest of the drug culture is saying that there is no conclusive evidence that says marijuana is any worse than, say, alcohol or cigarettes. They only trade in marijuana. They feel they're on a moral high ground, that they won't get caught in any of the 'karma' that comes with dealing with hard drugs. For me, then, this character is a businessman. He'd say, 'Maybe it's illegal, but it's not wrong.' "

While themes of crime and justice dominate the show, Morrow says it won't all be gloomy. "It's a dark world and we're dealing with a dark subject, but hopefully there will be levity and humor and humanity. We don't want to depress people. We just want to entertain in a fresh way and maybe remove some of the traditional taboos of television drama."

Morrow, who directed the film "Maze" and an episode of HBO's "Oz," will be directing future episodes of "Street Time."

"Acting and directing are completely antithetical in their disciplines. As I get older, there's something that feels more mature about directing. Maybe it's the responsibility involved. If acting is a cultivation of narcissism, directing is about looking at the world and trying to reflect it. Instead of being a color on the canvas, you're painting the entire canvas.

"Then again, acting is so much fun. It's so cathartic. I'll do it as long as they'll let me do it."

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