Michelle Morgan is often asked whether she’s like Lou Fleming, the character she’s played for the last 10 years on Heartland, CBC TV’s long-running family drama set on a horse ranch in the fictional town of Hudson, Alta.
“I think people always want actors to be just like the characters they play, but I’m an actor, I can play many characters,” says Morgan, who splits her time between West Vancouver and Alberta, where the show is filmed.
While she has of course found lots of common ground between herself and her onscreen identity – for example, Lou’s role as a sister who cares deeply for her family and wants to take care of them, is most certainly relatable – in reality, Lou is a character she plays, and one she remains increasingly dedicated to playing well.
“I really made her my own. I brought out some comedy in her that wasn’t there in the books,” says Morgan, referring to the novel series of the same name on which the television series is based.
“The writers saw that I enjoyed playing comedy so that’s come out with Lou now. Her neuroses bring some levity to the show, so I enjoy bringing that,” she says.
Heartland’s 10th season premiered last Sunday night and currently holds the record for the longest-running hour-long drama in Canadian television history.
Morgan continues to be impressed with and grateful for the show’s continued success.
“I remember there was a director in the first season of the show who said to me, ‘This is a great formula. This show is going to go seven seasons.’ And even to say that was ludicrous. We all laughed and said, ‘Well we should be so lucky.’ But here we are. He was right. I think you can attribute a lot of things to that but a big part of it is that the chemistry of the actors on the show really works and I think the show is very well cast,” she says.
The cast is also multigenerational, helping to attract a variety of viewers for a variety of reasons.
“For the women and men my age, what they love about it is they can watch it as a family and that there’s something for everyone. … I had no children when we started the show and now I have two young kids and we can watch it all together and I really appreciate that because there are very few shows that can hold all of our attentions. I think for the younger audience they love, of course, the horses. I think they (also) love that they can relate to characters like Georgie who plays my adopted daughter on the show and she’s 15,” says Morgan.
Another draw is the setting itself. Heartland, filmed mainly in the Calgary and High River areas, is watched in approximately 120 countries, giving viewers around the world a welcomed opportunity to see the Canadian landscape.
Filming for season 10 is still underway and Morgan is excited about what it holds for her character. While Lou remains a very loyal and loving mother, her children have reached an age where her entire life doesn’t have to revolve around them anymore, leaving her wondering what’s next?
“I think a lot of parents feel like that. When you have young kids your whole world revolves around them for so long because they’re so dependent on you and when they get a bit older and they’re getting more independent and they become school-aged, I think a lot of parents feel … they’re not sure what their identity is anymore. So Lou went through that last season and now she’s like, ‘You know what, I think I know what I want,’” she says.
Lou gets offered a business opportunity that could potentially take her away from the farm – an exciting yet daunting prospect – and in addition, her love life heats up, says Morgan.
“She’s dealing with her ex-husband who wants her back and her new potential love interest, Mitch, so that’s exciting for Lou. Lou sort of feels wanted again. She feels not just like a mother, but a woman again.”
Morgan is also excited for what the new season holds for herself, proud of her continued efforts season in and season out to take every opportunity to give the show her all.
“I never approached it as, ‘Well, I know this character, I know this show, I can coast.’ I’ve worked with an acting coach, I’ve really loved working with new directors and trying to glean ideas from them, and challenge myself, and make the writing shine or maybe change the writing so it’s better. I’ve always really worked hard to make the show the best it can be,” she says.