Jennifer Morrison has traded fairy tales for a creation of her own.
The Once Upon a Time alum makes her feature directorial debut with the heartfelt drama Sun Dogs, which bows Friday on Netflix and boasts a big-name cast that includes Michael Angarano, Melissa Benoist, Xzibit, Ed O’Neill, and recent Oscar winner Allison Janney.
The film stars Angarano as Ned, a young man determined to be a military hero, who ends up on a misguided adventure with new friend Tally (Benoist). But something is not quite right with the protagonist at the center of Sun Dogs. Following his third failed attempt at joining the military, the intellectually challenged Ned takes a Marine officer’s (Xzibit) advice to “protect the homefront” a little too literally, and creates his own antiterrorism unit.
Full of the same drive and heart Ned possesses, Sun Dogs walks a fine line between heartwarming and hilarious, as Ned’s ambitions can sometimes make the viewer feel awkward and uncomfortable in a very Michael Scott-esque way — and that’s exactly what Morrison was aiming for.
“We were never trying to get a laugh,” Morrison tells EW. “We were never trying to make something funny, and we were also not trying to overindulge in the drama. So by being as direct and as real as possible, it let these real-life situations be accidentally funny.” Read our interview with Morrison below:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What attracted you to Sun Dogs?
JENNIFER MORRISON: I think it was multiple things. I get asked this, and it’s a little bit tricky to pinpoint what the exact thing was, but I was so drawn to all of these characters. I felt like I saw a little bit of myself in each one of them in different ways. I loved the way they impacted each other’s lives in the most subtle and real ways on a daily basis. And I also loved the overall message, which was this idea that sometimes the best thing we can do for the world is be the best version of ourselves. Sometimes it’s a very subtle thing that can make a big difference. The combination of that overall message mixed with these great characters, and these great relationships, it just tugged at my heartstrings immediately.
A lot of Ned’s story is about him trying to find his purpose. Since this was your feature directorial debut, did you relate to his journey on some level?
I absolutely relate to that. Every man does need a purpose, every human needs a purpose. I believe everyone I know around me relates to that. And we’re all searching on a daily basis to figure out where we fit in the world, and what we can contribute to the world. It’s a very universal struggle. Ned’s just dealing with it in a very overt way. He’s talking about it in a way that we may not talk about it on a daily basis in our lives.
I was searching to find a way to tell stories that were outside of Once Upon a Time at that time. I love Once Upon a Time, I’ll always love Once Upon a Time, and it’s been an amazing part of my life, but when you’re living something 90 hours a week, 10 months out of the year for six years, you crave telling more stories. You crave figuring out what else you have to offer. So I think just the same way Ned was saying, “What’s my purpose?” and, “What’s my story in the world?” I was doing the same thing as I was exploring the idea of directing.
Many actors who step behind the camera seem to first direct an episode of their own show. So was it a bit daunting for you to take on an entire film?
It was interesting because it felt very important to me to do my first feature first. I know that different people