Geoff Morrell: Murder Call

Geoff Morrell played Senior Sergeant Lance Fisk, the eccentric forensic expert in Channel 9’s popular series Murder Call. Geoff caught up with TV Flashback to discuss his time on the murder mystery drama.

1) How did you become involved with Murder Call? Had you read any Jennifer Rowe stories before you were cast?

I was asked to audition for the role of Lance Fisk in Murder Call and jumped at the chance. It ended up being my first regular role in an ongoing commercial TV series, and I have to say I honestly felt blessed. I had not read any of Jennifer Rowe’s books, but we met during the pre production period and it was then that I was introduced to her books.

The producer Hal McElroy wanted to create a quality show, but commercial realities dictated that it needed to be shot very quickly. He developed the idea that we would have all these magnificent sets, all in the one big warehouse, or studio lot. The cameras were on these structures that looked like Dr Who Daleks on wheels. When we were finished on one set, we would just wheel the cameras onto the next set, turn the lights on and away we go. We would usually shoot an un-heard of 17 minutes a day when in the studio.

I had done a lot of theatre in the 20 or so preceding years, and the Murder Call set up reminded me of working in the theatre in so many ways.

2) Did you do any other research or spend some time with the homicide squad before shooting?

Murder Call was fully supported by the NSW Police, so we had access to some fantastic sources for research. The first 2 weeks were devoted entirely to visiting various police and forensic departments, and the police officers and their stories remain with me to this day. We spoke to the head Forensic Psychologist who had worked on the Ivan Milat prosecution, and the “Granny Killer”. Absolutely fascinating.

Rod Hilton, the NSW State Head of Forensic Pathology also stands out. But I think the thing that struck me most were these amazing detectives. All older white males, a demographic that doesn’t really get a huge rap, but their sensitivity and bravery made all of us determined to represent these men in our humble TV show with respect and authenticity.

3) Lance Fisk was an eccentric character that wasn’t always liked, how did you find playing that role? What were some of the challenges?

Lance Fisk was a great character to play. As most actors will tell you, the bad guys and eccentrics are almost always the most rewarding characters to play, and Lance was no exception.

4) Did you have any input with Lance’s character over the course of the show?

We all had the opportunity to have input into the writing of our characters, and we all created biographies for them that were used by the writers room in subsequent episodes. While he was a lot of fun to play, the scientific and medical nature of his work did create the odd problem of pronunciation! I will admit, only now, that Lance often used words of which I had absolutely no idea their meaning.

5) Is there any aspect of the character you would have liked to have explored more?

It was a great shame that Murder Call lasted only 2 seasons, but I think there were in-built reasons for its early demise. One of the reasons people tune in to procedural shows is not just for the crime stories, but for the regular characters. The wonderful Glenda Linscott (who played Tootsie) and I had worked in the theatre together, and were developing a quirky relationship between her and Lance that in the end was just confusing, as the network played the episodes out of order. We shot them with the developing relationship in mind, but the first episode to air was episode 6, and I think in many ways that was its downfall.

6) Did you have any favourite episodes or storyline?

All these years later it is difficult to recall the storylines. I mainly remember the characters and guest actors, many of whom I had worked with or admired from afar, so that was really the biggest thrill. One that sticks out is Tony Sheldon, who in the years after appearing as a guest murderer on our show went on to become a Broadway star largely through his work in the Priscilla, Queen of the Desert musical.

7) It felt like Murder Call just disappeared from screens?

Channel 9 had started another police procedural show, and in the end I think had to make a choice between the two. Stingers, the other show, ran for about 9 years.

8) Murder Call was a very dark show, with some some gruesome murder scenes – did you have any issues with any of that?

One of the features of the show, in the days before the TV world became fascinated with the forensic investigation world, was the weekly autopsy. It was always a massive job for make up, and they did an extraordinary job. At the time I didn’t really question the gruesome nature of the crimes and the autopsies. It was all make believe and I didn’t really question the morality or otherwise of us all profiting from violent crime! But in the past decade I have become quite uncomfortable with it all.

I played Clive Small in Catching Milat several years ago which had a big effect on me. Reading the forensic reports of the terrifying ordeal that those young women went through really hit home. I am the father of young women, and grandfather to 2 young girls, and the subject matter is every parents worst nightmare. I discovered later that some of the parents of the victims did not want the show to be done. Anyway, it was a hit, and Channel 7 made a lot of money from it. That really seems to be the only driver in commercial television, and I am not altogether comfortable with it anymore.

9) What have you been up to recently?

Off the soapbox now, I have in the last few years, begun to taper off my acting career. In the past decade I have immersed myself in music and writing. Along with my creative partner David Field, I perform regularly with the Number 4 Band, composed and recorded the music for the feature film The Combination: Redemption, and released a self titled album.

We are currently working with CJZ on a high end Television Series entitled Leech.

Thanks to Geoff for a fantastic interview about his time on Murder Call. More interviews with Geoff are coming up so make sure you stay tuned.

You can now purchase Murder Call: The Complete Collection on DVD here.

You can see Geoff in some scenes from Murder call in the video below: