Call it the Marvel Studios twist on the old actor’s adage: There are no small roles, only incredibly super-fast Easter egg cameos. And given Garrett Morris’ long history with the newly-cinematic Ant-Man, he was willing to join the tiny hero on screen for as many fleeting seconds as he could get.
“You probably went to the men’s room and missed it, but that’s all right,” Morris told CBR News with a laugh about his blink-and-you’ll-miss-it big-screen moment in “Ant-Man.” “If you were in the movie, and you closed your eyes, you didn’t see me. I closed my eyes, and I didn’t see me.”
But given Ant-Man’s penchant for all things small, Morris admits his bit fits the theme. “We can excuse it on that, yes.”
If you did blink and miss it, Morris was the startled driver of the taxicab that Paul Rudd’s soon-to-be-superheroic Scott Lang fell on top of at full size after his first terrifying stint in Hank Pym’s stolen Ant-Man gear.
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For an actor/comedian/musician of the 78-year-old star’s longstanding stature, it was definitely an unusually tiny moment, but there was a very specific reason why filmmaker Peyton Reed and the Marvel Studios team wanted him in there. It’s a reason that goes back to 1979 and a still-fondly remembered “Saturday Night Live” sketch called “Superhero Party,” in which guest host Margot Kidder reprised her “Superman: The Movie” role as Lois Lane, now settled into domestic bliss with her now-husband Superman, played by Bill Murray. The couple hosts a slightly awkward cocktail party in their apartments, with a guest list that includes Lana Lang (Jane Curtin), The Flash (Dan Aykroyd), the Hulk (John Belushi), the Invisible Girl, Spider-Man, Spider Woman, The Thing and, making his live-action debut, Ant-Man, played by Morris, taking some ribbing from the big guns for his less-than-impressive abilities.
“Way back when the dinosaurs were roaming around, I did a thing called ‘Ant-Man at a Party,'” says Morris. “That’s what they were referring to. But you see, only if you have a wheelchair now, would you even remember that. People 25 or under, you don’t know what the hell [my cameo] means. ‘Why is that black man in there looking up? What’s he doing there?'”
Morris can’t recall which of the “SNL” writers or performers came up with the sketch, which smartly sends up both very recognizable heroes and the more obscure Ant-Man. “You got a script and there it is, and I said, ‘Oh, yeah. Okay — let me do this Marvel Comics [hero].” But he was previously familiar with his character from the comics. “I knew who Ant-Man was,” he says, though he jokes there’s a reason why he ended up in the suit. “If you’re black, you get the smallest month of the year to celebrate black history, February, and apparently, if you’re a superhero, you get the smallest superhero. Because Ant-Man, let’s face it — why couldn’t they make me Giant Man or Elephant Man? No, not Elephant Man — forget that!”
The Ant-Man costume, surprisingly accurate given the character’s public awareness at the time, was the work of “the people in the costuming department at NBC — they were the ones who looked at the magazine and then made their own version.” The rest of his memories of the 36-year-old sketch are less vivid, he confesses. “I don’t remember anything except the part itself! And with all due respect, if you ask me, I would be lying if I tell you I remember any of that!”
“Ant-Man” filmmaker Peyton Reed, on the other hand, remembered the sketch fondly, and reached out to Morris’ reps to slip a sly nod to it into the movie. “I was surprised, and I said, ‘Okay — let’s do it.’ I didn’t realize it would be at the speed of light,” laughs Morris. “It was about a second, but I thought it would be at least a minute.
After another year of high ratings for “2 Broke Girls” and a valedictory lap at “SNL’s” 40th Anniversary celebration earlier this year, Morris was pleased at even a small nod in “Ant-Man.” “To me, to be involved in any successful project is always a great thing,” he says, noting that he also owns the successful LA Blues & Comedy in Los Angeles, and recently released a musical CD, “Black Creole Chronicles. “Buy a CD. Help me out, because my baby needs a new pair of shoes, and my baby wears six-inch-heels.
“I’m glad to be able to pay my rent and take a girl out once in a while at my age,” Morris continued. “Maybe buy some marijuana once in a while and get a little high, and to be able to do my little Buddhist chant every day. And every day I’m looking down at dirt and not up, it’s a great day. So for me, just getting up every day and seeing and being alive and being happy and doing what I like to do is, to me, that’s great. That’s what it’s about.”