Every 5 weeks she flew to Australia to host corporate functions, as her primary income. As a jobbing comedian struggling to pay the rent, it was hard slog. It followed 8 years spent living in the UK.
Little did she know that putting the gags to one side and appearing as herself in Celebrity Apprentice would revive her star and bring her a brand new audience.
Until then success had largely rested on her ability to spruik her act on TV chat shows.
“I had 4-6 minutes to sell a tour that would decide whether my family ate or not for the next 12 months. So the only thing anyone had been exposed to when they had seen me over the last 10 years were urgency and desperation,” she says.
“The pressure was to be funny every 40 seconds, which is kind of what’s expected on a chat show. So Apprentice was the first thing in a long time where I just got to be myself.
“I didn’t know or I would have done it years ago!”
After she won Celebrity Apprentice Morris is said to have been inundated with offers. But she held out, before settling on the role of Gemma in Nine’s House Husbands.
“My agent said ‘This is not going away anytime soon.’ Now in years gone by I’ve always taken the first thing that was offered because you just assumed there wasn’t going to be another one,” she admits.
“Michael Healy mentioned there was a show coming that he thought I would be appropriate for. He didn’t tell me the title of it but said there were a lot of similarities and ‘it make sense to me, if you can hang out this might float to the surface.’”
As hindsight shows, her years overseas may have been lean but worthwhile. While there were stints in UK sitcoms Chambers and Not Going Out, it would be a US acting school that armed her with skills that put her in good stead.
“In the UK they embrace their comedians a lot more as actors, so you’re allowed that crossover. But we’ve had a very slow journey to that realisation in Australia, I think. So a lot of our comedians just remain in the comedy venues,” she says.
“I just didn’t think anyone was going to look at me for acting here.
“When we arrived in LA the first thing my agent said was ‘What school are you going to? Anyone who isn’t working in LA goes to school, that’s just how it’s done here.’ I would never have considered going to school in a million years.”
Acting tutor Lesly Kahn believed in her talents and passed on some cruel-to-be-kind advice.
“She said to me in a much nicer way than I could ever say it, ‘I think you either need to put on weight or lose weight. Where you are in LA is invisible. You either need to get bigger or smaller,'” says Morris.
“A lot of the time the people in the room are looking for reasons to delete.
“Regardless of what you look like, the colour of your skin, your size, age, anything – everybody goes for everything, because then the agents feel like they’re doing their work. There are loads of roles there’s just no way in a million years you’re going to get, and so few roles for women in their 40s so she said, ‘You’ve already got a lot of things working against you.’”
Now she finds herself nominated for a Logie as Most Popular Actress. It’s some turnaround for a comedian from struggle street. Morris can barely believe it herself.
“Are you serious, forward slash, has the world gone mad? I couldn’t be more delighted!” she laughs.
“I’m not holding high hopes! As confident a girl as I am, I’m very happy to be there on the night, but I’m not preparing a speech.”
The nod emanates from her role as mother, wife and nurse Gemma Crabb. This season she is promising more shades to her character, rather than as an adjunct to Lewis Crabb (Gary Sweet).
“The writing is in another league to last season, even though it’s the same team. They’ve been allowed to explore other characters other than just the 4 husbands. So I have much more meaty work to do, which is fantastic,” she says.
“Season One was a great chance for me to cut out all of the funny stuff, because this character I’m playing is quite a sensible girl. She’s straight down the line. She loves a good laugh, but it’s not a priority. Doing the right thing seems to be.
“This season I’ve been able to cross a much wider threshold of emotion, rather than just looking like I’m grumpy all the time. Her parents break up, her life takes different emotional directions that means she can stretch herself.”
Appearing as her mother this season is renowned actress Geraldine Turner.
“She’s magnificent! I was trying to think with this big, strong character of Gemma, what her mother would be like. She’d come from a big, strong character so Geraldine just made sense to me. I’ve been a huge fan of hers for many years!”
It’s now that she concedes the skills imparted to her in her LA classes have come in handy.
“Very rarely do the words ‘LA’ and ‘clas’s come into the same sentence, but I am drawing daily on my work from school, without a doubt. The people I’m working with are seasoned actors so I have to do a lot of work at home to turn up and bring it.
“I wouldn’t be able to remember these scripts if I hadn’t practiced how to remember scripts. I would have been done for, made every day long and been let go.”
But when shooting on House Husbands wraps, Morris will happily resume corporate work.
“I’m huge in the Printing Industry right now. Whenever they have printing awards I’m all over it like a cheap suit. I like to talk a lot about the saddle stitching, I like to talk about limp paper! There’s a lot of good stuff you can get out of printing then everybody has a good night and you’re invited back, it’s heaven!”
For one who openly admits to spending “a long time in the shade,” Morris now takes nothing for granted, including that her success is derived from simply being herself.
As she tells her fellow cast members: “Let’s not forget to embrace this because guess what, this is the bit we’re searching for. Working on a show, that you admire, where the writing’s great, where you look lovely, you’re not in spooky make-up, that’s rating well, that people like!
“It doesn’t get any better than that, darl!”
House Husbands returns 8:40pm Monday on Nine.