Sunday, February 27, 2011

Houston amputee shows true grit in movie role

From The Houston Chronicle:

Ruth Morris, 29, (pictured) is a social worker and University of Texas School of Public Health student who helped portray one of the key characters in the Oscar-nominated True Grit, Mattie Ross, as an adult amputee in the film's end section. As the character's body double, the Houston-born Morris had more screen time than the actress who spoke the lines. Morris spoke last week with Chronicle medical writer Todd Ackerman about her own congenital limb loss, the film's meaning to amputees and her impressions of the Coen brothers, who wrote and directed the movie.

Q: How did you get involved with the film? Did you have you any previous acting experience?

A: I did a little acting in high school, but very small parts. I was more into dance. I got involved with True Grit after people in the prosthetics field — a pretty small world — forwarded me the e-mails when the film's nationwide call went out for a body double. They knew I matched well — a female, slender and between 5-7 and 5-9, missing a left arm. I thought I'd just send my pictures and see what happens. They had me out to try the costumes, the deciding factor, and they fit perfectly. The filmmakers said, "You're it."

Q: Did the experience give you the acting bug?

A: It was a fun experience. We'll see what the future holds. The casting agent thought I should consider doing some acting and modeling generally in addition to amputee-specific type roles.

Q: Talk about your own early life without a forearm and hand.

A: I made quite an entrance in the world. My parents didn't make it to the hospital in time so I was born in the car, and my mom only discovered the missing limb as she delivered me. I got my first prosthetic arm at 6 months, learning to crawl and walk with it. I was the youngest person, 2½ , to be fitted with what is known as a myoelectric prosthetic arm, whose hands open and close and grasp things. I received a lot of coverage at the time, including a tabloid that called me "the bionic baby."

Q: How common is limb loss?

A: It's much more common in men, the result of work-related trauma, and it usually involves legs. There are about 30 people without a leg for every person without an arm. About 1,500 children are born each year without an arm.

Q: How did your entrance scene in True Grit hit home for you, the one where viewers for the first time see the missing arm, the cost of Mattie's quest to avenge her father's death?

A: That scene was so powerful, so meaningful, I wish it could have had more screen time. There was just something in the air as we filmed. A lot of the crew got tears in their eyes, the moment was so beautiful. I know I felt empowered and dignified and proud to be able to portray a positive image of what it means to be resilient, to overcome so much.

Q: As a social worker, do you plan to use the film as a teaching tool?

A: Absolutely. My passion is helping people adjust to limb loss, overcoming their grief, discovering new strengths in themselves and going on to rebuild and live independent lives. I think the film can help in that process. I know how meaningful it was for me, despite my initial thought that it would just be a fun experience to be part of a movie.

Q: Have any good Hollywood dish for us?

A: The Coen brothers are men of very few words. The first time I met with them, their only words were, "Really good double. She matches pretty good." The costuming woman said to me, "They're really impressed with you. They usually don't say anything at all." I met Jeff Bridges as we were getting our hair done one day. He was reciting poetry.

Q: Any Oscar predictions? Anyone you're rooting hardest for?

A: I want True Grit to win everything it's nominated for, of course, but especially Hailee Steinfeld (who plays the young Mattie Ross) and Mary Zophres, who did the costuming and I worked closely with. I think everyone involved with the film is deserving.