Spend even just a few minutes with Morgan Williams and one thing is very clear, he’s a character.
With his signature two-litre bottle of cola in his hand and a cigarette between his lips, he stands outside A1 Trading on 111 Avenue in Edmonton. He’s quick to say hello to everyone passing by and if they stop long enough he’ll share a story or a joke.
“My jokes are pretty mean most of the time,” he admits with a laugh.
You get the feeling this isn’t the first time he’s been outside this pawn shop. But, even for a guy who seems to have seen it all, this experience is different. The pawn shop has turned into a movie set and the movie is about him.
“I think it’s kind of cool,” says Williams. “I never expected my life to be this interesting to make a movie of, in all honesty.”
It’s Williams’ honesty that his cousin Michael Maxxis has always admired.
After years of watching his cousin, Maxxis decided he was the perfect person to be at the centre of his first feature film.
“Every time I see him or talk to him he’s doing something that I can’t believe he’s doing or in the middle of a relationship that is unlike any relationship that I’ve ever heard of in my life,” says Maxxis.
For a year and a half, Maxxis took the stories Williams told him and transformed them into a script. The result is ‘Puppy Love,’ a full-length movie based on Williams that just began filming in Edmonton.
“It’s important to me to inspire people with film,” says Maxxis. “There are definitely some important messages in this film.”
The script has attracted Hollywood talent both on screen and behind it. Wayne Newton, Rosanna Arquette and Michael Madsen have all signed on. Hopper Penn, the son of A-listers Sean Penn and Robin Wright, has the lead role.
Penn not only plays Morgan Williams, he lives with Morgan Williams. The two have been sharing an apartment downtown.
“That was sort of my idea,” says Maxxis. “I know that Morgan is a unique guy and I wanted his portrayal to be authentic and truthful.”
“I treat him like my little brother,” said the real Williams with a smile. “Brothers razz each other, yeah he may be an American, but still, he gets treated as such.”
When Penn arrives at the pawn shop to shoot the scene, Williams greets him with a big hug.
“What’s up my brother?”
His hair a mess, most of Hopper Penn is hidden under a hoodie, winter coat and boots. He definitely looks the part. Except for one thing.
“I can’t believe someone so short is playing me,” says Williams.
The scene at the pawn shop takes just more than an hour to shoot. Williams stays outside the whole time. His job happens between takes, he’s a production assistant, and he takes it seriously.
“I’m looking after directors chairs, making sure they have them,” says Williams. “I have to make sure that they’re comfortable.”
He’s not concerned about what happens when shooting is finished either. Penn has told him he wants to stay in Edmonton.
“He tells me that he’s going to immigrate here. Get that Canadian immigrant status,” says Williams. “I just started laughin’ like, ‘yeah right.'”
Even if that doesn’t happen, Williams says they’ll remain friends. They’ve already planned a road trip to Los Angeles.
“Yeah, like he’s got to show me around. I mean, it’s his turn.”