From a young age, Scott County native Andi Morrow knew that acting was her passion. “I literally always wanted to be an actor,” she said. “Most kids go through all these phases like, ‘I want to be a teacher or a firefighter.’ For me, it’s always been this or nothing.”

So far, so good. After getting her start at the Cumberland County Playhouse’s annual Theatre Camp before she was even old enough to drive herself there, Morrow has gone on to enjoy a successful screen and stage acting career in Boston, Miami, New York City, and Los Angeles, where she currently resides. She most recently appeared on FOX Network’s Gotham, the award-winning indie film Here Lies Joe, comedic short film Communin’ with the Void, and on stage in the New York City Fringe Festival play, Scratching, and the Los Angeles Equity Play, Katy Cruel

Despite enjoying critical acclaim for her work in front of the camera — Rogue Cinema Review Critic deemed Morrow’s performance in Here Lies Joe “raw and something magical to behold” — Morrow’s proudest career accomplishment actually took place behind the camera right here in East Tennessee with Pusher, her directorial film debut.

Set in a small Appalachian community not unlike our own, Pusher tells the story of Brittany Lee (played by Morrow), a small-time drug dealer who is forced to come to terms with the damage she has caused herself and her hometown after reconnecting with her high school sweetheart who is grappling with addiction.

Written, directed by, and starring Morrow, the idea for Pusher was born from a time in which Morrow was struggling with anxiety and depression and felt called to create something meaningful. “It kind of saved my life in some ways. It gave me a purpose that became something much bigger than me.”

With inspiration for the film deeply rooted in Morrow’s own experience growing up in rural Appalachia, it was imperative for Morrow that Pusher be shot in East Tennessee, which she calls “heaven on earth.” 

 “Honestly, I couldn’t imagine shooting it anywhere else,” she said. 

“I also really wanted to juxtapose the grim and dark image of addiction and poverty against the backdrop of a beautiful East Tennessee landscape. I wanted watching this movie to be an immersive experience: for the audience to step into a Tennessee summer….to hear the birds and crickets, to feel the sun, smell the wildflowers. Tennessee is kind of another character in this story.” 

Morrow moved back to Scott County from New York City to shoot the film and slowly began putting all the pieces together — beginning with hiring a cast and crew with ties to the region themselves. “It was OUR story, a Southern story … It was really a special experience. The community really rallied behind me and helped me create this movie.” 

After five days of shooting and two and a half months of post-production,  Pusher finally debuted on the big screen at the Pasadena Film Festival nearly three years after Morrow was first inspired to write the film.  The film’s authentic story and portrayal of addiction touched audiences in Pasadena, where it was nominated for best short film and best actress, and later at the Chattanooga Film Festival in April, where Morrow walked away with the Tennessee Filmmaker Award in hand.  

But for Morrow, critical acclaim is just a cherry on top of her true purpose in creating Pusher — to humanize addiction, encourage a broader conversation about drug addiction and poverty in Appalachia, and inspire young people living in the region.

“I want people to come away from Pusher with love, compassion, understanding, and a connection to the characters … just the way you would view your own family members who might be struggling with something similar,” said Morrow. “There’s so much devastation in our communities from drug addiction, and I’ve personally known so many people who have struggled with it and seen how much of a demon it is to them and to their loved ones. I just wanted to focus this story on the fact that deep down, no matter where we come from or what path our life goes in, we are all human. We all have hopes and dreams and fears and struggles. And I particularly wanted young people in Appalachia to be inspired to be the change-makers … to say to them, “hey, you can choose a different path. Your dreams are valid and worth fighting for.” 

Up next for Morrow? A trip back home for the first local screening of Pusher at the Knoxville Film Festival on September 14 (showtime 2 p.m., tickets available at knoxfilmfest.com), a welcome return to the stage in Los Angeles, a role in a short Western, and of course, acting classes to further hone her craft. After all, despite all she’s accomplished, Andi still has some dream roles in mind — Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth, a superhero, and an SNL cast-member, to name a few — and she’s just getting started. 

This story is the September 2019 installment of Profiles of a 3-Star Community, presented by the Industrial Development Board of Scott County on the second week of each month as part of the Independent Herald’s Back Page Features series. A print version of this story can be found on Page B8 of the September 12, 2019 edition of the Independent Herald.