Morel was born in Villefranche-sur-Saône, Rhône, France. He also grew up in the nearby little village of Lacenas in the Villefranche district. At the age of 15, Morel left home to pursue film studies in Lyon, and later moved to Paris. There he met acclaimed French director André Téchiné who cast him in the lead role of François in the multi César-winning 1994 film WILD REEDS which brought him to wider fame, earning much critical praise for his performance, and a 1995 César nomination for Most Promising Young Actor. While his co-stars Élodie Bouchez and Stéphane Rideau have both gone on to successful acting careers (he has often cast them in his own films), Morel has chosen to pursue a career behind the camera, as filmmaking has always been his passion.