“Muse Watson is comfortable with his celebrity.”

By Jason Tanamor

Muse Watson, who has appeared on screen, stage and television, recently sat down with Zoiks! Online to talk about his body of work.

Q - How and when did you get your start in acting?

A - I was a student at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky. After losing my music stipend and being kicked out of Louisiana Tech because of discipline problems, I landed in Berea, where my sister lived, on my way to New York to "see the world." With encouragement from my sister, I enrolled in Berea. Transferring my credits to Berea left me short of a freshmen speech course which I had to take. It was taught by Paul Power, the director of the drama lab. He announced he was directing "Taming of the Shrew" and wanted to see some new faces at the auditions. Never being one to let my classes interfere with my education, I had bought a set of classic literature books which I would read instead of studying. Books of Montaigne, Cicero, and Socrates. So I went home and got down my "Complete Works of Shakespeare" and read the play and decided I could portray Petruchio. After having a bunch of Jack Daniels for courage, I left for the auditions. Paul would tell me later that his best friend and professor were walking home with him and when he said that I sounded too much like "Clark Gable," his friend said, "Clark Gable might have made a good Petruchio." I got the role. A leading role in my first play. Berea revived their "Out Door Drama" called "Wilderness Road" and I got my first paying gig. The director hired for the show invited me to go on tour with "Man of La Mancha" in the Carolinas and my acting career was off and running.

Q - You’ve been in a number of films and television shows, “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” “NCIS” and “Prison Break,” just to name a few. But if you ask the everyday person who Muse Watson is, they may not be able to identify you. Is that just another day in Hollywood?

A - Well, I am certainly known better by people in the business in Hollywood for my work than with the general public, but that is changing. The recent television work I have done has made me a lot more "known" in public. I used to be recognized occasionally, but now, I can not go anywhere, the store, or gas station without someone connecting me with one of my roles. Generally, it's DB Cooper from “Prison Break” or Mike Franks from “NCIS.” Sometimes they are not sure and say things like, "Are you an actor?" or "You look just like the guy on ‘NCIS.’" On the Internet Movie Database, they have what they call a "Star Meter" where everyone who has ever been credited in a film or TV show is listed according to how many times people have searched for their name or they have been in the news. Basically hype or celebrity. This list includes everyone from the guy who was an extra in a black and white silent film to the top "reality" stars of current TV shows. There are literally millions of names. It is generally felt that if you are at 10,000 or below, you are a serious player in Hollywood. My Star Meter number hovers around 5,000. Not bad for a guy nobody knows, right? My best number was around 600 after the premier of "I Know What You Did Last Summer," but generally I stay around 4 or 5 thousand. Considering it includes everyone who has been credited as a writer, actor, director, or the current reality star, for all time, millions of people, and that old guys like me don't get listed higher than the young stars who IMDB thinks will be big stars someday, I am known by more people than you might think.

Q - Being a character actor, do you ever get envious of your really famous colleagues like Tom Hanks and Tom Cruise?

A - I am comfortable with my celebrity. I would like to have more money, but I am really not envious of their "famous" status. If I had more money I could do more to help others. I wish I could do more to bring the arts back into the schools, but I do ok. I make a living. I have two homes. One in Los Angeles and a 60 acre ranch in the foothills of the Smokies in Tennessee with white water stream, cliffs and caves and waterfalls, and a beautiful home.

What I do feel envious of is Tom Hank's career path. He played the same androgynous character over and over until he got the notoriety he needed to be known to the public. Once he had himself established in everyone's mind, he used his celebrity to land gigs which proved he was a great actor. I came to town determined to prove I was an actor first, so I made all of my roles as different as possible. Consequently, I am not as known as I would need to be to make the extreme bucks.

Q - Out of all the characters you’ve played, which resembles Muse Watson the person the most?

A - Probably Hank Corrigan, from the Julia Roberts picture "Something to Talk About." Lasse Halstrom, the director told me not to act. He said he had hired me because he thought I was Hank Corrigan and that I should "please" not act. That's a slap in the face to a young actor starting out. But once you have been in the business for awhile you start to understand what he was saying. In fact, if I had continued to do Hank Corrigan over and over till the public got who I was, I might have had Tom Hanks’ career. LOL

Q - People not in the industry probably think actors have easy times landing roles after they’ve been in numerous projects. What’s the reality of landing parts in TV and film?

A - Well, it's never easy to continue to work in this business. Even established “household names” can have trouble getting work if they haven't worked in awhile. And if they have been doing the same character for awhile it is hard to land a job doing something different from what the public has seen you do.

I have been rejected for every conceivable excuse. I have been too ugly, too pretty, too tall, too short, too white, too European looking, or required too much money. One casting director even told my agent that I was a "dirt" actor. He explained that there are “dirt” actors and “carpet” actors, and that because I was an actor that no one could ever see as a character who wore a suit, I was a “dirt” actor. LOL, I made it my life's work to find a job in a suit after hearing that.

The closest thing the public has to compare is a strictly commission salesman. A person who makes money only when they make a sale. Repeat sales are the key, and for the actor, the same is true. Once you get to know folks, you expect them to hire you again. I remember working for a well known director, Mick Jackson, on a feature about an insane asylum. I played one of the guards and he had hired a local fellow who had actually been a guard at the now closed hospital we were shooting at, to play one of the guards with lines. The fellow could not stop talking. He told them what it was really like and told all of the actors and extras how many words he was hired to say and how many scenes he was in ad nausea. The director was in trouble. Every scene that involved the local guy was taking way too long to shoot because he would not shut up. So when I arrived, the director saw me and heard me and decided to take the lines away from the local and give them to me. He was very appreciative of me "saving his film." But there were other problems on the set and with production, and the director ended up not having a particularly great experience on the film. Years later, I was in front of him again to audition and was expecting him to 'repay' me by casting me in this big studio picture he was doing. Unfortunately, all he could remember about the film was that it was a bad experience for him and that part of it had to do with the people playing the guards. He could not wait for me to get out of the audition and I did not get the job.

As an actor, you start over every morning trying to find work. If you get work, like a studio picture that is going to keep you busy for awhile - look out. When you get done with that picture, but it has not come out, you have an awful time getting folks to see you because they haven't heard your name lately. You must keep your name out there at all times. One of the longest times I ever went without work was right after finishing a string of films, "I Know What You Did Last Summer," "From Dusk til Dawn II" ( shot in Africa ), "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer," etc.

Q - Do you still go through grueling audition processes or do you find yourself, based on reputation, getting jobs on referral or name/face recognition?

A - I get offers on about half of my work without auditioning. In fact, seven of the last 10 have been straight offers. Some directors want to see everyone and some directors like Brett Ratner, only want to see the finalist for the larger roles. Some want to meet you to find out if you are a match for their "be a family" type of production and some want to see you because they want to match you up with the other cast members. I knew I wasn't going to get "Horse Whisperer" when I saw the rest of the cast. My face was too angular to be in a film with all those angular leads. I knew they would go with a rounded face guy. LOL, and they did.

Q - What role or roles was your proudest and why?

A - I really have the feeling, and have for some time, that my best work is still to come. I am still wanting to do a modern day Don Quixote story, and if I do it will come close to my finest hour, I am sure. I have done the role in "Man of La Mancha" in three different productions and I know from the audience’s reaction to those performances and the process I went through in getting to know the character that it could be my finest hour. I was very proud of my performance in the Julia Roberts, Robert DuVall picture "Something to Talk About." Funny, isn't it, that that role was mostly me. LOL, but it was the entire experience. I had done "Sommersby" with Jodie Foster and "Dick" Gere but it was a small role and did not take the time nor have the feeling of being on location as long or have the interaction with the big stars as the Julia Roberts picture. I mean I was actually visiting with Kyra Sedgwick, Dennis Quaid, and Gena Rowlands. We took a Christmas hiatus during which I ask if I could stay on location and help tend to the horses. My thought was that if I didn't ride the horse during the break that I would be riding a green horse during the crucial filming of the Gran Prix when shooting resumed. When Paula Weinstein and Warner Brothers casting VP Marion Doughtery found out I had stayed on location to ride and shovel horse dung, they were so impressed they told me then that if I would move to Hollywood they would help me with my career. Lassa Halstrom seconded the recommendation that it was time for me to go to Hollywood. I did and they did. Marion got me my first Hollywood based picture, "Assassins" with Sly Stallone and Antonio Banderas after I had only been in town a few days and then got me signed with my first Hollywood agent after I finished filming with Sly. She had "discovered" De Niro and DuVall and now me. LOL. So, not only was I proud of the performance in the picture but it was turning into a break out role for me.

Q – How is working on a film different than working on a television show?

A - Nuance. That is the biggest difference. When filming TV, you don't have time for nuance. The differences between the two have become muddled with low budget indies shooting in 21 days and TV pilots, like Brett Ratner does, shooting like a feature, but basically, film shoots about three pages of script a day while it is not uncommon to shoot 10 pages a day for TV. At that speed, nuance is lost. Like I said, the differences have become muddled, but when you compare the performances in the two, you are more likely to get a complete character with depth of meaning in gesture, intonation and facial expression when you spend more time on lighting and camera angles.

Q – Do you prepare differently for each medium?

A - I normally prepare extensively before I arrive at the set. So for me, at least, there is little difference in preparation for each medium, but I do see a difference in other actors, and it appears to me that they do less preparation for TV. Maybe it is a function of casting and they actually find that they play themselves more often on TV than in film. For regular cast members it can be a function of being given script changes on the day or just having too much work. But that is a misunderstanding of character development if you ask me. Even if the character is written for you, the circumstances and situations are generally not autobiographical and rehearsal and study at home is indicated in either situation. I work with mirrors a lot. I want to be sure that the feeling I am projecting is actually reading on my face. I check myself with others too, not that they know I am rehearsing, but I will try to convey a character's feelings with an expression and ask if they know what I am thinking. I also work with dogs. I find dogs to be full of raw emotion. If I can get a dog to put his hackles up with a look, that look is going to scare the hell out of an audience. Conversely, if I can get the dog to wag his tail, I'm ready for Nickelodeon. LOL

Q – I loved your character, Mike Franks, in “NCIS.” Was this character written like this or did you change it to suit your acting style?

A - Well, this character was creator Don Bellisario's ideas as written by Shane Brennan. Mark Harmon told me that Don had a special feeling about his character, Gibbs. We both agreed that if he felt that way about Gibbs, then Gibbs's mentor would be similarly affected by Don's conception. As I understood Don's idea, Mike was a cranky ole ruff and ready guy, who knew no other love but tough love. Mark gave me a book entitled, "Special Agent, Vietnam" by Douglass Hubbard Jr. It is a naval intelligence memoir. Mark wrote inside the cover that he thought "Franks and Gibbs would both understand." This book was extremely helpful to me. But I got to tell you, Mike's voice came to me in the preparation for the audition. I can't tell you why, but it just seemed to fit appropriately to what I was feeling with Mike Franks. The smoking obsession was Don's. The anal precision with which he moves is mine. So I think we are both on the same page as to the character and the entire nuance I have given him has only completed Don's idea.

Q – Which actor or director did you learn the most from and why?

A - The first director I ever had directed me as Petruchio in "Taming of the Shrew" at Berea College. His name was Paul Power. I probably learned more from him than anyone. I have been impressed on the set with camera shots or lighting by some of the best directors working today, but my work ethic, style of character development and temperament on the set is all directly related to what I learned from Paul. Paul always impressed you with the work that must be done to create a character and there are no shortcuts. He also was keenly aware of the purpose of what we were doing and that is to tell a story. So he was always sensitive to the presentation and how it entertained the audience. He once said to me, "We'll take our intermission here because the audience has to pee." I am easy to work with on set because Paul taught me that I am one color in the director's palette. I clean my trailer and hang up my wardrobe at wrap because Paul taught me that I was to be a team player.

Q – Being in as many projects as you’ve been in, do you still get, or did you ever get, starry eyes being around so many celebrities?

A - Not really. For one thing, I do so much preparation at home that by the time I get to the set their celebrity is a distraction from the work. I am already relating to them as the character so I don't have many thoughts of what their IMDB Star Meter might be or who they may be seeing or what an honor it is to be in their presence. I did get a little starry eyed when I worked with Andy Griffith for the first time, but after a few minutes I was back to the task at hand. Andy made the transition easier by not being very approachable. It was, for a second, disappointing. But since I shot him in the scene, it worked. LOL.

Q – Anything you want to promote or add?

A – Muse Watson demo reel and character tribute videos are now on You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=musewatson

Muse Watson credits, photos, and bio on the official web site: http://www.musewatson.com

Want to ask Muse a question or find out the latest on his current shows? Visit the Muse Watson Club on Yahoo at: http://movies.groups.yahoo.com/group/musewatsonclub/


Jason Tanamor is the Editor of Zoiks! Online. He is also the author of the novels, "Hello Lesbian!" and "Anonymous."

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Jerry said...

He's been in everything. My friend video taped his wedding and Muse Watson was in it. He's in EVERYTHING!