On One Tree Hill, Lee Norris plays Mouth, one of the show’s most beloved characters. Lee got his start in show business at a young age, acting in numerous television shows, including The Torkelsons and Boy Meet World. Mouth has had one heck of a season on One Tree Hill, as fans can attest. Lee took some time to speak with us at BuddyTV recently, and we discussed his recent experience on the set, the proposed time jump going into next season, and the stress of being on the bubble.
Below, you will find both the written transcript and full mp3 audio of the interview.
You started acting at a real young age. Can you tell us a little bit on how you got into the business?
Yeah, I actually grew up in North Carolina which happens to be where we shoot One Tree Hill and I always watch TV and wanted to be part of it and I talked to my parents about it and they were supportive. We were really thinking that we have to live in California or New York to do that but we were very lucky to have Wilmington Artistic Studios, so I did actually find an agent and I started auditioning as a kid in NBC’s national search for the show called The Torkelsons and I got put on tape for that and eventually we were flown out to LA and screen tested and sort of just got lucky and that was my first show and I stayed out there for a few years and I did a few other sitcoms…Boy Meets World and a few others and I came back home. I was sort of a normal kid, I went to high school and acted when I could and I ended up going to Wake Forest for college and about that time One Tree Hill came calling and I sort of got lucky again to be able to jump on this show. It’s been a wild and crazy ride ever since.
How exactly did you end up getting the role of Mouth on One Tree Hill? Did you have to audition and all that?
I did, yeah. I was at school in Wake Forest and it happened to be our spring break my junior year when the pilot came up, so I drove down alone to the casting director and Mark Schwahn, who was in town, and for this character of Mouth who was this, you know, basketball announcer. That was easy for me to play because I was this big college basketball fan, and I even wore my college team t-shirt to the audition. So, I had this great time talking to Mark, he turned out to be a super cool guy. We really hit it off, the audition went well and that’s how I got it. At that time, Mouth was just a recurring side bar character. As the show went on, I think the role came a little closer to who actually Mark was in high school, as I know he’s said in a couple of interviews, and it got to be this cool character. I think it’s a different role, not like the other guys on the show. He sort of represents the unique kind of a guy and I love that about him. I think it’s fun. I think if everybody looked and acted the same way on television it would be boring, you know. I’m really happy that I get to play this role.
From the beginning, Mouth has been one of the more most-beloved characters on the show. Is it fun to play a character that’s so universally loved by the fans?
It is fun. Although, I gotta say this year he’s caused some ruffles cause he’s been through a lot of stuff this year, the virginity, the Shelley thing, and that came about very quickly and some of them were taken aback by that. You know, one thing you have to remember is that we’re dealing in not only what works for the show, but in terms of the business, sometimes you can only get actors for three episodes, guest actors, then they have to go. So, when Mouth is gonna lose his virginity to a girl unfortunately it had to happen pretty quickly instead of what might have been more realistic. Some of the fans this year…he’s still beloved by a lot of people and I feel that everywhere I go. People always come up to me and tell me that he’s one of their favorite characters and I love that. But it has been fun at the same time to sort of see him grow. You don’t always go through good things when you grow, sometimes it’s painful. Sometimes it’s not what the fans wanna see and I think it’s what keeps our show realistic, part of the growing pains of growing up. It’s been fun to play all of that. But at the end of the day, I think Mouth always remains a good guy in his heart and it’s absolutely good to play that, because you feel good when you have a character like that on TV. Even if he doesn’t always do the right thing, you know it’s coming from a good place.
One Tree Hill has an extremely rabid and loyal fan base. What has your interaction with the fans been like? Do people approach you in public all the time?
It’s been the coolest thing of this whole experience. The fan interaction has been awesome. We have, as you said, some of THE BEST fans in the world. You know I was on another show called Boy Meets World that had a very passionate fan base and I don’t even know if they were as passionate as the fans of One Tree Hill. It’s insane and I love it because we get to go out…the show’s provided us with an opportunity to go out and meet the fans face to face through the mall tours that we did and the One Tree Hill musical tour with Tyler and Joy and Gavin and everybody. It’s amazing because a lot of times when you film a TV show, it’s just you and the camera and you’re on location wherever you are and it sort of gets put out there and you might hear about it when you walk around the street and somebody comes up to you randomly. But, when you actually get to go to these events where your fans congregate and they wait in line to meet you, sometimes for hours… To hear them talk about how much the show and your character affects them is an amazing experience. For me as an actor, it really is what encourages me everyday to get up and put in my best effort at work because I know that there are people who are gonna watch and value it. evaluate. It’s not just something I’m doing and people forgot about. There are people out there that really love it so that’s been the best part about the whole thing for me.
Mouth plays the play-by-play commentator for the basketball team. Have you ever sort of drawn an inspiration from any real sports commentators? Do you ever look at them and try to figure out how to play the commentator role?
That’s a good question. When the character was first starting out, Mark actually gave me the note that he didn’t want Mouth to be a great commentator to begin with. He sort of wanted it to be a like a cartoon version, you know, a kid that was trying his best but maybe a little bit over the top because obviously you shouldn’t be a pro right away when you start out, just at the River Court or whatever. So, the only thing I had at the back of my mind was a lot of Dick Vitale impersonations and kind of doing it even more over the top. I mean, as the series is going on as Mouth is growing, we try to make him seem more professional and I think he’s gotten to the point where he’s actually pretty good. Yeah, I always had Dick Vitale at the back of my head. It’s just growing up as an ACC basketball fan and you can’t escape it. Sometimes you want to but you can’t. So I’ve used him as a point of reference and other than that they write it very well for me and it’s easy to do.
One Tree Hill, at times, there’ve been stories of a tumultuous set. There’s the whole Chad/Sophia thing. Has that ever been difficult to deal with on set? What’s your experience been on set these last few years?
Well, you know, that’s something the two of them had to deal with and certainly it was a bad thing for everyone when it broke out, because both of them are friends and co-workers, but I have to say that throughout all of it everyone maintained a very good sense of professionalism, because at the end of the day these are all of our jobs. You can’t just shake off the fact that we all have a responsibility to not only our bosses and employers but also to our fans. I think the two of them kept that in mind through what must have been a very difficult time and the rest of us did as well and this past year was awesome. I think everybody’s sort of moved on and grown up a lot. It’s really a pleasure to go to work. They’re some of my best friends, all of them, and to get to go to work with your best friends is a dream come true, you know.
One of the most unique things about One Tree Hill is that it’s all on location. You film in Wilmington. Is that something you enjoy more so than working in LA. I guess it’s a little different for you since you’re from North Carolina. What’s that like compared to LA?
I love it. Obviously, and as you said, I’m from North Carolina so I feel a real kinship here and my family’s close by and it’s a beautiful town and the people are amazingly friendly. It has a Southern hospitality that you’re not gonna find in other places. Not only myself, I can speak for a lot of the other kids that they’ve told me how much they love Wilmington. A lot of them have bought homes here and have made a life here and we were back in LA recently because we wrapped in the season. Recently, it’s just a wake up call when you get back to that hustle and bustle in LA and you compare that to the life down in Wilmington. It’s a great place to work. You go in and get to do your job and be on TV which is crazy and then you leave the studio and you’re back in this world of everyday life and real people that sort of care less about TV shows and it’s sort of nice. Keeps you grounded I think. It’s a nice getaway.
One Tree Hill, throughout its four seasons, has always perpetually been on the bubble at the end of the year. It’s never sure if it’s going to get renewed or not. How stressful is that, waiting to hear whether you’re gonna be back next year and how are you feeling about it all right now?
Well, of course it would be nice to just be on a show that was this super hit that you never had to worry about, but as you’ve said, that’s never been our case. At first, it was very worrisome and we were all just waiting at the end of the year and it was one of those times where you’re sort of saying goodbye to everyone and thinking in the pit of your stomach, “Is this the last time that I’m gonna get to see these people?” Luckily, our fans supported us and the network has pulled through every year and we’ve worked out and this year is a particularly interesting case, because we actually had a great ratings resurgence this year with the new network. We’ve renewed storylines that have been awesome and people have written more positively about our chances of coming back. It’s obviously a great thing to read, but after having spent three years on the bubble we can’t really convince ourselves that we’re a lock. You’re never sure, because TV is a very fickle business. But, obviously it’s encouraging to read that so many people feel good about our chances and I think it would be a real shame if they didn’t bring us back especially with what Mark in store for next year in terms of the time jump and all that. I think it’s gonna be a really exciting year for us and for our fans. I hope we get that chance.
You mentioned the time jump. That’s one thing we talked about with Mark a lot about: his plan to move the show ahead four years for season five. What do you think of that plan?
I think it’s a great idea. I think a lot of these shows lose their steam once you try to make everyone go to the same college, which isn’t realistic. It just doesn’t happen. A lot of the things our characters have been through are things that more typically would have happened to older kids. I don’t know many people in high school that were getting married, and having babies and having clothing lines and going on musical tours. These are things that tend to happen a little later in life, if at all, so I think the time jump would bring in a new sense of realism to the show. I think it would be interesting from an acting standpoint because all of us are in our mid twenties, early to mid twenties so it would be a lot more realistic in that case. So I think it’s a new and interesting idea and I have a lot of faith in our writers and what their vision is and they seem very excited about it too. So I’m really curious to see where these characters will be four years from now and also to take a look at flashbacks and see what changed and what shaped them.
(Interview Conducted by Oscar Dahl)