Sometimes an actor can be just so right for a part based on where they came from. Lee Norris grew up in the basketball-friendly state of North Carolina and attended the ACC powerhouse school Wake Forest, known for a rich legacy of college basketball greatness. Norris plays Marvin "Mouth" McFadden, who becomes a basketball commentator on the hit CW series One Tree Hill, which is currently airing its seventh season on Monday nights at 8 PM ET on the CW Network. I recently had the chance to speak with Norris over the phone about his role in this long-running series, and here's what he had to say.
I was curious how you first heard about this character Mouth and what was your first reaction about this character?
Lee Norris: I was actually a student in college when I got the call to audition for Mouth. I was really interested in it because he was really interested in sports and I wanted to be a sports announcer. I went to an ACC school, Wake Forest, I'm a big college basketball fan and it was just a natural interest for me. In fact, I wore my basketball t-shirt into the audition and kind of talked junk with our executive producer Mark Schwahn, who went to Maryland. It was sort of a cool way to try out for the part and, obviously, the part grew and it was nice to become more complex as the show has gone on.
With your background, I guess it wasn't that hard to prepare and to channel in this character?
Lee Norris: No, no. Definitely not. Sports is a natural thing for me, it's something I'm interested in so I channeled all my old ESPN SportsCenter nights watching those into the character. It was just a natural fit, really.
The series is filmed in North Carolina as well. There are a lot of shows like CSI: Miami films in Los Angeles. What does actually filming in North Carolina add to the show?
Lee Norris: It's amazing, honestly. North Carolina is beautiful and anybody who has seen the show can I think attest to the fact that Wilmington is a gorgeous town. We're on the water here and it certainly played a big part in the Dawson's Creek series as well. The people are amazing, the Southern hospitality is very true and it's just a nice environment to work in. We have this amazing job but at the end of the day we're not being hounded by paparazzi when we leave the studio, you know. We can go wherever we want to and go back to work the next day and do our jobs, so it's honestly amazing. it's a great place to work and the crews here are really professional as well. I recommend it.
With this season, with Chad (Michael Murray) and Hillarie (Burton) leaving, can you talk about the impact that had on the series and how you moved on from there?
Lee Norris: Sure. Obviously, we worked with Chad and Hil for six years, so it's bittersweet anytime you have to say goodbye. I think, at its core, One Tree Hill is an ensemble show and I think there are interesting stories left to be told about the characters that are left. There's certainly fans out there, our fans are still there and are still passionate about the characters that we have. It's a chance to sort of freshen up the show a bit. There have been a lot of shows that have come and gone while we've been on the air and I think it's a testimony to our writers for keeping the show so fresh without abandoning what makes our show special to our fans. The new shows have beautiful people and they're fun to watch (Laughs). That doesn't hurt and I think they've done a nice job in balancing the old with the new.
With their departure you've kind of had some new blood step in like Danneel Harris step in and was promoted to a regular and Austin Nichols as well. What's it been like with these new crop of actors to work with every day?
Lee Norris: It's been interesting working with the fresh faces. Obviously Rob (Buckley) and Shantel (VanSanten) they're all beautiful. Shan is so hilarious in her role and Rob is a very laid-back guy. Danneel is sort of a new face, but she's been around. We've worked with her in the past and it's great to welcome her back. Obviously her character and my character have a pretty complex history together, so it's neat to see her again, although she's back in a much different capacity as Mrs. Dan Scott this year, so that's been a lot of fun to watch.
What episode are you guys working on right now, and are there any juicy guest stars you can maybe tell us about for the next coming weeks?
Lee Norris: In terms of juicy guest stars, they keep things pretty tight-lipped. They don't really tell us that much, honestly, but I would just say... in fact, they'll kill me if I say too much. I would say that there are certainly characters from the distant past that inevitably tend to turn up in the show. Given how our tagline used to be "A Tangled Web," I think you can definitely expect to see a face coming back that's a blast from the past, that you wouldn't expect, that's really going to tie together a couple of the core characters in a really awkward way.
Ah, I see.
Lee Norris: I can't say because Mark Schwahn will literally hunt me down.
When Chad and Hillarie left, was there still a door open for them to come back in guest-starring capacities as well?
Lee Norris: You know, I don't know. That was all between them and the show. I couldn't imagine that they would ever say no to having them back, since they're obviously a huge part of our show.
You're in an upcoming film as well, Blood Done Signed My Name. Is that coming our this year or next year? I'm not sure when that's slated for release.
Lee Norris: Yeah. It's a great story and, yeah, it's coming out in February. I just saw it, actually, recently and it's really powerful. It's about a racial killing that happens in the Vietnam era and I play one of the accused killers, so it's quite a different fit for me than Mouth McFadden (Laughs).
Is there anything you're looking to jump on board with, maybe when you hit your hiatus? Any other films you're looking at?
Lee Norris: Yeah. I'm constantly looking for work when we're on hiatus, but I'm also taking my time on One Tree Hill to observe a lot of the directing, because that's something that I'd like to move into eventually. In fact, a couple of my castmates have gotten to do that and it interests me as well. I'm really keeping an eye on that, because I think that would be fun to move behind the camera. I love acting, I don't want to give up on it at all, but it would be nice to step behind the camera once in a while as well.
Is there a possibility of you directing an episode of One Tree Hill, maybe next year?
Lee Norris: I hope so. I don't feel like I'm quite... I want to make sure that I've got all my ducks in a row before I take on such a daunting task. I'm really just taking my time and we'll see when I'll be ready for it.
Finally, the series has had its ups and downs with different days and timeslots but the fanbase still seems to be there and sticking around. What would you like to say to the fans of this series for their support of the show?
Lee Norris: Well, obviously, I have to say thank you. They are the reason we are still on the air, without a doubt. We don't have the audience of a Desperate Housewives or a Grey's Anatomy, in terms of numbers, but the people we have are the most loyal and most passionate fans of any show on television. I believe that. I was on the set yesterday and there were a couple of fans that came down from Canada. They were driving 17 hours and camped outside of our studio, just to hope we'd be filming that day. I think it's a continued testament to them, the fact that we're still on the air and we're obviously very grateful for that, so thank you.
Awesome. Well that's about all I have for you, Lee. Thanks so much for your time and the best of luck on this season and your new film as well.
Lee Norris: Thank you, man. I appreciate it.
You can watch Lee Norris as Marvin "Mouth" McFadden on One Tree Hill, which airs on Monday nights at 8 PM ET on the CW Network.