Lee Norris first worked his way into the hearts of young viewers as Stewart Minkus on the ABC hit Boy Meets World. Exactly 10 years after BMW’s debut, Norris took on the role of Marvin “Mouth” McFadden on One Tree Hill. Nearly six years later, Norris is still going strong as OTH goes into its seventh season.
In an exclusive interview for TDW, Norris reflected on his favorite storylines, traveling for the show and who he wants to be Mrs. McFadden…
TeenDramaWhore: I recently rewatched the early season 1 episodes of One Tree Hill and it was amazing to see Mouth’s origins compared to where he is now. He had such a small role in the beginning. Did you have any idea how the role and character would evolve?
Lee Norris: I really had no idea. During the pilot and Season 1, I was still a full-time college student at Wake Forest University. I would get these scripts Fed-Ex’d to my dorm room and each time I got one delivered, it was a surprise. I wasn’t under any sort of contract at that point, so I never knew how many episodes I’d be involved in.
I had a few conversations with Mark Schwahn, our creator, and he told me that he really believed in the character and thought it added an interesting element to the show. I think the big turning point was when Mouth did the cheerleading routine in the first season [ed. note: Episode 1.17, Spirit in the Night]. It was so quirky and different and it got a great response from the fans… and then Mark started building the character from there. I was so grateful that there were fans out there who identified with Mouth — girls and guys — that were the kids in high school who floated between all the different social cliques. To be made a series regular was really rewarding for me, but also felt very natural since my character had been there since the Pilot episode. So no, I had no idea what was in store for me, but I’ve been extremely grateful.
TDW: Do you and Mouth share any similarities? Do you have any interest in sports or journalism?
Norris: Sure, we have some similarities. He’s kind of spontaneous in that “Baby Got Back”-at-karaoke-night kind of way, haha, [ed. note: Episode 2.5, I Will Dare] and I like to have fun like that. Don’t be looking for me at karaoke joints, but I do like to have fun. I think he is a fiercely loyal friend, and that’s something I try to mirror in my life. But he’s also done some really dumb things relationship wise, haha, so I’d like to think we’re not similar in that respect.
I love sports… when I auditioned for the role, I wore my Wake Forest basketball t-shirt to the audition, and Mark gave me a little grief because he went to Maryland (an ACC rival). And in terms of journalism, I was an English major in school and I wrote for the school newspaper in high-school, so that’s sort of a natural fit as well.
TDW: Do you have a favorite episode, storyline or scene?
Norris: My favorite episode is still the school shooting episode [ed. note: Episode 3.16, With Tired Eyes, Tired Minds, Tired Souls, We Slept] . But I also love any of the scenes where it’s basically the whole cast together. When you get all of us in the same scene, it’s crazy! Usually it involves a late night of shooting and everyone gets kind of loopy, and those are the most fun. I also liked the storyline dealing with Mouth’s grandpa [ed. note: Episode 3.7, Champagne for My Real Friends, Real Pain for My Sham Friends]. It was nice to see someone in his family, and I also got to interact with Hilarie [Burton, Peyton] in that storyline and we had never gotten to do much together before.
TDW: I recently interviewed Allison Scagliotti (Abby) about the school shooting storyline, which is a fan favorite. What do you remember from the filming of those episodes? How did you initially react when you found out about the storyline?
Norris: As I said, that is my favorite episode. When I heard about it, I just thought it was really smart. Mark took this old character in Jimmy Edwards [Colin Fickes], who hadn’t been around in seasons, and used his re-emergence to tell this amazingly powerful story about life in high-school as an outsider. It was really controversial and he had to fight really hard to get the episode made, but it was definitely worth it. All of the actors and crew put in the longest hours on that episode and everyone really stepped up their game.
Those of us who were locked in the tutor center would file into this little room day after day and film these emotionally draining scenes, and I remember doing this part where Mouth sort of breaks down. And I was really drained afterwards and [Bethany Joy Galeotti, Haley] looked at me and gave me some really encouraging words. Little things like that stick in my memory. This is random, but I remember listening to “Fix You,” by Coldplay the whole time I filmed that episode. I’m really proud of the work we did, and I think it really set us apart from some other teen shows in that it had a lot of heart.
TDW: Do you have a favorite memory from the set?
Norris: It’s tough to pick just one after 6 1/2 years. Two of my favorite memories involve episodes where the entire company traveled. Early on we went to Myrtle Beach to film, and more recently we went to Honey Grove, Texas. On the Myrtle Beach trip, we were all staying in the same hotel and it was like summer camp. We all snuck down to the pool after hours and went swimming, so that was pretty fun.
And then in Texas, we got to watch an episode of the show with the kids who won the contest to bring our show to their town. We literally sat in one of their living rooms and watched an episode with them, and it was so surreal to see them look at the TV screen and then look at us sitting in the room with them. During certain parts of the episode, they would cry, laugh, etc., and it was just awesome to see our little show affect people that we had never even met before.
TDW: Mouth has had several relationships on the show but also very strong friendships with Brooke (Sophia Bush) and Rachel (Danneel Harris). Why do you think that is?
Norris: I honestly don’t know why he’s had so many relationships. As an actor, it’s not really my place to question the storylines, though. Our writers have gotten us to 7 seasons, so I trust them even if I don’t always understand something. Mouth was never a jock or a pretty-boy, so-to-speak, so it’s not surprising that his romantic aspirations with Brooke and Rachel didn’t really pan out. But I think he had good friendships with them because he truly liked them as people, and not just because of how ‘hot’ they were.
TDW: Mouth and Millicent have hit several bumps in their relationship, whether it be Gigi, Owen or job opportunities. Do you think they’ll last? Do you want them to?
Norris: I think they will last, and I’d be happy to see that. Lisa Goldstein, who plays Millie, is so awesome and we have the best time working together. We both went to school in North Carolina and we have a lot of similar interests, so it’s very easy chemistry with her. Gigi and Owen are just two obstacles that they had to overcome. I think any great relationship that is worthwhile will always be tested.
TDW: What was your reaction when you found out they were bringing Gigi back?
Norris: On a personal level, Kelsey Chow who plays Gigi is the sweetest girl, so I was happy to work with her again. On the storyline side, again, it’s not really important what I think. No matter what I’m given to do, I just try and commit to it and make the most out of it. There are people out there who passionately love my character and those who can’t stand him. You’re never going to make everyone happy, but for those out there who watch our show with an open mind, and for those who identify with my character, they are the reasons that I work so hard. I’m so grateful for my job and my fans, and they deserve nothing but the absolute best from me, no matter how I might feel about a particular storyline.
TDW: In season 5, the show jumped ahead four years and now there will be another jump. Where do you think Mouth will be in another 5 years?
Norris: At the end of last season, Mouth made it pretty clear that he was happy with his job and with his girl, so hopefully he’ll still be involved with both in 5 years, although it might be nice if Millie was Mrs. McFadden at that point!
TDW: What can you tell us about the upcoming season and your storylines? Will you be a regular and on for the whole season?
Norris: Yes, I’m signed on for this season. I mentioned in another interview that I had to do some naked scenes, and the interviewer incorrectly assumed that it meant love scenes between me and Millie [ed. note: I think he's referring to this]. My naked stuff is actually funny stuff, not romantic. I read a comment from a girl who is apparently horrified about seeing me partially naked; that made me laugh! I love how passionate our fans are. Don’t worry girls, if I’m not your cup of tea there will be plenty of nakedness from the other guys on the show. But on a more serious note, I really like where Mouth is headed this year. Nothing is drastically different, but he’s going to face some tough dilemmas where he has to choose between his career and personal life. And Millie has a really interesting arc this season, so we’ll see how Mouth deals with that.
TDW: Which role are you recognized for more: Mouth or Stewart Minkus on Boy Meets World?
Norris: It used to be Minkus all the time, but now that OTH is re-running everyday on SoapNet, it’s kind of a toss up. Older fans tend to know me as Minkus, or even Chuckie Lee from ‘The Torkelsons,’ but OTH is popular with all age groups… I’ve had grandmas come up to me. One lady kept calling me “Mouse,” I didn’t have the heart to correct her, haha.
TDW: Are you still in touch with any of the BMW cast?
Norris: Not really, unfortunately. Most of them live on the West coast and it’s been so many years. I hope they’re all well, it would be fun to reconnect sometime.
TDW: What is your upcoming movie, Blood Done Sign My Name, about? Does it have a release date yet?
Norris: It’s a true story about a racial murder in North Carolina that happened in the Vietnam War era. I played one of the accused murderers, so it was completely different for me. It’s an independent film and it deals with such a controversial subject, so I believe they’re still trying to figure out the best way and time to release it. It was a great experience and I hope people get to see it.
TDW: Lastly, there are a lot of people on Twitter claiming to be One Tree Hill actors but are actually impostors. Have you thought about getting your own account?
Norris: There are people that pretend to be me on Twitter, Facebook, etc. It’s flattering in one respect, but at the same time it’s kind of a drag because they’ll write things I’d never write, or deny friend requests, etc. I don’t think I’ll be doing any of that. I occasionally post messages on OTHForums.com and I like that medium for interacting with the fans. Also, I have some amazingly talented fans that started lee-norris.net and leemichaelnorris.com, so if anyone wants to know what’s going on in my career, they can always check those out.
Click here to see a picture of Norris and me from last year!
Come back next Sunday for another exclusive interview!