Many fans have had the privilege of meeting David Greenlee and let's just say that he is as engaging a man as the character of Mouse he portrayed in Beauty and the Beast - though in a completely different way. David has been extremely kind and helpful to Winterfest Online and we are very pleased to present to you this interview with David. Enjoy.
Tell us a little about yourself in general, your acting background, how you got started in show business and other work you've done besides Beauty and the Beast.
Well I grew up in Costa Mesa, California. I count myself lucky to have had South Coast Repertory, a professional acting company, in town. I saw my very first ever stage acting there, one of the children’s pieces they called ‘Magic Theater’, and went directly home to stage a neighborhood Winnie the Pooh show. As I got older I started seeing the adult plays, at SCR and anywhere I could. Later I trained at SCR and other places.
When I started working I expected to do commercials but I didn’t get them until later. I got my first Union gig on a TV pilot called ‘In Trouble’. My part was small. One of the major roles was played by Nancy Cartwright, who later would play my girlfriend on some episodes of Fame, and is now of course an international superstar as the voice of Bart Simpson. There are three actor’s Unions in the States, that covered one of them. I got my desired Screen Actor’s Guild card by doing an educational short film, playing a contestant on a game show called ‘Let’s Make A Meal’. I was highly qualified for the job, having been a contestant on ‘Password Plus’ the year before. I won $5,500 with Lee Merriweather in the Lightning Round, for all you game show fans like me. I would have gone farther but Peter Marshall was a rotten player - there I said it! After that it was endless auditions and jobs. My first real movie never came out! Pilots not picked up! Pilot picked up but not with me! CBS Afternoon Playhouses and such.
‘Fame’ was the big breakthrough show for me, and brought much other work with it. I did four of the seasons there, and during that time also worked on other projects.
Going back to the beginning, how did you get the role in Beauty and the Beast? Did you audition specifically for the part of Mouse? Did you know at the time that he would be a recurring character?
Yes I auditioned specifically for the role. I had worked with George RR Martin and Tom Wright on ‘The New Twilight Zone’ so they called me in. But there were plenty more as well! I did not know it would recur, but my agent thought so!
How much background were you given, and how much of "yourself" went into creating Mouse? How old was Mouse?
Mouse was younger than he thought of himself. I was older than he was.
Tom and George gave me some idea of how the character had been conceived, but as usual most of the information came from the script and the other actors behavior. B+B was an exceptional show in that much character detail and information about the Tunnel world came through the costumes and sets and other design elements. All of these designs and the artists who made them told much of our story, to the audience and to the actors.
And I can not forget Ron Koslow, the whole thing was from his mind and while his direct notes tended to be rare, they were of course always dead on accurate and highly valuable.
We understand that actors are taught to identify with the character they're playing. If this is so, what can you tell us about who Mouse is?
He’s just another creative kid in the big city, doing what it takes to get the work done.
What did you like about Mouse? What did you dislike about him?
I liked his courage and loyalty, and his inventiveness. I would not say I disliked much about him, but I would surely say he had a lot of work ahead to be a balanced adult. Jamie scared him, that sort of thing. But progress was being made. What I liked best about him was that he knew his fate was the exact same thing as the fate of his community.
What was it like for you when Beauty and the Beast became a favorite show in the USA, and the fans' interest began?
The fan interest is one thing, but B+B never became a very popular show in the US. The ratings were fairly low and most people never saw it. My work on ‘Fame’ had brought much more attention in public and that remained through most of the Beast times, I was recognized for being on ‘Fame’, not Beast.
The fan interest made me very happy, of course, as it was part of how we stayed on as long as we did with weak numbers! You guys showed the way for such things as ‘Jericho’ getting another shot.
It took me a while to understand the fan sensation, and it took George RR Martin giving a strong pitch to get me to attend my first fan run convention. He said it would be fun, and boy was he right.
Did being recognized as Mouse affect you in any way? And what was it like to know Mouse was being recognized in 90 countries around the world?
I’d been down that road with ‘Fame’ already, but with B+B the people who stopped me on the street or whatnot were generally so smart and kind that it was always just an honor to know they bothered to watch.
The international aspects of big TV are always amazing. They said back then that B+B was very popular in Iraq, and I think of that now quite often. I’d love to know how the translations read! Another thing that I heard that I found fascinating was that it was big in China with young people, teens. That is just so different from the US/Euro audience that it intrigued me, but there is not much way to find out details or if these things are even true.
What was the atmosphere like on the sets?
The sets and the lighting and the costumes made for a working environment like no other. I came home filthy from that show! But it really made the work easy, the fact that everything was so amazing looking. The working atmosphere human wise was very welcoming and thoughtful with a nice streak of surrealism.
Can you tell us about your first day there?
It makes me panic just thinking about it. I had not seen the show, and all I knew was what was in the script and that Linda was Catherine. The first scene we shot was the opening group meeting or trial of Mouse. When I arrived ready to work like most TV is done, in little chunks, I found that Tom Wright intended to shoot the whole thing through, in big giant shots. Which meant I needed to learn my lines! And then the realization that the cast was filled with not just wonderful actors but people whom I really respected. I did not know Ron was Vincent, and sure did not expect the Beast he brought when I read the script! Of course his was better than I had envisioned, but it meant a whole different level of work was happening here! And then I see that Roy Dotrice is playing Father, and this is an actor I really looked up to, and certainly did not expect to be working with when I came in that morning.
So Yeah, it was just all of that and James and Armin, the sets, the long shots, the amount of coverage, or different angles we did. The smoke in the air! It was a near overload experience. Thank goodness for the grace and skill of Tom Wright and George and Ron Koslow, and every actor and crew member present, I made it through that day. Working with people like that makes it possible to reach past the fear and get great things done.
When you were close to him, did Ron Perlman's makeup look as real as it did on screen? Did it get in the way of acting opposite him, or did it make it easier in any way? Were there any differences in your interactions with him as opposed to actors wearing a "normal" amount of makeup?
The Rick Baker design applied daily by Margaret Besarra looked real. Period. Up close or far away. As if Vincent were actual. So that did help with the suspension of disbelief part of the work. And of course Ron’s performance, which set the tone and the bar for all of us with its honesty and passion. When he was in that make up, he was entirely convincing. I intentionally avoided seeing him out of make up for a few episodes- easy to do as he got in the chair when it was still dark, hours before us mortals had to show up!
The differences that come from the make up are technical, in that much care had to be taken to properly light his eyes and such. Working with Ron was always a treat and a gift and a lesson to me.
What was it like working with a raccoon?
Not the smoothest of the performing critters. I have a family of raccoons living here at my current home, we see them all the time in the yard or in the creek along side the yard. They will stop and chat a bit, and never go into the trash cans like raccoons I’ve known in other places. Professional courtesy, perhaps.
The Tunnel dwellers seemed to wear a lot of layers of clothing. Did that make it uncomfortably hot under the lights?
Acting is usually a fairly sweaty endeavor under the best circumstances. Our lights tended toward the diffused and dim, so that was not really a problem, I do remember suffering along with the rest from the open flame torches used in the scenes of celebrating the Winterfest.
Speaking of uncomfortably hot... we understand that you were actually set on fire in one episode - by accident. How did that come about?
During the Brothers episode when the giant map goes crashing down the sparks from the pyrotechnics fell across me. I was there on the floor, Mouse knocked out. The clothes got tiny little burn holes all over - the leather served as protection as did fire retardant gel that our wise hair dresser, Jo McCarthy, had thankfully insisted upon taking the time to apply to my head and neck. The pants did not fair so well, and the burns went down to my briefs, which were riddled with smoldering holes when I removed them. Richard Pryor once said “when you are on fire and running down the street, people get out of your way” I can add that when you are on fire, you will remove all of your clothing in front of a whole crew without even thinking about it. Everyone was very civilized and held the jokes until the next day!
Did the actors playing characters from Below have much interaction with the actors playing characters from Above?
Well I suppose you mean off camera, and yes, although it was like being on separate shows in some ways. Or on separate shifts, one group coming in, the other going out, meeting at the time clock, punching in….
Does it surprise you that you're being interviewed because of a character you played in a television series which was canceled nearly 20 years ago?
A bit, but tv and films have a long shelf life these days. I’m just glad it is a show of quality, and I’m not talking about My Mother the Car or something. Same with ‘Fame’, it is a pleasure that these shows are remembered, and those who do remember them in a very nice way.
Why do you think the show is still remembered and celebrated by the fans after all these years?
I think the elements of community and romance, are things we all long for in real life. Everyone wants to be a Helper and everyone wants a Helper there when needed. The notion of a world where that is acknowledged is appealing, isn’t it?
Have you ever been a part of another project that had this kind of devotion?
“Fame” was very popular in some places when it was on the air, but nothing equals B+B for long standing ardent devotion.
Do you ever hear from anyone else associated with Beauty and the Beast?
Yes some of them, and through the ‘pipes’ most of them.
What is your fondest memory of Beauty and the Beast?
All of that talent in one place.
Do you have any souvenirs from the show, and if so, what are they?
Over the years most of it has been auctioned off at conventions! I have a book of poems from Father’s chamber set that I like having as a reminder, and a few other remaining scripts and buttons and such. Stamps in my passport traveling to the UK or Germany for conventions are another thing I like- my idea of mementos has always been a bit off kilter.
One thing I love having, I just got. Wendy Pini was kind enough to give me the original art for page 12 of the graphic novel ‘Night of Beauty’ featuring Mouse, Father, and Vincent. I’m a big fan of Wendy and Richard’s work and this is the only piece of ‘memorabilia’ from my own career that I have ever displayed in my home. It is a very cool thing, and a real conversation starter. It looks great!
Have you watched any of the episodes of BATB? Have you watched them all?
No I have not seen all of them. I saw ‘Shades of Grey’ when it first aired with some friends. I actually tried not to see the show while we made it too much. Over time I have seen most of them, and I’ve seen a couple since the DVDs have come out and really enjoyed them and felt very proud to be in them.
Do you have a favorite episode among those you starred in? If you do, what makes it your favorite?
“We have a tie, three way. “Shades’ for being first and for having nice scenes with Linda, who I had known for a while but never acted with. “Fever” and “Dead of Winter” for the community life of the world below. And all of them for the gorgeous cast to play with, such a treat.
What was it like to speak in mostly one-liners, though some of them were profound? ;-)
I loved that aspect of Mouse’s character. It posed a challenge in terms of clarity and precision, just the sort of thing actors like to do, the sort of thing that is usually reserved for the live stage.
Do you have any favorite quotes from the show?
Too many to mention actually, but I am very fond of Father’s Winterfest invocation.
Have you attended many Beauty and the Beast conventions? Do you have memories of them that you would like to share?
I have been to many conventions, in the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Germany. I’ve always enjoyed the events. My first one was in Philadelphia. My first fan run convention was in Dallas - that one was very fun indeed. Perhaps too much fun.
You've done quite a bit of television work. Was your time on BATB special, or did it affect your life in any way?
BATB was a very special time of my life, and I value the memories very much.
What has been the high point of your career?
Not a single event but many. The high point is always the amazing people I get to meet, and even work with, from all walks of life. This is a treat beyond compare. Chatting with Arthur C. Clarke is a good example of a high point I think. Or sharing a stage with Gilda Radner.
Have you accomplished, as an actor, what you set out to do?
At times. In terms of career goals achieved generally yes. In terms of quality of the work and the results of that work, at times.
What are you doing currently?Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers about you, Beauty and the Beast or Beauty and the Beast fans?
At this time I am not pursuing acting work. I’m doing some writing and attending to health issues, and taking care of family stuff.
To discuss the interview click below to go to the forum: