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BC Grad Stars in FOX series

BC alumnus Muse Watson (’71) has been cast as a feature character in the new FOX television drama series, Prison Break, which airs on Mondays at 9 p.m.

Muse Watson

The program focuses on a man who robs a bank in order to join his already convicted brother and help him in a tedious escape plan. Without help from Charles Westmoreland (Muse Watson), a prison mate who may or may not have millions of dollars stashed in the outside world, the strategy may fail.

We caught up with Muse to get the real deal on his time as a Berea student, to learn what it’s like as a professional actor, and to hear his musings on various topics.

BCnow: Where did you grow up? What brought you to Berea College?

Muse: I was born and raised in Alexandria, Louisiana. I graduated from Bolton High School in 1966 and left for Louisiana Tech on a music stipend. After three years at Louisiana Tech, I was asked to leave. Because my draft number for Viet Nam was only 166, I decided to go to New York where I was to meet a friend of mine and travel the country to avoid having to make the decision whether I was a 'conscientious objector' or not. To that end, I hitched a ride with my sister and brother-in-law from New Orleans to Berea. He was pastor of the Berea Baptist Church (Lee Morris would later join the Berea staff) at the time and my sister was a social worker (Gerry Morris). They have always been great influences on me and once we reached Berea, they encouraged me to stay. I eventually got a job at Central Service Station. I washed lots of Berea professor's cars. My sister was encouraging me to go back to college and asked if I would like to attend Berea. As I filled his car with gas, one of the deans told me I had no chance of entering Berea because I was from 'out of region' and that the only students they accepted from outside Appalachia were very smart. LOL Bobby Jo McMahan and others spoke with those they knew at Berea College to get them to give me a chance. Finally, I was given 2 days of testing....and allowed in. LOL I’m not sure you should make the connection this story implies. LOL

BCnow: What did you aspire to be as a child?

Muse: For a long time I wanted to be an attorney. Then in an 8th grade assignment to research and write a report on what we wanted to do as a career, I wrote about joining the FBI.

BCnow: What was your major and what extracurricular activities did you participate in during your time at Berea?

Muse: My major was Economics. I was active in drama. But I also was a gas station attendant at Bobby Jo McMahan's gas station and I cleaned Dr. Clifford Kerby's office at night, so there wasn't a lot of time for so called extracurricular activities. Although as many times as Bobby Jo and Clifford had to cut me some slack, some would say I did quite a bit of extra curricular partying.

BCnow: Of all of the plays you performed in, as a college student, which one stands out in your mind as your favorite?

Muse: Wow, there were so many memorable times with the Summer Arena Theater, it would be hard to pick one play as my favorite, but the one that 'stands out' would have to be my first play in the college's regular season. My first time on stage, I played Petruchio in “Taming of the Shrew”. The legendary Paul Power directed and the beautiful Elizabeth McCord was wonderful as Kate. She and I stay in touch to this day, as do most of Paul's Summer Arena Players.

BCnow: What would you consider to be your most enjoyable project since being a Berea College graduate?

Muse: You probably mean acting projects.....but I would have to say, my daughter. The biggest and most rewarding role of my life is "Papa".

BCnow: How have your experiences at Berea helped in your career?

Muse: I really grew up at Berea. My sister and brother in law helped me to realize that I had something to offer and lots of Berea folks encouraged me and gave me opportunities. In town there was Bobby Jo McMahan, Clifford Kerby and Bob and Ann Pollard. At the college there was Bill Stolte, Phil Spears and Paul and Byrd Power. These folks helped me to be a better person by their treatment of me and by their example.

In my career, I am a better business person than most actors because of Phil Spears, Bill Stolte, and Bobby Jo McMahan. Technically, I am the actor I am because of the training I received from Byrd and Paul Power. I kept going when a lot of folks of my era gave up because I had fans like Lee and Gerry Morris and Bob and Ann Pollard.

BCnow: Elaborate on the character you portray on Prison Break. What is his name and what are some of the details of his background?

Muse: I play Charles Westmoreland. Sentenced to 90 years for hitting someone in a stolen car. Most of the inmates believe my sentence stems from being DB Cooper. Cooper is the real life legend who parachuted out of an airliner with a bag of cash and was never caught...nor was the money ever found. When the stars of the series think about breaking out of prison they want me to go with them because they think I have money buried on the outside.

BCnow: What aspect do you enjoy most about your character?

Muse: He's the old sage to the lead, Wentworth Miller. He is also an old timer in the prison so he is less concerned with the angst with which most of the inmates are consumed. One of the producer's remarked that they like the scenes between Wentworth Miller and me, because Wentworth smiles when he has a scene with me. That's what I want.

BCnow: Were there any unusual demands that came with accepting the role, (i.e. losing/gaining weight, cutting/growing your hair)?

Muse: No "in training" type demands but being away from home (we film in Chicago) has been a challenge. I miss my wife and little girl and I don't enjoy traveling like I did when I was younger.....my little girl has needs which would make it better if I could be home more.

BCnow: What does a typical day for you entail?

Muse: A “typical” day has never been established in my life. LOL. But there are generally two types of days on Prison Break. The days I work, I awake in a very nice hotel in downtown Chicago with breakfast in my room while I study my lines for the day. My driver picks me up and we travel to Joliet which can take an hour or two depending on traffic and weather. Arriving at the set I relax for a minute in my trailer while a production assistant brings me coffee or breakfast again and the wardrobe department brings my costume for the day and we discuss it. Shortly I put on some of my wardrobe and go to the hair and make-up trailer to begin the process of conjuring my character. At some point after make-up and hair I will go up to the set to rehearse the scene I am doing. Once the 'blocking" or movement is set with the camera department, they will ask my stand-in to take my place so that I can go back to my trailer and finish getting ready and study my lines some more. Once the lighting is set using my stand in for reference, and the camera is ready with dolly track, sticks or hand held, they ask me to come to set with the call, "First Team". I generally hit my mark and do the scene in a master shot with several takes. The master is typically a wide shot that includes all of the actors and the entire scene. Then we move on to what we call 'coverage'. Coverage is made up of the additional shots we make from different angles. For example, they will shoot one of the other actors from over my shoulder or my POV. And then one over his shoulder of me. This is my “close up”. This is a gross oversimplification. What makes the show interesting can be the complexity of the coverage and the creativity the director and director of photography use to make unusual shots. This scene procedure will repeat itself thru the day. Six hours after we come to work we sit down to a great meal. Gourmet by some standards. Then the scenes are again shot one by one until we get the days work done. Sometimes a day is 12 hours or more. If I am not in a scene, I take a break in my trailer or visit Craft Service, which is a table of snacks, soft drinks, and coffee which follows us everywhere. At the end of the day, I remove my make-up in the make-up trailer, change my clothes and my driver takes me back to the hotel.

The days I am in Chicago and am not on the schedule to work we call "hold" days. I am technically "on call". On those days I may visit a museum, study lines for another days work, or just relax in my hotel room.

BCnow: What was it about this particular show that attracted you?

Muse: I thought the pilot was well written and I liked the character they were offering me very much. I thought I knew him and could bring life to his portrayal.

BCnow: As a college student, did you ever imagine that you would have made it as far as you have?

Muse: LOL.....never. I didn't have a clue what my life would be like. But I was a child of the sixties. We never thought of ourselves making it past thirty years old. LOL I was 40 before I turned my life around. I am very grateful. And I am very grateful to a lot of people; I had a lot of help.

BCnow: What advice can you provide for an aspiring actor?

Muse: For theater actors....act...every chance you get. Preferably with better actors than yourself. For actors with film and TV aspirations....buy a book called "The Five C's of Cinematography", read it, study it, and know what it says. Acting is only one small piece of a film, and the more you know about the rest of it the better. You want to be a film maker, not an actor in film.

BCnow: Are there any fellow actors that you anticipate collaborating with in the future? If so, who?

Muse: You know what would be really nice? For the old Berea College Summer Arena Players to work together again.....it's like a sit-com when we get together. It's hilarious. Eddy Kennedy, Libby McCord, Barbie Baker, Mike Ross, Linda Orr, Wayne Bowman, Iverson Wariner, Pam Corley, Rebecca Pettys, and of course, our den mother, Byrd Power. We'd have to have a geriatric doctor on duty at the Craft Service table…or Dr. Kerby.

BCnow: Are there any projects we can look forward to in the near future?

Muse: Well, there are two films and a TV series but I wouldn't want to jinx them by talking about them and I certainly wouldn't want to give someone the idea if they work faster than we do.......but then there is the Summer Arena Players project.....'Cocoon' meets the 'The Big Chill'. LOL

BCnow: Are there any closing comments you would like to include?

Muse: Is this the part where the old guy gets to give his platitudes? Great. Here goes. ......Follow your dreams. Face your fears. Help others. Be Grateful. ...and return your shopping carts.

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