Rugged character actor Muse Watson is an
established stage actor and veteran screen performer
Early Years. Born July 20, 1948 in Alexandria, Louisiana, Watson was the youngest of four children. His father was a successful accountant raised in the city who longed for rural life. His parents purchased a small mini-farm on the outskirts of town with plans to build a nice house in place of the old farmhouse there. His father bought a pony, got a milk cow and filled the barn with wood working tools and began making furniture and toys for the kids. Pressure from religious differences caused his parents to separate and his Mom took the children to live with their paternal grandfather and grandmother. Watson’s grandfather and namesake was very influential in the community and became his role model and father figure.
When Muse was 5 years old, his father’s diabetes began to seriously threaten his life. The family moved back in together to take care of his father and shortly thereafter his father died of complications at only 36 years of age. Muse’s life would change forever. The family was thrown into poverty and were forced to continue to live in the old farm house until the kids were grown. Watson would spend his summers and lots of weekends at his grandfather’s, working in his grandfather’s general store and living in his large country home. He bought the kids a horse and taught them to fish and hunt. Muse’s two older brothers taught him a lot. Once when Muse came home and told his older brother Sam, that boys at school were going to beat him up the next day, Sam told him to get a crazy look on his face because “no one wanted to fight a crazy man.” Muse would turn that ‘look’ into a tool of his career. Muse learned the art of driving while chauffeuring his grandfather around in his luxury car and manning his fishing boat through the swamps of Louisiana. This would prove to be very valuable later.
Learning Years. Watson was a shy little boy who would have trouble dealing with his father’s death. Muse had not excelled scholastically in school when, at the age of thirteen, he was diagnosed with dyslexia by a family friend who pioneered awareness of the condition. Mary D. Bowman was so far ahead of her time that the teachers at the public school would ridicule the family for believing in Mrs. Bowman’s diagnosis and treatment. Throughout his young childhood, mentors would give their time and support to help, most of them members of the Emmanuel Baptist Church who felt a commitment to support widows and orphans. People like Louisiana State Congressman Cecil Blair who gave anonymously to support families in need. Watson grew up in hand-me-down clothes and played with hand-me-down toys, but his Mom tried to instill in him the idea that you have nothing to be ashamed of but bad behavior. It was a lesson he was slow to learn.
His love of music led him to the school band and the church choir. The church choir he participated in was led by a progressive director named Joe Santo who included instruments in the performances long before they were commonplace and took the choir on tours where they would perform for large crowds. At about this time his mother had struggled to purchase a clarinet for his sister and he learned to play it. He wanted to play football in school, but with his father absent, his mother was able to encourage participation in the marching band, which eliminated his chance at football. He was a mediocre student at Bolton High School, but learned enough about the clarinet to earn him a music stipend to Louisiana Tech. Between the music stipend, Social Security Survivors Benefits, and part-time jobs in the cafeteria, he was able to pay for his college education. After two years he was asked to leave because he was a behavioral problem and was failing academically. He had found that alcohol could help him escape his feelings. His sister and brother-in-law, Lee and Gerry Morris, provided him a place to stay in Kentucky and gave him love and support which resulted in his returning to his studies at Berea College. The transfer required Watson to take a freshman speech course. His professor, Paul Power, who was also the Dramatic Lab director, announced that he was looking for new talent for an upcoming production of “The Taming of the Shrew.” Watson summoned his courage, auditioned, and landed the lead role of Petruchio. Rave reviews and sold-out performances followed with a role in the Paul Green outdoor drama Wilderness Road and the Wizard of Oz. Acting became his passion, but a desire to be of service led Watson to teach reading and writing in the surrounding counties as part of Berea College’s literacy outreach program. While in Berea, many people stepped up to befriend and encourage Watson to grow up. Business professors Bill Stolte and Phil Spears honed his business skills. Dr. Clifford Kerby became a mentor and a friend and Bobby Jo McMahan gave him a job pumping gas at a local service station.
Watson left Berea before graduation to work the dinner theater circuit performing in professional productions of Man of LaMancha and Humbug and Holly directed by Jay Hugeley, who later would become executive producer of Magnum P.I. After returning to Berea he continued a relationship with a young actress he had fallen in love with and to perform on the Berea stage as Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in the acclaimed ‘Summer Arena Theater’ created by Paul and Byrd Power and Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire on the college's main stage. The young lady left for a visit home and Watson moved to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, working first as a driver of nuclear fuel and then in the purchasing department of a plant involved in supplying the nuclear industry. Not long there, he learned that the young lady he loved had died in an auto crash while coming home from dance instruction in Los Angeles. Watson’s drinking became worse as he vowed “never to go to a rehearsal sober and never to go to a performance drunk.” He starred as Cervantes in Man of LaMancha, and Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls. He landed a job as the youngest purchasing agent in the history of the metal fabrication arm of Callahan Mining run by a wise man named Keith Cole. Mr. Cole believed in Watson and became a mentor for him in the business world. With his support, Watson was able to break industry standards and make unprecedented deals for the firm. A young lady appeared at this point who was so comfortable to be around it was scary. He dated her for some time, but at this point, his drinking and pursuit of self drove him away. After Keith Cole retired, Watson moved to Chattanooga, working as a manufacturer’s representative for John Iacovino of I & I Inc., selling corrosion-resistant materials to industrial accounts. While in Chattanooga, Watson founded an acting troupe called "Ragtime on the River," a repertory comedy group that performed melodramas on a riverboat. That led to Watson being asked to direct performances of Lonestar for the Tennessee Performing Arts Center and Ain't MisBehavin for the Bessie Smith Foundation. He also taught acting at a Georgia State Penitentiary, and won "Best Play" at the state wide competition of penitentiaries in 1982 with his inmate cast of Lonestar. His alcoholism was raging and he got his first DUI. His brother Alan took him in and gave him an opportunity to turn things around, but he could not or would not do it now.
Beginning in Film. Watson was given the opportunity to work in extras casting by Fincannon and Associates for “King Kong Lives”. He worked for Dave Garris who became a life long friend. After work ended on that film, Garris called to offer him a job as a driver for feature films such as “Winter People” with Kelly McGillis and Kurt Russell and "Mississippi Burning" starring Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe. Driving enabled him to observe successful actors and fine tune his craft while receiving accolades for his precision driving ability. He became known for being able to parallel park a 40’ bus and follow 6” behind another vehicle at 60 miles an hour. The latter he performed as a stunt in “Separate But Equal” where he met and became friends with Burt Lancaster. Mr. Lancaster inspired him to be an actor with a business sense. But it was at this time that his failure to deal with life on life’s terms allowed alcoholism to take over his life. While driving Herbert Ross on "Steel Magnolias" with Julia Roberts and Sally Field, Watson was fired for oversleeping and missing his call to stunt double Sam Shepard in a precision driving gag due to being drunk. Arriving late, he performed the stunt thinking that it would be the last time he worked in film. A cast member of the film took Watson under his wing and sponsored him to find the help he needed. Driving was the best internship he could have had. After several jobs as a driver, transportation captain and coordinator he purchased trucks to lease to film production companies. Income from the equipment he rented allowed him to begin auditioning full time while working on his spiritual life and staying sober. Now he was ready for a meaningful relationship and went back to Oak Ridge briefly to find the young lady he had dated ten years earlier. His new spiritual journey was leading him back to her, and this time he wanted to listen. She is an incredibly smart artist who has the kindest nature and sweetest disposition of anyone on the globe. They have been together ever since. She has been his biggest fan and his partner in spiritual growth. Incorporating the knowledge he learned on the set, with his own acting experience, it wasn't long before Watson started appearing in guest starring roles on television shows such as Matlock, Young Indiana Jones Chronicles" and "American Gothic" and landing roles in feature films such as “The Handmaid’s Tale” (1990) and “Sommersby” (1993, as the drifter who reveals Richard Gere’s true identity).
With a new commitment to film, he landed a supporting role in “Something To Talk About” (1995) as sympathetic horse trainer Hank Corrigan. Legendary Warner Brothers Vice President of Casting Marion Dougherty was impressed with his performance and also impressed with the fact that while the production company took their Christmas break, Watson asked if he could stay on location to help feed and care for the horses so that he could ride the horse he would be riding in the film every day. Watson figured it would make his performance with the horse better. Because of his dedication and talent, Ms. Dougherty, producer Paula Weinstein and Director Lassa Halstrom encouraged him to move to Los Angeles. With-in days of moving to L.A. Ms. Daugherty arranged for him to meet with Richard Donner who immediately cast him as Ketchum in “Assassins” (1995) opposite Sylvester Stallone. Ms. Dougherty then used her influence to get him his first major Hollywood agent and continued to encourage and promote him. In 1997 she introduced him to Jon Voight. They became friends working with John Singleton in “Rosewood” (1997), for which Watson plays a villainous Klansman who helps incite the violence which overtakes the eponymous town. Shortly after Rosewood, Watson and the beautiful artist who had become his best friend of some 20 years bought a hide-out in the foot hills of the Smoky Mountains with white water streams and mountain views and married in the orchard there.
A Versatile Actor Turns in a Variety of Roles. Watson used his tall, rangy physical presence to create Ben Willis, the fisherman-garbed killer pursuing Jennifer Love Hewitt and friends in the horror film “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” Watson performed much of his own stunts, including a lengthy underwater sequence, and helped make the film a sizable hit among young audiences. He returned to the role for the sequel, “I Still Know What You Did Last Summer” (1998), and made an unforgettable appearance as Willis with Hewitt on an episode of “Saturday Night Live” (NBC, 1975- ) that same year.
Unlike many actors who would essay murderous roles in horror films, Watson managed to avoid becoming typecast in that particular genre (though he did not shy away from it, as evidenced by his appearances in “From Dusk to Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money” (1999), “Dead Birds” (2004) and the campy “Frankenfish” (2004)) and continued to enjoy a wide variety of roles in film and on television. He had a brief cameo as a Klansman in “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” (1999), essayed a kindly, fiddle-playing father in the rural drama “Songcatcher” (2000), and played a host of cowboys, detectives, and sheriffs in pictures ranging from “American Outlaws” (2001) to the Midwestern crime film “Iowa” (2005). Because of his experience as a driver and being humbled by alcoholism, Watson is known for being easy to work with and a humble and dedicated team player on the set.
That same year, Watson joined the cast of the television series “Prison Break” as Charles Westmoreland, a longtime inmate who may be the legendary airplane hijacker D.B. Cooper. Watson’s portrayal of Westmoreland was a calming relief from the young cast’s angst. The chemistry between Watson and Wentworth Miller was so noticeable that producers were encouraged to add scenes for him and he parlayed his original contract for 5 episodes into 18 of the first season’s 21. Watson’s sympathetic performance as the wise and gentle con earned him excellent notices, but sadly, his character did not survive the escape that concluded the show’s first season. Thankfully, fans will see more of Watson on the CBS series “NCIS” (2003- ) as NIS Agent Mike Franks who is Mark Harmon’s character’s mentor.
Watson has dealt with a lot in his life from the untimely deaths of his father, three young nephews, his Grandfather, and a girlfriend in a car crash, to four major surgeries including brain surgery. Every challenge in his life has been aided by a mentor or teacher appearing to help. He has been sober for 18 years and lives his life in gratitude for his wife and child. Besides his home in L.A., Muse, his wife and child spend time at their sixty acre hide-out in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.
Muse Watson has said that he believes “because of the tragedy and pain, the triumph and blessings of his life…he is about to turn in the best performance of his life”. No doubt.