Oak Ridge's Mitch Rouse co-stars in new TV comedy
by Dorothy Senn, for The Oak Ridger
Take three talented lead actors, mix with a timely story produced by Paul Junger Witt, Tony Thomas and Susan Harris, who brought the comedy hits "Soap," "Empty Nest," "Benson" and "The Golden Girls" to television, and what do you have?
"The Secret Lives of Men," a new sophisticated half-hour ABC comedy.
Having former Oak Ridger Mitch Rouse starring in one of the lead roles definitely adds an extra dimension for local audiences.
This is just one of several projects with which the young actor has been busy this past year. A short film he wrote and directed, "Wheels of Fury," was named Best Short Film in the Chicago Underground Film Festival in July.
"MaClintock's Peach," a full-length feature film he wrote, directed and starred in, is currently awaiting distribution.
And on Wednesday, Sept. 30, the new comedy series kicked off.
Rouse is enthusiastic about the new show, his character and his co-stars.
"I like the show," he said in a recent interview, "and I like the guys I'm working with. Peter Gallagher and Brad Whitford couldn't be nicer. They are good guys. We have a lot of fun together."
"The Secret Lives of Men" is the story of three recently divorced, thirty-something men in various stages of being unmarried, trying to get on with their lives after their wives took the kids, the houses and the money.
Andy, Rouse's character, manufactures artificial fruits and vegetables. He is every masculine guy with a black belt in martial arts and a willingness to do anything featured in Outside magazine. On the other hand, he is openly terrified of anything bacterial, viral or invisible.
Discussing the character he brings to life, Rouse said, "I like him. Andy is not dumb, he's just two beats behind everybody else."
Having the opportunity to explore and expand Andy's personality appeals to the actor. "They write toward us and our strengths," he said.
The other two men in the story have children they miss terribly. Michael (Peter Gallagher) runs a company that renovates brownstones. Although plenty of women want to date him, he can't find one to date who measures up to his ex-wife.
Phil (Bradley Whitford), is a business manager for athletes. He is a strong type-A personality who acknowledges loving his children, but firmly denies having any other feelings, but he does.
As the characters share and support each other, audiences are promised a weekly view of the humor, frustrations and pathos in the complicated, funny, sexy and very secret lives of men.
Rouse, who was raised in Oak Ridge, says his first "appearances" were at the family dinner table. There each evening his parents, Dr. James and Marilyn Rouse, brother Scott and sister Ellen were a willing and interactive audience.
"I couldn't have asked for a better family," he said with pride. "They have always been so supportive. In my family, if you hear a different drummer, they say, 'Man, turn it up.' "
One of his goals, as one who did hear a different drummer, is to encourage other students who do. "I just wish I had seen a screenplay earlier in life (at the high school level) and had access to technical books on film. It would be great to know there is other stuff out there to read."
This past year Rouse has personally provided the opportunity for one Oak Ridge High School student to have hands-on experience in the field of movie-making.
"Luke Dye wants to make films and we were fortunate to have him work with us," he said. Dye worked on the two films Rouse wrote and directed this past year, one in LaFollette and one in Los Angeles.
In September 1997, Rouse spent three days shooting the 15-minute short film "Wheels of Fury" in LaFollette. It is a cowboy movie that focuses on a young woman in a wheelchair. Following the win in Chicago, it is slated for entry in the Austrian Film Festival this fall.
Friends Paul Dinello and Amy Sedaris came from New York to participate.
Kristen Johnston, whom Rouse escorted to the recent Emmy Awards, and Janeane Garofalo came from L.A. to work in "Wheels." (Tony's Note: They worked not in "Wheels of Fury", but in "McClintock's Peach", aka "Nobody Knows Anything")
Scott Rouse, his brother and a Nashville music producer, mixed all of the music for the project. His dad, nephew and brother-in-law were in the film.
Rouse shot "McClintock's Peach" this past February. "It's a little dark and not insanely cerebral," he said. "It's based on the idea if you think it, it will happen. Two guys sit around thinkng about it and rob a grocery store."
The film features Garofalo, Johnston, Ben Stiller, Mike Myers and Richard Kind. Scott Rouse mixed all the music for that movie as well.
Discussing his years of work and the success he has achieved to date, the young actor/director/writer said, "It has been a lot of work, but I don't think I could do anything else. You have to do what you enjoy.
"And I've been insanely fortunate. I have been the right guy in the right place at the right time."
A 1983 Oak Ridge High School graduate, he became interested in acting while a student at the University of Tennessee. He moved to Atlanta to study acting, then went to Chicago to study improvisation with Del Close.
In Chicago he also became part of Second City, where he met Sedaris and Dinello. They all later moved to New York City where they put on a play titled "Stitches," which they performed at the Off-Broadway LaMama Theater.
In 1995 he teamed with them again to develop a half-hour comedy series for HBO/Downtown Productions called "Exit 57," which ran for two seasons and received five Cable ACE nominations. Other television credits include guest appearances on "Home Improvement" and "Spin City"; and co-starring roles in several made-for-television movies including "In the Company of Darkness" with Helen Hunt and "In the Shadow of a Killer."
The first seven episodes of "The Secret Lives of Men" have been taped, with six more due to be completed before the end of November.
"It will just depend on how things go," Rouse said of the show's future. "If the numbers are good, back we'll come in January. It would be nice."
The show airs on WATE-TV, shown locally over Tennessee Cablevision's Channel 5, at 9:30 p.m. Wednesdays.
Copyright 1998 The Oak Ridger
"Stitches" by the Talent Family [Amy & David Sedaris]