By Stacy Jenel Smith
Mitchel Musso is fun to talk to - which is a good thing, from an interviewer's standpoint, because we're bound to get more of him. This star on the rise appears destined to be around for awhile.
He admits without reservation that he's girl crazy, and so are all his buddies. He revels in the fact that his latest career strides are "getting me a bigger fan base and tons of girls." He actually sounds a bit perplexed when asked whether he's faced jealousy or ostracism from peers - as many other young performers have -- due to his life as a successful juvenile actor.
"No, not with my friends," assures the Garland, Texas-born actor with a laugh. He lets us know, "I've made a ton of friends just working, and I also have really close friends who aren't in the business. They'll call me up and say things like, 'Dude! You're on TV. I'm watching you right now.' We're all 14 and 15 -- just guys hanging out."
Musso provided the voice of D.J., the lead character in the July 28-opening "Monster House" - which is clever, weird and funny enough to have HIT written all over it. The imprimatur of executive producers Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis doesn't hurt either. Musso is also an ever-more prominent member of the Disney Channel stable, what with his role on the channel's top-rated series, "Hannah Montana," his participation in the "Disney Channel Games" and an animated pilot in the works.
Yes, and he landed on the Cutie page of Girlslife magazine.
The middle brother of three, "I did grow up with a theatrical family in that my mom and dad (Samuel Musso II and Katherine Moore) did many, many plays together as a couple," he says. "They worked this big theater arts thing in Texas, in Rock Wall, a community theater thing. I totally grew up, like, around that."
Now the family lives in Los Angeles, but "I do get to go back every once in a while" - including for his 15th birthday, July 9th. "All my close, close buddies are back there."
As far as his career, he says, "It all started when my little brother, Marc, got into the business doing print work for magazines and commercials here and there. I gave it a shot, and the first commercial I went out on - I booked it. I was about 10. After that I did two more commercials, one was for 'Crocodile Hunter' on the Discovery Channel. Then I got to be in 'Secondhand Lions' with my little brother."
He and Marc appear as the offspring of Robert Duvall's and Michael Caine's money-hungry relatives in the delightful 2003 feature that also starred Haley Joel Osment.
"It was so cool!" He goes on, "I didn't know how crazy it would be after that. I did 12 or 13 commercials, then started doing voiceovers."
Then "Monster House" came along. "I didn't really understand any of it when I first read it," he confesses brightly, speaking of the saga of three kids coping with a run-down neighborhood home that is possessed and powerful. Steve Buscemi voices the strange old man who lives in the house - 'til he collapses amid a raging fury at Mitchel's character and is taken away, leaving the abode to go on a homicidal rampage with unwitting visitors who happen onto its grounds. Maggie Gyllenhaal is his Goth babysitter, Jason Lee her rock god wannabe boyfriend. Kathleen Turner, Nick Cannon, Kevin James, Catherine O'Hara and Fred Willard are also in the voice cast.
Mitchel also didn't understand what the process of performance capture animation would entail, "but as soon as we started, I definitely got the memo," he says with a smile. "It was really fun. What they did was, they took glue and glued my hair back and put a cap on me, put me in a wet suit and put reflectors all over my face - these little dots. You're in a 20 by 20 foot room with these sensor cameras. When you smile, the dots move up and a flash brightens the dots and they record it, and that's what they do for all the action."
The filming took place over a two-year period. In the meantime, Musso did other work, including roles on Pamela Anderson's "Stacked" series and the Chuck Norris telepic, "Walker, Texas Ranger: Trial By Fire." He also "came out to L.A. and booked a pilot for animation - 'Avatar: The Last Airbender.' It was like, 'This is easy. I'm going to do it.' But then they brought in another boy because my voice got too deep" - a vocal change that proved challenging for the "Monster House" production team to cope with as well.
His disappointment was short-lived. "After that, I booked 'Hannah,'" says Mitchell.
That brings him up to the present, when he and Ashley Tisdale and Ricky Ullman have a Disney Channel animated pilot in the offing. And "We have just a couple more episodes of 'Hannah' to do for this season. It's so much fun.
"My older brother, Mason, is in college. He stops by the set and plays guitar. Everyone on the set plays a musical instrument. I play a little piano, a little guitar. My older brother is amazing at guitar. He sits and plays with Billy Ray, Jason and me," says Mitchel, referring to series star Billy Ray Cyrus, who, of course, was a country music sensation before any of the kids on the series were born, and to his cast mate Jason Earles.
Meanwhile, the Musso family has settled into a house in Valencia, a suburban community about an hour north of Los Angeles. For Mitchel Musso, life is good.