Behind the Credits
You see a guy play a singing banana, and you think you know his story. Then you see him play King Lear, and it’s like, whoa
Between 2006 and 2008, Mecklenburg County produced 35 episodes of The Mecklenburgers, a sitcom designed to teach people about municipal services. With shows entitled “Concert for Nutritional Regimen,” “LUESA: Out and About,” and “Feral Cats: The Musical,” the producers tried to make things like trash service fun. They tried, anyway.
I can’t make too much fun, because I watched. A lot. One of the regulars was this guy named Dennis who, in one episode, sang a song while dressed as a giant banana. As a connoisseur of cheeseball local television, I’d also seen him singing the jingle in one of those old earwormy Morris-Jenkins commercials.
So I was shocked last year when I saw the same guy playing Edmond in a production of King Lear at McGlohon Theater. That’s Dennis from The Mecklenburgers, I thought. I looked up his name: Tim Ross. I assumed he only did local TV. What’s the singing banana doing with Shakespeare?
Ross directs plays. He just starred in eight commercials for the North Alabama Honda Dealers Association. He’s been the lead in several independent movies. He made an industrial film. He choreographed fight scenes for a high school play. He’s constantly auditioning. He cut back on his producing job at WFAE to act more.
“A working actor should be about working,” he told me several months later, as he hovered over a laptop at Dilworth Coffee.
And then he nonchalantly dropped the big one.
He was in an episode of Saved By The Bell.
Oh. My. God.
It was 1991. It was a small part. He played a wrestler who loses a match to a girl from Bayside.
“She beats me,” he says, flatly. “That’s all there was to that.”
I ask him about Slater. He’d rather talk about Shakespeare.
Sometimes, we use little bits of information to invent bigger stories. Let’s say you knew me in high school but hadn’t heard a thing about me since my days of writing a humor column on the back page of the school newspaper. Then one day you open this magazine and see my byline on the back page. Maybe he’s been doing the same thing, you think. I bet he still has tapered jeans and a Buick Regal and no girlfriend.
That’s what we get out of people now. We look at someone’s Facebook page and think we can decipher their personality, depending on whether their profile photo is well-lit or a selfie. We talk to co-workers in cubicles and imagine what they must be like at home. We look at actors and try to judge their talent based on whether they’ve had a part in Banshee or in a Bojangles’ ad. I invented the story that Tim Ross was just some local actor goofball who was good at making faces. Then I saw King Lear and thought I might be wrong.
Of course I was wrong. Ross was born in Miami, raised in Statesville, and took up theater at Catawba College. He moved to Los Angeles in 1990. He was getting a lot of work. It wasn’t satisfying. “It was bad stuff,” he says. Saved By The Bell. Rescue 911. Days of Our Lives. He moved back here in 1996 because he liked Charlotte and independent film was hot and people were making films everywhere. Sure he’s done cheesy commercials. But he lands parts in movies. He directs plays. The jobs are steady and fulfilling. He wanted to be a working actor. He is.
So yes, people recognize him from Morris-Jenkins and The Mecklenburgers, he says. It’s fun, but not all that important.
That night, I pulled up Saved By The Bell on Netflix. I found his episode. There, at the end, in blue tights and a 1990s butt-cut, is Tim Ross. He doesn’t speak a line. He isn’t in the credits. He grapples. He makes moves. He loses. The episode ends, before we get a chance to find out who he is.