And now, a moment with Samuel E. Wright, the Serious Actor: ”I take every role I get seriously, whether it’s a crab or a grape.”
That’s wise, considering the steadiest work for Wright — who has performed everything from Langston Hughes to Andrew Lloyd Weber — has been playing a crustacean and the grape bunch in the Fruit of the Loom underwear commercials.
Wright, 42, is the voice of Sebastian, the curmudgeonly crab of Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Sebastian’s the royal-court composer with the papaya-rich accent (Wright developed it by listening to lilts from all across the Caribbean) and the relentless calypso beat. He’s also The Little Mermaid‘s most popular creation. On Nov. 21, Wright will appear in his second Disney Channel special, Sebastian’s Party Gras!, a half-hour concert romp taped before 300 screeching kids on the beach at Disney’s Grand Floridian hotel in Orlando.
The upbeat tropical jam, with animated special effects that put Sebastian on the stage, features songs from the crab’s second solo album, Party Gras! Wright’s TV special from last April, Sebastian’s Caribbean Jamboree, hits video stores Nov. 22.
”I’m just as flabbergasted as you that this has happened,” he says. By the time he auditioned to play Sebastian in 1984, he had spent 19 years in those Fruit of the Loom ads, appearing in nearly 50. Now his career has legs. When Mermaid came out, the South Carolina-born actor landed a four-record deal with Disney; his next release will be a solo album by Sam Wright, not Sebastian. ”Sebastian has given me what I’ve always wanted as an actor,” Wright says, ”and that’s immortality. I know a lot of actors are ashamed to say that, but as far as I’m concerned, that’s why I’m in the business. I want the whole world to love me, remember me forever. Otherwise I wouldn’t be doing this. This is my mark.”