Yes, Actor Lee Arenberg is Grumpy and Fans Love Him For It!

By: Lynette Carrington

Actor Lee Arenberg is one of those phantom character actors who can blend believably into any role. But, at the same time, is instantly recognizable by fans for the multitude of beloved characters that he has portrayed throughout the years. Currently, Arenberg portrays Grumpy the dwarf and Leroy, his real life counterpart on the smash ABC series, “Once Upon a Time.”

Now in its third season, the fairytale show that also mirrors events in the real world continues to draw in massive viewer numbers and the series has even spawned a spin-off series, “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland”.  For Arenberg, the role of one of the seven dwarfs is one he loves with a passion.


“Once Upon a Time” airs Sundays on ABC.

“Once Upon a Time” shoots in Vancouver nine months out of the year and Arenberg shuttles back and forth from his home base in Los Angeles. This season continues to find Grumpy and his other six dwarf friends embroiled in various adventures and  there’s the prospect of getting people back from Neverland.  “Hopefully Grumpy will have something to do with that in some way,” suggested Arenberg. Additionally, he has appeared in the spin-off series “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland.” “I’m basically a Once-r,” he explained of his full-time acting commitment to the show.


Actor Lee Arenberg portrays dwarf, Grumpy and real-life counterpart, Leroy on “Once Upon a Time.” (Photo by Chris Helcermanas-Benge – © 2012 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.)

There are several other roles with which Arenberg is associated. Most notably, he portrayed pirate Pintel in the first three “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, where he initially got to terrorize actress Keira Knightly in the Governor’s mansion before cornering her and freaking out audiences by announcing, “’Ello, Poppet!” Arenberg continues to have off-screen friendships with some of his co-stars from the blockbuster series. Of note, some of his memorable experiences from that set include living in the Caribbean during filming, hanging out with Keira Knightly all day and musing that Johnny Depp referred to movie fans as “the boss”. It’s something that has stuck with Arenberg and he shares Depp’s sentiment. (There had been some chatter about a fifth installment of “Pirates of the Caribbean”, but that talk is currently in limbo.)


Lee Arenberg portrayed “Pintel” in the first three “Pirates of the Caribbean” films. (Photo by Peter Mountain – © Disney Enterprises, Inc., All rights reserved.)

“Because it’s called show business, ‘business’ is the bigger word. That’s the one thing they do not teach you in any drama school or acting class. There is a great mystery to the way Hollywood works and I’ll be honest, I’m still learning 30 years into the business,” explained Arenberg. The overall lesson to be learned is to “be a star”. “Do all your negotiations up front. They actually pay you for the waiting–the acting you’re supposed to do for free.”

Having been on well over 100 movie and tv sets, Arenberg gets the chance to work with all sorts of people and professionalism is always a great asset, especially for up-and-comers. There’s no room for diva attitudes and temper tantrums. “I can count the number of people that were young actors that did that and that was pretty much the last time I ever saw them on a set,” said Arenberg. “Or, the next time I see them, they’re down-in-the-dumps, attitude-wise and they’re in need of a gig. Everyone’s career is going to be a rollercoaster, no matter how successful you are.” He cites a strong mental attitude and good agents and representatives as some of the greatest assets an actor can have. “Honestly, one of the most important things you can learn is to get and develop that business acumen.”

Another interesting aspect to the industry is how certain actors come to be cast in certain films. “That ‘Gravity’ film? Sandy Bullock wasn’t on the list for the guy who brought the film forward, but she was one of the five people on the list that the studio had and he had to choose one of those people,” Arenberg explained. “That’s how it works. Now, she just happens to be a great actress and they were lucky to get her and that was a great break for them. But, they didn’t write that movie for Clooney and Sandra Bullock. That’s how Hollywood cast it.”

Arenberg also sees the movie business right in the middle of a big shift. “It’s shifting to computers, iPads and handhelds. Now Netflix produces content and in three years it will be totally different. But, the basic thing will still be true. Be a star and they will still want to pay you,” he noted.

Arenberg wasn’t exactly the “buy-a-ticket-to-Hollywood-and-get-off-the- bus-hoping-for-a-job” type of story. Rather, he is a native Los Angelean who attended Santa Monica High School along with Sean Penn, Emilio Estevez and Robert Downey, Jr. He went on to found “The Actor’s Gang” theatre company with Oscar Winner Tim Robbins back in 1981 at UCLA. Arenberg is one of those gifted actors who has worked hard in the industry, continued to hone his skills and is happy to have a lucrative and versatile career…even if he is “Grumpy.” In fact, the lovable group of seven dwarfs has spawned their very own fan club for  “Team 7.” Worldwide Team 7 die-hards share photos, discuss “Once Upon a Time” storylines and support Snow White’s little guys.

Arenberg’s other television roles have been on “Californication,” “The Cape,” “Pushing Daisies,” all of the “Star Trek” spinoff shows, “Scrubs,” “Charmed,” “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” “Friends,” “ER,” “Married with Children,” and “Nash Bridges,” among many others. He also had the (in)famous distinction of having the very first full-frontal male nudity scene on network television when he portrayed the character of Bobby on the series “Action.” Another memorable character Arenberg portrayed was parking space hog and broken-thumbed Mike Moffitt on “Seinfeld.” Although that role was a few decades ago, fans stop Arenberg on the street nearly every day recognizing him as the memorable character.  He will even exchange lines of dialogue with his fans, just to convey how much he appreciates his them.

Arenberg Seinfeld

One of Lee Arenberg’s most memorable roles as Mike Moffitt on “Seinfeld.”

Additional films featuring Arenberg include “Waterworld,” “Dungeons and Dragons”, “Bob Robert”, V.I. Warshawski”, and he wrote and directed “Diary of A Pirate”, a docu-short video diary of his escapades during the filming of “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.” Perhaps in the coming years, Arenberg may get to reunited with his fellow pirates in a film in the series. Until then, he’s happy to be living and working in a fairytale land.


Lee Arenberg (front/left) with Ginnifer Goodwin (front/right) and fellow dwarves shooting a scene on “Once Upon a Time.” (Photo by Jack Rowand – © 2011 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.)

“This is going to sound so dorky, but I love everything. I love getting paid to do this, you know what I mean?” noted Arenberg of his role on “Once Upon a Time.”  He also loves the family atmosphere that has been created on set. “We’re beyond friends. I love these people. It’s not only just the actors, it’s the crew, too. That’s the great thing about the acting business, after you do 25 or 30 episodes (of a show), you’re really part of it.” “Once Upon a Time” airs Sundays on ABC, 8:00 p.m. EST/7:00 p.m. CST.


Posted on November 12, 2013, in Behind the Scenes, Exclusives, TV and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Here’s hoping we see Pintel and the now famous ”Ello poppet” line in POTC 5! Bring back the original Black Pearl crew!

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