Kate Walsh Talks the Crazy Things She Did in the Name of Acting

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Although she’s best known for playing Dr. Addison Montgomery on “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Private Practice,” Kate Walsh has managed to avoid the pigeonhole of one medium. Complementing her TV work on Netflix’s new drama “13 Reasons Why” will be her turn in NYC's Roundabout Theatre Company production of “If I Forget.” Here, she shares the films every actor should see, her audition prep process, and the difference between theater and TV acting.

What have playing Holly Fischer in ‘If I Forget’ and Olivia Baker on ‘13 Reasons Why’ added to your acting skills?
With Olivia, [the story] was a page turner and I loved the challenge of playing someone who had this horrific thing happen to them—the unimaginable losing of a child to suicide. But really, it was the script...and [the opportunity] to take that grief that doesn’t lift and is unabating and try to express that.

And then, with Holly in “If I Forget,” always with theater, it’s about going back to that process of, I actually get to explore and have the luxury of time! In TV, you don’t; you make choices rather quickly and stick with them and trust the DP and the writer to be able to explore [for you]…. [Physicality] is also something that’s so important and a really beautiful exercise in theater. Your body is your instrument in TV and film as well, but it’s just not the same at all, and that ability to connect with the audience is profound.

How do you typically prepare for an audition?
The first thing I do is try to get off-book. I have a friend come over and we run it so I don’t have to sit there alone and put my hand over the other people’s lines. If I meet up with someone and have them read with me, one, I get it easier and faster and, two, it’s rehearsing in a way because you’re hearing it and you start finding things as you go through, and then I’m more freed up when I go in the room.

READ: Kate Walsh Is Great at Being ‘Bad’

What films should every actor see?
“Lawrence of Arabia,” “Doctor Zhivago”—but that’s me and my penchant for romances and unrequited love. Also, anything Meryl Streep. So clichéd, but true. “A Woman Under the Influence”—every actor should see that. Any movies from the ’70s; that was the actor’s decade... just Method and raw and beautiful in this birth of the naturalistic acting style that became quintessentially American…. There were so many great women, too, great female actors with great roles written for them in the ’30s and ’40s. Anything with Greta Garbo, Bette Davis, or Joan Crawford.

What special skills do you have listed on your résumé?
I’m sure skiing is on there. Maybe horseback riding? I don’t juggle now, but I did do a little in acting school. I think I have probably something random like clarinet playing. It’s always that [pressure]: “Why, yes! I do play the harpsichord. Doesn’t everyone?” And then [if someone doesn’t know how to ride horseback], for example, they get cast on “Westworld,” and it’s like, good luck!

What’s your go-to song to get you pumped for an audition?
I’ll say AC/DC does it. If you want to get out of your head, just some good rock ‘n’ roll like “It’s a Long Way to the Top.” I would just suggest that to anyone. Put it on really loud. It’s a rock ‘n’ roll song but it has bagpipes, so there’s something soulful about it. [Listen to] some kind of loud rock or rap that gets you out of your head.

What is your worst audition story?
It was for a successful HBO movie, and they already had an offer out to someone. But I thought, No, this part is perfect for me. It’s was based on a real-life person, and this was when I was doing “Private Practice.” I talked to my manager and agents and they said, “There’s an offer out, but if you want to, go for it.” As an actor, we have so little autonomy. Agents and managers say, “Go out and do it” knowing it’s not going to happen.

So, my best thinking was, I should look like this character! So I had this prosthetic nose made by Matthew Mungle. He made prosthetic lips for me when I played a trans Vegas show girl [on “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation”]. I got a wig and I had him put a fake nose on me, and I was going to put it on tape. And the casting person at “Grey’s Anatomy,” who was 15 minutes away, said, “I’ll [help you tape it].” And by the time—with this fucking fake nose and wig and a solid offer out to a very good actress—I got there and I looked at the material and realized, there’s nothing here that can be mindblowing. No monologue, no big moment. It was just a great piece to be a part of. There wasn’t anything I could do that they were going to go, “Wait a second! Rescind the offer to Actress X!” I remember being there like, I’ve just realized this is ridiculous. I’ve truly gone mad. So I left. He was like, “Don’t you want to just read it? You’re already here!” I said nope. It was like being at the altar saying, “I can’t marry this guy.”

What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t worry. Worrying is a big, bad habit and a waste of time. It’s something I’ve had to learn and train myself out of as an adult. Getting back to rock ‘n’ roll: You don’t always get what you want, but you get what you need. When I was young, I tended to worry a lot, but in some weird way it fueled my perseverance and ambition when I lived in New York in the ’90s. I had three different waitressing jobs at any given time and I’d work [as an actor] and go back to waitressing. I definitely worked my ass off to get where I wanted to go and work as an actor. My brother always asked, “What else are you going to do?” when I wanted to quit. “I don’t know maybe I’ll go back to school and teach English lit.” But I’d go to the next audition, pick myself back up, and keep going.

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