‘13 Reasons Why’: How Kate Walsh Tackled ‘Heavy’ Role as Grieving Mother in Netflix Series

It’s been a decade since Dr. Addison Montgomery left Seattle Grace Hospital for her “Private Practice,” but star Kate Walsh said she thinks about ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” daily. Walsh plays a grieving mother in the new Netflix series “13 Reasons Why,” which premiered Friday on the streaming service.

Besides the show, Walsh has a busy year ahead of her with roles in the Liam Neeson thriller “Felt,” the road trip comedy “Girls Trip” opposite Queen Latifah, and the new Pop series “Get in My Van,” which she’s also producing.

Walsh is currently starring in the play “If I Forget” in New York, but took the time to talk to Variety about preparing for her role in “13 Reasons Why” and how “Grey’s Anatomy” is still going strong 12 years after its premiere.

Between TV, film, and theater, is their a medium you like more than the other or do they all have the same amount of pros and cons?

I think each one is fun for various reasons. To do a series like “13 Reasons Why,” with 13 episodes, is similar to what it was like doing [FX’s] “Fargo.” It’s kind of like doing a book, where it’s almost like a longer movie where it’s fun to keep exploring a character, so that’s a luxury. With a movie, it’s a little shorter, like “Girls Trip,” a big R-rated comedy, which was so fun. The interesting thing about last year was I felt like I was on an airplane or traveling more then I was actually shooting. It was awesome to go from doing “Felt,” the Liam Neeson film where I play this boozy FBI person, to “13 Reasons,” where I play this grieving mother, and then going to New Orleans to play this raunchy R-rated character in “Girls Trip.” It was fun having this kind of schizophrenic experience with all these roles.

Is it tough as an actor jumping from various types of characters where one week you’re playing a grieving mother and then the next you’re playing a lighter, more fun character in “Girls Trip,” or does it help the process?

I think it helps — at least it does for me. It’s cathartic and sort of helpful because you can leave the Olivia Baker character from “13 Reasons Why” in the Bay Area and get on the plane and shed her a little bit. Even when I was going on the plane from L.A. to the Bay Area, I wouldn’t become her ’til I got off the plane, though I will say on the way from Burbank to Oakland, I would get a little sick thinking “here we go again,” because it was a really heavy place and I really wanted to do honor to parents who have gone through this horrific, unimaginable, experience in their life. With the help of directors like Tom McCarthy and Brian Yorkey, and all the other amazing writers and directors, I was able to do that. It was also important to me that I leave that there and not carry that around for seven months.

What was it about this character in “13 Reasons Why” that stuck out and made you want to take on the part in the first place?

Two things always help in making my decision on whether I take the part. One is story and the other is character, and sometimes one eclipses the other. Sometimes I’m like, “oh this is a great piece, even if the role is smaller” and if the people involved are so incredible. So it was a little bit of that when it came to this project, also this script was a page turner, it was so well written and compelling. So I got on the phone with Tom [McCarthy] and Brian [Yorkey] and talked about what they wanted to do because I didn’t how much of it would be sort of an insulated piece about the high school experience and how much of it would include my character. And they also wanted to talk about how important it was to involve the adult world and her parents, and how that experience could be part of the story. I also knew Tom from way back and he’s pretty talented and has won some awards lately and Brian won a Pulitzer, so I really trusted them and loved the piece, but I did think carefully about playing this role because it was really heavy. It was a beautiful thing to fly back and forth and go into the world and then head out of it. For me to go in and out and play this mother, and then leave and go drink wine in Napa or leave and play this insane character in “Girls Trip” — there was kind of great catharsis to it.

Was there a rewarding part to playing this role while you were filming or after the production was done?

Oh yeah, so one of the final things we shot, it was like being part of a great piece of music and finding that sweet spot. It was hugely rewarding only because I feel like I did my job well. Again, it was beautiful experience because I trusted the people I was working with. I love working with talented actors. I come from Chicago theater, which is a lot of ensemble-based plays and it’s a lot about being a service to the story and to your fellow actors, I really love that. So to really play with Katherine [Langford] and Kyle [Patrick Alvarez] and Tom [McCarthy], it was a really wonderful experience to just let go and trust that everyone will do their job.

So “Grey’s Anatomy” is going into its 14th season and you were one of its early veterans, when you joined at the end of Season 1. Did you ever see this show having the longevity it’s had, and continuing to be as popular as it was when it first started?

No, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about it because it was like a family. I think about it the way you think about your family or home when you move away. I’m like “wow it’s still going on.” I think about Ellen [Pompeo] and how she’s directing now, I think about the evolution of all my friends like Shonda [Rhimes], Katie [Heigl], and Isaiah [Washington]. I think about all of them all the time. Even though I’ve been a working actor for a long time, that was a big deal and who would of known that it would turn into what it is now. I was only supposed to be a recurring character because I had another pilot that didn’t end up getting picked up, so I ended up coming back and here I am. And now to see Shonda and Betsy [Beers], Shonda’s fantastic producing partner, still thriving, it’s exciting. It sounds corny, but there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about one of them.

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