Ann Walker has been entertaining the world with her work in film, television, and theater since 1974. She has graced the stage in such productions as Ballad, Rain, Best Wishes, How the Other Half Loves, Hysterical Blindness, Opera Comique, Steel Magnolias, The Glass Menagerie, Daughters of the Lone Star State, Sordid Lives and Southern Baptist Sissies. She is likely best known for her role as the delightful LaVonda Dupree from the Sordid Lives play, series, and film. She also appeared in such films as Big Gay Love, Southern Baptist Sissies, Father of the Bride II, The Fanatics, Soul Man, It Takes Two, and Jagged Edge, as well as on such television shows as Passions, Arliss, and MadTv, to name a few. Ann can also be found hosting The Ann Walker Show Wednesday nights at 6 p.m. Pacific on the Universal Broadcasting Network.
What was it like growing up in Texas? What are some of your most fond memories from those days? How have your early days there most left a lasting impact on who you are today?
I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s so life was pretty easy for me. I spent summers with my grandmother in a very rural place called Old Waverly, Texas then the other 9 months with my mom and dad in Houston. I was very isolated with my grandma, we had no indoor plumbing, my grandmother, boiled our clothes in a big, black cauldron, I helped her in the ½ acre garden, we gathered eggs and I would create elaborate pretend scenarios. We listened to the soap operas on the radio during the day and I think that was my first taste of storytelling and the power it had over people. It was just a feeling starting to build. It really was a Mayberry kind of existence. But in Houston there was my brother and sister and school. I loved learning new things.
The most lasting impact left on me from growing up was working hard and perseverance. I never wanted for anything but I always thought there must be more to life than living like that. I was soon to see from the movies that, indeed, there was a whole world that I wanted to explore and be a part of.
When did you first discover your love of acting?
On Saturday mornings my mother would drop my siblings and me off at the Granada Theater at 10 am with food and money to buy drinks and we’d be there until 5:00pm. All that time watching serials, cartoons and two movies. I thought it was heaven. That’s where I first fell in love with movies. On Sunday we’d go to church and when my dad closed our grocery store we’d pile in the car and head downtown to one of the beautiful old opera houses that had been converted to movie palaces with names like the Metropolitan, Majestic and Lowes State. There were no ratings for movies back then so we watched everything! Susan Hayward was one of my favorites and anything Clark Gable was starring in. My father liked war movies, my mother, the romantic ones. I didn’t care what we saw, I just loved watching the actors. I guess I was about 8 or 9 when I (in my own mind) decided that’s what I wanted to do. I certainly didn’t understand HOW to go about it and I sure didn’t talk to anyone about it. I just wanted to do what they were doing.
What were some of your earliest favorites in film and television?
I loved musicals so Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Judy Garland, (Also, secretly, I thought I would be a terrific singer and dancer) unfortunately that part didn’t happen but I sure pursued it for a while. As a teenager, James Dean, Marlon Brando, Elvis Presley, oh my God, did I love Elvis Presley, still do! In junior high I got into the variety shows and took part in anything theatrical that was going on in school. High school drama and scholastic league contests became a big part of my life. As graduation approached I told my family that I wanted to go to NYC and study acting and become a professional actress. Then came the first disappointment, they didn’t share my dream so I attended University of Houston as a psychology major, that lasted all of one semester. Then came cosmetology school, I became a hairdresser. Got my license and worked at that for 3 weeks. Had a succession of customer service jobs: power company, oil company and telephone company. In the meantime, I was engaged to my high school sweetheart and we got married. He always believed in me and we are still very close to this day.
What was it like when you realized you wanted to be a professional actress yourself?
In 1967 I enrolled in acting classes at the Alley Theatre in Houston. That simple act started a lifetime of joy and fulfillment. I became obsessed with becoming an actress and the feedback from my acting coach only spurred me on. I spent the next 7 years doing community theatre in Houston. During that time I went to NYC and studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. I performed in 5 musicals back in Houston with Frank Young’s Theatre Under the Stars. (fulfilling my lifelong love of musicals) Movie companies had started coming to Houston on location. I was already getting restless about becoming a professional actress and when SAG & AFTRA (our unions) came to Houston to open up the unions, I joined! Best decision I ever made. In 1974 my husband transferred with his company to Los Angeles for me to finally pursue acting on a professional level. A year after arriving, I had twin daughters. That slowed me down for a little while but when they were about 10 months old I was back on stage in a musical and I haven’t stopped since.
What do you love most about being an actress?
I love everything about acting when I’m acting. The hard part is the rejection when you don’t get a part that you wanted. In the beginning, I thought it had everything to do with me personally but after a while I figured out that I couldn’t take the rejection personally. The more you audition, the more chances you have to book a job. There are so many people vying for every job. You just have to go in and do what you do as best you can and then forget about it. That discipline takes a while to develop.
How does your work in theater differ most from your work in film and television? Do you prefer one more than the other or do you love them all equally?
I love working in the theatre the most because the play is in your hands when the curtain rises on each performance. You and your co-stars. You create the play from the beginning to the end eight times a week. The theatre gives you the immediate feedback from the audience. You get to live that character at each performance and the audience becomes a player as well. In television and film, there is much more suspension of belief for the actor since it’s starting and stopping so much. But the best part of film and television is the lovely paycheck. I often say I love whatever I’ve been asked to do. It’s a wonderful career and I am most grateful that I’ve had a chance to work for many years in all three mediums and have my pension and health insurance and a body of work that I am proud of.
How do you think the entertainment industry has changed most since you first started your career?
The entertainment industry has changed most dramatically in the fact that the studios are now run by 6 very large conglomerates. The film and television studios have to have a blockbuster of large proportions to keep all the stockholders happy on each project. The theatre is getting almost as bad. Large theatres must hire big names so they can fill the seats. I’m glad I had so many of my big successes before this happened. Thank heaven for the independent film makers. They seem to have rescued the great stories and tell them on a low budget and short shooting schedule.
Are there any little known things about you that your fans might be surprised to learn?
I’m such an open book I think anyone who’s ever met me or come to a Q & A after one of my films has heard every deep dark secret I have. Now that I’ve got a radio show every week, they know even more about me!
Are there any moments from your career that stand out most in your memory?
Every opening night in a play, just as you are standing back stage, the house lights go down the stage lights go up and you begin your journey with that character in that play! Right through to the curtain call. The time I have spent on the stage have been the best moments of my career! There are many more but those in particular have been the best.
What can your listeners expect from The Ann Walker Show? Do you enjoy working in radio?
As my acting career has slowed down, I thought, what can I do for fun and enjoyment. Enter Internet Radio. I started my show 5 years ago and 2 ½ years ago I helped co-found Universal Broadcasting network. www.ubnradio.com, when I thought about what kind of show I would do, I took stock of what areas of life that interested me and came up with politics and being an advocate for the LGBT community. We have a fun and interesting show with lots of guests. It’s 1 ½ hours of discussion about hot topics that are on my mind, that are bothering me, so I am sure they must be bothering other people too. I do tackle many other topics that I find interesting. We are streaming live with video and a chat room which makes it interactive with the audience. A lot of our listeners who can’t tune in live will go to the website and listen to the archive shows there. I love working in radio, you feel very connected to the audiences and we have listeners all over the world.
What does it feel like to bring the world LaVonda Dupree? Did your being Southern yourself come in handy when doing that?
It’s true, LaVonda is my favorite character that I’ve played. I feel very lucky that Del Shores wrote that part for me. There’s a lot of Ann in LaVonda. It’s sort of like Ann if she never left Houston, Texas. Of course, being from Texas and having a family with every one of those characters in it, did come in handy. Looking back, my family was pretty funny but while I was there, it didn’t seem too funny. That’s why it is so important to play these characters straight, they’ll be funny to the audience, but if we try to be funny then they will become stereotypes.
Are you looking forward to bringing her back in the new Sordid Lives film? When can we expect to see that? What is it like to work with Del Shores?
Yes, yes, yes, this is the best news any of us have heard in a long time. We will be coming back hopefully as planned for May. We’ll be shooting in Dallas and I do look forward to the “Black Eyed Pea” restaurant!!The movie is planned to be released before the end of the year. Working with Del Shores and the rest of this extraordinary cast is like working with your family. We all love each other and respect the talent of each person. Del knows how to work with each of us to get the best performance we can give. It’s a dream come true!
What do you love most about being Southern? Do you think the stereotypes have cast us all in a rather unfair light?
You see, dear reader, I couldn’t wait to get out of that place. Now that’s probably something you didn’t know about me. I’m glad I was raised there because every person was a character study. But, when I left in my late twenties, Texas was a Democrat state and now, it’s hard for me to go back and see how bigoted, racist and hate-filled Texas has become. What has happened to women’s rights, civil rights, protecting a person’s right to vote, education? I’m sorry to say I don’t think most of the people are being cast in an unfair light. I know there are still many people who would like to change the current state of affairs and I sure hope they can.
What advice would you offer women in regards to being comfortable with what God gave them in today’s society?
We will never look like the women in the fashion magazines! For a long time I thought I must strive for that. I had low self-esteem about my looks because I just couldn’t make that come true. I finally figured out that this goal was not attainable and I must find my beauty and acceptance in myself. Once I did that, I calmed down and appreciated that I was happy, healthy and could make people laugh and had friends and loved ones who became my mirror of myself. It’s a hard lesson to learn but as I got older, I’m glad I figured it out because it saved me a lot of heartache.
What was the best advice anyone ever gave you? Who was it?
- Readers Digest Magazine had an article How to Be Lucky which I read before leaving Houston and the first thing was Go to as many functions where people in your field will be. Keep going and get to know as many as possible. 2. Character actor/past president of AFTRA, Marvin Kaplan told me many years ago “Never turn down work”. Now, that doesn’t mean if offered a part in porn or some part that goes against your personal morals, it just means never turn down a legitimate job because the part is too small or you have to look plain or you have to play a homeless person and not the upscale woman. Just do the job to the best of your ability and don’t complain. Especially not to hair and makeup because it will get back to people who can hire you again. Always be courteous and on-time and don’t talk too much.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
As of December 31, 2014 I sold my share of UBN Radio so that I can enjoy my life with my children and grandchildren. I’m now free to go on more auditions and take parts that require travel. I’m planning a trip to Italy this year in September. I’ve got the movie to do in May. I’m still doing The Ann Walker Show every week which I hope people will tune into. Fingers crossed, there’ll be more TV, movies, and plays on my horizon.
What do you think is key to a life well lived?
A life well-lived means living life to the fullest every day, every year. Living mindfully which includes thinking how we fit into the world around us, doing what we can to preserve our planet. Having compassion for our fellow man. My motto, live and let live! Be kind to one another!
If you don’t mind my asking how do you hope to be remembered when your time comes?
Hopefully, all the things I mentioned above, I can accomplish and be remembered as a great mother, grandmother, and loyal friend! Oh, and a terrific actress!
Anything you’d like to say in closing?
I’d just like to say THANK YOU to the thousands of people who have supported my dreams and appreciated my work over the last 35 years and I look forward to bringing more laughs their way in the future!