Q&A: Private Practice's Kate Walsh

As Dr. Addison Montgomery on ABC's wildly successful Grey's Anatomy, actress Kate Walsh helped create a fan-favorite character who proved bigger than Seattle Grace. After four years on Grey's, Addison packed her bags and headed south for Los Angeles to be front and center on her own show, appropriately titled Private Practice.

Private Practice just earned a full-season pickup in its second season, and it will take at least that long to sort out all of the drama that's transpired over the last few episodes.

Kate Walsh took time to chat with about the future of Private Practice, the recently departed Dell, and Addison's state of mind. Things are really falling apart on Private Practice! The practice is in financial ruins, secrets are coming out, and Dell is gone. What's going on?!

Kate Walsh: It's very dramatic. Everything's falling apart. Much like our own financial crisis in this country, which I just find kind of amazing since [Private Practice creator] Shonda [Rhimes] and the writers wrote these episodes back in late May. So, I do think it's an interesting kind of little microcosm of what we're all experiencing nationally, globally! I identify with it and I think a lot of people can, but it's definitely created a lot of conflict and drama. In addition to that kind of backdrop of the practice being in financial crisis, there's just tons of medical-ethics issues and conflict--personal conflicts versus professional roles. And so, there's a lot happening. More surgery this season. It's's got it all. Sex. There's Charlotte King. You know. You talked about the medical dilemmas and the relationship dilemmas. What do you think is the major draw for the show? It's kind of split half and half between those two.

Kate Walsh: I know. Well, I'd like to think both. I think that it's got something for everybody but that it's just hugely these medical issues, and a lot of them, you know, are social issues. I mean, medical ethics is so fascinating. Whether it's, oh gosh, in the first episode when the woman is trying to have a baby so she can use the placenta and blood cells to save her other child. There are moral and ethical dilemmas that I think every one of us, when we read the scripts go, "What would you do?" And so I think as an audience member that's really seductive and accessible as well. And in addition to that, there's just a lot of that conflict that's really real.

Whereas last season [when] we established the show, we established that there are a group of friends who decided to work together. But this season there's a lot more conflict within the doctors, and it's more vocalized and acted out. And then there's the surgery [aspects] and sometimes it's almost investigative work, when doctors go out in the field and they're meeting clients in these weird scenarios. And there's health-insurance issues, and all sorts of things that everybody can identify with. Plus the personal romantic stuff. So you've got it all, which is something that Shonda is really great at in terms of interweaving the personal and the professional and where characters are strong and where they're fallible and mixed up, which makes them all the more delicious to watch. Oh yeah, it does. Let's talk about one of those delicious personal relationships--Addison and Naomi (Audra McDonald). Can you get into Addison's head and describe where she's at? I mean, does she just think Naomi's being a b**** and should own up to taking the blame for the financial ruin of The Oceanside Wellness Centre?

Kate Walsh: No, I think [Addison] feels that she's right. I think Addison feels that she was right in what she did, and it was tough love. She had to do what she had to do to save the practice, and she had a stake in it as well. And [she basically said], "Look, I left, I mean, I left everything to come down here, this is my practice too." And I kind of love that. I love that character. Whether you think it's a flaw or a strength, [I love] that she's just like, "OK, I'm going to take over now." You know, [she says to herself] "I see what's happening and I'm going to make a bold decision." And I like that. I think that's what creates drama and excitement and makes it interesting television. And people aren't afraid to be disliked, you know, for the choices they make. And on the other side of things, she's fresh off Dr. Pete (Tim Daly) and on to the cop. How's her romantic life right now, and what's going through her mind?

Kate Walsh: Well, right now work is taking up all of her life--and then of course she's losing her friend, so you know, she made the horrible phone call to the cop. I think everybody can identify with that, at one time or another, making an inappropriate phone call to somebody--[and leaving] a little too much information [on the answering machine]. The Swinger's call, as I like to say. So, at least she didn't hang up and call back repeatedly. But I think she's struggling and she feels like even though she can put on a brave front at work and be the strong one, that there is that need for her, that other need of feeling really vulnerable and needy and needing support, a connection, and love. I guess we'll see how that plays out in upcoming episodes with Officer Kevin, and otherwise. What about--my favorite character--Dell (Chris Lowell). He just flat-out quit the practice! What's the latest on him and will we be seeing him again soon?

Kate Walsh: You're going to have to tune in to find out. But he is great, we love Dell. Dell is awesome, and for me it was really fun to play with him because I felt like Addison didn't have any interns anymore, so she sort of made Dell her whipping boy a little bit. But also, they're both kind of outsiders in a sense, her being new to the practice and him being, you know, working the reception desk, but clearly wanting to be a midwife as well. And so there's that sort of, you know, a little bit of that bonding there that I loved. I noticed his name is on one of the future episodes. So, he is coming back.

Kate Walsh: He'll be back. He'll be back in some capacity. You'll have to wait and see, but yeah. "Chris Dell" as we call him. Yeah, he's back. But you'll see, it'll be interesting the way he comes back and in what capacity. Nice. I'm going to throw a user question at you, straight from the fans. Adelette wants to know what your--you, Kate Walsh personally--dreams and hopes are for Addison.

Kate Walsh: You know, it's funny because I've been playing the character for four years now, and one of my dreams has come true. That you could just see her sort of having a little bit of a relationship, or dating. Because the only thing we saw of her in Grey's Anatomy was the ugly side of the Derek/Meredith triangle. And then, of course, Mark Sloan, but there was no real love there. I wanted to see what would it be like for her to be in an adult relationship or dating with someone who likes her for a change. And so that gets to play out a little bit in the first part of the season. And they're bringing some of my family members in, so I'm excited to see how that plays out, too. And then I guess, ultimately, I'd like to see her in a working adult relationship--I guess in what I crave in terms of what I'm wanting to see in television and in movies, is working relationships. So enough of the neurotic "I'm always talking about how I'm feeling now" [type of relationship]. But [instead] what's it like to have an adult relationship, and it can be just as interesting and sexy and fun to watch it play out, as a working relationship with all its ups and downs, as opposed to..."ah, another one bites the dust" [Laughs]. But that also takes time and it's earned. Yeah, we'll see if Shonda thinks it's fun to write that, though.

Kate Walsh: I know, exactly. Next question. I'm sure you've answered this so many times, but we haven't had a chance to ask you. You've been on both Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice--what do you think are the fundamental differences between the two shows?

Kate Walsh: Well, there are quite few. Grey's Anatomy has such a strong voice, but it's fundamentally a surgical show and it takes place in a hospital, and it's a teaching hospital. So, it's such a strong archetype or structure of the [typical] hospital. Everybody wears blue scrubs or are in white coats. And you have them all bouncing around like pinballs in a machine, and you get to watch them bumping into each other and all their conflict and everything. But the surgery is the anchor of it.

And our show, we do have more surgery this season and it's great for me, because I get to be old Addison, you know, in charge and saving lives. But it's really more of--it's sort of what happens to doctors when they grow up. Or don't grow up, as the case may be. Even though it is still fiction, it's so real and accessible in terms of the issues that they're dealing with--in terms of medical ethics and patients and health insurance, and politics of a hospital versus a private practice, and the state of medicine. It's still super sexy and people acting out in weird ways. But I really think that it speaks to--and Grey's does too---it speaks to social issues as well. But this is just a little more grown up, and the issues that come and go in each episode are [from] these cases that recur and come back, so you develop relationships with these patients. But really, the biggest thing is the ethics issue, which has played an essential part this season. In every episode there are cases that are "so what would you do in this situation" cases in really heightened circumstances. I think that's probably the fundamental difference--how those ethical dilemmas also play out between the characters in the show. One last question. Do you guys think you'll be doing any more crossover episodes?

Kate Walsh: I don't know. That's always a possibility. That's a question for Shonda. I'll talk to her soon. Thanks for chatting with us!

Kate Walsh: I really appreciate it, thank you.

Private Practice airs Wednesday nights at 9 p.m.

Comments (2)
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Oct 24, 2008
both shows are great in their own little ways :) Addison rocks!
Oct 22, 2008
Thanks for the interview, that was nice, but for the record, Addison was only in Grey's for 2 years, not 4. season 2 and 3. And, ok, the last episode of season 1 for like 30secs, I don't think it counts.

I love Addison, she used to be my favorite character in Grey's, but I think she's not as great in Private Practice. She kinda lost her flavor. I think it's because ultimately, she belongs in an hospital. She's a top neo-natal surgeon, and I think that's what is missing.