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Monday, July 27, 2009

Deeper Dish with Stephen Wallem (aka Thor on 'Nurse Jackie')

I've known the fabulous Stephen Wallem for many years. He was born and raised in Rockford, Illinois (also the hometown of McMillan's lovely wife, Susan Saint James), and moved to Chicago in 1986, where he made his professional stage debut as an alien in The Rocky Horror Show. I first became aware of this talented guy when I saw him perform his one-man show, Off the Wallem, in the cramped basement of Café Voltaire on Clark Street in 1992. The show "traced the tribulations of a large but perky performer struggling for exposure in the Chicago theatre scene while searching for the perfect Hardee's breakfast biscuit and maintaining close friendships with Stephen Sondheim and Stefanie Powers." And if that synopsis doesn't make you at least smile, there's something wrong with you. Off the Wallem was voted one of the Top Five productions of the year by Gay Chicago Magazine, and Steve received an After Dark Award for Outstanding Cabaret Artist.

I became up close and platonically personal with Mr. Wallem a few years later when he starred in the musical comedy, Forever Plaid, which ran for over six years in Chicago. My partner managed the show, so we got to know the man behind the music--and he turned out to be not only funny and talented but also a sweetheart of a guy. Steve moved to New York City in the fall of 2008 and was cast in the recurring role of Nurse Thor on the new Showtime series, Nurse Jackie, starring Edie Falco. It has received rave reviews and high ratings and will be returning for a second season. I couldn't be more thrilled for Steve's success, and I'm quite honored to have him be my first interviewee for my new Deeper Dish feature, in which creative people whom I find fascinating will answer pop culture questions along with giving us some insight into their lives. So without further adieu, let's get deeper with the dishy Stephen Wallem:

What's been your favorite scene or episode so far on 'Nurse Jackie'?

Even though I'm only in it briefly, I think my favorite episode so far is "Tiny Bubbles" with Judith Ivey. As a whole, I think it's a masterpiece, packing three brilliant co-stars and several rich stories into a short thirty minutes. My favorite scene to shoot may have been my first trauma scene in Episode 9. I got to live out that ER fantasy with the circling cameras and urgent "choreography." It's also the first time Thor is seen doing his job seriously. Of course, I'm also very fond of my very first scene with Edie in Episode 2. I could almost hear Yentl in the background singing "...this is one of those moments." Or maybe it was Ed Asner. Oh, and having cold chocolate pudding splattered on me was a favorite as well. Who wouldn't love getting paid to wear dessert?

Do you have any groovy Edie Falco stories that you can share? Or any stories about what it was like to work with 'Nurse Jackie' guest stars Judith Ivey, Blythe Danner and Swoosie Kurtz?

For the record (and I'll say this in every interview 'til the day I die) Edie Falco could not be nicer, more supportive or more professional. I have yet to hear anyone say a negative thing about her. The fact that she comes from the theater has a lot to do with it in my opinion. There's a certain work ethic that comes with being a respected stage actor first. I wasn't fortunate enough to work with Blythe or Swoosie Kurtz. Judith was wonderful, however--another example of the biggest pros being the nicest people.

Have you been recognized out in public by any fans?

I've noticed a few people staring on the street or the subway with that "How do I know that guy" look, but no one has come up to me yet. I should start hanging around in front of ER entrances more often, I guess. I seem to be popular among bears, however, as some lovely Facebook messages have shown! I hope there's a Bear Parade somewhere I can marshal. I'm an adept waver, after all. I enjoy throwing things at strangers, too.

What's next for Nurse Thor? Will he be returning for Season 2?

Yes, the "Bear Nurse" (as I've been called on Twitter) will definitely be back next season. I'm very excited because I think you'll learn some surprising things about Thor's personal life next year, plus his relationship with Jackie will grow.

If I had to gain thirty pounds for a role, I would eat:

I feel like I've already gained thirty pounds since my first day of shooting. Can I answer a question about colonics instead?

If I could be part of any TV family in history, I would choose:

The Huxtables. I have the best Mom on the planet, but damn did I love Claire Huxtable. I don't know if I could have lived with Vanessa's cold, soulless eyes, but at least Danny Kaye would have been my dentist.

My favorite audition song is:

Well, being that Sheena Easton's "Sugar Walls" is so overdone, my first choice usually ends up being a beautiful song called "Wherever You Are is Home" written by Michael Duff and one of my best friends, Cheri Coons. It's a perfect little one-act in two minutes; one of those rare finds that shows off your range and acting without having to cut out any bars.

The very first album, tape or CD that I purchased with my own money was:

Spirits Having Flown by the Bee Gees. I loved the song "Tragedy" and just had to have the whole LP. I can't recall if I actually earned the money or just cried pathetic Bee Gees tears until Mom coughed up the ten bucks.

In high school I was:

...embraced immediately by all the jocks for my interest in musical theater and art. They would beg me to stop by every sports tournament and share tales of tap class and Sondheim cast albums.

The last good book I read was:

When Blanche Met Brando by Sam Staggs. Fascinating, borderline-trashy history of Streetcar in all its inceptions.

My very first concert was:

Bette Midler, "De Tour", 1983. Still the best concert I've ever seen. That was a two-hour master class on how to be a singing actor. Nobody understands and lives a lyric better than her, in my opinion. She will forever be my biggest influence as a singer, not because of her vocals but because of her mastery of storytelling.

My favorite daytime or prime time soap opera diva (past or present) is:

Robin Strasser, "Dorian Lord" on One Life to Live. For some reason, I suddenly got hooked on the show in high school (mmmm...high school) and Dorian was my idol. I even wrote her a fan letter. I also fell in love with Erika Slezak. I stopped watching in college, though. Have I missed anything?

If I could be a celebrity panelist on any game show in TV history, I would choose:

Match Game, without a doubt. Someone needed to keep Debralee Scott company in that bottom row.

When I was growing up, I never missed a television episode of:

I Dream of Jeannie, Underdog, The Partridge Family and The Bionic Woman. Clearly I had a fetish for women with super powers and women who sang to whales.

If I could have dinner with anyone in the world--living or dead--I would choose:

Meryl Streep. I want to bribe her into playing Thor's mother.

My favorite decade for pop culture is:

Almost solely for the music, it would have to be the 80's. I'm a sucker for a sparse synth line.

If I could give an Oscar for any neglected film performance of the past, I would give one to:

Ellen Burstyn, Requiem for a Dream. My best friend Cara and I often talk about performances that clearly "cost" the actor in some way, and that performance cost her. No offense to Julia Roberts, (and I know she follows my interviews religiously) but Ellen should have won that year. Julia is a movie star, but Ellen is an artist.

Who's your favorite: Judy or Liza?

Liza. Remind me to someday tell you about the late night cheese fries I had with her at the Melrose Diner in Chicago. And no, I'm not kidding. And no, it wasn't a drag queen.

Who's your favorite: Bette Midler, Barbra Streisand, Olivia Newton-John or Cher?

Bette by far. Does Cher read this, though? All I need is for Cher AND Julia Roberts to be mad at me.

Who's your favorite: Bette Davis or Joan Crawford?

What is this, some sort of GAY blog or something? I'm calling my agent...

If you could live anywhere in the world for one year, where would you live and why?

Does Atlantis count?

What's next for Steve Wallem?

A nap. Talking about my brilliance makes me sleepy.

Thank you, Mr. Wallem, for getting Deeper with us here on the Dish. To learn more about Steve, check out his website at and click here to become a fan of his on Facebook.


David Dust said...

I am SO going to keep my eyes open in the subway so I can be the first person to "recognize" him. I'll tell him you said "hello"...

GREAT interview!!!


Deep Dish said...

Thanks, David--and do keep your eyes peeled for Steve, whom I'm sure would be delighted to be recognized.

Patrick said...

So proud of Stephen. He is an amazing talent! Love the colonic shout out! xo

Anonymous said...




Paulpement said...

Love you, Stevie! Great job, Marc.

Queers On Screen said...

this show is one of the best on tv right now, and i am sooo excited to see more of Thors character this season. i think he has a realy interesting future!