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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Deeper 'Sordid' Dish with Ann Walker

Ann Walker is best known for her role as LaVonda Jean Dupree, the eldest daughter of Peggy and big sister to Brother Boy and Latrelle. And if you're not familiar with any of these fabulous characters, then you have been missing out on one of the funniest families ever. LaVonda and her sprawling Texas clan made their first public appearance in Del Shores' 1996 stage play, Sordid Lives, which became a movie in 2000 and later a "cult classic" as gay fans embraced the "black comedy about white trash". Then in 2008 LaVonda and company returned in Sordid Lives: The Series, a TV prequel which ran for 12 episodes on LOGO, and Shores is hoping to bring everyone back for two film sequels in the future. Through all these wonderful incarnations, Ann has entertained us as the kindhearted and straight-talking LaVonda, whose unconditional love for her cross-dressing brother and gay nephew has made her a beloved icon of the LGBT community.

The actress began her acting career in theater productions in her hometown of Houston, Texas. She later studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City before moving to Los Angeles, where she has appeared in many television shows, films and plays over the years. But it was Ms. Dupree and Sordid Lives that gained her a legion of devoted fans who adore her--including myself. I am tickled pink to have the lovely Ann Walker here on the Dish to discuss her career and answer a few pop culture questions (and FYI, the first gorgeous pic of her is by photographer Alan Mercer).

We, of course, have to start with Sordid Lives. How did you first meet Del Shores and get cast in the role of LaVonda Dupree?
Del Shores and I first met in 1986 when he saw me in a play, and then in 1987 he called me in to read for Daddy’s Dyin' (Who’s Got the Will?) for the part of Sara Lee Turnover. I didn’t get that part, but he remembered me and called me in when he wrote Daughters of the Lone Star State. He asked me to be Carole Cook's understudy, and I politely told him I didn't do understudy work. As I would find out over our years together, his persistence would reign supreme. He wouldn’t take no for an answer, and when Ms. Cook was going to be gone for two weeks doing her one-woman show, I agreed. As I found out years later, most all of Del's understudies go on to become the stars in his future productions. Well, I did the two weeks, Del got to see me in a great role, and no one seemed to miss Ms. Cook, at least that's the way I remember it.

After that, we became friends and I was now considered part of the unofficial Del Shores White-Trash Acting Ensemble. As such, in 1995, Del called to ask if I would read a short one-act called Nicotine Fit. Little did I know at the time what that phone call would mean in my life. That one-act turned into the world famous Sordid Lives! I was honored to originate the role of LaVonda Dupree and get to re-create Del's real-life Aunt Rita, who gave him unconditional love and understanding for his future goals as an actor and writer. We opened Sordid Lives in a 64-seat theatre in Hollywood in 1996 and received rave reviews. And the play ran for one and a half years to packed houses.

After our very successful run ended, as all plays do, I went on with my career and didn't think too much about what was going to happen with Sordid Lives. Then in 2000 the money was raised to do the movie! HOORAY...but not so fast, they needed "star names" for some of the roles. Of course, Ann Walker, was--at that time--not a "star name". So Del, being the loving and loyal person that he is, created the role of Juanita Bartlett for me. I have to say, I was not happy! In fact, to be honest, it was one of the biggest disappointments of my career. I wasn’t "right" for Juanita but, being a good soldier, I agreed to accept it and watch while Beverly D'Angelo did the role of LaVonda.

Well, as Hollywood stories go, maybe mine doesn't rank up there with finding Scarlett O’Hara, but for me, it would change my life forever. With just three weeks before shooting started, I got the call from Del. He said, "Ann, are you sitting down?" I said, "I am now." "Would you play LaVonda for me again?" I’m sure they could hear me scream "YES!" all the way to Hollywood and Vine. He had wanted me all along so when Beverly D’Angelo got a new pilot and pulled out, they (the suits) made him see lots of other stars for the role. But the big tide turned when another one of our "ensemble" had to drop out and Delta Burke came in as Noleta. Now there was the required 5-star name and I could get back into my role as LaVonda. And Del got to cast Sarah Hunley as Juanita, who is and was unforgettable in the role. We made the movie, we were invited to many festivals, and we always won the audience award. Everyone loved us and Del, but the people of Palm Springs were our biggest fans. The movie ran there almost three years.

What a great career Del has helped me to achieve. To be able to continue playing LaVonda is a rare and priceless gift. As an actress, I count myself one of the lucky few who have been given the honor of bringing these rich characters to life. I hope I can continue on this journey of life with Del and that little white trash ensemble that started out together so many years ago.

What has been your favorite Sordid Lives scene?
Episode 6 of the series--"Call Waiting". Love it!

You grew up in Houston, and you've lived in both New York City and Los Angeles. In three words, how would you describe each place.
Houston - Home, Family, Goodbye
NYC - Education, Electric, Exciting
L.A. - Career, Forever, Happiest

You've acted in many theater productions over the years. What is the most memorable moment you have had while performing onstage?
Performing in a play around 1997/98 called Ballad by Tyler Hansen. It was a tour de force role and the biggest challenge I've had as an actress to date.

You've appeared in many interesting films and television shows over the years. What's the first thing that pops into your mind about:

Jagged Edge?
Disappointing. My part was edited down to one line. I had three days work on it and played Glenn Close's personal secretary. I go to the cast and crew screening and discovered only one line was left. Disappointing!

The Young and the Restless?
Promising. I thought "oh great, finally a chance for a contract part", but they gave my boss a heart attack and I was back to being a day player.

Designing Women?
Lovely experience. All the ladies were great to work with.

A big deal. The entire cast was in the scene with me. I was giving a welcoming speech at a masquerade party. Turned out to be fun.

In high school I was:
Not very attractive. I was in the B group. The A group were the cheerleaders and majorettes and class officers. But when I started acting seriously in my twenties, I got pretty. Who knew? And I’ve never looked back.

My favorite comfort food is:
Mac 'n' Cheese.

The last good book I read was:
Water for Elephants. Great book.

When I was growing up, I never missed a television episode of:
I Love Lucy, Soupy Sales, All My Children, Who Do You Trust?, any serial with Roy and Dale, and The Ed Sullivan Show.

Today I never miss a television episode of: The Amazing Race, Glee, Modern Family, The Good Wife, The Mentalist, Nip/Tuck, and Castle.

The very first record album that I purchased with my own money was:
An Elvis Presley record. I was obsessed with Elvis.

If I was stranded on a desert island for a year, I would want to listen to:
Andrea Bocelli, Bonnie Raitt, K.T. Oslin, The Eagles, Elvis, and The Phantom of the Opera.

Four of my favorite movies are:
Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Sordid Lives and NINE.

If I could star on Broadway in any role in any musical or play, I would be:

Maggie in Ballad by Tyler Hansen.

If I could have anyone in the world--living or dead--be a guest at my dinner party, I would invite the following three people:
Bette Midler, Eve Arden and Clark Gable.

What's next for Ann Walker?
I am currently writing a one-woman show or stand-up act (whatever it turns out to be) entitled ANN WALKER...GOD CREATED HER TO HAVE A GOOD TIME! I'm also continuing to tour around the country with the Sordid Lives stage show, which is great fun for all of us. Next stop: Atlanta on January 8, 9 and 10th.

Thank you, Ann, for getting Deeper with us here on the Dish, and I look forward to someday seeing LaVonda again on the silver screen. To learn more about Ann Walker, check out her website at You can also become a Facebook fan by clicking here.


Tom Quicksell said...

Ann Walker is my addiction. I can't get enough and constantly crave more. Wake up hollywood and broadway give this woman more work.... WE LOVE HER

Doug said...

Great lady. Should be a bigger star. I'd cast her in a minute!

Richard Skipper said...

GREAT INTERVIEW! Can I include this in my blog going out on Sunday? Richard Skipper

Deep Dish said...

Sure, Richard, be my guest.

David Carlton said...

I LOVE Ann!! Such a talented ans Classy woman!

Roger Mellie said...

Superb interviews here Marc. Michael Parkinson, eat your eyes out!