Interview with Becky Wahlstrom in Los Angeles
Open Fist Theatre, Los Angeles, CA – Oct 05, 2008
In October 2008, Anne (DomesticElephant), Deb (Sisterdebmac) and Tina (TeeJay) went to LA together and met up with Becky Wahlstrom after seeing the Frank Zappa rock opera Joe’s Garage in which Becky played the character Mary. Below you can read the transcription of the interview.
You can download the audio file here or listen with the embedded player below. Becky took us backstage to do the interview, so be warned that there’s a bit of background noise and chatter of her co-stars hanging out in the adjacent changing room area.
Deb: The first thing I wanted to start out with was, do you have anything that we can look forward to upcoming, you know, any films or TV or anything?
Becky: Uhm, right now, no, nothing with the TV and the film, I mean, uhm, this is the latest thing I’ve been doing. I mean, there’s …. I have different shows, like, guest starring on different things, that I recently did, that pop up here and there, I know, like Bones just played.
Deb: Oh, I missed that!
Becky: CSI:, I was on an episode of CSI:, Bones…
Tina: Yeah, we saw that, I think.
Deb: You saw it.
Tina: Yeah, I saw it.
Deb: The last thing I saw was K-Ville.
Becky: Oh, okay.
Deb: That was the last thing.
Becky: Yeah, but nothing, not in the most recent… Not most recently, there isn’t anything, I’ve been busy.
Deb: Oh yeah, so you’re really enjoying this, huh?
Becky: Yeah. Yeah, the theatre is, like, I was realizing today, when I was tonight sitting with… they play Watermelon In Easter Hay, you know, and it’s all quiet and I go in there sometimes and just listen and I realize, like, how much the theatre is my church.
Deb: Hm, cool.
Becky: And so, during that song I like to sit and basically just give thanks for being around a bunch of very creative people and the opportunity to do this, as much as I welcome TV and film work all the time, love it, I just, I would be in the theatre every day if I could be, it’s like… my mom is very religious and I think if she could be in the church every day, she would be. And I can’t identify with that with her, but I … until I think about it in the realm of the theatre. I grew up in the theatre and I’m always very comfortable with the theatre.
Deb: How long have you been at this?
Becky: Theatre-wise, I’ve been doing it since, uhm, like Freshman, well, even earlier, like, you know, community theatre and that kind of thing. But then, by High School I was doing professional theatre in Chicago and, uhm, so, all through High School. I went to an Arts High School in Chicago and they would come to the school if they’re were casting, you know, productions here and there in the city, and so I got the opportunity to work with a lot of professional actors early on and I just gained a love for the theatre through that.
Deb: That’s great. Do you do a lot of singing and dancing or …?
Becky: I don’t do a lot of singing and dancing, I get to— this is one of the few plays where I… I’ve done some wacky musical type of, The Lively Lad, I did, I played a man, actually, in that, and I sang and danced in that and, uh, there were some musical numbers in Nosferatu, which is another play-slash-musical that I did. It was kind of a rock musical kind of thing. But this is the most musical rock opera…
Deb: That kind of leads into a question that we had prepared for you, which is: It seems like you do some roles that seem to mess around with gender roles a little bit. Is that something you’re interested in or is kind of a coincidence?
Becky: No, that fell on me, I think. I just, have— I don’t know. I think I’m a tomboy and I end up getting cast in a lot of kind of wacky gender, uh, unspecific roles. (laughs)
Deb: Right, right. I was thinking specifically of the, uhm, the Strong Medicine episode where you play on the boys football team.
Becky: Absolutely. And even with Joan of Arcadia there was the debate as whether you know, and then I played, on Star Trek I played a third gender alien, you know.
Tina: Yeah, that was… you know, I’m a big Star Trek fan, so I watched that show.
Becky: Yeah. I, I think, I mean, I’ve always been a, very much of a tomboy and…
Becky: … that always comes— Yeah, I play a lot of competitive sports and all that kinda stuff.
Deb: ‘Cause you pulled the football thing off pretty well.
Becky: Oh, good.
Deb: Originally, on Joan of Arcadia, were they trying to leave it sort of non-specific? How long were they gonna do that for?
Becky: You know, early on, uh, someone’s … I’ve, I was thinking they were gonna write her in as a gay character and I was given the warning that actually she wasn’t and she was based on one of the writers, what knew— Not based on, she wasn’t based on this character, but we had, one of the writers and I had a mutual friend, and she was explaining to me this woman, and she’s like ‘You know, she’s so, like, guy-ish, but she’s not gay. She’s just a very, like, she’s very in touch with her, yes, uhm, guy side, you know,’ they mean, and I, and so we early I wasn’t, I knew that it wasn’t gonna go that way. She goes, ‘You know, we’re gonna maybe lead it to be a mystery for a little while but it’s not gonna go that way.’
Deb: It’s cool. I can really identify with that because I kinda was the same as a big tomboy, you know, my whole life and everything.
Deb: So I, I really sort of really identify with Grace, I think, aside from Adam, of course, Grace was my favorite character. I loved you guys together, too, so… I mean, did you enjoy working together …
Becky: Oh yeah.
Deb: ‘Cause you seemed to click very well. You seemed to have good chemistry.
Becky: Oh yeah. Uhm. It was, uh, yeah, it was, it was a really great experience on Joan of Arcadia.
Deb: One of our favorite things is the scene, I don’t know if you remember specific scenes, but the scene with you and Adam after he tries to sleep with Joan and you’re in the biology closet and he’s just wiggin’ out because she told her mom, and between you guys it’s just so funny, because Grace is just completely appalled. (Laughter) He’s telling her that and he just needs advice so bad and he’s so incredibly (Becky laughs) stuttery and afraid to talk about it, yeah.
Tina: I was trying to, I was trying to remember the dialogue. It’s like…
Deb: Yeah, yeah. It was terrific.
Tina: He’s like, ‘What should I do?’ and Grace is like, ‘You could invent a time machine.’
Deb: We have a friend on our message board on the website who has a, a banner. You two guys, and I think it says something like, “No amount of therapy will ever make this OK.” (Laughter) So it was, it was one of our favorite things. What do you think the third season would have been like, if it had happened? I mean, did you… Was there sort of a plan for it before it was canceled?
Becky: Oh, sure. Uhm, I think that everyone was really shocked there wasn’t a third season. So I think they definitely, the writers definitely had ideas for a third season. I feel like they were gonna do a lot of battling between good and evil, mmh, the forces of good, the forces of evil, whether that would be so blatantly God-and-the-devil, who knows how that would all have unfolded, but I know that they were gonna play that out a little bit and I know that they had intended for the guy, I forget his name, from Prison Break, I believe …
Tina: Ryan Hunter. Wentworth Miller.
Becky: Yeah, he was potentially gonna play that character. I mean, he did play it in the last episode of season two.
Deb: Last two, I think, yeah.
Becky: Yeah, last two episodes of season two. I don’t … I don’t know if they had intended for him to, like, just like, you know, God had many faces, maybe they were gonna do the same thing with the devil.
Deb: Right! That’s a good point, cause everybody wonders how that would have happened with him, getting the other show.
Becky: Right. I just ran into Barbara Hall yesterday at the Blockbuster.
Deb: Oh yeah?
Tina: Oh wow!
Becky: And I, we were in such a speedy passing, but, she’s like ‘What are you doing?’ and I told her about this show and she goes, ‘I’m gonna come!’ And I said, ‘Great, I wanna talk to you,’ and then we were gone. And you know, I wonder what that woman’s up to, cause she’s just really smart.
Deb: Yeah, I …
Becky: She creates a lot of cool stuff.
Deb: I think she had a pilot, but I don’t…
Becky: It didn’t go and it was a great pilot, and I auditioned for it and it was, I read it and it was, uh, another kind of superheroes, it was like a little bit like Heroes. And I wonder if there was just, you know, they weren’t, like, gonna have two many of the same kind of show on or something, but they didn’t go with it. I thought it was really well written.
Deb: Do you think they were setting up, uhm, Joan’s friends to be like a Scooby gang? Like, was she gonna tell you guys, all of you, and you’re gonna, like, fight along with her?
Becky: No, that I didn’t… that I didn’t know, but although we had a very intimate conversation about what was going on, me and Joan in that second to last…
Deb: Yeah, where Adam gets lost, yeah. That was terrific.
Becky: And there was a sense of, like, her opening up. Whether or not we would believe her would be another issue, though.
Deb: Yeah, that would have been fun to explore.
Becky: Yeah. Oh. There were so many possibilities. (laughs)
Deb: It’s heartbreaking. It’s really heartbreaking. What do you think Grace would have ended up doing, uhm, for a living, you know, say five years down the road from the show?
Becky: I think she was aiming on journalism, in my opinion. (laughs)
Tina: Poetry, yeah? (laughs)
Becky: Poetry and journalism. She was definitely in a write— But she was political, so I th… I feel like she would have been maybe out in the, you know, in the … somewhere in a foreign country doing something political in journalism. That’s where I always envisioned her, kinda heading in that direction.
Deb: Okay, we will put that in a fan fiction. (Laughter) I kind of saw her in college as being on, like, the college radio station, too.
Becky: Sure, yeah, you never know the NPR of whatever, of Maryland.
Deb: Pushing those indie bands that nobody’s ever heard of. (Laughter)
Becky: Yeah, probably. Yeah.
Deb: Was there ever something that you wanted to do with Grace that didn’t work out, that they didn’t wanna let you do or…?
Becky: No, they gave me so much to do with Grace, I was so overjoyed with that character because they were generous in that they were—
(One of Becky’s co-stars comes in and goes, ‘Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry.’)
Becky: They just did a lot of nice things with that character, so I never felt like… I’m sure there were things at the time. I wanted her to be a little bit more— That party scene that they did in season two where they got… I don’t think that Grace was so straight-laced that she… you know, but then I understood too, there was a teenage party, like, you know, I remember fighting for that idea of, like, her being, you know, is she a little bit more crass, does she have a beer in her hand, does she have a, you know, she doesn’t smoke cigarettes per se, as we would’ve seen that by now, but like, you know, something where she was a little bit more clued in instead of kinda, and they made her a little more square all of a sudden than I had anticipated. I was like, What?! We weren’t like that!
Deb: If you could go back to the start of season one, is there anything you would have done differently with the character? It seems like it took a while for it to actually evolve into what we came to know as Grace.
Becky: Uh, no, I really, I think that it all unfolded just as it should have. Uhm, nobody knew. I liked… I liked that mystery, I liked that about being on a… a regular on a TV show, is that you get to really know your character, and then circumstances happen to you, similar to life, just a week ahead of time when you get the script. Do you know what I mean? Oh, okay, this is gonna happen, you know what I mean? It’s very exiting, it’s like life in that way, you know, every week there was some new little, uh, incident or, you know, a new problem to solve.
Deb: I thought they unfolded it beautifully with the whole, you know, uh, the mother drinking.
Becky: Yeah, that was, I mean, like I said, I just was so fortunate, they, they could have, you know, they could have had me there as a, just very much of a supportive character, but they really gave me a lot to work with in a lot of my own storylines, so I was very grateful.
Deb: Absolutely. You and Mike did a great job together. I remember that one scene very specifically, when they see each other for the first time after she dropped a message on the phone and said nothing else and they come together and not— and they don’t say a word. It’s all totally unspoken between you guys, it’s all in the eyes and it’s just …
Becky: That was something we would have fought more for. (laughs) We loved the silence, the silent moments. And the directors that embellished it, we were really grateful for. I think all actors love that.
Becky: That what’s-in-between-the-line moment.
Deb: Right, right. It gives you guys a lot to play with.
Deb: That’s great. That’s really great.
Becky: I think they really did a good job with writing those in on that show, too. They definitely gave those moments.
Deb: Uhm, was there anything in particular that you took away from playing Grace, has it inspired you in some way playing that character?
Becky: I got a lot of on-camera experience. I mean, it’s one thing to do a lot of guest stars, you like, work just a week here, a week there, whatever, but when you consistently work, you really get to learn the craft, the technical side of it. For sure. Uhm… and like I said, working on the same character for that length of time, there was a lot to learn by that.
Deb: What was the character trait of Grace that is most like you and least like you?
Becky: Most like me…?
Deb: What part of yourself did you put into that? That wasn’t on the page.
Becky: I think… I think she’s worldly. And I fancy myself to be a little bit worldly. You know, no, I mean, I think that she’s, she’s conscious of what’s going on. And I try to do that. And I have been pushed all my life to do that and so I felt, uh… I felt like she’s a bit of an old soul, you know what I mean? She’s not quick to judge but she is always watching and thinking and observing and… trying to understand and, you know… and then she’s also stubborn and (laughs) … and opinionated and, uh, sarcastic.
Becky: Self-aware, but then there is that part of her, I think, that’s very shy. And I kinda identify with that, too, like, you know, as much as I love the theatre, I always kind of see myself as, I enjoy most being that supportive role. I don’t … When I am the lead in something, that’s weird for me. But… I would never turn it down, but I feel comfortable being, like, the buddy, the friend, that is, I like that.
Deb: Well, I can’t wait to see you kick ass in a lead role, though.
Becky: So does my mom.
Deb: Was there anything that was weird about playing the character, that you just didn’t really identify with? Did they kind of shoehorn you into any positions that weren’t really comfortable or was it all pretty much—
Becky: Uhm… Nnh … we had a great crew, we had a great staff, so people made things very comfortable to work on that, and, uhm, sometimes the, the idea— that was my first time being recognized outside of places and it wasn’t difficult, it’s always flattering, but it was definitely weird, you know. (laughs) You can no longer, like, go screaming at the guy next to you in your car without them being like ‘Hey, (Laughter) I know you!’ Oooh, I’m on the God show! Behave yourself! (Laughter) And that was weird. You know what I mean, like, you think twice sometimes about what you’re out doing. You know, and you see like people…
Deb: I really loved Book Of Questions, the episode where Grace has a Bat Mitzvah.
Deb: And, uhm, Paul Sand is one of my favorite people in the world. Been a big fan of his since I was a kid.
Becky: Great! Oh, Paul lives right down the street from me!
Deb: Oh really, that’s awesome!
Becky: Yeah, we go out to lunch from time to time. He’s really cool.
Deb: Well, tell him a girl from Atlanta used to love him on the Carol Burnett Show when she was a little kid.
Becky: Okay. I will!
Deb: I was so tickled when he showed up as your dad.
Becky: I didn’t know who he— I didn’t know what he had done previously. I mean, Paul Sand is… people would tell me, you know… Paul Sand! (Laughter)
Deb: Yeah, I have a friend, she is even older than me and uh, she feels the same way. She is just like, he is one of her favorite people, so we were really thrilled when he showed up.
Becky: He was so great as the dad.
Deb: You guys didn’t have a lot of scenes together, but you had some good ones.
Deb: That was fun.
Becky: They brought him back a few times.
Deb: Yeah, he was in at least three or four, maybe.
Deb: That’s good. Uh, do you think there are any real Joan of Arcs out there, maybe?
Becky: That’s such a great question, because, and I think about it all the time, uhm, cause I have a very religious mother who believes a lot in miracles and all kinds of things, and I was raised— She talks about them as if they happen all the time, as if it’s totally common, as if she’s been witness to, so, for me, I… It doesn’t shock me to think that that would be possible. And then this really realistic side of me is, like, No, that’s just… no. You know? Because I also have a very best friend, who is bipolar schizophrenic. And I see the same sometimes fanatical things happening with that sort of religious world. You know, people who are miracle-chasing and, you know what I mean? And then … and then, you know, that girl, off her meds, you know? And I think to myself there is a really, really fine line between sanity and ins— between insanity and spirituality to some degree, like, you know, and I’m always wondering if there is a line at all, you know what I mean?
Tina: But it’s such a beautiful idea to think that, you know, God might be walking around and trying to make the world a better place.
Becky: Oh my gosh, of course, and who’s to say it’s not happening through the most insane crazy whacko walking down the street. Who’s to say it’s not happening through that person.
Deb: We saw a guy a couple of nights ago walking down the street with a crutch and a VCR with the cord tied to the crutch, dragging the VCR in the street. I’ll never forget that.
Becky: That’s a great image.
Deb: Somebody was talking to him. (Laughter)
Becky: I’m not insane. I’m not insane. I’m not.
Tina: Yeah, it’s like ‘You okay, dude?’ and he was, like, ‘Yeah, I do this all the time.’ (Laugher)
Deb: What would your mom think of this show [Joe’s Garage], do you think?
Becky: I sent her the article, because I thought that it was— It articulated the satire. It articulated what it was trying to do or what Frank was trying to do when he wrote it and you know, he wasn’t trying to throw a lot of tits and ass on the stage.
Becky: In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
Deb: That is not what he was about.
Becky: Yeah. And… and so I wanted to send her that. I don’t know how much she’s read into it and she’s in Chicago and she knew she wouldn’t be able to see the show. She’s very exited that I am singing and dancing in a musical and then she really wished that she could see the musical and I told her this would probably not be your favorite musical to come and see. She likes things that are pretty, The Sound of Music, you know what I mean, like …
Deb: Uhm, I’m curious, uh, in the article it said something about a ten hour blow job, I didn’t see any ten hour blow job.
Becky: Because I talked about it! (Laughter) It was just a choreography number where they hadn’t really addressed what Mary’s— my character—Mary was doing in that part, and so I was down on the ground being like, ‘I’m here forever, giving a blow job…’ Oh, no no no, that’s gonna change, we’re gonna throw that out.
Deb: Was that gonna be the opening, the very first, when you very first appear?
Becky: It was in Catholic Schoolgirls originally, I would go down on— when all the girls start going down on, and I start going down on Joe and I was like, this is completely missing the point. We’re so innocent and sweet and this, and Pat, the director goes, ‘Absolutely, we just haven’t gotten there yet, we’re just still trying to place everyone.’ Cause as you can see, there is so much happening on stage all the time. It’s like this collage of, of visuals, so he just hadn’t kinda gotten there yet. He’s like, ‘That’s something we’re gonna be able to do with just you, me and Jason.’ We won’t need the dancers all here to figure out what you guys are doing, what’s going on, so…
Tina: We were sitting in the front row and it was really hard to figure out where to look first.
Deb: My eyes were everywhere. That’s one of the things I was impressed with is that even though there’s so much going on, you guys did a great job staging and choreographing, and it was really easy to follow for me.
Becky: Yeah. Well, that’s the cho— Jennifer is great, amazing choreographer.
Deb: Absolutely. Do you have any funny or memorable things that happened to you on the show, on Joan, that you might be able to share with us?
Becky: Gosh, it was so long ago…
Deb: Yeah, I know. (Laughter) So, nothing that memorable.
Becky: I remember…
Deb: … anything embarrassing?
Becky: The kisses were always awkward, because Michael was so young. (Laughter) And I lied to him about how old I was to make him feel better, and then he, like, went and did some interview and he was insisting that I was a particular age since I had told him I was that. (Laughter). And I was always, that was a really weird part, was me trying to hide my age all the time and I was so scared, that, like, my age would get out, you know. But more than anything it was Michael, I didn’t want him to be freaked out and then I always felt like the boy hadn’t, like, even really had kissing experience outside of that, so that felt really, like, uncomfortable. And sometimes they would even just straight up give me the— And they brought—Michael will hate me for saying this out loud—but sometimes the director would just come up to me and tell me who it’s supposed to look, and they wouldn’t even talk to him, cause the poor guy is, like, 16 years old. (Laughter) So, but, and then I remember one time they said this one’s a really kind of a passionate one, so I went in with tongue, being like, I don’t remember if I even asked. I mean, that was so, like… That’s the theatre world for you. Is when people are just like, everyone’s changing, butts everywhere… And, like, Ah, this is the make-out scene, whooo, you know? And so I didn’t even think about it. And then all— It’s a critical cut and the crew starts laughing, and they are like, you just mouthed that boy! (Laughter) And I felt so, like, badly and, and unprofessional at that point, going, Oh my God, I just jumped the 16-year-old boy. Okay. I think Michael was always, like, game, so that was kinda fun.
Deb: That’s perfect. That’s excellent. Uh, you still in touch with any of the folks on Joan?
Becky: I just, like I said, I saw Barbara, I talk to Mageina Tovah from time to time, uhm…
Deb: Wish we could have seen her out here.
Becky: She is doing a movie coming up, I don’t know what the movie is called but she’s in a movie that she’s really exited about, which is great. Uhm, and I talk with, like I said, Paul Sand, it’s funny cause a lot of the kids were younger than me. So, we would hang out on the set, but when I went out, people always asked that, like do you guys hang out together? We did from time to time, especially if there was a function that we were going to, but I was a little bit older, so I didn’t, like, I would go and do other things. You know, I was, like, a good probably five or six years older than most of those guys.
Deb: Do you still see Mary and Joe?
Becky: Uh, I did see— I work with the, like I have traveled with the Heifer Organization and they to too, I did see them at a premiere a while back, Jason Ritter I saw, and Marianna, his girlfriend, uhm, I saw, at Marianna, at Good Dick, that’s Marianna’s movie that she wrote with Jason in it.
Deb: Oh, cool.
Becky: So Jason and Marianna play boyfriend and girlfriend in the movie Good Dick, that she wrote. And I saw them during their screening, and we helped them, kinda gave notes and that kind of thing. So, yeah, I see people from time to time, and it’s a pretty small community.
Deb: Yeah, yeah.
Becky: Even though LA is a vast city, you keep running into people.
Deb: Right. Excellent. Uh, we only got a couple—
Becky: Amber, I haven’t seen in a long, long, long time, though. She’s a very busy girl and I would love to catch up, especially I’m glad to hear that she’s, uh, booked the certain things she’s still up to, doing the writing and the poetry. I’ve seen a couple of her poetry…
Deb: She’s got a new book coming out fairly soon.
Becky: Oh, cool.
Deb: That’s gonna be cool, I can’t wait to get that. I think that’s pretty much it. Okay, so I guess we just wanna thank you for your time.
Deb: …and you talking to us. That’s great.