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Arts + Culture Movies From 'Grey's Anatomy' to Frameline: Kate Walsh on acting...

From ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ to Frameline: Kate Walsh on acting and activism

As rom-com 'Sell By' premieres at LGBTQ fest, the screen favorite speaks about the importance of gay friends and Planned Parenthood.


More is what six friends living in New York City are striving for in Sell By, Mike Doyle’s new romantic comedy.

In the film, premiering at Frameline on June 26, longtime boyfriends Adam (Scott Evans) and Marklin (Augustus Prew) yearn for more passion in their relationship. On the career front, Adam, an artist, also wants more money, and Marklin, a social media influencer, is always pushing for more followers.

Their friend Cammy (Michelle Buteau) would be glad to find a partner who isn’t homeless and her boyfriend Henry (Colin Donnell) wants nothing more than to be housed. Another chum, Haley (Zoe Chao), is desperately seeking a lover who isn’t underage, but her young student Scott (Christopher Gray) just wants her.

Elizabeth (Kate Walsh) and Damon (Chaz Lamar Shepherd), the most “stable” of the bunch, still want to be married—just to other people.

Actress Kate Walsh (“The Drew Carey Show,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Private Practice,” 13 Reasons Why)—who waited tables in New York City for a good decade before “making it”—told 48 Hills, in a recent interview, that she related all too well to these characters’ aspirations for career advancement and a successful relationship.

She also spoke about playing LGBT characters before it was trendy, why she gets along so famously with gay men on and off-screen, and the importance of giving back once you’ve finally achieved success.

48 HILLS What sold you on “Sell By”?

KATE WALSH The writing is what drew me in. I loved the whole ensemble nature of the film, the love, the celebration of modern relationships and struggles, and the reality of having to work through things.

And having a gay-themed relationship front and center among a big group of [gay and straight] friends is something we haven’t seen before. It’s a slice of life that I would want to be a part of. There’s definitely some crossover in my life with friendships and relationships that I have.

48 HILLS The six characters in the film are struggling to make their career and romantic goals come true. What were yours when you were coming up?  

KATE WALSH The end game was always to become an actress and my dream came true after a lot of hard work and many plates later.

I was the quintessential bitter waitress, waitressing and acting for 10 years. I remember getting a gig here or there and then it’d be, “See ya guys.” Then, two weeks later, I’d be coming back, trying to pick up shifts and I’d be like, “Anybody?” Of course, I was demoralized

But I always wanted a relationship, too, and definitely had boyfriends and a brief Hollywood marriage [to movie producer Alexander Morgan Young] in there along the way.

I still want a partnership, but I love what I do. Now I’m at an age where I’m like, “Life is so short and I’m not going to get to do all the things that I want,” but I will definitely try for more.

Augustus Prew and Scott Evans in ‘Sell By.’ Courtesy of Sell By Film

48 HILLS You play the straight best friend of Scott, the gay protagonist in the film. Why do so many straight women seem to form such strong friendships with gay men?

KATE WALSH For me, growing up female in this very patriarchal male culture, I identified with all the heroes in books men wrote, so I was a tomboy and adventurous. But I also learned the vulnerabilities of being female and the susceptibility to dangers like sexual assault and having to hide who I am or toughen up and really learn how to defend myself when being bullied as a little kid.

I think sometimes with straight men, still, as a middle-aged person, I end up reverting to a 14-year-old girl and “Should I not text this or say that?” But I get to be whoever I really am with my gay friends, meaning I don’t have to edit myself, shrink myself, or hide who I am. None of us should ever have to hide or shrink ourselves.

48 HILLS In one hilarious line in the movie, after Scott tells you he’s not interested in getting married, you say, “I marched my ass in the snow for your rights.“ That made me think of all the work you’ve done over the years for Planned Parenthood of America, Operation Smile, and Oceana. Why did you become an activist?

KATE WALSH I had been a quietly and gratefully working actor for many years, but “Grey’s Anatomy” put me in a big way in a public profile, so it became that time of maybe I could help people by just their identifying with me.

Planned Parenthood was the first thing that I added my support for because when I didn’t have health insurance and was a hardworking waitress-actor for 10 years, Planned Parenthood was my only provider, so I could speak about that.

My dad was a big union guy working for big labor and advocating for worker’s rights, my mother was a social worker, and my stepfather was a psychologist in the state prison system for his entire career, and they were always socially active as far as contributing to the community, so that was in my DNA.

I feel like I’m so #blessed that I can do what I want and love, so it’s a no-brainer to give back wherever I can. I’m still marching for gun laws, women’s rights, and healthcare and I’d be happy to drive a woman across the country to a Planned Parenthood center.

48 HILLS You’ve twice played a lesbian, opposite Sandra Oh in Under the Tuscan Sun and opposite Nia Peeples in Inside Out.  You’ve also played a trans woman on “CSI.” What draws you to LGBTQ roles?

KATE WALSH I’ve always identified with being an outsider, from how I grew up, coming from a divorced home, moving a lot, and always having to be the new kid. Also, coming from a theatre background and being a bit of a gypsy, I’ve always identified.

One of the reasons I wanted to act was to experience and understand and bring empathy and compassion to others’ experiences that I, in my own way, can relate to.

48 HILLS “Grey’s Anatomy,” which you starred on for several seasons, is famous for tackling LGBTQ issues. One character, Dr. Levi Schmitt, famously came out on the show, along with Jake Borelli, the actor who played him. Would you ever go back?

KATE WALSH I really loved it, loved the writing, and loved my character, and was thrilled to have the spinoff, Private Practice. But I feel like, after a decade of playing Dr. Addison Montgomery, I put her to bed. But at the same time, I would go back, yes, for a special goodbye episode. But I did everything I could with her.

Back to Sell By, I’m so excited it’s premiering at Frameline. You never know what’s going to happen. This was a tiny little film that we all leaned in to make and loved so much from the bottom of our cold black hearts and were like, “What will happen to it?”

June 26, 9:15pm, $15
Castro Theatre, SF
Tickets and more info here.

Joshua Rotter
Joshua Rotter is a contributing writer for 48 Hills. He’s also written for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, SF Weekly, SF Examiner, SF Chronicle, and CNET.

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