She wowed us in films like “Magnolia” and “Boogie Nights” and kept us glued to the television with her turn as Wanda Henrickson on the HBO series “Big Love.” Now, Melora Walters is taking on the taboo subject of adultery in the new comedy “The Lovers” from writer/director Azazel Jacobs.
We recently sat down with Walters to discuss how she falls in love with the projects she takes on, having to walk away from them when she wraps, and how one of our interview questions is now only the second time she has been approached about her appearance on “Seinfeld.”
TrunkSpace: “Magnolia” is one of our favorites here and your performance was an extremely underrated one.
Walters: Thank you.
TrunkSpace: It was a such a dramatic, heavy role. Was it a difficult character to tap into and inhabit?
Walters: Well, it was for Paul Thomas Anderson and he’s basically a genius and to be able to have an opportunity to work with him in any capacity… it’s not about what it takes to get there, it’s about the opportunity to work with him. For me, I would just dive to the bottom of the ocean for that man.
TrunkSpace: And you have worked with Paul Thomas Anderson on multiple films. What is the experience like working with the same director on different projects? Does the relationship change?
Walters: Well, I only worked on three films and I think I sang on a fourth one, but it’s not like I work on every single film with him. Again, Paul, as far as I’m concerned, is the most amazing writer/director and it’s just like being in these moments of time where everything stands still. I don’t know how to describe it.
TrunkSpace: The types of movies that he makes don’t seem to be as prevalent in theaters today as they once were, especially as so much of what is being released is based on some other preexisting material.
Walters: I don’t even know how to comment because…
People are making films all the time and whether the general public has access to see them or knows about them, I mean… there’s just tons of films being made for no money. There are beautiful films everywhere and they just might not be distributed. But I think filmmaking is really an art. It’s an art form and so people are constantly creating. Yes, they are remaking. Yes, there are a lot of comic book movies. But at the same time, there are so many interesting films being made.
TrunkSpace: “Magnolia” was such a great dramatic film and you’ve had such a diverse career in the world of drama, but we’d have to imagine that you’re approached just as often for something you did in comedy, which was a very famous episode of “Seinfeld” called “The Hamptons?”
Walters: You know, very few people know that I was on “Seinfeld.” I’m not approached about that at all. I think I was approached about it once and it was last fall and it was when… (laughter)… in an airport going through security. One of those guys who checks your ID and ticket, he was like, “Hey, were you on ‘Seinfeld’?” And that’s the only time anyone has ever said anything to me. My daughter was mortified.
TrunkSpace: Wow. That’s really shocking considering how the show has remained in a perpetual state of airing due to syndication.
Walters: No. I’ve only been approached once by it. Nobody knows I’m on. I’m surprised you’d know I’m on it. You must have looked at my IMDB page. (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: We didn’t, but apparently we know far too much about pop culture.
Walters: (Laughter) That’s funny.
TrunkSpace: Well, we touched on drama and comedy, but it seems like your new film “The Lovers” is a sort of mix of the two in that it’s a comedy, but the subject matter is pretty heavy. Is that accurate?
TrunkSpace: Where does your character Lucy play into things?
Walters: Well, Tracy Letts is married to Debra Winger in the film and he’s having an affair with me and she’s having an affair with the lovely Aiden Gillen. (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: And then they start having an affair together? The married couple?
Walters: Yes! Which is oddly lovely. (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: So one could assume that it takes their outside affairs to make them realize that they missed each other?
Walters: I don’t want to give anything away, but I think that’s something that people will walk away from seeing the movie and discussing. Because, in one sense it’s terrible, but in another sense it’s like, “Well, it makes them love each other again.” I think Azazel, the director and writer, is really amazing. He also, I think, is brilliant. I think he captured something that’s very human and very true in relationships. Not that everybody has affairs, but the elements of it… the essence of it. Some partners are usually desperate to find out if their significant other is having an affair and will use reverse phone lookup websites to try and find out. I think he has really captured something of relationships and what it is to be human. And I really hope people walk away questioning this because it’s interesting.
TrunkSpace: Well, and that applies to so much in life… that “grass is always greener” concept. People can apply it to jobs, family, friendships, etc. The problem being, it’s not always green on the other side of the fence.
Walters: Exactly. Exactly! And in the end you’re faced with yourself and you have to look at yourself in the mirror and maybe stop projecting on different people. That’s difficult.
TrunkSpace: “The Lovers” is opening opposite a box office behemoth in the form of Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” Do you ever concern yourself about an opening weekend and what a film you’re starring in is up against or is it more that once you’re done, you step away and let fate take over?
Walters: I just walk away from it. I’ve done so many films that nobody has ever seen. For me, I love acting, so it’s about having these opportunities. And in “The Lovers” it was really an opportunity to do something that I’ve never done and a role I’ve never done and be involved with these amazing people like Azazel and Tracy and Debra and Aiden. Everybody. It was like a gift. For me, I go in and basically do my job and I love my job and then I’m done. I don’t think about the other stuff at all. I didn’t even know that until you told me. In my boring life, it just doesn’t mean anything. (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: You mentioned that there were movies that you have done that nobody has seen. Was there one that you wished more people had seen?
Walters: Well, to me when I commit to a writer or director or film role, I put everything into it. My job is to bring a character to life… someone’s vision to life. That’s what I’m suppose do. So each time I go into something, in a way, it’s like I fall in love with it. I have no control over any of the other stuff. But every project I’ve worked on I’ve basically fallen in love with the project and the role. They all have lives of their own. I love them.
TrunkSpace: Is there one of those lives that you’d like to revisit from a performance standpoint?
Walters: No. Never. (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: Is part of that the joy of being able to slip into the mind and body of different characters as opposed to playing the same character?
Walters: Maybe. I don’t know. That’s an interesting question. Maybe that’s my defense mechanism kicking in. I like to go in and leave and never go back. (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: You were raised in Saudi Arabia and the Netherlands. From an acting standpoint, does having experienced different cultures and different people benefit you in terms of discovering new characters?
Walters: I think maybe what it did was make me an observer because I never fit in anywhere. I didn’t belong to anything or anyone. So you become the stranger… the observer. And maybe that helped, as an actor, to not judge anything. Maybe. I don’t know. And to know that there are vast worlds and people and in the end we’re all just human beings trying to find meaning.
TrunkSpace: People can travel. People can experience. But living places… going behind the scenes of those cultures and societies… it must open the door a little further in terms of understanding.
Walters: Right. But on the other hand, everything is relative I think. I haven’t experienced what you’ve experienced, so I think… I think it’s all relative.
You’re asking very interesting questions!
TrunkSpace: (Laughter) Sorry. We like to dig deep and peel back the layers.
Walters: Yes, I see that. (Laughter)
“The Lovers” arrives in theaters this Friday.
Walters also wrote and directed the film “Waterlily Jaguar” due to be released soon.