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Lisa Ann Walter on Mother’s Day, Her ‘Abbott Elementary’ Bond With Sheryl Lee Ralph, and That Bette Midler Idea

Did it feel different filming this episode at all, given the reversal in your dynamic and the connection you have over the loss of your mothers?

Quinta knows that I have readily available emotions. In any scene where crying is easy for me, I can access it. When they wrote this, they knew that if we had to play that we had both lost our mothers, that it would be battle of the network tears. I don’t need to play that every time. [Laughs] So they gave it to Sheryl, and of course I could feel what her emotions were, but my character wasn’t feeling it. Melissa was intent on noticing what was happening and saying, “I see what’s going on, and you need to take a little step back. You’re hurting.”

Do you feel more comfortable making suggestions for your character now that you’re in season three and have more of a dynamic with Quinta and the writers? How has that evolved?

Always, from the beginning, it’s like working with a great repertory company. When I was coming up as an actor, doing the Greeks and Shakespeare, I thought I was going to be a stage actress. I thought I was going to go work at Arena Stage or go to New York and do off-Broadway. That’s what I thought I would do my whole life. I never saw TV in it. This [is] like the best repertory company I’ll ever get to be a part of, and playing with them, every episode is just beyond my wildest dreams. With Tyler [James Williams], who plays Gregory, he and I have done a couple of things together where we just feel it—we know what each other is doing, and we’ll just look at each other like, Yeah, let’s do that again. It’s the finding of it in the work. Sometimes it’s just that, or sometimes you say to the writer on set, or Quinta, “Hey, can I do this?” Sometimes she’ll say yes. Sometimes she’ll say, “Well, no, because you don’t know, but in two episodes, X is going to happen.”

But you know the character; you’re living inside of the skin of that person. I do come from a Sicilian family. I do know how they behave. And the more I’m living in that world too, the more the writers understand that—that we’re an incredibly pessimistic people. [Laughs] We believe that the worst is going to happen because we were invaded by every country in Europe and Africa for 1,000 years.

Watching the “Mother’s Day” episode, I was thinking about you rattling off Melissa’s many siblings’ very specific names. The audience gets information about Melissa in the best, most chaotic way.

That was actually a good example. They had names—and I knew what they were going for with the joke—but I said to someone, “We wouldn’t name two people in our family Anthony. In the same family, you would have 18 Anthonys, but it would be Anthony, Tony, Big Red. Everybody would have their own name.” [Laughs] So I adjusted the names just a little bit to make it make sense.

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