Walsh Gets a 'Private Practice'
"Honestly, there is pressure," says the actress who's being spun off from the massive hit "Grey's Anatomy" into creator-producer Shonda Rhimes' next ABC medical drama.
Debuting Wednesday, Sept. 26, the much-anticipated "Private Practice" takes Walsh's doctor character -- hopeless romantic Addison Forbes Montgomery -- from Seattle to Santa Monica, Calif., where she works with her newly divorced medical-school friends (Taye Diggs, Audra McDonald) at their wellness center.
"The pressure is eclipsed by the fact that we are so busy," Walsh says as the show's premiere nears. "I'm just kind of constantly focused on the next thing in front of me. I'm thinking more about my 5:30 a.m. call time and all of my medical scenes."
Walsh remembers reading the pilot script "like a teenager, having tiny screams of joy. It was like a really super-top-secret, delicious diary of somebody else's that I had just found. It's been like a very good dream."
It's been one for Rhimes, too. The producer says she opted to put the spinoff on Addison's shoulders because "there's some great stories for that character to tell, and there's some great places for that character to go. Addison is really interesting and really strong and really smart."
Since the original "Private Practice" pilot aired last spring as a "Grey's Anatomy" episode, which also is on the just-released "Season Three" DVD set, much of the ensemble cast has been seen already.
Included: Tim Daly ("Wings") as a fellow doctor and potential romantic interest for former "McDreamy" spouse Addison; Amy Brenneman ("Judging Amy") as a psychiatrist whose love life is flawed; Paul Adelstein ("Prison Break") as a pediatrician with a questionable dating history; and Chris Lowell ("Veronica Mars") as the ambitious receptionist. KaDee Strickland ("The Wedding Bells") joins as a neighboring hospital's no-nonsense chief of staff.
Servicing them all is, "creatively, a little bit of a high-wire act," Rhimes admits. "The tone is a little bit lighter, and there is a little more fun to be had. 'Grey's' is, in the best way, sort of high school with scalpels. To me, 'Private Practice' is more grown-up; it's more like a squabbling family than it is a group of competitive interns. That was the discovery we made in feeling the chemistry that was going on between everyone."
Indeed, adds Walsh (who's newly wed to 20th Century Fox executive Alex Young), "Professionally, these characters have all attained their dream. They are all choosing of their own volition to have a practice, and they are at the apex of their careers, yet they are sort of a mess personally. I think that's what makes it interesting and identifiable. I think there's also something compelling about taking a character, plopping her in a new environment at 39 years old, and just seeing her flail like a bug on its back. Every one of these characters, in some way, has a starting-over situation."
For co-star Brenneman, "Private Practice" means rebooting her television career after taking a break for family life. She and her husband, film director Brad Silberling ("City of Angels"), have two young children.
"I was tired," she recalls of executive-producing and starring in "Judging Amy" for six seasons, "so TV was not the first thing on my mind. I really thought, 'It's going to have to be the perfect fit for me, because I had such a great thing going.' I passed on some stuff where I would have been the series lead.
"The amazing thing about what Shonda does," Brenneman continues, "is that she tells these stories in a true mosaic fashion. You get your chunky stuff to do, but we share the load. It's such a gift on so many levels, and I think it makes for better storytelling because you don't have the traditional lead everybody is supporting. It's constantly shifting, and that's kind of unique."
The structure of "Private Practice" also appealed to Diggs, who has gone both traditional ("Kevin Hill") and nontraditional (last season's "Day Break") in previous series work.
"For me, it's about continuing to work," he says, "and continuing to do good work in things that are different. I've never played a doctor before, and I've never had this type of writing; I don't want to say 'this level,' because I've been blessed with good writing. I'm a huge fan of Shonda and 'Grey's Anatomy,' so I jumped at the opportunity. When they approached me, I didn't know exactly what the show was, but I said, 'Sign me up.'"
Anyone who did sign up early for "Private Practice" did so knowing it was a virtual lock for ABC's fall lineup. Brenneman recalls, "It wasn't, 'This is just a pilot. Who knows what's going to happen?' It was like, 'This is probably going to go, and it may go for a while, so really think this through.' It felt important, so it was exciting in that way."
As for the high expectations and massive attention "Private Practice" faces upon its arrival, Rhimes reasons, "The minute you start thinking about what could happen or what might happen, you kind of start to freak out and lose your focus. We're focused on making this show and making it really good. I think that with the elements we have, we found the perfect blend, and it's working."