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The Transformation Of Kate Walsh From Childhood To The Umbrella Academy

Veteran actor Kate Walsh has left an indelible impact on the popular Netflix series "The Umbrella Academy." Released in 2019, the show follows an eccentric family of adult siblings struggling with their shared past as childhood superhumans. Throughout its run, the series has received praise from critics for its emotional poignancy, compelling storylines, and winking nods to the superhero genre (via Rotten Tomatoes).

On the show, Walsh plays The Handler, an enigmatic and powerful figure employed by the Temps Commission, an organization committed to maintaining the universe's "proper" timeline. Here, Walsh leans into a darkly funny portrayal of a ruthless corporate bigwig striving to establish a rigid sense of control over her underlings. In an interview with Esquire, Walsh revealed that the showrunner, Steve Blackman, initially wrote the role with a male actor in mind. However, the actor agreed to take on the character, adding a slight stipulation: "'Just don't change anything because of the gender change. Just keep it.' Because it was so funny and witty and weird." 

Due to a seemingly decisive denouement in the first season, it seemed unlikely that The Handler would return for the second season of "The Umbrella Academy." However, the widespread popularity of Walsh's character eventually led to her surprising reprisal in the show's follow-up chapter (via Express).

During her career, Walsh has proven to be an impressive tour-de-force, imbuing her characters with humor, goodwill, and a strong sense of self. Here's a look at Walsh's transformation from her childhood in Arizona to the unpredictable highs and lows of Hollywood.

Kate Walsh left school to pursue acting

Although born in San Jose, California, Walsh spent most of her childhood in Arizona. The youngest of five, she quickly discovered the importance of humility and staying grounded, which she cites as keeping her humble while navigating the entertainment industry (via Redbook). After her parents divorced, Walsh also learned to prioritize self-sufficiency. As the actor noted, "My mom went back to work, so I spent a lot of time alone and learned to be very independent. We moved a lot, and I made friends wherever I went" (via Redbook).

By the time Walsh arrived at the University of Arizona, she attempted to make the most of her collegiate experience, majoring first in business before switching to English. However, she eventually dropped out to pursue her love of acting. Initially, Walsh joined a comedy troupe called Burn Manhattan in New York City while waitressing to make ends meet (via People). After a few years, she migrated to Chicago, where she joined the Piven Theatre Workshop (via TheaterMania).

Walsh's big break came in 1997 when she was cast to play Drew Carey's love interest on "The Drew Carey Show." Reflecting on the role of Nicki Fifer, Walsh said, "I took the chance and packed my bag for 30 days and ended up doing 11 episodes" (via People). For the next few years, Walsh earned parts in a number of television shows and films, including "Law & Order," "The Norm Show," "Under the Tuscan Sun," and "CSI."

She became a fan-favorite character on Grey's Anatomy

In 2005, Walsh landed the iconic role of Dr. Addison Montgomery on the hit medical drama "Grey's Anatomy." The long-running ABC series follows the professional and personal lives of surgical residents at the fictional Seattle Grace Hospital. In the pilot, protagonist Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) becomes romantically entangled with an attending physician at the same hospital. Aptly nicknamed "McDreamy," Dr. Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey) woos her with his surgical skills and charismatic personality. Of course, everything comes to a dramatic halt when Walsh's Addison Montgomery arrives.

In the middle of the first season, Addison confidently strolls into the hospital and introduces herself to Meredith as Derek's wife. With such an unforgettable entrance, Addison rapidly clinched the hearts of many viewers, who lauded her portrayal of a complicated woman seeking redemption. As Walsh revealed in an interview with E! News, she still receives comments from fans for that short yet memorable introduction. At the time, Walsh relished the contradictory facets of her character, choosing to embrace both the likable and unlikable parts of Addison: "I kind of liked being the Wicked Witch from the East. Or the wicked b*tch." 

Likewise, Walsh applauded creator Shonda Rhimes for her ability to dig into the nuances of the role, noting her knack for "flipping every character that's seemingly awful. It's a great lesson in how to have compassion for people that you initially hate" (via E! News).

Her success on Grey's led to her own spin-off series

In 2007, Walsh nabbed the lead role in her own ABC spin-off series "Private Practice." An expansion of the "Grey's Anatomy" universe, the show follows Addison Montgomery as she departs Seattle Grace Hospital and begins a new life in Los Angeles. Once there, she works at Oceanside Wellness Center, a co-op private practice run by her friends Sam (Taye Diggs) and Naomi Bennet (Audra McDonald). When asked what she admired most about Addison, Walsh said, "I like that she's flawed and arrogant and really good at what she does. And no matter what happens, she picks herself up and moves on. She keeps trying" (via Redbook).

For six seasons, "Private Practice" lured viewers in with its soapy, addictive plotlines and dynamic characters, consistently drawing in high numbers every week (via AV Club). Walsh deftly walked a tightrope between pure drama and grounded realism. By 2013, however, Walsh ultimately chose not to continue with the series, primarily due to her desire to pursue other acting opportunities (via Distractify).

Over the next few years, Walsh explored multiple acting avenues, including the emotional Netflix drama "13 Reasons Why." On the teen show, Walsh garnered acclaim for her powerful portrayal of a mother attempting to make sense of the abrupt loss of her daughter. Applauding her "career-best work" in a review, Variety continued, "Her character is a ferocious and charismatic open wound, and it's impossible to look away from her and her quest for answers."

Walsh makes a hero's return to her past

While her recent status as The Handler on "The Umbrella Academy" likely earned her a whole new community of fans, Walsh recently made an unexpected return to her past. In a happy surprise for long-time viewers, Walsh returned to "Grey's Anatomy" to reprise her role as the beloved Dr. Addison Montgomery. In an interview with Variety, Walsh explained, "For years and years, there wasn't an interview that I've ever done where someone hasn't said, 'So fans are wondering, will you ever go back to "Grey's"?' And so, I did."

While Walsh has made a few guest appearances on "Grey's Anatomy" over the years, she hasn't surfaced in Seattle Grace Hospital since 2012. However, the actor once again made a splashy debut on the series in the episode "Hotter Than Hell." Upon her arrival, she reunites with Meredith, leaning on her old friend as they ruminate over their shared grief over Derek's death. When discussing the unerring power of Walsh's acting facilities, creator Shonda Rhimes said, "She eats like a trucker and tells jokes like a comic, then puts on the high heels and the dress and becomes Addison. She's amazing" (via Redbook).

Throughout the years, Walsh has steadily proven her talents as an entertainer, creating a potent sense of empathy and compassion for all of her characters. Considering the ways in which Walsh has endeared herself to both her fans and her coworkers in the entertainment industry, it will be exciting to see what she does next.