Ah, Melora Walters, how I love you. A career as varied as yours has been is certainly something to admire. Walters have carved out a niche in Hollywood as a character actor, using playing weak, crazy or unhinged women. No one can play desperation quite like Melora Walters.
In the early 90s, Walters struggled like any actress to find a part in any movie. Usually, that entailed background roles in cheaply made movies. She plays the “Pet Shop Owner” in Beethoven (1992) and Secretary # 2 in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood. Argueably, her biggest break in the early 90s (pre P.T Anderson) was her role of Trina, the saucy swimmer love interest of Chris Elliot in the 1994 film, Cabin Boy. They all have to start somewhere.
In 1996, Walters started what would be a promising and continuing professional relationship with legendary director, P.T Anderson. She started as a small role in his first feature film, Hard Eight, later retitled Sydney playing Jimmy’s (played by Samuel L. Jackson) girlfriend. In Anderson’s 1997 film, Boogie Nights, she played a porn star named Jessica St. Vincent. While not a major character in that particular ensemble, Walters held her own against powerful actors like William H. Macy, Burt Renoylds and Julianne Moore. Her most notable role in a P.T film would be that of Claudia Gator in the 2001 film, Magnolia.
Claudia Wilson is one of the most damaged characters ever to grace the silver screen. That’s a bold statement but I’m prepared to make it. It is a crime that she was not nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of a lost and lonely addict, still suffering after the years of sexual abuse she went through as a child. Her only hope is a cop named Jim (played by the amazing John C. Reilly), who falls for her when he receives a complaint from her neighbor about her loud noise. I believe their interactions are the highlights of the film, especially their date.
After her stunning turn in Magnolia, Walters went on to have small, but important roles in films like Cold Mountain (2003) and The Butterfly Effect (2004). Recently, she has turned her attention to television. While Walters is continuing playing the unhinged, but lovable Wanda Henrickson on HBO’s mormon drama, “Big Love” , she jumped networks for a brief guest stint on “Desperate Housewives”, playing Sylvia Greene. Her character travels to Wisteria Lane during a tornado to confront the married Adam (played by my love, Nathan Fillion), whom she once had an affair with. Even though she is sucked up into the tornado, Walters is the catalyst of major changes in both the characters of Adam as well as his wife, Katherine (Dana Delaney).
However, one of my favorite Walters role would be that of Kate in the 2002 movie, Wise Girls. Yes, this was marketed as a Mariah Carey movie and while she is in it, Mira Sorvino is the main character, Meg. Carey, who played Raychel, actually is fine in the movie because she doesn’t really have to emote real emotion, just be real sassy and bitchy. Anyways, Walters, Sorvino and Carey play waitresses at an Italian restaurant, which of course, is a front for the mob. While Raychel willingly participates, carrying out drug filled tin foil swan leftovers, Meg and Kate are more hesitant. When Meg saves the life of a wounded mobster, thanks to her nurse’s training, she gets in deeper than she ever thought possible, even witnessing a murder.
Walters is exceptional in this movie, which I think was just directly released to television. She plays Kate, a seemingly complacent, insecure former aspiring actress turned waitress, but SURPRISE, she is really an undercover cop and is getting evidence for a big trail against the mobsters. When Meg witnesses the murder, Kate sees her opportunity to get her to testify and reveals her true identity, really pissing Meg off. Walters is brillant in this role, finally playing some one calculating on the inside as well as tough on the outside. She is able to be relatable, but tough and genuinely compassionate towards the damaged Sorvino character. All in all, Wisegirls is a super, fun movie and Walters really gives it her all.
So here’s a collection of clips from Magnolia, but it’s missing the main scene in the restaurant with Claudia and Jim.