FreakSugar contributor Tim Avers recently spoke with actress Becky Wahlstrom about her background, her view on Truth, and her career—including her upcoming role in this summer’s Brightburn.
If you’re anything like me you’re still basking in the news of James Gunn’s reinstatement to the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise and eagerly anticipating the Memorial Day release of Brightburn, the Gunn-and-family picture that makes a wicked playground of superhero myth.
Becky Wahlstrom’s acting chops are on full display in the trailers for Brightburn and she began teasing me months ago – though with commendable deference to her non-disclosure agreement. A native of Chicago, Becky spent a decade plus as a professional actor in LA, rubbing elbows with the likes of Jenna Fischer and in featured roles alongside Amber Tamblyn and Rose McGowan.
Now based in the US Southeast, Becky sat down with me at Bongo Java in Nashville for a beverage and a board game and shared some insights into her craft and career.
Tim Avers: Let’s start with a bit of a softball: What do you think is the underlying nature of the cosmos and is Truth knowable?
Becky Wahlstrom: <laughter> Glad I haven’t started sipping on my wine yet, or maybe I should… like of what we are living in… of our reality… I think it’s whatever anyone makes it. For me, I make it as close to a board game as possible. I just play the hands I’m dealt or the tiles I pick or whatever I spin in that moment and it’s constantly changing. I mean, sometimes I’m working with an amazing spin! Other times I can’t fuckin’ land on the ladder and all I’m hittin’ is the chute, right?
BW: So that’s how I like to think of it. I think it is a tactile universe. I kinda like the idea that we lived before this and we’ll live again and I don’t know what religious entity would be closest to that or if any of them even are but I like the idea that we kind of visit different places and different realities and this one, I think, is a tactile reality and it has a lot to do with senses, right? And so exploring those is what we’re left to do here on this Earth and I do or I enjoy doing that as much as I can.
TA: So then Truth is definitely knowable in that scenario?
BW: Well, Truth is also interpretation of something so my Truth might be different than your Truth. Simply like… take cilantro. I might find it delicious and you might think it tastes like soap. You know, the “truth” of the matter is I find it to be an edible, awesome herb and you might find it to taste like poison and that’s your Truth. So that’s as close to Truth as we can get.
TA: Alright. So this one comes with a visual reference in case you’re not familiar. What do you think is James Gunn’s favorite Hostess snack cake and do you think he would stop menacing the city if he got one?
BW: <laughter> I, um, I think, I mean I don’t know but my guess… like I would give him the Zinger.
TA: The Zinger, okay, alright. That’s fair enough.
BW: I think he would be a Zinger type of guy and I think it would only inspire him to menace on! Yeah – I think he would take full joy in the Zinger and it would just enhance everything he’s already doing. But I mean the strawberry Zinger. Just a guess though – I just thought about that. There might have been a chocolate and butterscotch Zinger.
TA: There is a chocolate Zinger, but…
BW: …but I’m saying the strawberry Zinger, yeah, definitely the strawberry.
TA: Thanks for clarifying. Please describe your experience working with [Brightburn director] David Yarovesky.
BW: That poor man was so fucking ill when he was directing me. He had come down with a horrible, like I don’t know if it was the flu or something and so James was kind of sitting in for the chunk that I was there. David came back but he was just, oh the poor guy, he looked like he was on his death… and he was getting married in a week.
TA: Oh my gosh.
BW: So the whole thing was I think we were all just trying to be as little stress on him as possible. You know what I mean? That’s what I remember – I’m sorry David! Definitely a kind man. You know – hard worker, I mean like clearly dedicated as he should have been in the hospital.
TA: Well, congratulations to David on your nuptials and we are sure you’re feeling much better. In addition you’ve worked with Jennifer Lynch (Boxing Helena, American Horror Story) on South of Hell and I want to give you the chance to talk about that and also about other directors who inspire you or who you’d like to work with.
BW: Jennifer Lynch was by far a super lot of fun and inspiring. She’s just one of those girls who can hang? Like with anyone – hang with the boys, with the girls, you know she’s like, fuck it, she’s just a good hang. There’s nothing else to say! And the show that we were doing was, in my opinion, terrible… like every 18-year-old boy’s fantasy. But I loved the guy writing it. Honestly I feel like that show was just a good time.
TA: Pure entertainment.
BW: Straight up entertainment. And I was with American Beauty!
TA: Mena Suvari – although I didn’t catch that show.
BW: She and I had make out scenes and fans blowing our hair and it was ridiculous! You have to go watch it!
TA: I definitely will have to watch it! Other directors who inspire you or people you’d like to work with?
BW: You know one director that I have just taken notice of the style of [his] films, Craig Brewer. He did Hustle and Flow, he did Black Snake Moan, I believe he’s from Memphis. I love how his style has so much compassion. And you don’t think it will, you know. He takes these topics that seem almost like…
TA: Seem very extreme for one thing.
BW: Yeah! And the posters make the movie seem like its one thing. But both of those films – I was so pleasantly surprised with how much compassion was in those movies and how much I loved his protagonists even though they were, I mean just how different an outcome was [for characters] than what you expected it to be. And again, I felt like he had an almost female’s sense of compassion and I really like his stuff. I’d like to work with that guy.
TA: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt compelled to pick up Hustle and Flow which my friend James Stewart has recommended strongly. I saw Black Snake Moan, of course, because it was positioned as an exploitation film… and I’m a pervert… <laughter>
BW: Yeah, how about Black Snake Moan? You’re a pervert and you’re going in to see this sexy-ass movie and it’s anything but!
TA: It turns out to be this guy trying to save this poor girl’s soul!
BW: Beautiful paternal relationship! Yes, and it turns out to be this gorgeous, sweet film and you weren’t going to get a boner unless you just straight up like the visual of Christina Ricci like…
TA: Chained, yeah?
BW: Yeah, chained. And so for a lot of people that just does it, that alone. <laughter> But there was just so much substance behind it. I was so surprised.
TA: Yeah, it was great. And it was a great role for Sam Jackson, too.
TA: Very good role for him. So like Rae and Lazarus now you’re not in LA anymore, so besides being hotter down South, what’s different?
BW: You know, when I lived in LA, my life was like this, and for the viewers who can’t see me I’m telling you I’m drawing a little line that goes up and down like mountain peak; you know, basically bipolar.
TA: Peaks and valleys.
BW: Anybody who understands bipolar, when bipolar is explained to you a therapist will literally do this, they’ll go, “well, your moods are… THIS. And we want to get them to this” and then they’ll show them rolling hills for your mood, right? So LA was definitely like insane peaks and valleys from one day to the next and the South feels like beautiful rolling hills and I’m content and love it here.
TA: That’s what we aim for.
BW: That’s what we aim for health wise! Of course…
TA: … the whole million-year geological marketing program.
BW: …and in LA this was forced mental illness and you ask anybody who’s bipolar they love being fucking euphoric and so that’s why you stay. Why would you leave? You get some great euphoric moments, right? And you kind of live for them and when you’re down in the rut, in the gutter you’re just trucking, you’re just trying to figure out some self medication to get some kind of peak again. And it’s totally maddening and it’s, yeah, forced mental illness. It is.
TA: But by way of comparison the South, the South is different because…
BW: I don’t know the whole South, but I know Nashville is definitely beautiful, with rolling hills with kind people with all different kinds of industries and close to my family in Chicago and I can drive up there four times a year. I got a hot man that I love and an orange dog with big ears and I love it.
TA: One of the things you do here is write and you’ve had a couple of plays, one that’s been produced and another, A Froggy Becomes, being produced this year at the Barbershop. Do you prefer writing for theater over TV or film? And if you were to do something in those latter worlds what would appeal to you?
BW: I have written a screenplay and then I wrote a short, adaptation of a short story for film. I feel like plays are just easier to get made and cheaper and I, you know, since I’ve been living in the world of theater – theater is where I came from so film is a little foreign to me. But I feel like film is easier to write for because anything and everything is possible.
Anything and everything is possible on stage, too, you just have to get really creative about it. So I see them as very similar although people will disagree with me. They want longer scenes in plays which I don’t see why. If you get the point across in two pages why do you need four? I really enjoy writing dialog so both TV and film scripts and theater scripts, I’m very comfortable writing and enjoy both of them equally. Writing a novel would be something I need to, you know, study.
TA: In terms of video projects, movies or TV, what’s something that you think would attract you?
BW: I’m a fan of realism which isn’t popular these days at all but that’s just kind of my jam. Although, I like to create – I like to put a bit of fantasy into my realism, like, I’ll sprinkle it in. And I write about the people I meet and know because my life, my true life, is stranger than most fiction that I’ve ever read so I stick with that. I tend to go in that direction. Obviously, a lot of it’s fiction but it’s definitely inspired from just what I’ve been through, what I hope, sometimes I write hopes. You know? The way I’d like it to go for that character or this character and I make it happen, you know?
TA: Absolutely. You gotta give them what they need.
TA: So this one is about somebody we know… he’s orange. Animal, vegetable, or mineral – which makes the best sleeping companion?
BW: The number one love of my life! Oh God. I sleep with my dog better than I sleep with my man – and I love my man! But my dog, is, the number one spooner, number one hiking partner, number one listener, ah, totally available and loyal and amazing and it’s like one step away from bestiality for me, I mean… <laughter> but sometimes I feel like we’re doing everything but. And I’m…
TA: And what’s his name? And he’s how old?
BW: Barley and he’s a seven-year-old red heeler pit mix that I got from the pound! Oh my God and he’s amazing! And he sings.
TA: We are 100% for adoption here and no puppy mills! 100% for adoption!
BW: There are so many out there.
TA: Okay, this is from my personal bias. What is the worst thing about Nashville and what do you like the most?
BW: The worst thing about living in Nashville is there is no one reviewing theater at the moment! Other than Jeffrey Ellis who works for Broadway World, I think it’s an online publication, but the Tennessean doesn’t review theater, the Scene doesn’t review theater, and nothing online reviews theater in this town and it’s a fucking atrocity and you’re never going to be able to claim the amazing people that come out of this town because there’s no footprint for where they came from and what they were doing before they launch off into bigger cities.
You know, Chicago loves their Chicago people. They love saying who came from Chicago and they honor that small theater world and they leave room for reviews and make sure people know about the arts going on in their community. And if Nashville wants to call itself an artistic place to live then they need to get someone reviewing theater again – they had it for a while and there is no one. That is the number one worst thing I know.
TA: What about the best?
BW: Oh, the best thing about Nash-villlle… is <laughter> what you guys consider shitty traffic? Is like a breezy day for a Los Angelino! On the road!
TA: That’s great. Okay, this is my twelfth question so you know it’s going to be about 12-step… In 12-step programs you know that you call on your higher power, which can be deeply personal to you, it can be God, or whatever, so if your higher power was before you and you could ask one question, what would the answer be? You don’t even have to tell me the question.
BW: Yes? <laughter>
TA: <laughter> Yes? Yes! That’s perfect. Okay so now we are working on your human boyfriend Mac who is also in the entertainment business. To paraphrase, do you ever whisper in his ear all your favorite fruit?
BW: <laughter> What do the two have to do with one another? Other than like <breathy whisper> what’s on the craft service table right now? Oh Mac, there’s amazing things on the craft service table right now!
TA: That’s the best possible response. It’s a Camper Van Beethoven song. I like to work David Lowery in wherever I can.
BW: Oh, yeah, um, I don’t… when I whisper… he’s not very romantic so me whispering anything in his ear it’s just him brushing me off like a mosquito. Do you know what I mean? It’s like “you’re breathing in my ear!” and he’ll do like that <shooing motion> so there’s not a lot of whispering sweet nothings in our relationship.
TA: That’s a very, very good answer. Okay, so we have two possible questions – we have 14 and alternate 14. So fourteen is you told me you hate interviews. Why?
BW: I don’t know, but I just want to tell you this is a very fun, good interview with like good questions. I just, I don’t know. It’s just uncomfortable to talk about yourself and, you know, uh, stuff… <laughter>
TA: Good… good. You know I’m shooting for fun and it doesn’t hurt that I know the subject of my interview.
BW: And we’ll do alternate 14 just for Ss and Gs. I find it really distressing that Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is only being released for a single day in American theaters. I don’t know if you’re aware of this. What’s your general opinion of the direction of film in the US at this time?
BW: You know what’s kind of, I’m just going to confess this right here. I don’t know why I got into acting very much because I don’t watch a lot of TV or film and I didn’t go to a lot of plays as a kid either. I spent a lot of time playing outside. But I liked to pretend and so I got into acting for the reason of just getting to pretend for money.
BW: And so I never really was a film, TV, director, story, play buff. Musicals? None of the above. Um, and to this day I spend most of my days walking around in the woods looking for arrowheads. So, I haven’t been to the movies in a long time. I love binging on Netflix stuff and Hulu and all of that kind of stuff. I like horror movie so I was really stoked to be in James’s horror movie. Um, just ‘cause they make me scared and react in really physical, visceral ways and, um, but yeah I’m like the last person you should ask about where film is going. And you know, I haven’t been to a movie theater in like a year! That’s why I don’t like interviews! ‘Cause I think that like we sit and whoever’s interviewing is clearly interested in film and TV and I feel like…
TA: You’re an outsider to those questions.
BW: …like I’ve been discovered as like a poser, some kind of fucking business poser when I’m interviewed.
BW: They’re going “What do you think about this director?” and I’m quickly like going who the hell that is. So, um you know what I think it really fun? What direction I admire? I see a lot of best friend women, like a lot of women who clearly have been friends and start working together, you know, writing their own stuff. And that’s the shit I love. I loved Girls. I’m watching Pen 15 right now. Transparent was Jill Soloway writing with her sister and brother I think. Women who have really interesting stories and write excellent dialogue pairing up and a lot of them performing their own shit. And that excites me right now because one of my regrets – actually I’ve got a bestie named Ramsey and I think we did it on a minute scale and now she’s living in Wyoming so we don’t hang as much but that’s just inspiring to me because we haven’t seen that as much.
TA: And I’ve said for a long time that if you want to see a European film in English and skip the subtitles, see a film driven by a woman! Because women have a prospective that’s unique from that we are used to seeing. The sensitivities and sensibilities are just that much different.
BW: And I just got done saying that Hustle and Flow feels different too so I don’t think men are exempt from making that kind of a story. I guess it’s just that we’ve seen so many bro movies and two guys going out and doing crazy shit. You know we’ve seen all that so often and now we’re just in this era of seeing girls doing it, creating, sharing their stories.
TA: Absolutely! I think I’ve got one more and here’s the only really important question. <laughs>
BW: And is it “do I want to play backgammon?”
TA: No, it’s a leading question and it’s that I want you to explain to me why Sophocles is the greatest playwright of all time. No personal bias here whatsoever.
BW: <laughter> No, I enjoy that you enjoy Sophocles. <mutual laughter> I don’t have anything else to say on the issue – I’m glad that you find pleasure.
TA: I tried to give my college-age daughter Sophocles for Christmas and she just sort of looked at it because she’d already read it so I swapped it out for her for a compilation of George Carlin books. One day I’ll be dead and although George Carlin is dead he can still tell you everything you need to know.
BW: It’s true, although, how about this, or Sophocles can in a roundabout way, in a really long-versioned way. The thing I have, and I had to force myself to go get classically trained. I went to four years of arts high school and avoided every classical theater class they offered and they let me because I’d tell them I was doing some independent project and they were such a hippie school that they were like “ooh, well that’s genius! Then you go do that” They’re just so excited when you take initiative. Really I was dodging everything having to do with classical anything. Because…
TA: Um hum, you’re not a Shakespeare person.
BW: But then, when I did King Lear I fucking fell in love with that role [the Fool] I fell in love with doing it. But do I fall in love with going to see it? No, ‘cause I just went to Midsummer Night’s Dream and I left halfway through and I made up an excuse that my dog couldn’t sit still – it was outdoors you know. And he couldn’t, he was being an asshole, but I mean really… I just don’t love it. I don’t. I love doing it now. I love going back and reading Greek tragedies as an older person and actually kind of getting it finally. But did I get that sorrow and that angst when I was, well, actually you’re really angsty when you’re 16, but I just didn’t get it. I didn’t get the language. I didn’t get the depth, I guess.
And so I enjoy going back now and reading those things but I fought classical things. And then I threw myself into the arms of [London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts] so that I could, I didn’t believe I could call myself an actor unless I got classically trained and I was out in the world as an 18 year old. Four years at the arts high school and realized I had never really even done a Shakespeare monologue. And so I thought there’s no way I’m going to be able to walk around being an actor without having gotten classically trained and so I auditioned for LAMDA’s program and I got in, strangely, and I got a dose of some classical theater and I was really grateful for it. But what did I get more out of it? The fact that it was my first time out of the country, and that as a student you could travel on a shoestring, and that, oh my God, the rest of the world does not worship the United States of America, and traveling isn’t scary, and that I’m actually more scared of living in American than most places I’ve traveled across the world. I’ve been to tons of places now. And that was an invaluable piece of education that I didn’t expect to get… and I also learned some classical theater.
TA: Awesome. Thank you.
BW: It’s been a pleasure!
Becky Walhstrom’s newest play, A Froggy Becomes, premiers at The Barbershop Theater in Nashville this fall. Brightburn hits theaters on Memorial Day. And on a personal note – please patronize Terry Gilliam and get a ticket for The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, in theaters only April 10.