July 1, 2016 Interview – Tovah Feldshuh of The Walking Dead
To find satisfaction in one’s work is a gift to hold and cherish. One of the lucky ones to do so is the actress known as Tovah Feldshuh. Born from a hard-working New York family attitude, Feldshuh came from a world of academia to find a love and devotion to the arts where she has gone on to be an accomplished actress, playwright, and singer. With a lengthy list of film and television credits, most recently Feldshuh portrayed Deanna Monroe on AMC’s mega-hit series The Walking Dead. Introduced to audiences toward the end of season 5, Feldshuh’s character soon reshaped the attitudes of key characters within the fabric of The Walking Dead, forever alternating the direction of the series. Now a fan-favorite, Feldshuh holds great pride in her time on The Walking Dead. Recently, we had a chance to talk with her about the experience, her future projects, bringing a character to life, and more.
CrypticRock.com – You have been involved in acting in film and television for over four decades now. First tell us, what inspired you to begin your career as a professional actress?
Tovah Feldshuh – I was on the wait list at Harvard Law School and I won a scholarship in the same year from the McKnight family of 3M in Minnesota. I won the McKnight fellowship in acting to the Guthrie Theater and I would be trained as a classical actor right out of Sarah Lawrence College. They paid for my masters degree but I never wrote the thesis so I never got the MA.
CrypticRock.com – That is pretty interesting story. So you were actually going into a career in law.
Tovah Feldshuh – That’s right, instead I played Danielle Melnick on Law and Order and married a Harvard Lawyer, there you go. I was able to live it to a certain degree.
CrypticRock.com – Among your credits, you have attained many reoccurring roles in television series as well as had roles in feature films. How do you find working on a film opposed to television?
Tovah Feldshuh- Usually film is able to take more time in getting what they need. Particularly as I grow older the most valuable thing we have in our life is our life-time. That’s why, for so long, actors often preferred film to television because they weren’t in a rush. The Walking Dead isn’t in a rush; it’s like shooting a feature and I think that’s one of the reasons it’s so good.
CrypticRock.com – Exactly. A lot of television series seem to be like that now. Many are like shooting a feature where it is a more developed story than perhaps it once was years ago.
Tovah Feldshuh – Maybe, also you have to have your values straight if you want great product; you have to have your eye on the ball. If your eye on the ball is delivering a scene in an artistic way that is profound and truthful, then that’s the value you go after. You can feel a set that’s just going after time, just going after speed, then your contribution of truth is somewhat valued. Fast is good as opposed to truth is good; you want to be on the sets where truth is good. Again, one of the great pals of growing old, as usual, the senior member of a set, at this point, I can say, “Wait a minute, could I have at least one more, I can do better for you.” Then they grant it.
CrypticRock.com – Well it shows in your performances. The ability to do that is also a very positive thing to offer a project.
Tovah Feldshuh – On The Walking Dead, you don’t have to ask that, it exists; not often on other projects, you have to ask them.
CrypticRock.com – Well that is good that they give you that autonomy to do such things and be able to give your best effort. You have starred, as stated, in television series and films ranging in comedic, dramatic, and thrilling genres. Do you enjoy the diversity, as an actress, to be able to work in a variety of genres?
Tovah Feldshuh – Yes, in the diversity of roles. On April 30th I was at the Feinstein’s at The Nikko in San Francisco to do Aging Is Optional (‘Cause God I hope it is), which is my new Night Club act which I wrote. I am doing something with The Symphony in Los Angeles; I am doing a voice over recording called A Woman of Valor. I am doing a new musical on Leona Helmsley called The Queen of Mean: The Rise and Fall of Leona Helmsley. It does not have its funds, I did readings for in April in New York City. I am also on Crazy Ex Girlfriend, which is a series I have now where I play Rachel Bloom’s mother, and she is the crazy ex girlfriend.
CrypticRock.com – That is an extremely diverse mix of exciting projects. In 2015, you appeared on The Walking Dead as Deanna. How did this role come about for you?
Tovah Feldshuh – I auditioned as the head of the CIA, under siege and challenge, under dire straits, because you were never allowed to read from the script itself; it was so top secret that when you auditioned for The Walking Dead, you don’t audition with any script. I was offered the job from that one taping. I am very lucky I was.
CrypticRock.com – When you audition for a whole, they give you false script to read from, is that correct?
Tovah Feldshuh – Correct. Anybody who can get on The Walking Dead is a lucky actor.
CrypticRock.com – Agreed, it is a phenomenal show and it has a phenomenal following. Deanna was a lasting character, which developed over time to become a favorite of fans. What was it like for you developing her character?
Tovah Feldshuh – Well, I loved it. She was the head of civilization. she was pro-life, not in the prosaic way of things; no abortions. Quite the contrary, certainly for women’s rights. She was a pro-normal life force, she was a person who offered Rick haven, babysitters, books, sleep that wasn’t so fraught with fear. She took him inside the walls, she offered him peace, and he offered her strength, and I’m only sad that it disappeared so soon.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, that is unfortunate. It would have been nice to see the character last longer. Now, you had mentioned about the chemistry with the character Rick Grimes. It seems like he took something away from every other type of leader that came through the series, whether it be Dale in the beginning of the series, then it was his ex-partner Shane, and Hershel, and then you. You were another leader which came across that he took something away from. Do you think the character of Rick is a changed man after his relationship with Deanna?
Tovah Feldshuh – Yes, I do, and I think Michonne changed, Maggie changed, so that even though Deanna’s body was taken from the community, her ideas were inseminated in the community and will live on. They will sprout and grow.
CrypticRock.com – It is true, you see that with the episodes thereafter. Rick is always referring back to Deanna; he talks about her, “Deanna would have wanted it this way,” you see him say things like that.
Tovah Feldshuh – Lucky for me. I wish I were still on it. I hope there is a flashback coming my way.
CrypticRock.com – Fans would certainly love to see that. It seems everyone has nothing but positive things to say about working on The Walking Dead. How has your experience been?
Tovah Feldshuh – Exquisite, because the atmosphere of love and support, approbation, non0critical parenting, if you will, is very unique. It’s one of the most unique sets I’ve ever worked on and certainly the most familial. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve had the privilege of heading companies in NY on Broadway and I will never again be the same leader where I was. I thought I was pretty decent. Having worked with Andrew Lincoln and The Walking Dead, it’s the most gracious, going out of your way to make another person feel good about themselves place I’ve ever been in. It was magnificent. Everybody did their best. It influences everything. I am sure it influences negotiations; how difficult is your negotiation going to be if you love the set? Think about it. He is not only a great leader, he is probably going to be saving AMC thousands and thousands of dollars. I don’t know one difficult actor on that set, not one. Also, the way this show is structured, if you are difficult, I imagine you are out of there. They just kill you off; they kill you off pretty soon anyway. Nobody causes problems on that set, that I know of. Who wants to? First of all, we are very happy. Who would want to screw up the team?
CrypticRock.com – That is a very positive atmosphere, and as you have said, they do have a revolving set. Granted they have there mainstay characters, everyone is expendable at some point. It seems that the show, the actors, and everyone involved did a great job of keeping everything under wraps as far as what is going to happen next. That is a great thing for the health of series. What has been the key to keeping this The Walking Dead so tightly concealed from spoilers?
Tovah Feldshuh – First of all, we have an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) that is as thick as a small phone book, and we abide by it. Secondly, the reason why people are quiet about what is going to happen is the health of the series is dependent on our ability to keep our mouths shut. We are all very well aware of it. First it starts out as an honor thing cause you are honor bound and you’ve signed a contract that has this. Lawyers come and speak to you. The legal staff comes, and they don’t scare you, they just say this is a legal binding contract. I am also the child and daughter of lawyers and the niece of a judge; I know the law, I understand it, I respect it. There’s a reason for it – the preservation of the number one series in the world. That’s a tough spot. You think it’s hard to get there? Try to stay up there. So Scott Gimple and AMC are doing everything that they can and it’s our job to help them do it as our livelihood and the livelihood of future artists depends on it.
CrypticRock.com – Agreed completely, let us hope this trend continues. You had mentioned about the Crazy Ex Girlfriend project. What projects do you have on the horizon?
Tovah Feldshuh – I am doing a musical piece called The Queen of Mean: The Rise and Fall of Leona Helmsley. It’s a fabulous musical by a friend of mine from Yale by the name of Alex Lippard; who is no longer a student, he’s a grown man, and his two compadres Ron Passaro and David Lee. We presented it on April 4th and April 7th at the Actors Temple Theater at 339 W 47th. We had to add Thursday, April 7th because the 4th sold out. I also did a piece with the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony called A Woman of Valor;I am doing the voice over recording for them. Finally, on June 6th through 19th I opened in Toronto, Canada with probably the greatest Broadway success of my career called Golda’s Balcony by William Gibson, where I played Prime Minister Golda Meir.
CrypticRock.com – You really seem to keep yourself busy in a broad range of projects.
Tovah Feldshuh – I do, I pepper my career with live performing when I’m not filming, and I’m very grateful. I’m from the classical theater and bred from live entertainment, so that, it is a phenomenal and very satisfying artistic buffer between projects on film, which I do love, but I like to take projects that I love. Our most precious commodity is the time we have on this earth. I want to make sure I spend my time wisely.
CrypticRock.com – Do you find it gratifying, playing in front of a live audience more than possibly filming? You get the instant reaction from people.
Tovah Feldshuh – Not when you are with Andy Lincoln, no. It’s very satisfying trying to and believing that you are telling the truth, there is no applause from the camera, but the camera hates a liar. The lens hates a liar, and there’s a silence and a sacred space in good sets, particularly on The Walking Dead, before you shoot where there is a hush. Everybody is settled and there is a silence. Action. Very, like you are in church, very sacred. And when that stage is set properly, the actor can go quite far. It is very satisfying. With live entertainment, I just love people; I love being in front of them.
CrypticRock.com – Well people are very fond of your work as well, so it is wonderful you are so active in the arts. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers music and Horror/Sci-Fi films. If you are a fan of the genres, what are some of your favorite films?
Tovah Feldshuh – I don’t watch Horror films so I don’t have a favorite. I did watch The Exorcist (1973) as I kid and it scared the hell out of me. Then I did Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov with Ellen Burstyn. I’ve done a trapeze act on Broadway without a harness and without a net, that was a scary as it gets. I sang a number upside down literally swinging 30 feet in the air from a trapeze. Needless to say, it stops the show when you do a good job because it is built into the script. “What the hell is this woman doing up there as a trapeze artist?” It was very exciting. I don’t really have a favorite, I don’t enjoy being scared. I am happy to do it when I am portraying a character, but to watch it as an amusement is wow, I take it very seriously.