When it came to The Waltons classic television series, Olivia Walton’s Michael Learned says the main actors had quite a bit of power. But every actor had to earn their place on the show, and Learned was certainly no exception.
In this 2015 interview for the Archive of American Television, the actress recalls in detail her mental state leading up to – and through – her audition process for The Waltons. And by her own words, “I certainly was arrogant!”
After a devastating divorce and a hot theatre run with the American Conservatory Theatre, things began changing very quickly for Michael Learned. With a fire lit under her to provide for her three children and continue in the work she loved, the actress “got [her] butt down to Los Angeles” to begin auditioning for future work.
“I would always get lost when I would go for an audition or anything,” she tells the Archive of American Television of the infamous LA freeways. “And I would arrive with sweat in my shoes… I’d be such a nervous wreck when I got there.”
“I had a Raggedy Anne doll and a bottle of bourbon, and that’s about all I had with me at the time,” she laughs at the time. Little did she know, however, that one audition was about to change her life forever.
‘The Waltons’ Changed Michael Learned’s Life Trajectory Completely
“My agent, David Graham, had be bugging me and calling me from San Francisco to come down and audition for this thing, [The Waltons],” Learned recalls.
The actress, though, had it in her young mind that she “wasn’t a character actress,” and that the television project was somehow beneath her.
“I just played Cleopatra and Amanda in Private Lives!” Learned mocks of her younger self. “…For a nervous, frightened, shy, doormat, I certainly was arrogant as all get-out,” she shakes her head.
The Waltons would take some stern convincing on the actress’ part. “I kept saying no… But I couldn’t get out of it!” she adds, later noting that she “didn’t want to do television anyway.”
“I was going through a lot of emotions… And I was going through a divorce with a man I’d spent half my lifespan with. I had three kids, and didn’t know how I was going to support them. So I was, again, a wreck,” she continues as she laughs off the devastating circumstances.
To make matters worse, The Waltons‘s producers wanting “A redhead in her 40s” for Olivia. But 31-year-old Michael Learned would win them all over. How? With a single screen test she says she “was really no big deal!”
Through it all, the icon would come to love the cast and respect the show, and the rest is TV history. For much, much more from Learned on her remarkable life, catch the rest of the sit-down below:
Michael Learned discusses getting cast as Olivia on The Waltons – EMMYTVLEGENDS.ORGFoundation Interviews