Within the opening scenes of the very first episode of When Calls the Heart, Hearties fell into a unique relationship with Florence Blakely, one of the many widows in the little town of Coal Valley. Cleverly portrayed by talented actress Loretta Walsh, Florence became the town naysayer and eavesdropper we loved one moment and who shocked us speechless the next. It is Loretta’s sweet and vivacious spirit shining through her portrayal of Florence that softens this sharp-tongued widow and makes her relatable for her audience.
With the announcement of season 6 for When Calls the Heart and a brand-new play opening in just a few weeks, Loretta kindly agreed to share a bit more about these characters she loves to play and how she balances the many diverse roles she chooses to tackle.
ATG: With Florence Blakely of When Calls the Heart being your most prominent role currently, it’s best we start there. Over the past 4.5 seasons, audiences have seen Florence grow and adapt to a new way of life. Are there any changes from your own life that you have brought to the part of Florence? How is Florence a reflection of you?
Great question! The role of Florence came to me when I myself was going through a very hard time in my life, grieving the loss of someone very close to me. I felt that I understood so much of the pain of what Florence and the other widows were going through and was also very interested in doing a show that, at the core of it, was about female friendship, so this was a perfect fit! Florence is a reflection of me because she is a person who has lots to learn in life – as do I! I believe being given the role of Florence was meant to be for me, and I am truly grateful.
ATG: In my few interactions with you at Hearties events, that gratefulness is very apparent. You have been so warm, welcoming, and joyful with all of the Hearties. Are these characteristics the biggest contrast between yourself and Florence, who was described in season 3 by Rosemary as the one who “sees the cloud to every silver lining?” Is there a different aspect of you that struggles a bit against Flo’s character?
Florence is very bound by “the rules” and doesn’t want to be the one to break them. I think it makes her feel safe to have parameters. I am also somewhat of a rule follower…however, the part of Florence that is very different from myself is her weakness for gossiping, something I don’t feel very comfortable with in my own life. I have an understanding that people who gossip are usually very lonely, which is how I justify Florence’s choices when I am playing those scenes, but that would be one of the biggest differences between us.
ATG: In a more recent episode, we saw a much softer side of Florence when she received a memento of her sweetheart who died in the mine accident of season 1. When you first read the script for that scene, how did you react? Were there any memories from your early days on When Calls the Heart that it evoked?
When I read that episode, I felt it very deeply and immediately wept. I couldn’t talk about it with others without starting to cry! I was moved and also happy for Florence to have a sign from her late husband and to be able to take a step towards healing. Beautiful!
ATG: You began working as an actress in the theater, so in addition to When Calls the Heart, you have a very diverse background in the entertainment industry that spans all mediums and many genres. What draws you to these separate mediums? What do you most enjoy about television versus theater versus the movie industry?
Theater is more of a time commitment in terms of rehearsal and performance. There are lots of great discoveries to be made over more time spent together, which I love. However, being on a show like When Calls the Heart, we are truly an ensemble, and as we have spent lots of time together, we are able to creatively collaborate very quickly (which is needed when shooting a TV show). I love it all, and I welcome the challenges that come my way.
ATG: I can imagine how close you can get with your castmates, spending so much time together on set. In a previous interview, you compared the connection you have with the When Calls the Heart cast to being part of the theater family. Is it simply being together for long days or are there other influences that determine how close you can be with your castmates, whether on television or on stage? What creates this family-type connection?
Spending extended time together is definitely a contributor to becoming closer, but I think first and foremost, everyone involved in When Calls the Heart wants the show to be fantastic. We all truly care and know how much it means to the Hearties, so we are all working towards creating something of quality and meaning together. We all want the show to continue for many seasons to come and are super grateful – it is incredible to be a part of the When Calls the Heart movement!
ATG: With When Calls the Heart currently airing and gearing up for season 6, you also have a new play opening this month titled THIS. What can you tell us about this new character? Which characteristics of hers are you having the most fun exploring?
In THIS, I play the lead role of Jane, who is recently widowed (some similarities to Florence!) with a daughter. Jane is a poet and teacher who is trying to move through her grief with the help of her funny and flawed friends. Jane does not have her life together – she is kind of a mess and is just trying to “keep going.” Exploring her flawed humanity if liberating to play – she makes a lot of mistakes, and that is fun and interesting to play.
ATG: If I understand correctly, you are also producing the play. What parts of producing appeal to you that are not found in being a character on stage?
Yes. Kindred Entertainment is my “baby.” I am the founder and artistic director. Being a producer can be a tough and thankless job, but the payoff at the end of the project is immense. To know that you took a risk to produce a show, then to overcome lots of obstacles to create something with a group of like-minded people, and then to be able to share it and have it enjoyed by an audience – now that is truly satisfying!
ATG: Wow! It sounds incredible to go through that rewarding but very taxing process. You have quite a few hats to juggle. How are you balancing such demanding tasks while being the devoted mother that I know you are?
It is very demanding, and I have a lot of support. My schedule is very full, and I have to schedule time to rehearse, to do producing work, and also to have time with my family. It’s amazing how much you can get done in a day!
ATG: After learning more about your production of THIS, the plotline sounds very intriguing. In your opinion, what is most important for people to take away from THIS after viewing the play?
THIS rides the edge between being very funny and very tragic – just like life. I think audiences will leave with a sense of their own humanity and how they are like the characters they have just witnessed on stage…and I think they will be reminded of their own mortality and how important it is to LIVE your life as best you can – not just survive it.
ATG: I’ve been very impressed with what I have discovered about Kindred. According to the IndieGoGo funding page for THIS, Kindred Entertainment is “made up entirely of theatre professionals, working for reduced rates or donating their time, in the effort to bring great theatre experiences to Vancouver.” Can you give a bit more background?
As I mentioned, Kindred Entertainment was founded by me. Is it an ensemble company that I created because I have been so deeply affected and changed by extraordinary theatre – I want to give those experiences to other people.
ATG: Understanding your founding role with Kindred and your giving back to the acting community through teaching up-and-coming actors, it is obvious that you have an extremely generous spirit. How do you come by this valuable trait? Why do you believe it is important to be generous with your talents and gifts?
I’ve been given so much help and support over the years in my own efforts to act, teach, and produce. I am so truly grateful for the wonderful teachers I have had in my life, and I feel it is important to share what I know and to support other actors and artists, as it truly “takes a village” to succeed in this field – and in life. It is a responsibility I do not take lightly.
ATG: In addition to THIS, which opens this month, what other projects do you have in the works?
Apart from Season 6 of When Calls the Heart (Woohoo!), I am also set to do another play later this year…more details to come…
ATG: You mentioned earlier how much seeing an audience enjoying your means to you. What is it about your fans – and others who come through the theater doors – that most encourages you and keeps you motivated to continue in the business?
Their absolute loyalty and appreciation keeps me going. I know that, ultimately, everything I do is about giving. I love it – which helps when the workload becomes overwhelming – but the audience is everything. They are the reason. Whether it is the immediate feedback from them during a play or on Twitter when the show airs, their joy and how they are affected truly tells me that I am contributing something positive to the world, in however large or small a scale.
ATG: With that in mind, in what ways can we continue to support you?
You do so much already! Keeping the word going through social media helps. Please keep tuning in to When Calls the Heart and tweeting.
Regarding the upcoming production of THIS, our IndieGoGO campaign ends in less than a week. If you are able to contribute or share the word, that would be fantastic.
In just the handful of times I’ve been blessed to chat with Loretta, her thankful spirit and truly open heart have touched me, as I am sure they have for many other Hearties. In the spirit of giving back, I am happy to share these heartfelt words with you – straight from Loretta: “I’d like to thank all the Hearties and my supporters. Please know that I am terribly grateful to you all! Thank you so much, and I hope to see you all at the Hearties Family Reunion 4.”
To learn more about the production of THIS or to support the IndieGoGo campaign that will bring the production of THIS to the theater in Vancouver, you can follow this link: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/kindred-entertainment-presents-this#/
You can follow Loretta Walsh at @loretta_walsh on Twitter and @LorettaWalshActor on Facebook.