Bursting 30 minutes late into Figaro Bistrot, a popular café in the hilly L.A. neighborhood of Los Feliz, Kate Walsh issues a heartfelt “I’m so sorry.” She settles into a low leather chair, adjusts the hem of her asymmetrical, deep-purple Isabel Marant knit dress, then immediately sheds her stilty gray suede ankle boots. “I walk from the car to here, then I take them off,” she says of her footwear MO. It’s a trick Walsh learned from Addison Forbes Montgomery, her briskly efficient, Christian Louboutin–wearing neonatal surgeon alter ego on the ABC hit series Private Practice. “If you think about it, in the OR, Addison doesn’t wear them. She wears Crocs,” Walsh notes. “So she just really walks down the hall in her heels looking badass, then goes back to her desk and sits.”
In fact, with the show in its fourth season since being spun off from Grey’s Anatomy, Walsh admits that she has now spent so much time faux-bringing little ones into the world that she occasionally forgets she’s not a real doctor. “A friend is pregnant, and I was asking her questions as if I were some sort of expert,” Walsh says, laughing. “I mean, who do I think I am?”
Well, let’s see. In addition to embodying the romantically challenged physician, Walsh is one of television’s most beloved and easygoing stars. “There’s a reason she keeps getting work,” says Mike O’Malley, Kurt’s blue-collar father on Glee, who starred with Walsh in a short-lived NBC sitcom in 1999. “Part of it is that people just want to work with people they like. I don’t think Hollywood is any different.” And she is the architect of an immensely satisfying second career as creator and marketer of a fragrance line that she launched with her own cash and promoted with Web commercials she produced herself rather than ceding control in the more standard celebrity-licensing deal. She is also, colleagues say, much funnier in real life than her deadpan Addison character would lead one to believe. Finding Lady Gaga’s justification for her infamous 2010 Video Music Awards meat dress lacking (“The explanation was so convoluted; it was like, ‘Freedom and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell—I’m trying to get that repealed’ . . . and I was like, ‘What? You’ve lost me’ ”), she decided to go on The Tonight Showwearing a dress festooned with plastic sushi and sashimi.
Her point? Walsh admits, “I do stuff just to amuse myself.”
In Hollywood, where talent and beauty are not always enough, Walsh’s wry geniality makes her stand out. When asked to rewind to her first meeting with Walsh back in 2004, Shonda Rhimes, the creator of Grey’s Anatomy, recalls how every actress vying for the role of Addison was inexplicably wrong—until Walsh blew in for an audition. “Kate’s very socially adept in the sense that when she comes into a room, she’s very funny and self-deprecating, and you think, She’s kind of great! I don’t remember what her reading was like, just that she [left] and I thought, That’s Addison,” says Rhimes, adding that Walsh also seemed smart, strong and “beautiful but not creepy-beautiful, so she’s believable as a doctor.”