It may be bit dramatic, even for an award-winning theater veteran like Netta Walker, to say that acting saved her life — but it definitely changed her life.
When a high school drama teacher encouraged Walker to get serious about performing, the Jacksonville, Florida, native gave it her all and never looked back. She went on to study at Roosevelt University in Chicago and in the years that followed became a familiar presence in the city's vibrant theater scene, appearing in plays such as Rent, Hamlet and Great Expectations.
2019 was a milestone year for Walker — she received a Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Supporting Actor for her performance in the Raven Theater's production of Yen; she was included in the Chicago Tribune's list of "Hot New Faces" in the local stage community; and she made her film debut in the independent comedy Come as You Are.
Outside Chicago, Walker is best known for her work in the CW series All-American and its spinoff, All-American: Homecoming, playing Keisha McCalla, a dance student and dorm RA at the fictional HBCU Bringston University. But she still craves the stage, and when we caught up with her, she was preparing for a month-long run of The Lion in Winter at Chicago's Court Theatre, premiering November 3.
Clearly, Walker is a still theater kid at heart, but here are a few things you might be surprised to learn!
She swoons for Sondheim — especially his patter songs
Asked to share a hidden talent, Walker lists parallel parking, which she does for all her friends. Not at all hidden is her singing talent, and she adores patter songs, a style made famous by composer Stephen Sondheim, who often featured them in his musicals. These songs have a fast tempo and lyrics in which each syllable corresponds to a particular note, making them challenging to perform. "I really love musical theater and always have. I'm a bit of a Sondheim patter song fanatic."
She's her own harshest critic
If Walker had to describe her acting journey in three emojis, she would choose the following:
Why? "Because I'm never satisfied with my work. Hopefully, I'll grow out of that the older I get."
A drama teacher inspired her career path
In high school, Walker says she was "getting involved in things I shouldn't have" and credits a teacher for setting her on a different path. "I had an incredible drama teacher named Shirley Sacks Kirby, who changed my life for the better. It was her mission to make me a theater kid. My career is indebted to her kindness and ability to see the possibilities in me."
Her dream TV show would be called Hackknees
Walker says her dream series would be set among a cult of Catholic murderers. "I would cast Michaela Coel, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Issa Rae, Matthew MacFadyen, Steven Yeun and Paul Mescal. They're living in London and trying to keep a low profile while fighting for their lives. It'd be some crazy A24-style dramatic comedy. I'd call it Hackknees."
Home is where her heart is
Stepping away from Jacksonville allowed Walker to appreciate her roots. While she currently divides her time between Chicago and Los Angeles, Walker says she never wants to forget where she came from or who she is. "I feel like I was so intent on getting out of my hometown growing up, but now every time I go back, I feel like crying because I'm so thankful to be from Jacksonville. Those visits always recenter me and ready me for whatever my next job is."
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.