An Interview with ‘Treme’ and ‘The Butler’ Actor Colin Walker

Colin Walker (Image Credit: Jeff Lorch)
Colin Walker (Image Credit: Jeff Lorch)

Colin Walker is an accomplished actor with a strong background in theater, film and television. Walker is currently starring as FBI Agent Collington in the HBO hit series Treme, now in its final season, and can be seen as John Ehrlichman in Lee Daniels’ critically acclaimed The Butler.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Walker for an interview on The Daily Quirk and found him to be incredibly kind and insightful during our conversation. Read on for the interview where Walker talks his current projects, how he got his start and his native New Orleans.

The Daily Quirk: What made you want to become an actor?

Colin Walker: As a kid, I liked doing plays and stuff like that. Not only being in front of an audience, what was more fun was connecting to other people on stage. Being able to tell a story by actually doing something- not just speaking the story. What has always been appealing to me is the connection with other people and telling a story that makes an impact on people’s lives in that way.

TDQ: So you got your start doing theater?

CW: I did! I got my start doing theater and I quickly started doing film. But I’ve always gone, in between film and television and commercial projects, always gone back to theater and really loved doing theater. It’s just a much more immediate expression of the acting. You get the response immediately from the audience, and there’s an excitement because it’s like flying without a net. If something goes wrong onstage, the director doesn’t just call cut and start over. It’s on your feet, alive and in the moment. Some of my more exciting moments have been onstage.

TDQ: You have a lot of experience on dramatic television shows, such as Breakout Kings and The Defenders. What is your process for preparing for these types of roles?

CW: The first thing I do is read through the script to get a sense of the story and what my part of that story is. In those shows, a lot of times I’m there to be a part of the story and to help tell the story. The second part, and most important to me, is how I connect to it personally. What it is that I understand about the character. When I play a bad guy, I don’t think of him as a bad guy as much as maybe a person that is misunderstood. Even bad guys have their own desires and reasons for doing what they do. I try and find something personal about the character that I can connect to and then I dig deeper and deeper and develop all the different aspects of the role.

TDQ: How did your role on Treme come about?

CW: There’s a funny story about that! They were filming in New Orleans, and I actually knew about the show before they even started filming because I’m a David Simon and Eric Overmyer fan from The Wire. I knew they had been going to New Orleans to prepare for the show and I really wanted to be on it. I live in Los Angeles now, but I called my old agent from New Orleans from years ago and said, ‘I can do a line on the show, I don’t care, I just want to be a part of this show!’ So they started submitting me, and I put myself on tape a couple of times, for a couple of different things. Near the end of the second season, they called. They called me three days after my son had been born! They said that David Simon wants to see you in New Orleans tomorrow. And I thought, ‘Oh my god, I don’t know…’ I asked my wife and she said, ‘Are you kidding? That’s all you’ve been talking about for two years! Get out of here!’ So I got on a plane that night and flew to New Orleans and auditioned for everyone. I ended up getting the job! It was the end of the second season and we had not been picked up yet, so it was just one episode at first. Then they got picked up for another season and my character came back and ended up playing a larger role. It was a total dream come true- absolutely wonderful and very exciting.

TDQ: What attracted you to the role?

CW: It’s interesting, because my character is not necessarily a native New Orleanian, and being a native New Orleanian, a part of me thought ‘Awww, I’m a little sad about that.’ But it’s interesting because in a way, after Katrina, I think everybody that was from New Orleans and a lot of people that weren’t from New Orleans felt like they wanted to do something for New Orleans. My character in Treme, Agent Collington, is an FBI agent who has come to clean up a lot of the misdeeds of NOPD after Katrina and there are a lot of things that went wrong within the police department. The FBI played a critical role in helping clean a lot of that up. It was attractive that I got to play a character who rebuilds the city in that way.

TDQ: Being from New Orleans, what has it been like working on a show that highlights your home?

CW: It’s been fantastic on so many levels. One of the most exciting things is that I get to go home and call it work. At home, I stay with my mom and I’m pretend like I’m working. It’s also been exciting, because I think it’s an important show for New Orleans. There are a lot of shows and movies about New Orleans and I think this one really does a good job depicting all of the good, bad and ugly about New Orleans. I think it’s also a different show, in that it’s not just a regular cops-and-robbers show or what have you. It really takes time to develop the characters and the character of New Orleans. It’s been a real thrill to be a part of a show that is so important for the city in that way.

TDQ: What was it like to film the final season?

CW: I think it was certainly bittersweet in some regards because part of me wanted to go all the way through until the Saints won the Super Bowl. As a New Orleans native, and as a Saints fan, it just felt like after that, we really felt like we had recovered a lot from Katrina. There’s still recovery going on in some regards. Of course, I wanted the show to go on for much longer. But by the same token, I understand that HBO was very generous in giving us a fourth season, they didn’t have to. It enabled us to wrap up some story lines. It actually even enabled us to tell a couple of more stories that needed to be told. In the third season, we hadn’t even touched on the Danziger bridge cases or the deaths at Parish prison or some of the other personal stories that we started to delve into in the fourth season.

TDQ: What can viewers expect from the final few episodes?

CW: This is one of the things that was so interesting to me. When I started getting the scripts from the fourth season, I thought that it was just going to be everybody wrapping up loose ends. Melissa Leo’s character, who I interact with a bit, starts new cases of deaths that occurred in the prisons. So we’ll see more of that. We’ll also see characters involved with David Morse’s character, Terry Colson. He decides, as we’re starting to see, to go back to the FBI and testify against the other cops. Those are some really interesting things that are starting to happen in the fourth season.

TDQ: You recently played a role in Lee Daniels’ The Butler, which was released last August. What attracted you to the role of John Ehrlichman?

CW: It was really interesting to play an actual person. I’ve played so many fictional characters and my character in Treme is based on a handful of different FBI agents. But this was an actual person who lived and worked in the Nixon administration. I was able to look into his historical background and I could see the role he played in political dealings as well as the role he played in helping to tell the story. It was certainly an interesting character.

TDQ: You worked with a star studded cast on that, such as Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey and John Cusack just to name a few. What was your experience like filming?

CW: It was really wonderful. I think I expected there to be more ego and more, ‘Everybody’s a diva,’ and ‘This is my picture!’ I think the director Lee Daniels really got everyone on board. I’ve done a lot of theater where it’s an ensemble and this felt much more like an ensemble that anything else. Everybody was pitching in their two cents. My scene was with Forest and John Cusack and Alex Manette and Lee was asking all four of us, ‘What do you think about this?’ It really felt like a collaboration from everybody. The other thing, I have to say, is that I was so impressed that John and Forest were so well prepared. John Cusack only worked a few days, but it wasn’t like he was just coming in to do a little cameo. He came completely prepared. He said ‘Come to my trailer, I’ll let you look at this book on Nixon.’ He had done all this research. Really, really generous people. It was wonderful to work with them.

TDQ: Was there a challenging aspect of filming the movie?

CW: Maybe wearing a toupée? No, it was fun. The actual filming, that’s what I live for. All of the other legwork involved in my career is the challenging part. When it comes to being on set and working with other creative people, there’s nothing that’s challenging about it.

TDQ: Does working in either TV or Film appeal to you more than the other?

CW: I think there’s advantages and disadvantages to both. Film sometimes feels a little more like theater because you’re given more room to breathe and expand. For example, one five page scene that we had in The Butler took 12 hours whereas a four page scene on Treme might take the morning. It might take a couple of hours. There’s definitely a different pace in film but by the same token, I’ve had three seasons to develop my character in Treme. Whereas film, it’s kind of a one shot deal. So there’s certainly advantages and disadvantages and I really enjoy doing both.

THE BUTLER (Image Credit: Anne Marie Fox/The Weinstein Co.)
John Cusack, Colin Walker and Alex Manette in THE BUTLER (Image Credit: Anne Marie Fox/The Weinstein Co.)

TDQ: Do you have an upcoming projects you can share with our readers? 

CW: I am in another ensemble piece called Devil’s Due. I’m part of the ensemble. It’s headed by Zach Gilford and Allison Miller. It’s a horror feature coming out in the beginning on January. I’m also in development to be the lead in a project called Pluto’s Gate, which will be hopefully coming out next winter. We’re shooting in the spring.

TDQ: You have a busy schedule! How do you like to spend your time when you’re not busy acting?

CW: Most of the time, truthfully, is with my family. I have two young kids, and they take a whole lot of my time. If not that, then I’m usually swimming, biking, running or surfing. I stay pretty busy.

TDQ: We like to end with some fun questions so, what would be one quirky or fun thing fans would be surprised to find out about you?

CW: I’m actually a diehard cycling fan, and during the month of July, I spend every morning in front of the television watching the Tour de France. I really enjoy watching it. I watch it every year and my dream is to one day go and see it in person.

TDQ: And for someone visiting New Orleans for the first time, where’s the one place they have to go?

CW: That’s the hardest thing- just one place! The wonderful thing about New Orleans is that if you go into any corner bar or corner sandwich shop, you’re going to find great food, great drinks and great people. And great music usually. I think I’d have to say Tipitina’s, which is a music club. They have amazing music all the time. Go anywhere you can!

The Daily Quirk would like to thank actor Colin Walker for taking the time to chat, and of course for his wonderful responses. To find out more about Walker, you can visit his Official Site, “follow” him on Twitter and “like” his official Facebook page. And be sure to check out the finale of Treme on HBO December 29.

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Emily lives in Los Angeles, California. She enjoys writing and also likes acting, improv and selecting filters on Instagram.

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