Linda Gray loved Wally from the beginning.
It was late 2014, not long after TNT canceled its “Dallas” sequel series. Gray, looking for new roles, met with Matteo J. Mosterts, a filmmaker who was interested in casting her as the title character in “Wally’s Will,” his first short. As Mosterts described the role to Gray, the wheels began turning inside the actress’s head. “I thought to myself, ‘Oh, wait a minute. I could really do something with this,” she recalls.
Did she ever.
Gray went on to star in Mosterts’ film, which became a hit last year on the festival circuit, winning multiple awards for both the director and his leading lady. Now “Wally’s Will” is available on Vimeo, where the quirky, dark comedy is charming a whole new audience — and sparking talk about a possible feature-length version.
When Matteo Met Linda
Mosterts, a Los Angeles-based commercial advertising producer, had spent years developing ideas for his first film. He finally settled on telling the story of fictional Mary Elizabeth Von Friederich —“Wally” for short — a wealthy, eccentric woman who has prickly relationships with everyone around her. Mosterts says the character was inspired by someone close to him, although he adds with a wink that “everything is obviously extremely exaggerated.”
Not long after Mosterts passed his script along to a friend who works as a casting director, he received news that stunned him: Linda Gray wanted to meet with him. Mosterts knew the actress from her starring role on “Dallas,” which had a huge following in his native Italy. “It was a little surreal,” he says. “I said to my [casting director] friend, ‘She does know that I’ve never directed anything, right?’”
Gray and Mosterts hit it off immediately. He was struck by her creativity, including her suggestions for fleshing out the Wally character. “She definitely brought new ideas,” he says. (Gray recalls Mosterts turning to her at one point and saying, “Where do you come up with this stuff?”) Once the script was finalized and she accepted the role, it was time to start filming.
Production began near Malibu in early 2015. On the first day of filming, Mosterts shot the beach scene with Wally and her loyal butler Doofus, played by René Mena. Filming outdoors is always complicated, and Mosterts spent more time than he planned “blocking” the scene — mapping out the actors’ movements in front of the camera. “It was a lesson learned. Start with the easiest stuff,” he says.
But Mosterts and his 25-person crew soon hit their stride. He credits Gray with helping to create a relaxed, friendly mood on the set. She pitched in wherever she could, even supplying much of Wally’s wardrobe from her own closet. Gray also proved a trouper, especially when temperatures dipped on the night Mosterts filmed the scene where Doofus paints Wally’s toenails outside her home. “I was expecting a little bit more resistance, a sense of entitlement — rightful entitlement — but there was none of that. She was the hardest working of us all,” Mosterts says.
Mosterts was also wowed by the performance he was eliciting from his star. Like Sue Ellen Ewing, Wally can be hard to love, and yet as the shoot continued, it became clear Gray was unearthing the character’s well-hidden vulnerabilities. “Linda has so much range,” he says. “I think she’s so nice and warm in person, and maybe she gets a kick out of playing characters with an edge.”
For her part, Gray says the shoot was one of the most memorable experiences of her career. One highlight: spending each night at the rental home that served as Wally’s mansion. Gray remembers waking up in the master bedroom one beautiful morning — and then realizing she was surrounded by all of Mosterts’ camera equipment. “It was a typical Hollywood moment,” she says with a laugh.
Once filming was completed and Mosterts produced a final cut, it was time to take “Wally’s Will” on the road. The 11-minute film was shown at festivals across the nation, where Mosterts spent most of his time watching people watch his movie. “I was focused on what the audience was doing. It was really interesting — really inspiring — to see what they respond to, what makes them laugh,” he says. Gray says the thought of seeing her alter ego in a theater was a little scary — until the moment finally arrived. “She was so powerful on the big screen,” she says.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was the acclaim “Wally’s Will” received. Mosterts was named best director at the Atlanta Shortsfest, while Gray won best comedic actress at the North Hollywood Cinefest. The film also received recognition at the USA Film Festival and the Palm Springs International ShortFest, among others.
Now Mosterts is working on a script for a full-length version of “Wally’s Will.” Gray says she’d love to play the character again, and Mosterts says he’d relish the opportunity to continue their collaboration. “I’m so thankful I got to work with her, and I look forward to working with her again,” he says.
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