Lisa Ann Walter On Her Fiber One Campaign, Body Image, And Abbott Elementary - Exclusive Interview

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This interview contains discussions of eating disorders.

For years, Lisa Ann Walter has made us smile and laugh. The actress, comedian, and producer has appeared in an array of TV series, TV movies, and films, from 2003's "Bruce Almighty" to "Grey's Anatomy," though she's mostly known for playing Chessy, the nanny, in "The Parent Trap" alongside Lindsay Lohan in the 1998 beloved film and for her role as Melissa in the hit ABC comedy series, "Abbott Elementary."

Walter has a lot of exciting projects in the works in addition to "Abbott Elementary." A big one is her partnership with Fiber One. As the brand's spokesperson, she appears in their new "Fall Off Forgiveness" campaign, which emphasizes less about perfection and more about achieving a healthy balance to diet and wellness, one where it's okay to treat yourself once in a while. For Walter, this perfectly aligns with her own perspective towards diet culture, wellness, and body image.

The List had the chance to sit down with Walter to hear all about the new campaign, which begins airing today, "Abbott Elementary," and what else this funny lady is (literally) cooking up. 

Her partnership with Fiber One and how it aligns with her own perspective on wellness

Let's talk about your partnership with Fiber One. How did that opportunity come about, and what about it resonated with you?

They reached out, and when I saw what the campaign was about, I immediately said, "I'm interested in hearing more about this." That's because I grew up in a time where there was a very narrow concept of female beauty, of what your body type was supposed to look like to be attractive. It's what you saw on TV and in ads, and it was impossibly skinny with impossibly big boobs. It was that '80s "Charlie's Angels" body that we all killed ourselves aspiring to, and, I mean, truly, in some cases, killed ourselves. There were rampant eating disorders. I am so thrilled to see that the younger generations are getting away from that and are much more about body positivity and living a healthy lifestyle. It's what I've been saying.

I like what they talked about, and I love that they're doing a giveaway. Every week for the month of March, there is a drawing, and several winners will win a year supply of Fiber One. Then, you can eat the brownie and have a cinnamon coffee cake in the morning. Personally, that's when I start to lose it. I don't have to eat crazy in the morning. I get up, I have egg whites, a bowl of steel cut oats, and I'm good. Around noon, 1:00, I want to have some carbs, and that's when I could segue into the falling off part. In this case, you have a little cinnamon coffee cake with your coffee and then you don't feel like you ruined it.

Forgiveness, that's what I loved about it when I saw the campaign: the whole "fall off forgiveness" [concept]. We are too hard on ourselves, and, plus, I thought the spots were funny.

Definitely. I think it should be all about moderation, really.

Nobody's saying, "You let go, go hog wild." It's better for your health if you try to eat more plants. I love vegetables. I'm Sicilian mostly, and the other part is French, and both sides of the family cook. I spent this morning making a big pot of cabbage, [and] most people would be like, "Isn't that punishment food?" I really love it. I love eating vegetables, but that's because I'm home right now. We're not shooting. We are wrapped for the season. Today, I happen to be home, because we've got all sorts of award shows we're going to and all sorts of other events I've got to be at. I don't always have time to cook those healthy choices. During the pandemic, I was making homemade granola. That was the snack. I don't have time to do that now.

That's a great way to think about it. I saw a brief clip of the spot, and I love the part about the struggle of choosing wings over celery sticks.

You're at a party and there's a giant platter and ... it's Super Bowl Sunday, you're in the first month of your big plan to "all or nothing it," and you pick up a celery stick, and what's the next thing that happens? You dip it in the blue cheese dressing or the ranch, and then it's like, "Oh, the hell with it. I'll have 40 wings." 

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).

How her thoughts on body image and diet culture align with the attitudes of today's younger generations

How does Fiber One's "Fall Off Forgiveness" campaign align with your own perspective?

I'm a feminist, so I rejected the idea of diet culture a while ago, but, being on TV, luckily, I'm on a show where not only was it not expected that I have this TV body, but my wonderful boss, Quinta Brunson, and everybody else around me were like, "You don't need to lose anything. You're fine." My resolution this year was not the normal "I'm going to get in shape" or whatever it is people do when they have that all-or-nothing mentality. "I'm going to be healthy and that's all I'm going to do, and I'm going to lose these 20 pounds and I'm going to work every day and work out." It works for maybe a week or a couple weeks or a month.

My resolution this year was to stop worrying about the 10 pounds I've worried about since I was 19. This is something my brand has been about for a number of years. I wrote a book called "The Best Thing About My Ass Is That It's Behind Me" about women and self-loathing and [all] we pile on ourselves to be perfect. Then, I created a dance weight-loss show called "Dance Your Ass Off," which does not [aim] at attaining a size zero body. Who came up with size zero to begin with? Who woke up one day and said, "I'd like to be nothing today. That is my goal: to disappear." 

I decided to live by what I had done in my work, which is to be the best version of you and to be healthy. Eat healthy most of the time, but every once in a while, give yourself a little treat, like a Fiber One protein bar, my favorite chocolate peanut butter bar. I don't feel like after I've eaten it, "I wrecked the diet now, so I might as well eat this bag of chips and fall forward into a cake because I ruined everything." I love the idea of "fall off forgiveness" and not worrying so much about being perfect. Perfection is unattainable, and people should stop putting that much pressure on themselves ... truly. Unless you're an astronaut ... or a boxer, I don't understand trying to make a certain weight. It's stressful.

This generation coming up is a lot smarter about understanding that they can move their body in a way they enjoy ... and it doesn't have to be an exercise routine ... I was with somebody the other night, and she said, "All right, I got to go. We're playing hockey." I thought it was my son, like, hockey on the ice. She was, like, "No, field hockey." It was pouring rain. The mother in me kicks in. I'm like, "You're going out now to play hockey?" She's like, "I love it. This is the time we meet, so I'm going to go do it." She's a comic, a younger one, and in good shape, but not bone thin. She's a healthy girl.

I love that this generation has a more realistic attitude about [it, like] one day you're at a party and you're going to eat and enjoy things, and then the next day you'll make healthier choices. That's the way we've got to do it.

Her hit series, Abbott Elementary, and how she brings her own teacher-like mentality to the set

With the success of "Abbott Elementary" and also "The Goldbergs," there's got to be something about Philly-set shows, right?

My parents were from New York — my mom from Brooklyn, my dad from the Bronx. I grew up in the D.C. area ... Philly is right in the middle. It's a perfect blend of both. I know a lot of people from Philly, mostly from the comic world and from the industry who grew up there. The way they talk about it sounds very close to my Staten Island Italians and my Jersey Italians. Jersey borders it, and some of the accents are similar. Whenever I'm in Philly, it's very much a twist on how I grew up ... I can pick it up fine. They're my people. From what I understand, the South Philly folks say I'm doing them proud. It makes me feel really good that I'm acting it to their approval.

You've mentioned that your mom was a teacher, so playing a teacher wasn't a totally new concept for you. I have a teaching background myself. Do you think that familiarity helped you nail your character?

My mom, who passed a year and a half ago, was a downtown D.C. public school teacher and also substitute [taught] in Maryland. Her whole life was about teaching, including to us at home. There wasn't a day where she wasn't teaching me something ... I learned to read when I was 3, because my mother was brilliant. When it was nap time and I didn't want a nap, she'd give me a book and say, "You have a choice. You could take a nap, or you could read a book." I always chose reading, and if I got to a word I didn't understand, I would sound it out or say the letters, and she would help me sound it out.

That's how I learned to read [so early]. By kindergarten, I was reading third-grade books. The teachers were still teaching letters, and I was bored. They were smart enough to take me out of those classes and send me to the upper grades, so I was in the first and second grade classes reading to the kids. If I had a teacher not okay with this smart-mouthy little girl, they would ... send me to face the wall in the corner because I was talking ... I was bored, and I was trying to help the other kids. 

All through junior high, my favorite teacher, Ms. Freddy Davy, would say, "Well, you know the subject, Ms. Walter. Come up and teach it." She was very much like Barbara Howard. She'd hand me the chalk, and I'd go up and teach a subject. She told me, "You should be a teacher. You're very good at this."

Between my mother and the teachers I had growing up who understood that I liked to help, to teach the kids, [this part] came to me easily. In fact, one of my favorite things on set to do, with our wonderful kid actors, is continue teaching them the subject, because we'll hand out real worksheets ... It's math; not my favorite, but my father was an astrophysicist, so at least second grade math I can do. I'll help them, talk them through it, or if there's something on the board that the set designers have put up, I'll start teaching it to them. I love it. I guess it's genetic.

Her path to showbiz and what she has in store

You mentioned you had an interest in teaching when you were younger. With acting and comedy, did you plan on a career in show biz?

I planned on it since I was five years old. They gave me what was supposed to be the lead in our elementary school's production of "The Sound of Music." We did "Doe A Deer" in kindergarten. I was the doe in "Doe A Deer." What I didn't realize is that I was going to wear a giant papier-mâché deer head and you couldn't see me, but as far as I was concerned, I was the star. I decided, truthfully in high school, that I was going to do this. There were a couple of parts in the yearly show, and then we had another show that wasn't a musical at the beginning of the year that I played leads in. I was like, "I always want to do this. I want to make people feel, I want to make them laugh and cry, and that's what I want to do."

I went into it purposefully. I started getting paid as an actor when I was still in high school doing dinner theater in the D.C. area. I went to Catholic University, and they had a very prestigious drama department. I started doing plays in the D.C. area, moved to New York to be an actor, and got pregnant. After I had my first child, I was still very young, and I had a friend who had started doing standup at the beginning of the comedy boom ... She said to me, "If there's anybody that should be doing this, it's you. You're suited to this."

It's a little bit like having the teacher personality. You are getting on stage. It's just your voice, and you're telling an idea. In this case, it's funny, but it's a concept that you came up with and you create, and your voice is what you have and what you share. I was perfectly suited for the standup world, and then that segued into getting offers to star in my own TV shows. That's what brought me to California, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Can you tell me about any upcoming projects?

I'm super excited about the partnership with Fiber One and "fall off forgiveness" ... I know the ads are going to make people laugh. They're really cute and very funny. I've got some stuff I'm cooking up with my co-star from "The Parent Trap," Elaine Hendrix, who was on the red carpet for the SAG awards. We're going out with an unscripted series. I've also got an animated series that is going into pitch deck mode as we speak. I've written a movie ... So many things. I can't keep up with all the things I'm doing. I can't only do one thing. I have to create. It's in my DNA. Look for them, and a couple of movies I've got coming up, but you'll have to wait and see me pop up in them later in the year.

To participate in Fall Off Forgiveness Sweepstakes, those who have fallen off their resolutions are invited to visit for a chance to win a one-year supply of Fiber One from March 7 through April 3.

This interview has been edited for clarity.