You’d be hard-pressed to find a list of best TV moms in history that doesn’t include Cindy Walsh, as played by Carol Potter on Beverly Hills 90210.
Ms. Potter was kind enough to take a stroll with me down memory lane…
TeenDramaWhore: Let’s go back to 19 years ago. What do you recall from your audition for Beverly Hills 90210?
Carol Potter: I was at a very low period, a single mother with a 2 year old, and was starting to think I would never work again. I auditioned, I think, 3 times, and each time I didn’t hear right away, I was convinced it was the end of my career and got very depressed. I cried a lot.
TDW: In an interview you did with the New York Times last year, you mentioned that the death of your first husband occurred in 1988 shortly after the birth of your son. You then remarried the same month 90210 debuted. Do you think these events affected how you played the role of Cindy, a mother and wife on the show?
Potter: I think I found a kind of strength in the vulnerability that those events brought me to, and I was able to use both of those qualities when I auditioned, and when I played the part.
TDW: TV viewers have long considered Cindy and Jim (James Eckhouse) to be “ideal parents.” Do you agree with that assessment?
Potter: It’s easy to be ideal when someone is writing the script. I think we tried to show some of their foibles, to not present them as perfect, but the biggest strength they had was good relationships with their children. I think they listened and held appropriate boundaries without being unreasonable. I have to say, though, I was a bit upset when the week after Brandon [Jason Priestley] totaled his car into a tree when he was not sober [ed. note: Episode 1.11, B.Y.O.B], he was shown driving my car! That would not have happened if I’d had anything to say about it. I would have liked to have shown some of the conflict that might happen between a teenager and his mother over an issue like that.
TDW: Cindy and Jim were last seen as regulars in season 5, but other “parent characters” continued to have heavily recurring roles. Was this a decision made by executives, or jointly with you and Mr. Eckhouse?
Potter: It was made by the executives in charge, and conveyed to us through our agents. I think they felt that it was handicapping the kids to have their parents around all the time, so they had to get rid of us.
TDW: As a follow-up to that, you have a degree in family counseling. As a counselor, what would you say about Cindy and Jim’s parenting?
Potter: In the beginning, they showed more of what really went on, but after that it got so that the kids solved their own problems. Maybe they told mom and dad about it off screen. I think Jim and I – both of us had young kids – were sort of trying out what it would be like to have teenagers. From a therapy point of view, there could have been a few more boundaries, some more conversations about the same, although I have to admit that my son’s senior year in high school we let him make all his own decisions, knowing that at college he would be. We wanted to give him one last chance to goof up with backup. Mostly, I think that because the actors were so mature, they portrayed high school kids who were much older than most high school kids are, so that made the whole thing different.
TDW: Do you have a favorite memory from the set?
Potter: It’s been a long time; nothing in particular jumps out at me.
TDW: Do you have a favorite episode or storyline?
Potter: I had a great story line the week I got married, when an old flame came back into my life and tempted me. The producers wanted me to start my own business, which made Jim nervous and caused some tension in the relationship [ed. note: Episode 1.8, The 17-Year Itch]. Unfortunately, after that episode, Fox put the kabosh on Cindy earning money.(!) I also came back the 6th season, wondering if I was going to stay in my marriage [ed. note: Episode 6.15, Angels We Have Heard on High], and finally got the opportunity to have some wonderful scenes with Jason, who was also directing. It was odd to realize that those were the first scenes we had ever had [alone] together.
TDW: You made two guest appearances in seasons 6 and 8. Aside from those times, did you keep up with the show?
Potter: Not really.
TDW: Are you still in touch with any of the cast?
Potter: James and I run into each other at an audition every once in a while. Ann Gillespie [Jackie] and I are quite close, although she lives in Arlington, VA now. We keep in touch and get together whenever she comes back to town.
TDW: It seems that you’ve taken a look back at 90210 every couple of years. You did the E! True Hollywood Story, extras on the DVD sets, the Times interview, etc. Is the show still a big part of your life?
Potter: I am always delighted when I meet people who say what an important part of their lives it was. And, of course I’d be thrilled to be invited to be on the current show. I still get an occasional request for a signed photo, or to take a picture in a restaurant, and that’s fine with me.
TDW: Are you still recognized for the role?
Potter: I think I just answered that. Often, it takes people a while to figure out how they know me. Mostly I get asked if I was their teacher or something. It happens at airports, restaurants and grocery stores, those places where people hang around for a while; it gives them time to figure it out.
TDW: What do you think is 90210’s role in television/teen drama history?
Potter: I think every generation has its show that spoke to its particular reality growing up. 90210 really focused on the teenagers point of view, rather than the parents or the family. It was also the first show to run new episodes in the summer, which a lot of shows do now.
TDW: Have you watched the new 90210 at all? Would you consider appearing on it if given the chance?
Potter: I have watched it and I am totally available! I thought it might be interesting if Cindy, who also got a counseling degree, started to work at [West Beverly High] and Kelly [Jennie Garth] was her boss!
TDW: You most recently appeared on an episode of Greek in 2008. Do you have other projects in the works?
Potter: I did an hilarious short called Just One of the Gynos, which I hope will be picked up by a cable channel at some point. You can see a trailer at www.justoneofthegynos.com.
TDW: 90210’s 20th anniversary (and 10th anniversary since the show ended) is approaching next year. Do you know of any reunion plans? Would you be willing to participate?
Potter: I haven’t heard of anything, but I’d certainly consider it.
Come back Sunday for another exclusive interview!