"And you must be the woman who's been screwing my husband."
With that line, the striking Dr. Addison Shepherd entered TV infamy. It was at the close of the first season of Grey's Anatomy that Addison marched toward her estranged spouse, Dr. Derek Shepherd, and his intern/lover Meredith Grey, in the halls of Seattle Grace Hospital.
Instead of being just a black-clad, wronged wife with her hair coiled tight, Addison became a thinking woman's heroine.
Addison, too, had guilt issues -- she had previously slept with Derek's best friend - but was also sympathetic; a dedicated prenatal OB-GYN, she had come to Seattle Grace ready to make amends.
While the character flits between steely and humane, alternating some biting put-downs with a comforting bedside manner, the woman who plays her breaks the mold in a very Grey's kind of way.
"Originally, I knew very little about this character other than the fact that she supposedly had an affair," says Walsh, who joined toward the end of the show's debut half-season."My only job was to rain on Derek and Meredith's parade ... but on Grey's, you never do know what's going to happen next... I think a lot of people [behind the scenes] became a tad concerned that women throughout the country would stone me."
Quite the contrary. In fact, as Season Three opens on Thursday, Sept. 21, at 9 p.m., the question on many fans' minds is, will Derek -- aka "Dr. McDreamy" (Patrick Dempsey) -- come to his senses and choose the complex Addison over the now-seen-as-somewhat-whiny Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo)?
"[We've] shown a tender side to Addison, a human side as well as her professional one," says Walsh of her character. "Originally, I think more teenage girls rooted for Meredith, but older women and men sort of identified with the struggles Derek and Addison [were going through]. The Shepherds are seemingly great people who are really trying to make it work by hanging in there."
In last spring's Season Two finale, as Derek and Meredith emerge from a particularly risqué moment in a supply closet -- only legally blind viewers would have missed what color underwear Meredith had on under her cocktail dress -- Addison stands in the hospital corridor with Meredith's current boyfriend (guest star Chris O'Donnell), sad and horrified.
Who will wind up with whom is left up in the air.
Scenes such as these, along with Walsh's charm, are making many root for an Addison/Derek reunion, and are helping to make the show a smash. By the end of last season, it was drawing a bigger audience than its Sunday-night lead-in, Desperate Housewives. Not even ER makes medicine so sexy.
The show's creator, Shonda Rhimes, has given that old chestnut genre the medical drama an infusion of sex appeal, with some extra brainpower to boot. Viewers love the personal and professional crises of Seattle Grace's residents and staff, and an army of female McDreamy fans have risen up to give Dempsey a career lift.
The fact that producers called on Walsh to further quicken the show's pulse was a shock to the 38-year-old Tucson, Ariz., native, one of five siblings raised in an Irish-Italian Catholic home. The only performer in the bunch, she attended the University of Arizona and did regional theater before moving to Chicago to study at the Piven Theatre Workshop - run by Entourage star Jeremy Piven's parents.
Although Walsh studied drama, she remembers telling everyone within earshot that her break would come via comedy. They should have listened: In New York in the '90s, Walsh was a member of an improv group called Burn Manhattan, and, in 1997, joined The Drew Carey Show.
"Drew Carey was my first sitcom, and I remember a director stopping me as I was about to make an entrance [on stage] and asking, 'Kate, you know to hold for the laughs, right?'" she said. "Of course I knew! That's like saying, 'You do know to keep your eyes open when you talk?'"
After more TV comedies (HBO's Mind of the Married Man, Norm MacDonald's The Norm Show) and filming Will Ferrell's 2005 soccer-parent goof Kicking and Screaming, Walsh signed on to Grey's Anatomy.
"Kate has succeeded in making Addison very sympathetic, which was not initially the easiest thing to do," says one of the show's executive producers, Betsy Beers. "Her comedic talent has helped add another dimension to the character. And she has no fear of taking chances."
Walsh has made Addison essential to the DNA of Grey's. The reaction to Addison and Derek was so strong, in fact, that producers junked scenes Walsh and Dempsey had already filmed, fearing that they might overpower the Derek -Meredith story line.
"Patrick and I have so much fun together, it was frustrating for us [to have those scenes cut] - because we were starting to feel like we were in a miserable marriage," Walsh said.
"It's very hard to play [an unhappy couple]. It's challenging for us, whether these two characters are going to work things out. We were both like, 'C'mon, let us have some fun! Let us connect!'"
The tussle of love between Meredith, Derek and Addison shows zero signs of cooling this season, to say the least. When last we saw TV's favorite and most romantic mess, Meredith was fresh off her coital bliss with McDreamy and her sweet, kind, too-good-for-her veterinarian, Finn Dandridge (Chris O'Donnell, below) was lovingly beckoning her.
But how much longer will she be chastened by guilt now that they're both guilty?
So, who should end up with whom? Should Derek choose Meredith or Addison? Here's a breakdown of the infamous love triangle's two female sides.
ADDISON FORBES MONTGOMERY SHEPHERD
What we love about her: She cheated! On television, the philandering-spouse role is usually reserved for men. But Addison shows a kind of independence and devil-may-care indulgence that every woman can cheer for.
And having paid her debt -- by witnessing her husband's affair -- she's trying to save her marriage. There's something noble (if misguided) about that. Plus, she's also a neonatal surgeon. What job could be nobler?
Why she and Derek wouldn't work: He probably doesn't love her, given all that she's done, and all he's done in response.
Why they would: Unlike Meredith, she's an adult. And they've both strayed, so they can scratch that off the "marriage inevitables" list. Then it can be smooth -- if uneventful -- sailing into the sunset.
What we love about her: She's real. She's utterly flawed. She's striving. And the fact that she gave in to lust and hooked up with McDreamy yet again in the season finale makes Meredith - much to the postfeminist collective chagrin - totally relatable.
What makes us cringe: Her mopey, self-indulgent side. Her inability to make a decision. Her lack of self-control. Her painfully obvious self-destructive streak. And her sloppy sexuality - why, again, did she hook up with George (T.R. Knight)?
Why she and Derek wouldn't work: She doesn't know what she wants, which means she's sure to break his heart. She seems predisposed to do the wrong thing (sleeping with George, if it has to be said again ...). She's selfish. And there's a distinct possibility that she longs for McDreamy precisely because she knows in her heart that he's the wrong choice.
Why they would: There's only one reason, and fans will have to wait to see if it's true: McDreamy is hopelessly, dumb-struck, slack-jawed, no-one-else-exists in love with her.