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From West Virginia to the West Wing
By Ruth Goodman
To Connect with Kim:
As the alarm rings at 4:30, Kim Webster greets the day with a yawn, a stretch and a contented smile. A 14-hour day on the Warner Brothers lot awaits her, yet Kim couldn’t be happier.
“I love every thing about my job,” said Kim who plays “Ginger” on NBC’s Emmy award-winning political drama The West Wing. “It’s been my dream to be a professional actress, and I’m actually living that dream. That’s powerful stuff.”
Kim’s dream took shape at West Virginia University where she was a member of Iota Chapter. Kim came to W.V.U. as an undecided major. An elective course in acting changed all that.
“I immediately changed my major,” said Kim, remembering the excitement she felt after just one acting class. “I knew I wanted to become a professional actress. Period. Some people believe it’s a good idea to have something to fall back on. I disagree. If you have something to fall back on, you often will. If you have nothing else, you have that much more determination to succeed.”
Iota Chapter sister Jenny Weston witnessed Kim’s determination firsthand. “Kim is a very dedicated and strong-willed person, and that has helped her make her dreams come true. Kim lived in L.A., away from friends and family, in a small one-bedroom apartment with high rent. She worked jobs that didn’t pay a lot but were flexible enough to work around any filming schedule that might come up. Every month she barely scraped enough money together to make ends meet, yet she managed to stay positive and focused on her goal.”
Kim’s days of scrimping and saving are behind her. But don’t get the wrong impression of this down-to-earth sister. “I’m not putting a down payment on a house in Malibu or a Porsche quite yet!” Kim said with a laugh. “I don’t live extravagantly. I still drive my ’92 Jeep Wrangler with no top or doors. I still have debt. The most important thing is that I’m doing something I love. That’s an incredible feeling.”
A Proud Professional
Kim admits the most challenging part of her job was getting the job. “I knew this industry was going to be tough, but nothing can really prepare you for how tough it actually is,” said Kim. “There isn’t a set structure or a book to follow in order to succeed. It’s trial and error and perseverance.”
And persevere she did. After moving to L.A., Kim continued to study acting, got an agent and networked. Yet she was still missing the key that would unlock the door to The West Wing—membership in the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). “To be a professional actor, you need to be in SAG,” said Kim. “And getting into SAG is a Catch-22. You need to be in something (TV or film) to join SAG, but you can’t be in something unless you’re in SAG.”
Undaunted, Kim met a woman who ran a casting company for extras and offered to work in the office without pay if she would help Kim get her SAG card. On St. Patrick’s Day 1999, Kim became a professional actress.
“Getting my SAG card was one of the proudest moments of my life,” said Kim. “I knew that if I could finally join the union I would be taken more seriously as a professional.” And that’s exactly what happened. Two weeks after receiving her card, Kim was offered a stand-in part on the pilot of The West Wing. (A stand-in is a person who occupies the actor’s place while she is off having her hair or make-up done or just resting. Lighting and camera angles are adjusted using a stand-in.)
“I had this overwhelming feeling that I was supposed to be on that set,” said Kim. “I just KNEW something good was going to happen.”
“Something good” happened faster than she anticipated. One morning an assistant director rushed Kim to the sound stage. “I thought he wanted me to watch a scene so I could stand in for one of the actors,” said Kim. Instead, she found two male characters discussing the scene with the show’s writer, creator and executive producer Aaron Sorkin. “I was very confused,” said Kim. “I knew they didn’t need me to stand in for a guy. Then I heard Aaron say, ‘This is the part where Kim comes in and says Estimated B.D.A?’
“All of a sudden my eyes got huge. I must have had that deer-in-the-headlights look because Aaron said, ‘Kim, didn’t anyone tell you that you were getting your first line?’ First line? I was thrilled!” Kim was whisked away to hair and make-up and filming began. “I wanted to celebrate but I knew I’d better focus on what I was about to do—and find out what the heck B.D.A. stood for!” Kim later learned it meant bomb damage assessment.
Kim’s dedication, professionalism and drive continued to catch Aaron’s eye. That same week he asked Kim to read the part of the president’s daughter during the weekly read through. (A read through is a closed-door meeting for the actors, director, writer and producers to read next week’s script out loud to see how it sounds.) While she couldn’t be considered for the part because she had already appeared as a White House staff member, Kim knew this was a life-changing opportunity.
Kim found herself sitting across the table from Martin Sheen, Rob Lowe and John Wells, the executive producer of ER and The West Wing. “I said a quick prayer to myself, trusted my instincts and training, and forgot about those incredibly talented and important people in the room.”
Kim was a hit. Week after week she was invited to the read throughs, each time playing the part of a different character. Aaron created the character “Ginger” especially for Kim. “I think the name has something to do with my hair color,” said Kim who is now a recurring costar on The West Wing. She appeared in 13 of 22 episodes the first season and was signed on for a second.
Between seasons, Kim added to her list of acting credits by landing her first feature film role in The Glass House. Much to Kim’s surprise, the casting director saw her on The West Wing and tracked Kim down through her website (www.kimwebster.com). The film stars Leelee Sobieski (Eyes Wide Shut), Diane Lane (The Perfect Storm), Rita Wilson (Sleepless in Seattle) and Stellan Skarsgard (Good Will Hunting), among others. “The Glass House is about a 16-year-old girl who loses her parents in a car accident. She and her younger brother move in with family friends who turn out to be not very good friends after all. I don’t want to give it away,” said Kim, “but the script was very interesting, and it should be a good film.” Watch for Kim in the role of “Miss Drake,” Leelee’s homeroom teacher, when the film hits theatres spring/summer 2001.
One of You
Jenny Weston reflected on the Kim she knew in college and the Kim she sees on TV. “Kim is making it in ‘the big time,’ yet she is the most down-to-earth person you’ll ever meet. She places a high value on her family and friends and will do anything to help, even when she’s across the country.”
Kim cherishes the bond she has with her Alpha Xi Delta sisters. “Friends come and go, but sisters are for life,” said Kim. “There’s a group of about 15 of us who keep in touch on a regular basis. They keep me grounded. So does my family. My parents are such incredible people—I can’t believe how lucky I am that they’re mine. They’ve instilled incredible values and morals in me. I absolutely adore my whole family! I wouldn’t have made it this far without them.”
Support, ambition and training have helped Kim realize her dreams. And she knows that every Alpha Xi Delta has what it takes to be successful, too.
“Remember, I’m just like you,” Kim said. “I’m an Alpha Xi Delta from West Virginia University. I went through recruitment just like you. I went to class just like you. I had boyfriends and heartaches just like you. I found a passion inside me, took it full throttle and turned a dream into reality. I have chosen an extremely difficult field and I’m making it happen. So can you in whatever field you choose. Believe in yourself. Believe that good things can happen to you.
“So many people in Hollywood seem larger than life, but I’m not one of them. I’m one of you—a sister of Alpha Xi Delta.”
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