Jamie Walters: PopWatch 'Teen Idol' Q&A (Part 3 of 4)
We all know Jamie Walters as Beverly Hills, 90210‘s Ray Pruit, Donna’s abusive boyfriend, and the voice of the 1992 #1 hit “How Do You Talk to An Angel.” But if you live in Los Angeles — and have called 911 in recent years — there’s a chance that you might also know him as the person who saved your life: he’s now a dual function firefighter/paramedic. Will his appearance on VH1’s newest celebreality show Confessions of a Teen Idol (premieres Jan. 4) renew interest in his music career? Of course, that’s what he’s hoping. But even with a spark, he expects to be in uniform for the next 25 years. After readers chose Walters as one of the Teen Idol castmates they most wanted to catch up with, he phoned PopWatch to tell us how he ended up as one of LA’s bravest, how often he gets recognized on a call (in Watts!), and how many times he’s been hit on the head by little old ladies purses in the grocery store (no one pushes Donna down stairs and gets away with it).
PopWatch: How did you get approached for Confessions of a Teen Idol?
Jamie Walters: You know, I don’t really have an agent anymore, I’m very much removed from the business. A woman named Leah Horowitz [VH1’s VP of Music Talent & Creative Development], had been trying to track me down because she’d gotten this show idea from Scott Baio [who exec produces and hosts], and my name came up. She was able to get a hold of me through the Los Angeles City Fire Department, which is kinda funny. Everything at the station is very, like, military, so the captain got on the PA and he was like, “Barbara Walters, you have a phone call.” I was like, “Ah man, who’s that?” [Laughs] ‘Cause I don’t get too many phone calls on the business line. Then I went in and interviewed for it. It was a while later that I got an email that said, “Hey, things are actually happening, and we’d like you to be on the show.” I talked to my wife and the guys at work, and the way the schedule worked out, I was able to do it. The show shot Monday through Saturday, and I was able to get my weekday shifts covered. Then my shifts that fell on the weekends were all on Sunday.
So you’re still with the fire department?
Oh yeah, I’ve been working with them for almost seven years. I’m in it for the long haul. When I was a kid, there was a fire station right around the corner from where we lived, and I used to hear the sirens all the time and my dad would carry me outside. We’d run down the block chasing the fire engine. Of course, when I was busy doing the entertainment stuff, I was like, Hey, I’m gonna keep doing this as long as the ball’s rolling. Then, I was in my late 20s, and I decided I really wanted to start a family and do some other things with my life. I started testing for the fire department, and in California, it’s a very competitive job to get. It usually takes two or three years before you get hired — there are so many tests. I love it. I work with a lot of great guys, and I get a lot of free time to hang out with my kids: We do a 24-hour shift, so you work 24 hours, then you’re off 24 hours. Every five days, you get four days off in a row. I’ve got a 10-year-old son, and three little girls, ages 5, 3, and 1. I get to take them to school. Pick them up from school. We just get to do a lot of stuff together.
addCredit(“Everett Collection; VH1”)
I read that you met your wife, Patty, when you were both EMTs. Is that true?
Yeah. I met mywife in an emergency room of a hospital down in Englewood, California.It’s pretty much a male profession, so you don’t really see too manyfemales. [Laughs] And when you do, they weren’t always ones that jumpedout to me. And then I saw my wife, and I was like, Wow, she’s kindacute for an EMT. [Laughs] We started talking, and one thing led toanother, and I took her out for dinner two days later and we’ve beentogether ever since. Eight years.
I’m sure you get asked this all the time, but I have to know: Do people recognize you when you’re working?
I workat a station right in Hollywood, so every once in a while someone will spot me. I’m older, and I look a little differentand people just aren’t expecting it, so I do get a lot of, “Where do Iknow you from?” or “Did I go to high school with you?” All the guys Iwork with are sick of it. They’re like, “Ah, here we go again.”
Do you have a favorite I’ve-been-spotted story?
You know, we go on all kinds of calls, from fires totraffic accidents to chest pains. Whatever it is, somebody calls 911,you’re gonna get the fire department most of the time. I was assignedto South Central Los Angeles for a while, and pretty much no onerecognized me down there. It just wasn’t my demographic. [Laughs] Thisone time, I went on this call in Watts, and here’s this olderAfrican-American woman who was having chest pain. I mean, she waslaying on the couch, holding her chest, breathing heavy. We were alltrying to hurry along, get her treated, and get her over to thehospital. We get her in the back of the rescue ambulance and she’slaying there, and for the first time, she looks up and actually takes alook at me. She opens her eyes, and goes, “You’re Ray Pruit from90210.” After all this, “Oh, my chest. I can’tbreathe” and all this stuff, she called it immediately. It wasn’t any,”Oh, I know you from somwhere.” It was like, bam!, “You’re Ray Pruitfrom 90210, and why were you so mean to Donna?” I was trying todo my job and be all serious and professional, and shejust busts me. [Laughs] But most people don’t recognizeme, and I like it better that way. The nicething about the fire department is everybody’s in uniform, everybodylooks the same. You can do your job and not have to deal with any ofthat stuff most of the time.
We asked readers if they had any questions for you, and one, Justin, wanted to know the story behind all your tattoos.
Well, I’ve been getting tattoos since I was 18. Slowly but surely,they’ve migrated down my arm as I’ve run out of space on other parts ofmy body. A good friend of mine, who’s also a firefighter, is alsoa tattoo artist. It’s always nice to have a good tattoo artist who’salso a good friend and doesn’t really charge you anything. They allhave meaning to me. I have a September 11th piece on one of my armsthat my buddy did. It’s a reminder to me of those guys in New York whogave their lives and how much they really improved working conditionsand equipment and just public perception of the fire department allover. Those guys made a huge sacrifice, and unfortunately, they don’t get to reap the benefits of it, but we do.
Another reader question: Working Girl wants to know if the 90210 writers planned on redeeming Ray, but then “changed their minds (maybe because audiences could not forgive his Donna-tossing)”?
Gosh, I don’t know. At first, when they started turning thecharacter darker, I didn’t quite know what to think about it. I thoughtWell, maybe they want to get young people talking about some of theseissues. I’m supportive of that. But I did ask them, “Hey, when’s theturn around? When is this guy gonna redeem himself?” And they werealways very hush-hush. Maybe public perception of Ray went a littlemore negative than they had anticipated, and they didn’t know how to digthemselves out of that hole. Who knows? Ray basically went on tour andnever came back. [Laughs] He’s still out there in TV land on tour.
Watch Ray push Donna down the stairs on Beverly Hills, 90210
What advice would you have for young actors offered that kind of role on a show today?
It’s fun to play a bad guy, I won’t lie to you. I think back then, it was a harder time for thepublic to differentiate between the two — the character and the actor. These days, you have theInternet, and people are much more aware that you’re an actor because they know everything about your real life, too. Back then, peopleweren’t so accessible. So, I think go and have funwith it. Do a good job. People love to hate bad guys on TV.
What’s your best delusional fan story from your 90210 days?
I just had people coming up to me all the time. I couldn’t go to thegrocery store without little old ladies smacking me over the head withtheir purses and telling me to start being nicer to that nice littleblond girl on TV.
What do you hope comes out of Confessions of a Teen Idol? In the premiere, you make it sound like it’s your music that you’d like to pursue.
My music was what opened the door for me into the acting world.It’s something I’ve done since I was a kid, and something I’vecontinued to do since walking away from the industry.Whether I’m making money doing it or not, I’m always playing guitar andsinging. My kids play instruments. It’s a huge part of my life. Icontinue to write songs, and I thought it’s a great opportunity to maybeget some of them out there. I was able to play a lot of my stuffon the show, and I’m hoping that some of it will not end up on the editingroom floor. I’m still in contact with a group of fans on the Internet, and they’ve really inspired me to keep playing music. They talk literally every day. It’s notalways about me, but it’s about how my music and acting brought this groupof people together. Two of them actually met each other through a fansite and got married. That’s so cool to me, that Iwas able to have a hand in bringing two people together who then fellin love. So I’m gonna keep playingmusic, and if nothing else, get it out there for my old fans. Hopefully, I’ll make some new ones. [Hear his music on his official site.]
Is there a moment you’re most looking forward to seeing air?
In one ofthe epsodes, I got to go to a club and play a handful of my songs, and that was fun. I’m looking forward to seeing how that sounds. I went into the show with a little bit of anxiety. I didn’t know whoelse was gonna be on it — that was a big secret. It wasn’t until Ishowed up and was on-camera and we all met each other that I found out. I’ve gotten away from that side of my life, so it was cool for me to make newfriends with people that can relate to those experiences in mylife that most of my freinds and familycan’t. Like Adrian Zmed, he was such a nice guy.A great cook. [Laughs] It was just cool to get to know these guys asreal people. That’s another reason, on a different tangent, I decidedto do the show. Nobody really got to know me for me, as a realperson, in the course of me being on 90210 and those different shows. Inever thought I’d be doing reality TV, but I thought maybe it’s agreat opportunity to let people see who I really am. Not Ray Pruit.
Watch Walters perform “How Do You Talk to an Angel” onthe Fox TV show The Heights