'The Waltons' star Michael Learned on joining Ryan Murphy’s ‘Monster,’ her favorite memory from iconic series

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One of America’s most beloved TV moms is heading to the dark side.

Michael Learned, the four-time Emmy winner known for portraying matriarch Olivia Walton in the ‘70s series “The Waltons,” has joined the cast of “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story,” Deadline confirmed. The limited series about the serial killer, co-created by Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan, was greenlit by Netflix last fall.

According to the outlet, the actress has been cast in the regular role of Catherine Dahmer, Jeffrey’s grandmother.

Learned, who must keep mum on what audiences can expect, told Fox News Digital it’s “an honor” to be part of a Murphy-led project. The producer and director is known for numerous hit shows, including “American Horror Story,” “Feud,” “Glee” and “American Crime Story.”

Michael Learned has joined the cast of "Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story," which was co-created by Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan.
(Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic)

“I have admired everything Ryan Murphy has produced so far,” the star shared. “I feel very privileged to have worked with him … In fact, I feel privileged to work at all, at my age.”

Learned noted that Sarah Paulson is a friend of hers and described her work on “Ratched” as “brilliant.”

“He brought out the best in her,” said Learned. “I also enjoyed his take on ‘Hollywood.’”

Despite her successful decades-long career, Learned said she did a video audition for the role, which she called “a very humbling experience at my age.”

Actress Sarah Paulson (L) and Television Showman of the Year honoree Ryan Murphy pose backstage at the 54th Annual ICG Publicists Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on Feb. 24, 2017, in Beverly Hills, California.
(Mathew Imaging/WireImage)

“But at least I got the part,” she said. “I didn’t actually meet Ryan until I was on the set. I recognized him immediately and walked over to give him a big thank-you hug. I can only say that I love to work and the scripts were beautifully written.”

Learned has plenty of reasons to celebrate this year. “The Waltons,” which detailed the life of a ‘30s Virginia mountain family, is turning the big 5-0 this year. The show, which aired for nine seasons from 1972 until 1981, won more than a dozen Emmys during its reign.

Learned, who is still closely connected with the surviving cast members, said she has many fond memories from her time bringing the show to life – including one in particular.

“Honestly, Will Geer’s a–,” she said about the actor who played the grandfather. “He was a mooner. And he wasn’t the only one, which made us all laugh. I have always wondered why some men like to do that. Maybe it was a ‘70s thing? Beyond that there are so many wonderful memories of long hours and great moments, it is just too hard to narrow it down.”

Portrait of the cast of television drama "The Waltons," in costume and on the set, taken between the series’ fifth and sixth seasons, Aug. 10, 1977. Pictured are, front row from left, Michael Learned (as Olivia Walton), Kami Cotler (as Elizabeth Walton), Ralph Waite (as John Walton), Eric Scott (leaning on Waite’s shoulder) (as Ben Walton), Judy Norton Taylor (as Mary Ellen Walton) and Mary McDonough (as Erin Walton); back row, from left, Jon Walmsley (as Jason Walton), Will Geer (as Zeb Walton), David Harper (as Jim-Bob Walton) and Tom Bower (as Curtis Willard).
(Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)

The star noted that there’s a special reason why the show still resonates with fans in 2022.

“One simple word – family,” said Learned. “I will always remember the experience of visiting Bangladesh.  I was there as a spokesperson for Save the Children, and I had no idea the reach and popularity that ‘The Waltons’ had until then. Clearly, the importance of family is universal around the world.”

Back in 2019, Learned told Fox News Digital that “The Waltons” saved her life.

“I was going through a divorce,” she recalled at the time. “I was drinking too much, and I came down to LA. I was full of fear because I’d been married since I was 17. Suddenly, I’m alone with three teenagers to raise. I don’t know where I got the courage to drive down to LA. I thought, ‘I’m just going to look at the freeway and learn the freeways in case an audition comes up.’”

From left, Ralph Waite (as John Walton), Richard Thomas (as John Boy Walton) and Michael Learned (as Olivia Walton) in "The Waltons," circa 1974.
(Getty Images)

“And I stayed at a crummy little motel for 12 bucks a night,” she shared. “And my agent called and said, ‘That part is still open. You go see about it.’ And I said, ‘But I don’t look at all like Patricia Neal. I’m 14 years younger than she is…’ And he said, ‘Go.’ And so I went, and I didn’t read or anything. They just said, ‘Will you do a test?’ And I said, ‘Sure.’”

“And I was lucky to test with Ralph Waite and Richard Thomas, who were wonderful,” Learned continued. “I was scared to death. I was just shaking. And I think I was hungover probably auditioning for the mother of America. So it was a rough time in my life. And getting that show not only helped me financially, but it also got me sober. I knew I couldn’t do a television show and take care of my kids and do all of that and then have cocktails at night and go to bed a little plastered. So it pulled me altogether, and it was a gift. I have two families now. I have my own kids, and I have the Walton kids.”

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