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Annette O’Toole On ‘Virgin River’: “I Like Doing A Romantic Story With Older People”

After 60 years of acting on stage and screen, Hope McCrea is her favorite character — here's why

From playing Clark Kent’s red-haired teenage sweetheart, Lana Lang, in Superman III (1983) to Beverly Marsh in Stephen King’s epic horror mini-series It (1990) to Lisa Bridges in the TV series, Nash Bridges (1996) to Clark’s adoptive mom, Martha Kent in the hit show Smallville (2001), Annette O’Toole has been one of the most versatile and recognizable faces in Hollywood for the last 60 years.  

But the 71-year-old Emmy-nominated actress has garnered millions of new fans as the character of Hope McCrea, the no-nonsense, unpredictable mayor in the hit Netflix hit series, Virgin River, which is about a picturesque small town that belies the drama of its residents.    

Here, get to know Annette O’Toole a bit better as she talks about romance (on and off screen), aging in Hollywood and the truth about what she really thinks of Hope.

The early career of Annette O’Toole

Born in Houston, Texas on April 1, 1952, Annette O’Toole began entertaining others when she was just a toddler. Her mother, Dorothy, ran the Houston Dance Studio and taught a young O’Toole tap dance and ballet. She made her TV debut at age two on The Don Mahoney Kiddie Trooper Show. “I was tap dancing at three,” O’Toole told Los Angeles station KTLA.  “You can’t escape it in our family. We all tap.” 

After ten years of singing and dancing lessons, O’Toole and her mother went to Los Angeles for a year to test the thespian waters. 

O’Toole got her first professional job dancing with Danny Kaye on The Danny Kaye Show within two months of their move to Hollywood. “I’ve used my singing and dancing training in so many ways,” she said. “The discipline you get from that is wonderful for an actor.” 

Annette O'Toole first grade
Annette O’Toole in first gradeinstagram/annetteotoole4152

Her first acting gig was in My Three Sons followed in rapid succession with appearances in Gunsmoke, The Partridge Family, The Mod Squad and Hawaii Five-O.  The movie studios took notice of the pretty actress with flaming red hair and crimson lips to match and she soon make the switch to film, ultimately starring in 48 Hrs., Cat People, Superman III and many others. 

Christopher Reeve and Annette O'Toole Superman III
Christopher Reeve and Annette O’Toole, Superman III, 1983Moviestore/Shutterstock

But for all her success on the big and small screen, O’Toole’s deepest love is the theater. When she went to New York after ending her six-year run on Smallville in 2007, her first audition led to her being cast in “The Sea Gull.”  One of her most rewarding theatrical roles was in 2016’s “Southern Comfort” where she played transgender male Robert Eads, for which she received the Lucille Lortel Award. 

Who is Annette O’Toole’s husband?

In April of 1983, Annette married actor Bill Geisslinger, they had two daughters, but they divorced in 1993.

Then in 1998, Lifetime Network cast Annette opposite actor Michael McKean in Final Justice as each other’s rivals. The pair had known each other casually over the years through mutual friends, but they found themselves bonding over their children and love for reading on location in Portland. 

One night, Michael called up O’Toole and he asked if she wanted to go on a date with him. She jumped at the opportunity. O’Toole said her reaction to the date request was something straight out of a movie scene because she ran straight to the bathroom and started jumping up and down. 

The date started off with Michael boot shopping with Annette by his side. Fate stepped in when Michael left his old pair of shoes in a box and the shop assistant unknowingly told him that he handed the box to his wife. Annette’s response: In case you’re wondering my answer is yes. The pair moved in together not long after with their blended family – two children for each of them – and tied the knot in 1999.

Annette O'Toole
Michael McKean and Annette O’Toole, 2002

Annette O’Toole the songwriter

Besides acting together, O’Toole and husband McKean, also sing and song write as a couple and they composed the Oscar nominated song “A Kiss At The End of the Rainbow” for A Mighty Wind (2003) together. 

McKean and O’Toole collaborated on “What Could Be Better” for the 2004 Disney children’s album “A World of Happiness.”  In July 2007, O’Toole appeared as a backup singer for McKean’s fictional band “Spinal Tap” at the London leg of the Live Earth concerts. She also sang on the band’s 2009 Unwigged and Unplugged tour.

Harry Shearer, Mike McKean, Christopher Guest and Annette O’Toole Spinal Tap Unwigged and Unplugged Tour, 2009Sipa/Shutterstock

And last year, the couple attended comedy fest, Sketchfest celebrating The Mighty Wind’s 20th anniversary of being released.  “As a surprise, I came out after the movie aired, and my husband and I sang two songs from the movie,” she recalls to Smashing Interviews Magazine. “So that was really fun.”

Annette O’Toole dishes on her Virgin River character

The outstanding cast of this surprise breakout Netflix romantic drama series, includes O’Toole as Hope McCrea. The relationship between Hope and Doc, played by Animal House actor Tim Matheson, intrigued O’Toole who then signed on. 

(Click through to learn more about Virgin River’s Tim Matheson and his 62 years in Hollywood)

Annette O'Toole and Tim Mattheson Virgin River
Tim Mattheson as Doc and Annette O’Toole as Hope, Virgin RiverNetflix

And for O’Toole, art imitated life. “I liked that idea of doing a romantic story with older people because they also have romance in their lives or they have issues or relationship things they’re dealing with….or not.,” she told Smashing Interviews Magazine

O’Toole also admits she is the complete opposite of her character. “I love Hope’s independence. I love her ability to articulate in difficult situations which is the total opposite of me,” she said with a laugh. “My mother watches the show and says, She’s not like you at all!  And I say, Mom it’s called acting!” 

Annette O'Toole as Hope McCrea
Annette O’Toole as Hope McCrea of Virgin RiverCourtesy of Netflix

But her favorite thing about Hope is how she embraces all of who she is—especially her age. “It’s the most fun I’ve ever had because when I started out, I was really young and I was sort of the ingenue, and then I was the leading lady in some things, and then you start to age,” O’Tool says in an interview for AP News. “Now I just find it so freeing. I don’t worry about it, and that’s in life, too. So Hope and I feel the same way about it. It’s like, who are we trying to kid? Especially an actress, they can look you up (online) and see how old you are, see all the things you’ve done, look at all your pictures.”

The biggest drawback is that filming taking place in Vancouver, Canada, O’Toole says. “The hardest part of what I do when I’m working in Vancouver is to be away from [my husband] Michael,” O’Tool said. “I do love to be alone; I’m an only child. Then after awhile you think ‘What’s the point of this? I have this amazing person.  Why are we not together?’ We both really lucked out finding one another. I cannot imagine what my life without him, and he says the same thing about me.”

What’s next for Annette O’Toole?

Season 5 of Virgin River premiers on September 7th, (click through to find out everything you need to know about Virgin River Season 5) and fans will get to see how Hope deals with the incredible challenges she faced in the last installment.

But those challenges are what keep O’Toole loving her job. “I find it endlessly fascinating because everybody’s situation is so different,” she says. And we can’t help but agree.

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Bonnie Siegler is an established international writer covering the celebrity circuit for more than 15 years.  Bonnie’s resume includes two books that combine her knowledge of entertaining with celebrity health and fitness and has written travel stories which focus on sustainable living.  She has contributed to magazines including Woman’s World and First for WomenElle, InStyle, Shape, TV Guide and Viva.  Bonnie served as West Coast Entertainment Director for Rive Gauche Media overseeing the planning and development of print and digital content.  She has also appeared on entertainment news shows Extra and Inside Edition.

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