Alumna Reflects on Successful Acting Career

woman with blonde hair wearing a blue shirt with a blue sweater over her shoulders

Michigan State University alumna Betsy Baker has had a successful acting career that has spanned four decades. She graduated from MSU in 1977 with a major in Theatre Education and a minor in Classical Voice and Music. Baker is known for her role as Linda in Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead and has appeared in many other films, shorts, TV series and movies. Most recently, she can be found in the hit shows ShamelessSharp Objects, and How to Get Away with Murder.

What are some of your favorite roles you have played during your career and why?

All of them! Perhaps a cliché answer, but entirely true. Landing a role, or being chosen to play a part, is similar to doing well at a job interview. But some of my particular favorites include Linda in the cult-classic film The Evil Dead; Denise in the CBS movie-of-the-week Word of Honor, which was filmed entirely in the Detroit area with John Malkovich and Karl Malden; Mama Murphy in Amazon’s Hand of God, and so many others, as well as numerous stage roles throughout the years.

What projects are you currently working on?

I just finished appearing on HBO’s Sharp Objects, Showtime’s Shameless, TV’s How to Get Away with Murder, as well as Life in Pieces. I am also active in improv classes on stage and showcases, teaching vocal music to more than 1,500 students weekly at elementary school classrooms, and I’m also working on a children’s book about singing and music.

Still of woman wearing white and red face paint screaming
Betsy Baker as Linda in “The Evil Dead”

Where did you grow up and why did you choose to come to MSU?

I grew up in St. Joseph, Michigan, a small town in the southwest part of the state, and upon visiting MSU as a high school student and having an older brother who was going to MSU, I decided I wanted a large school experience, so I applied in the fall of my senior year.

What are some of the most memorable roles you played during your time at MSU?

Some of my most memorable roles at MSU include Emily in Our Town, Cordelia in King Lear, and Wendy in the musical Peter Pan.

How has your MSU education influenced your career?

Many stage and classroom experiences at MSU helped throughout the years, in front of the camera as well as on stage. However, during my time at MSU, there were no “crossover” classes available that would include both stage and TV or film for acting and/or production. So, my on-camera experience had to come entirely from any classroom or stage experience, which I believe has changed now to include some crossover choices.

“You should strive to experience, enrich, learn from, grow from, and to share with others. Spartans Will.”

Did you have any mentors at MSU and how did they help with your career?

Two of my professors included the late Dr. Frank Rutledge, head of the MSU Department of Theatre for 16 years, and Dr. Georg Schuttler. Their classroom teachings and encouragement were extremely helpful for my career.

What should students take advantage of while attending MSU?

Students should get involved in as much as possible, in all different ways, within their college of interest and within their social and extracurricular interests as well. It’s important to take advantage of the many different directions your future might go and to be open to new changes or new directions. At the same time, you might be looking at the future and where it might take you, but don’t forget to be present and appreciate all that is happening throughout your college career.

Group of students wearing white shirts with red paint surrounding a woman wearing a green sweatshirt
Betsy Baker (center) with Department of Theatre Students in 2010

What advice do you have for Theatre majors wanting to break into the business?

Stay informed, now more than ever. Many college students today have grown up knowing nothing different than the Internet, cell phones, and instant communications like social media. Knowing that, students should know that things can now change in literally a heartbeat. Students today have such an advantage to use all these tools in marketing one’s self and they are completely expected to do so. Continue to take classes, workshops, seminars, and training, even after you pick up your diploma. The training never stops, nor should new and unfamiliar experiences in your life. It’s also a very challenging time in the cultural arts arena in our society and in the world, so your efforts also need to keep the arts active and predominant and evolving in our lives. Now more than ever, it’s our responsibility

Is there anything you would like to add about MSU and your time on campus?

MSU is a large university, but don’t let its enormity and its many, many options intimidate you. That’s precisely some of the many reasons MSU stands apart from other learning communities, and what a great opportunity to experience as much as possible! You should strive to experience, enrich, learn from, grow from, and to share with others. Spartans Will.