The Long Way Home
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Though soaps offer relatively stable jobs compared to the rest of showbiz, the lure of what else might be out there — be it a prime- time or movie career — prompts many stars to leave daytime for greener pastures. But regardless of whether actors leave by choice, all have to face the fact that life after daytime isn't an easy ride, and that finding a way back to soaps can be just as difficult.
"I was only 18 when I began on soaps and only had a couple of years of college, so finding something to do between soap jobs wasn't easy," recalls Judi Evans (Adrienne, DAYS OF OUR LIVES; ex-Bonnie, DAYS; ex-Paulina, ANOTHER WORLD et al), who's taken several breaks, including a four-year stint between AW, which ended in 1999, and her run as DAYS's Bonnie. "I auditioned and did some theater, but there aren't as many jobs for older actresses. Plus, there's still a soap stigma out there. I met with one well-known casting agent who actually said to me, 'I don't know how you got in here because I never see people from day- time. They suck!' I wish I'd responded, 'Do Demi Moore [ex-Jackie, GH] or Morgan Freeman [ex-Roy, AW] also suck?' "
That said, Evans found alternate employment. "I worked as an aide at my son [Austin's] school. But during this last break [after leaving as DAYS's Adrienne in 2008], I had my run on AS THE WORLD TURNS [as Maeve in 2009] and got a job as a family counselor at Rose Hills Memorial Park, which is a mortuary," she shares. "I didn't want to sit around and wait for the phone to ring, so I found something else to do:"
Elvera Roussel (ex-Hope, GUIDING LIGHT) also found something else to do besides acting after leaving GL in 1983. Though she recently guest-starred on BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL as a nurse, she ended up doing behind-the-scenes work during her 27-year hiatus. "I initially took time off to care for ill parents," she explains, "so I fell off the radar. But now I'm working on a documentary and was involved with producing the [Broadway] shows Bridge & Tunnel and Grey Gardens. B&B was my return to acting, but I've enjoyed doing things on the other side of the camera."
Meanwhile, Rick Hearst (Whip, B&B; ex-Alan-Michael, GL; ex-Matt, YOUNG AND RESTLESS et al) performed odd jobs during his 1996-2000 gap between GL and Y&R. "I did episodics and had a recurring role on BEVERLY HILLS, 90210 [as Alan]," he relays, "but there were a lot of lean times. I painted some homes and worked in a Pilates studio, and was basically Mr. Mom to our sons [Nicholas and Cameron]. It was humbling, but I did what I had to to make a living."
Robin Strasser (Dorian, ONE LIFE TO LIVE; ex-Rachel, AW et al), who's also taken several breaks from soaps, says she had better luck finding acting jobs during her 1987-93 hiatus. "I moved to L.A. and booked so many nighttime TV movies and episodics that it was incredible," she marvels. "I now have a great resume of guest- star parts [on shows] like COACH and MURPHY BROWN."
But even she faced negativity regarding her daytime career. "I used to use a reel of scenes from the soaps and then I found that it prejudiced them against me," she sighs. "So I stopped showing the reels of the show, though I did not try to cover up my history in daytime. But the executive producer of COACH said, 'We almost didn't give you the part because we've used soap actors and we didn't find that they could take the rewrites fast enough or improv on their feet.' I wasn't being fresh, but I said, 'I don't know who you used, but that's a hallmark of a good soap actor? " However, coming back to soaps often turns out to be just as challenging. "When I joined Y&R, they had me read for the part of Matt and for a moment I was like, 'You want me to audition?' " recalls Hearst. "Then I decided, 'I'll do what I have to,' and ended up not getting the part. I was finally called back a few months later when they let [Russell Lawrence] go."
"It's been so long that I've been on a soap, that everything has changed," chuckles Roussel. "These days, the pace is so quick; you hardly get any time to rehearse for a scene. That took some getting used to for me, so it worked out that I had this brief role. It was a good way to break back into daytime?'
Which is proving more difficult with so many talented stars seeking employment. "Nowadays, it's just impossible for anyone fit over 22 to find jobs in nighttime and if you want to return to soaps, there's a busload of actors willing to do so," notes Talent Manager Michael Bruno, who represents many daytime stars including Stephen Nichols (Tucker, Y&R) and Lauren Koslow (Kate, DAYS). "The fact that someone is an ex soap star doesn't mean as much because there are so many former soap stars out there these days. There's no room at the inn. Several well-known soap actors read for Joey on ONE LIFE and Griffin on ALL MY CHILDREN. They had their pick of big names. Your chances of returning become less if you're not pitched every day for that one role."
And that one role might be as a supporting player. "These actors are also taking smaller parts or are going on recurring," he adds. "There are a handful of stars, like Vanessa Marcil [Giovinazzo, Brenda, GH] who can still negotiate a bigger deal, but in most cases, shows no longer have to worry, 'We can't afford him,' because stars will accept less money. Often, it's not even about the money, but just about being in the business and having something to do each day."
Still, some time away can end up being a positive thing. "I think my break was important because it taught me a lot about myself and my acting," notes Hearst. "By the time I came back to soaps, I was ready and have come to love the genre. I've also learned to plan ahead. I'm now directing and trying to do some more outside things because you never know what might happen with a job."
Adds Evans, "I've always loved acting, but my work at Rose Hills is the most fulfilling job I've ever had. To be able to help a family and to maybe bring some sunshine into the darkest day of their life brings me great honor. I'm fortunate because my schedule allows me to do DAYS and this — and I get pleasure out of both. In my case, the break worked out."
By Naomi Rabinowitz