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Tuesday, April 6, 2004

It's one of the worst things that a soap fan tuning in to a favorite show can hear: "The role of [linsert incredibly popular character's name] is now being played by [someone you've likey never heard of]."

"What fans say they want more than anything is consistency, in terms of characters and communities. Recasting interrupts that pleasure," explains Professor C. Lee Harrington. author of the book Soap Fans. "It really has to do with believability. Fans know [the stories] are fictional, but they also want to participate in the illusion that these are real communities populated by real people."

But in a genre that is theoretically neverending and actors' contracts are definitely not, recasts are disruptive, but inevitable, right'? "If I had a show, I would never recast" states Talent Manager Michael Bruno - with one exception. "Because [soaps ] are centered around family, you have to recast or keep bringing on new families. If all of Viki's kids [on ONE LIFE TO LIVE] decide to leave for pilot season, Erika [Slezak] has nothing to do. So, the only time to recast is if it seriously is a main family member. And you have to give it time."

On PASSIONS. the turnaround has been surprisingly high for five years (look at the Bennett sisters: four Kays; three Jessicas), but fans have been accepting. NBC Senior Vice President of Daytime Programming Sheraton Kalouria thinks that it's important to ease new actors into story by keeping them on the back-burner at first. "The character should be actor-proof and the story should rule the day, but I do think that the notion of letting the character rest for some amount of time is not a contradiction in a recast. It's just that some actors become so identified with a particular character that the audience needs time to grieve, in essence," he reasons. "If a family dog dies, the parents don't run out the next day to buy another puppy. They wait awhile."

But even if a show allows for a "mourning" period before recasting, it still has to find someone who can step into the role. While Bruno believes that hiring a "name" actor will significantly increase the odds for success, castinga directors widen the net. "Recasting is the most challenging thing you can do as a casting director. because you're not really starting from a blank slate," says GENERAL HOSPITAL's casting, director, Mark Teschner. whose recent recasts include Lucky (for the second time), Emily and Edward. "Most recasts are done when an actor who has been successful in a role has decided to leave. So, you have to fill somebody's shoes and you have to stay true to the sensibility of what's been on the canvas, but yot also have to find an actor who's unique and interesting in their own right to take the role in a new direction." One of Teschner's greatest successes was putting Tamara Braun in Carly's shoes after Sarah Brown's exit. "I think Carly was Tamara's fourth time read ing for the show, but I had always filed in th back of my mind that if we had to recast Carly, Tamara embodied what we would be looking for," he says. "It was our good fortune that she had the kind of chemistry with Maurice Benard [Sonny] that you die for. The chemistry between two actors that lights up the screen is that indefinable magic. You hope with a recast that you get that"

Indefinable magic - that's a tall order. "I think the hardest thing is that you really have to try and find the spirit of the character because you're trying to find some consistency," says GUIDING LIGHT's casting director, Rob Decina, who is responsible for recasts including Aubrey Dollar (ex¬Marina) and her replacement, Kit Paquin, Daniel Cosgrove (Bill), Nancy St. Alban (Michelle), Stephen Martines (Tony), Stephanie Gatschet (Tammy), Lindsey McKeon (soon-to-be ex-Marah) and Crystal Hunt (Lizzie). "When we recast Aubrey's role, the first thing I was looking for was someone with a similar energy, rather than saying, "Let's just get any actress to play 18" Forget about asking someone to do an impersonation of their predecessor.

"You definitely don't want someone just mimicking be¬cause then there's no growth," says Decina, who admits that while it's by no means the only criteria, he finds it helpful when the newcomer bears some resemblance to the predecessor. "Marina is the first time I've actually had to recast a character [who appeared] a week-and-a-half later. So, with that in mind, you also try and find someone with physical similarities. Kit's hair color and body type is similar to Aubrey's, and when you see her in a scene, you go, `There's Marina.' In the best-case scenario you can make that happen in a recast. I literally look at headshots and think, "Can you really believe that one person has turned into the other person?" Like Bree Williamson [Jessica, OLTL, who took over for look-alike Erin Torpey], that's a great recast! That's almost spooky."

But sometimes a face that makes you do a double take is not enough. "I don't like these, `Friday it's somebody and Monday it's a brand-new face: Specifically if they don't try to do some kind of disfigurement;" says Bruno, who notes that when he put Ellen Wheeler back as Marley on ANOTHER WORLD while Jensen Buchanan was playing her twin, Vicky, Marley had to have an accident. "They had her face in bandages for months. It was a bit more logical and worked out great. Do anything - a car accident, a fire - give me something to Justify the change."

That's exactly what OLTL did to bring in Trevor St. John (Todd), using plas¬tic surgery as the excuse. "It was clever and it gave the audience a chance to warm up to him," points out Kassie DePaiva (Blair). "I think the show has done a really good job with the recasts, especially with the character of Todd. They thought those shoes could not be filled." So, is there such a thing as a role that can't be recast? "Apparently not. When recasting a popular character, my job is to do the impossible:' chuckles Teschner. Admits Decina. "I think the short answer is yes, but I haven't found that yet."

"I think they're obvious. We could go show by show in the industry and we would all name the same roles," says Kalouria. And indeed, most people gave the same list: ALL MY CHILDREN's Erica (Susan Lucci). DAYS OF OUR LNES's Marlena (Deidre Hall), OLTL's Viki, BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL's Stephanie (Susan Flannery) and GH's Luke (Anthony Geary).

"There's always a list of the 'unrecastables,' but then Sarah Brown [ex-Carly, GH], Roger Howarth [ex-Todd. OLTL] and Sarah Michelle Gellar [ex-Kendall, AMC] were on that list," points out Bruno." Trevor, Tamara and Alicia Minshew are amazing. Those are three where everybody said, `Just write the character off.' So. lightning does strike." And it's out there, ready to be bottled, says Teschner: "You may have to look really hard, but inevitably there's somebody with magic who's waiting to be put on the show."

So, in summary, to recast or not to recast? Well, there's one clear directive: The show must go on. "Given my druthers, I would prefer that actors stay with their characters until the stories that have been written play themselves out to their natural conclusions:' says Kalouria. "in our shows, under [Head Writer] Jim Reilly, he is so resolute on the stories that he's telling, that it would not be his nor my wish to truncate a story simply because an actor chose to leave. So, my answer is that recasting is difficult, painful, disruptive, but often necessary:"

"Despite what fans say they want, most of them are pretty adaptable," says Harrington. "If a recast is handled well, most viewers are willing to accept the change. What makes a recast work is the same thing that makes any character work: good story, good writing. good acting."
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