The Talent Pool
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Why Young Actors Are Leaving Soaps
DAYS OF OUR LIVES experienced a bit of a shake-up this May when two young, promising Daytime Emmy nominees, Rachel Melvin (ex-Chelsea) and Darin Brooks (ex- Max), decided to leave the soap. In the past two years, AS THE WORLD TURNS lost Emmy-winner Jennifer Landon (ex-Gwen), Jesse Soffer (ex-Will) and Zach Roerig (ex-Casey, set to appear in THE VAMPIRE DIARIES this fall on The CW). ALL MY CHILDREN has been back and forth with Chrishell Stause (Amanda) who agreed to stay on for a few more months. And on GUIDING LIGHT, fan favorite and Daytime Emmy-winner Tom Pelphrey (Jonathan) has only returned to the show for short guest stints after officially leaving in 2007.
Compared to other acting jobs, daytime is relatively stable and steady, and it offers the potential for years of work. So why are so many young actors choosing to leave the genre?
"The basic gist has always been — and this is the philosophy of any solid agent - get' em in on a soap and then get' em off as quickly as possible," explains talent manager Michael Bruno, who represents Julie Pinson (Janet, ATWT; ex-Billie, DAYS et al), Martha Byrne (Andrea, GENERAL HOSPITAL; ex-Lily, ATWT) and Lynn Herring (Audrey, ATWT; ex-Lucy, GH/PORT CHARLES). "The reason for this is, if you're gonna hit in mainstream Hollywood, you have to have youth on your side. Anybody over 25, it's just the countdown of the death knell. It's not gonna happen. At 25-28, you probaly won't ever become a movie star and then try to shoot for prime-time TV star. But at 30, you're cornpletely done if you don't at least have some prime-time guest-star credits on your resume."
"It is easier for actors to find work or land a pilot when they're younger," agrees YOUNG AND RESTLESS Casting Director Camille St. Cyr, who's worked in the casting departments of several prime-time shows, including NCIS and JAG. "So I can understand why some actors would want to leave and look for other work. And in entertainment, the idea of what's considered 'older' is much different than it is in real life."
Melvin is hoping to strike while the iron is hot. "My plan is for a year to stray from the soap path," she noted at the time of her departure. "As I told [DAYS Executive Producer] Ken Corday, the reason I was leaving the show is because I want to do other acting. I just need to explore other options." "I needed to leave at the time when I did," agrees Christel Khalil Hensley (Lily, Y&R), who took a break from the show in 2005 and returned a year later. "I did a guest spot on MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE and some other projects, and got some much-needed time to relax after dealing with the responsibilities that come with working on a soap. I was so young at the time and needed the break."
While taking such a big leap is a difficult move, it's one that actors need to make quickly, notes Bruno. "They need to make a decision while they're in their early 20s," he says. "The hardest
time for people, i.e., a Chrishell Stause, is she needs to go, but that's when the shows want you, when you've started to hit. That's when they pull up the truck with the money. In the first contract, these kids are getting nothing. But once they re-up, that's when they start making it. That's the dilemma: 'Do I bank the money now with a steady career or do I roll the dice and try to have a nighttime or film career?' That is the key decision. If you think you can hit, you need to go because for the most part, if you stay an additional four or five years, you're done."
Needless to say breaking into primetime shows or films is tough — which is why so many talented performers end up giving soaps another shot. "It may end up that I come back to daytime," acknowledged Melvin. "And that's what I like at the end of the day. The last four years were fun and I lived in the moment and I appreciated it when it happened, and now it's over and it's like, `Holy crap. Those 4 years flew by' You try not to dwell on it. But it was super fun and I learned a lot. I grew as an actor and learned the business and made relationships."
"After a while, it wasn't so great being off the show," says Khalil Hensley. "Having the year off made me see what a great job it was. When the show called and asked me to return, I was ready."
Indeed, the lure of having a job to go to each day can cure any wanderlust that a young actor may have. "There's something to be said about having a steady, great job on a soap," notes St. Cyr. "Not many people in any job — not just acting — are that lucky. I think that's why there are so many actors on Y&R who've been with the show for years. Why leave something that's good?"
"Even though the money is a lot less than it used to be, there is something to be said that soaps are still the most solid and believe it or not, most steady gig in show business," echoes Bruno. Its the closest thing to working at Prudential [laughs]. That's because for the most part, you work all year round and there's no hiatus, like when you're working on a series. It used to be that these shows would never go off; that was unheard of. These shows would be on forever, actors could stay on for as long as they wanted, keep making money, have a family ... It's not a bad life to have."