Thursday, February 25, 2010
Brooke English is back in Pine Valley, Erica is is full fighting form, and All My Children is almost watchable again. Hell, 2/24's episode was a lot more than just watchable. It was downright good. Strong, stroppy women are what good soap is all about, and no one does strong and stroppy better than Julia Barr and Susan Lucci. And the icing on this cake? Greenlee lives.
This homecoming doesn't have to be just Brooke and Greenlee's return to Pine Valley but, if there's any justice, a return to the tradition of great, engaging stories that AMC used to be known for. It's been a mess for a while, but hope springs eternal. There's a chance for this show, yet.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
The folks at We Love Soaps have compiled their list of the 50 greatest soap actresses of all time. I agree with a lot of their choices. I disagree with others. I marvel at some of the choices. It's inevitable that such a subjective list would generate all sorts of debate, and I applaud the WLS people for asking readers to submit their own favorites.
One thing to take into consideration: I've watched soaps since roughly 1970/71. I'm sure many great actors and actresses who appeared prior to this by all rights belong on a "best of" list, but I can only judge based on my own experience as a first-hand viewer. I don't believe one can fairly assess an actor's talent based on a few Youtube clips or reading about someone's greatness, so this is based on my own viewership
Here, then, in no particular order, is my annotated list of the top ten best soap actresses, followed by the ten women who complete my top 20.
Beverlee McKinsey - Daytime has seem many grand dames, but Iris Carrington was an original. By turns a wicked schemer, a spoiled child, an over-indulgent mother, a love-starved femme fatale, to say that McKinsey took both Another World and Texas by storm is not over-stating it. McKinsey was brilliant, period. And, in case anyone who thought her brilliance was a fluke, she turned around and joined the cast of Guiding Light, making Alexandra Spaulding one of the most memorable characters, ever.
Laurie Heineman - She may well be the finest Emmy winning actress that you've never heard of. Laurie Heineman was only on Another World for a short time,(1975-77) but what a time it was! Originating the role of Sharlene Frame (and you thought Anna Holbrook was the first Sharlene - nope), Heineman created a truly original daytime heroine. A woman with a secret past that threatened to catch up with her, Heineman's Sharlene was a study in quiet self-loathing, fear, anger, and loneliness. Heineman was a powerhouse, and her short stint on AW garnered her an Emmy, seeing her beat out co-stars Beverlee Mckinsey and Victoria Windham, and deservedly so.
Denise Alexander and Susan Seaforth-Hayes - Before the devil paid a visit to Salem, before Hope and Bo were even glimmers in their parents' eyes, before it became such a muddled mess...long before all of that, DOOL was all about Susan (Alexander) and Julie (Seaforth-Hayes), former-best-friends-turned-rivals, their battles over the attentions of Scott Banning, and their tug-of-war over Julie's son, little David Banning. This was riveting, character-driven drama...and it was all about these two fine actresses who brought so much depth to their roles that they turned what could easily have been a simple cat fight into an over-arching theme that endured for years, involved numerous characters, and challenged viewers to choose a side. Interestingly enough, neither Alexander or Seaforth-Hayes has ever been as good since this golden time. It speaks volumes of the chemistry these two actresses shared with one another that, together, they lit up the screen.
Beverly Penberthy - As Another World's long-suffering Pat Randolph, Penberthy was one of several great actresses from the golden age of Another World. Refined, vulnerable, almost timid, Pat Randolph could also be strong and assertive when need be. As a loyal wife forced to watch her husband spin into a vortex of alcoholism, Penberthy delivered a truly great performance, and it remains among the best examples of television attempting to portray how alcoholism effects every member of a family.
On Ryan's Hope, Addison had the unenviable job of making The Other Woman someone viewers loved, and whose happiness we rooted for. She brought a grace and gentility to Jillian that was in perfect contrast to Delia's (played by the wonderful Ilene Kristen, who doesn't quite make the cut for this list) selfish, crude neuroses. I find it impossible to put into words how and why Addison was so damned good, except to say that her work seemed effortless. To watch her was to forget there was an actor on the screen.
Elizabeth Hubbard - Best known as ATWT's Lucinda, to me, Hubbard will always be Dr. Althea Davis, of the defunct soap, The Doctors. Hubbard brought a strength and cynicism to her character - a well-respected surgeon and a single mother - that had mostly been reserved for villainesses. Also? Althea had a multi-layered sensuality - most evident in scenes with her lover, Nick Bellini - that was truly revolutionary for daytime: Hubbard made Althea a beautiful female character whose brains and sarcastic sense of humor were even more arresting than her good looks.
Anyone who's read this blog for any length of time knows I have a huge soft spot for Garrett. She's amazing. On and off for over 20 years, Garrett made up half of one of soapdom's most complex and enduring couples - Holly and Roger (played by Michael Zaslow.) Garrett is one of those actors whose talent runs the gamut - she can do vulnerable, strong, vindictive, neurotic, maternal, murderous, bitchy, frigid, seductive. When need be, she's also an actor who can be relied on to rise above substandard material. She brings out the best in other actors. Daytime needs her back.
Judith Light - There's almost no point explaining why Light makes my top ten. She took acting on daytime up a notch with a performance as OLTL's Karen Wolek that looked, sounded and felt like nothing else we'd seen before. While Light's dramatic courtroom confession has taken on legendary status, her other work on OLTL is often taken for granted. The baby-switch story feels tired and hackneyed in 2010. When OLTL did it with Light in 1979, it was new and different. And it was riveting. Light, of course, went on to a successful career in night time television, but she's rarely had material to work with that was worthy of her skill, with the exception of her role in the motion picture Save Me, which she produced, and her husband wrote.
Ellen Parker - Parker was so damned good as Maureen Bauer on Guiding Light, and made such an impression on the audience, that many have pointed to the killing off of the character as the beginning of the end for GL. Mo Bauer wasn't a grand dame. She wasn't a titan of business. She wasn't a jewel thief, a surgeon, or anyone's mistress. She didn't have a secret past. Simply put, Mo Bauer was a decent person: a mother, a wife, a good friend, a hard worker. The genius of Parker was that she made the seemingly mundane compelling. Everything Parker's Maureen did was steeped in quiet dignity. She was amazing in her big scenes, but her small, every day scenes were like haiku.
Robin Strasser - Another World/One Life To Live
Helen Gallagher - Ryan's Hope
Maeve Kinkead - Another World/Guiding Light
Kathleen Noone - All My Children
Kay Collins - All My Children
Julia Barr - All My Children
Robin Mattson - General Hospital/Santa Barbara/All My Children
Maeve McGuire - Edge of Night
Michelle Forbes - Guiding Light
Beth Maitland - Young and the Restless
Honorable Mention - The Young Ones
Rachel Miner - Guiding Light
Hayden Panettiere - Guiding Light
Natasha Ryan - Days of Our Lives
Sunday, February 7, 2010
Warm, thoughtful, charismatic, and looking like no one else on television, Empire's Ryan Clardy is just the sort of young man who, during the heyday of soaps, would have been a breakout star. The jury is still out as to whether there will be a heyday for web-based soaps. If there is, Empire is the one to watch. When it comes to character development and sowing the seeds of several inter-connected stories at once, no other web soap has been as effective as Empire. It's the Little Web Soap That Could. The fact that soap vet and fan favorite Tina Sloan has joined the cast of Empire for season 2 bodes well for the show, as does the addition of Orlagh Cassidy, who made a real splash on Guiding Light.
On Empire, Ryan plays Cane Haven - something of a black sheep in the Haven family. Cane, a successful private investigator, was long ago disowned and banished by patriarch Cubby Haven on account of the fact that he's an out and proud homosexual. Ryan Clardy generously made time for me on a saturday afternoon, after having lunch with his costar, Nick Lewis (who plays Cane's older brother, Evan.)
LN: Before joining the cast of Empire, how familiar were you with soap opera as a genre?
RC: I would say I was a lay person. I knew about soaps, and I enjoyed them here and there, but I'd never been a follower. I'd watched Passions with my mom a few times, but I wasn't ever a hardcore fan. I was aware, though, of the fact that soaps had a way of sucking you in and making you want more.
LN: I know that you've done lots of theater, some film, and some television, including One Life to Live. Empire looks vastly different from traditional television. Can you talk about the differences between filming something like OLTL and shooting a web series?
RC: It depends, of course, on the particular production. Shooting Empire is very different than shooting something like OLTL. At OLTL they film every day, from 8-5, or whatever. There's a new script every day, and then everyone comes back to do it all over again, the next day. With Empire, there's a script that covers an entire season. We film everything over a month or so, mostly on weekends. After everything is shot, there's a post-production period and then, eventually, a premiere and a new episode every week. In that way, Empire feels almost like making a film - an indy film.
LN: I grew up in NYC, where so many soaps were produced. With the cancellation of Guiding Light and As The World Turns, and All My Children making the move to California, that leaves One Life to Live as the only soap still shooting in NYC. What are your feelings about this?
RC: From an acting perspective the soaps leaving NYC is a real loss. Having several soaps here in NYC has been something of an institution, so it's sad to see them go. A lot of us are really rooting for OLTL to stay strong so that the genre doesn't leave NYC, altogether. Television is changing a lot because of the internet, and soaps disappearing from the NYC landscape is one of those changes.
LN: For so long, soaps have been a kind of training ground for actors. A lot of people write them off as fluff, because they don't realize that producing a soap is like making a new movie five days a week, which takes an enormous amount of work and dedication.
RC: Definitely. Having done under five (note: "under five" refers to a role where a character has under five lines of dialogue) work on OLTL, I know that it's a real grind. Those folks work really hard. One thing I've noticed, though, is that, by and large, the actors working on soaps are really down-to-earth,welcoming and generous. As hard as the people on OLTL work, they've been willing to take the time to sit down and talk with me, which means a lot to an actor.
LN: One thing I really enjoy about Empire is that the openly queer character on the show is also the only character who is even close to having his act together. Cane is sort of the hero of Empire. Has there been a deliberate move to make the openly gay Haven son, who is secure in his sexuality, also the one sane, well-adjusted character?
RC: Yeah, I think Cane is definitely together and secure. He came out at an early age and, because he was cast out by his father. He's had to fight for himself and learn to be himself. In a way, being forced out into the world by Cubby forced Cane to learn how to take care of himself, protect himself. He's got a solid grounding, as opposed to his siblings, who have been sheltered. Cane has a way of looking at the world around him - the stuff that goes on within his family - and finding the whole thing ridiculously funny.
One thing I really like about this role and about the way Empire is written is that Cane is a gay man, but it's not a coming out story. Being gay is part of who Cane is, and he's fine with it. I appreciate how this has been set up.
LN: A lot of people are trying to include a gay twist in their web series - it's seems like it's the flavor of the month. In most cases, though, it feels like a stunt or an effort at making a "gay program." Empire has gay characters, but it doesn't feel like a "gay show." It doesn't feel like a show about gay characters who live in all-gay, all-the-time Gaytown. Cane is a gay man who is one of several people living in the world of Empire, period.
RC: Yes, that's true. That said, though, Empire embraces the campy, over-the-top aspect of soap opera. It may not be a "gay show", per se, but there's definitely a camp factor at work, which I think is fun.
The bottom line, for me, is story. I love a good story - who doesn't? The love of a good story is really what made me go into acting. In my mind, there are a few things that are necessary in life: eating, drinking, sleeping and stories. Some people might have the idea that just throwing a bunch of beautiful people on the screen is the formula for producing a successful series, but I disagree. It's nice to look at beautiful people, but if there's no substance, no story, there's nothing to keep me engaged. Greg and Brian (the writers of Empire) are hardcore soap opera fans. They love a good story, and they've developed a long-range plan for Empire that's all about good story-telling. Everyone involved with Empire wants to put out something that's exciting and engaging. If a soap delivers a good story, it's in a good place.
LN: While other people jumping on the web series bandwagon have had the advantage of big-name stars attached to their projects, and access to highly-visible, national press coverage, Empire sort of chugged along and produced a first season where, with very little money and almost no fanfare, an entire cast of characters was introduced, several stories were launched, and a really slick and original look was established. I love, for instance, the way you guys have integrated the fact that the Havens are a publishing family, and made Empire actually look like a newspaper. It's clever, and it's a great example of making the most of one's resources.
RC: Our director, Steven, worked hard on establishing that look, which just won an Indy Soap Award, by the way. And, yes, we've definitely made the most of what's been at our disposal. The study set, for instance, which was so prominent in season one of Empire, was actually built in the writers' apartment. As it turned out, they liked it and kept it.
In season two, people are definitely going to notice that we've upped the game in terms of production values. We're looking at product placement possibilities, and shooting in HD. David Brandon, who worked on Guiding Light, has joined as Empire's Consulting Producer. Also, Tina Sloan and Orlagh Cassidy have joined the cast, as well, which is exciting.
LN: Anyone who reads my blog knows that I'm a longtime fan of Tina Sloan, so having her and Orlagh Cassidy join Empire is a really exciting development from my point of view. Have you had a chance to work with them?
RC: I've done some work with Orlagh, but not with Tina. Without giving away any spoilers, I can say that both Tina and Orlagh will be involved with story lines connected to Cubby and Sandra Haven. Season one set up the Havens as the core family of Empire. Season 2 will branch out more. Cubby and Sandra will have their circle of friends and acquaintances, and my character, Cane, will have a more fully developed personal life. In season 2, viewers will see more of Cane's personal life, which was only hinted at in season one. They'll get to see how he is within the context of a relationship. This will also mean an expansion of the world of Empire, because Cane lives in Manhattan. Season 3 will explore Cane's professional life as a private investigator. I can't give away much, but I can say that viewers will be along for the ride as Cane shows off his tracking skills.
While I haven't had an oportunity to work with Tina, I took a chance and asked to "friend" her on Facebook, which she said yes to right away. I'm looking forward to actually meeting her in person when we have a wrap party for season 2, which going to be held at a karaoke place. If she's game, I'd love to do a karaoke duet with her!
LN: I've actually interviewed Tina and had some email contact with her. She's got a great sense of humor and loves to have a good time - I'm guessing Karaoke would be right up her alley. Tina is someone who's probably recognized in public all the time. Have you had that experience yet - of having someone recognize you in your "real life" as Cane?
RC: I've had it when I've done regional theater and then been recognized by someone at a shopping mall or whatever. It's left me with a warm glow, to have someone say, "Hey - I saw you in such-and-such play!" Who knows where my acting career will lead me? If I did wind up being someone who's recognized in public, or who reaches some level of fame, I have no idea how I'd handle it.
LN: I know you guys are still shooting season 2 of Empire. Do you have anything else lined up that you want to talk about?
RC: I'm mostly going for auditions, right now. I'm an actor first and foremost, but I want to try everything, and the song and dance thing is something I do enjoy from time to time. One of the shows I'm auditioning for is Carnival, for Goodspeed, which is pretty prestigious on the East Coast. As a person and as an actor, I don't ever want to get stuck in any one thing. Of course, one of the things about this industry is that you have to be willing to put yourself on a shelf, sometimes, and do a soap or a sitcom for 20 years."
One thing that I am very interested in is the power of the Internet as a tool for connecting with people. I've been building a website which is far from complete, but which is a work in progress. It's slow going, but it's getting there.
If you haven't seen Empire, catch up at www.empiretheseries.com where the entire first season is free to view.
Season 2 of Empire will be launched in April, 2010.