When Ada McGowan gave birth to her late in life daughter, Nancy, in 1974, the newborn was played by Danielle Burns, who stayed in the role for a whopping nine years before the character was inevitably aged into a teenager. (Considering that most babies on soaps are SORASed right around the time they start walking into pre-schoolers due to toddlers being notoriously difficult to work with, Danielle must have been an extraordinary tot, indeed!).
Now, Danielle is back in soaps, headlining the web-series, "Our World." Another World Today caught up with Danielle for a look back at growing up in Bay City, and what she's up to now!
AWT: How did you get into show business?
DB: My sister was in commercials and my mother took me on one of her auditions when I was 6 weeks old. I slept through the whole audition and my sister's agent asked my mom if she could book me for AW. (Ed. Note: Aha! I knew it! The sleeping baby gets the part!)
AWT: What was it like growing up on the set of AW? What are some of your favorite memories? How did you learn your lines? Who did you work with primarily and what are your memories of them?
DB: It was a lot of fun. I was on it more frequently as a young child and it was always an adventure going there. I remember the smell of the makeup the most and whenever I am in a theater and smell that again it comes right back! I didn't have many lines but those I did I learned by my mom quizzing me on the trip. I worked most with Constance Ford who was amazing - so nice and warm and welcoming of my family. I also worked a lot with Douglas Watson and Victoria Wyndham. There were others too who were very kind but who I don't remember as well.
AWT: What did you do after leaving AW? Did you stay in show business or pursue a different field?
DB: I was just under 10 when I left AW so I was back to "normal" in school. I did act in school plays but nothing of note and did not pursue show business afterwards.
AWT: Tell us about your current project. What brought you back to soaps? How is "Our World" different from "Another World?" How are they the same?
DB: I'm so excited to be a part of "Our World." Creator Jordan (von Haslow) and I have been friends for years. He's was huge "Another World" fan. In fact, when he learned of my "secret soap past" he kept singing the theme song at me for about two weeks straight! When he began assembling a team for the show, he asked me if I wanted to participate. I immediately said yes. I have such wonderful memories of my time on "Another World" and have kept up with other soaps off and on through the years. I'm intrigued by the online transition the industry is going through and am happy to be a part of it. The biggest difference between "Our World" and "Another World" is, obviously, that my work now is all voiceover. So there isn't the smell of the make up, and I no longer need my mother to quiz me with my lines! What is the same is the strong story. AW told and OW tells an interesting, family-based story. Although there's lots of drama and some of the characters do not-so-nice things, they're all three-dimensional. They all have motivation, which makes you root for them even if you love to hate them.
AWT: Who is your character? What does she want? What's the most soapy thing about her? What can viewers look forward to from her?
DB: I play a character also named Danielle. She's secretary at the prep school the two young leads attend. I think the soapiest thing about her is her nosiness. The students are the children of the town's movers and shakers, and Danielle is eager to learn and spread their juicy dirty laundry. Viewers can expect Danielle to be in the wrong place and the right time, always ready to deliver a snappy one-liner.
AWT: Is there anything you'd like to say to fans who still remember you from AW?
DB: If fans do remember, I would say thank you. I really enjoyed my experience and over the course of my time there, I received bags of fan mail as well as gifts and that added to the experience.
AWT: Any story you wished you could have played that you didn't get to?
JH: No, I got everything I asked for. I got a club, I got to sing, I got to be sexy and gorgeous and glamorous all at once. And they knew I wanted to be sexy and gorgeous and glamorous. So, they did right by me. They did everything. I couldn’t have had a better time with them.
AWT: What do you think Lily is doing now?
JH: I have no clue! I don’t know what she’s doing. I never thought about it, but it is a good question. Lily’s got to be retired from her old life. She can’t still be… I mean can she? I don’t know, but she’s gotta be retired from all of that.
AWT: After Another World, you went on to star on 227, where you earned the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. What can you tell us about that experience and the delightful character of Sandra Clark?
JH: What happened was I just got the part and it was supposed to be another short part. Seven shows out of 22. I only had 7 and then I was done. I went to the set, and did the pilot, which was the very first show. I started doing my lines and Brandon Tartikoff, the late great Brandon Tartikoff (Head of NBC), he called downstairs and said ‘Put her under contract.’ I signed a contract two days after we started shooting the pilot. I just signed it, I had no clue that it was going to become anything. At the time, I was doing two movies in New York and Another World and a play, so my professional life was going very well. So this just took off without me even thinking about it. I was not too happy about it, because it took me away from New York. I was happy and married, but ended up getting divorced because I was having to go back and forth between L.A. and N.Y. and having a long distance relationship just didn’t work out. It was bittersweet. It was great financially and professionally, but personally it just dissolved my life and I became a workaholic!
AWT: How did the role of Sandra Clark evolve?
JH: With the character of Sandra Clark, I just went what they gave me. What could I do? I didn’t know anything about it. You know, I didn’t have a clue about what a soap opera was in the beginning. I didn’t know what a soap opera was and I didn’t have a clue who Sandra Clark was so I just played it by ear, to be honest with you. I just wanted to be funny and to get another job. That was my intent. That’s how it started. I didn’t intend to become all of that!
AWT: After 227, you went on to Sister, Sister where you not only starred but also stepped behind the camera to direct. What can you tell us about that experience?
JH: I just had this, I call it a gift, where I could see camera shots. When I got into Sister, Sister, I asked to direct. I became a member of the DGA which was no easy feat, especially for a woman. I had to get sponsors. I also was tested to (prove) I knew what I was talking about, and lo and behold, I did! That’s how that started. I wasn’t looking to do anything, it was just something I could do and once you begin to do it, you just continue to do it. I wasn’t really looking to be all that great shakes. It just evolved and even today, I can see camera shots. I can get a script and know where the camera is going to be so when I get there on set, everyone thinks that I’m so smart, but I can see what they’re going to do, I can see how much time it’s going to take. It really is a handy tool. I don’t like to let everyone know it because they’ll make me work harder!
AWT: What have you been up to these days? Where can your fans see you?
JH: I just did a short independent film called Knight to D7 about cancer awareness, about two young men who are great friends and dealing with cancer. I play the nurse to the ailing cancer patient.
JH: I’ve got a movie I’m working on with ABC Movies, starring Christina Milian and that’s going to be fabulous. I’m playing her mom which is something I’ve evolved into. I didn’t play moms all the time, but I’m loving it! I’ve got a DVD of a play that I did, The Clean-Up Woman, that’s coming out in early September 2010 on DVD.
JH: On the business side, I’m a spokesperson for a company called GBG which is a nutritional liquid vitamin company, they make a vitamin called 10-IN-1. I just became their spokesperson in April. (Go to: www.GBGJackee.com for more information.) I’ve got a lot of philanthropic things I’m doing with the Women’s International Center and the National Congress of Black Women. So I’m kind of busy!
AWT: Would you like to say anything to the fans of AW?
JH: I’m sorry that we’re still not on the air. It was a great show. It was a great time and a great learning experience for me. It had the biggest African-American storyline for anybody and I salute Procter & Gamble and the producers for doing that, because, at the time, I didn’t get it, I was just working, but I see the significance of it now, historically. The soap opera has taken a beating now because people have so many other things they can watch. Hopefully we can bring some form of a soap opera back that includes all the different cultures, so we can see their lives.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW: JACKEE HARRY (LILY MASON) Part #1
In 1983, Jackee Harry was scheduled to say two lines on Another World as prostitute Lily Mason, aunt of Thomasina, the young woman Quinn (played by Petronia Paley) wanted to adopt. (That makes Lily the great-aunt of Another World Today's current character, GQ Todd.)
Those two lines turned into a three year contract, and America's introduction to the unique, comedic/dramatic talent that would eventually take prime-time by storm on 227, Sister, Sister and more.
Another World Today spoke with Jackee Harry to reminisce about her time in Bay City, and to catch up with what she is doing now.
AWT: Do you remember your initial audition for Lily?
JH: I didn’t have an audition. I actually got picked while I was doing a play by Toni Morrison, where I was playing one of the ladies of the night. My name was Rochelle LaForte and the woman, the casting lady, Liz, she was there one night and she saw me and she called my agent and said, ‘I have a part for Jackée can she do it?’ It’s a day-player, just one day only. They called me from there and that’s how I got Lily.
AWT: Who did they tell you she was?
JH: They just said that she was a prostitute. Nothing else. I got there and I was given two lines: ‘Who is it? Oh, it’s you. What do you want?’ And that was it. Then they asked me to come back another day and another day and another day, and that’s how it got started. It wasn’t me doing anything to get it. It was luck, actually.
AWT: How did you find out about Lily becoming more of a long-term character?
JH: They kept calling me in one day, then two days, then three and then they offered me a contract after three weeks.
AWT: How did the role of Lily expand from that of her beginnings of a prostitute? How did Lily evolve through the years you played her?
JH: I started getting fan letters, and they really liked the character, and as everybody knows, once the fans start liking you, you can no longer be a bad person, you gotta be a good person! So, they switched me and I became legit. I stopped being a prostitute. I opened a club where Joe Morton (Leo) sang, and Morgan Freeman (Roy) and all the other great, African-American players began to frequent, and my storyline began to hook in with theirs. My niece was on there and I had taken care of her. She was my sister’s daughter who died, they had taken her away from me but we got back together and everything was fine from there.
AWT: How did you contribute to her evolution?
JH: I didn’t really know anything about soaps to be honest with you. They had to help me quite a bit. And what happened was that they liked me so much that they just developed the storylines for me so I didn’t really have to work that hard!
AWT: What are you memories of working with AW's amazing early 80s African-American cast?
JH: They were very experienced. They were very giving. They never let me down. They always made sure that I was taken care of and had everything I needed in terms of my storyline. I was very green at this time and they took me under their wing. So I didn’t have a really bad time with anything actually. I was just a kid growing up who didn’t know what she was getting into, and then I only saw later who these guys were. They were very friendly and very gracious. Joe Morton, at the time, was the biggest star in terms of Broadway and theatre. Morgan was on The Electric Company and that was just his first TV gig, a lot of people don’t know that. He was not who is he today! Though he was a great actor. Everything else came into play for him after he left Another World.
AWT: What are your other favorite memories/scenes/co-stars?
JH: Linda Dano (Felicia) was my closest friend on there. She made them put me in her dressing room, and we shared a dressing room when she didn’t have to. She said, ‘No, I want to share a dressing room with her. I like her.’ We had a great time. She was just so loving. That’s really my best time.
And there was also Thomas Ian Griffith (Catlin). We’re still friends. He and I and his wife, Mary Page Keller (Sally), who was also on the show. We were all just great friends. I see them all the time. I don’t want to tell you where we hang out... but we hang out all the time.
Come back next week for Part #2 of our interview with Jackee Harry, where she talks Sandra Clark, and sends a special message to the fans of AW.
AWT: Despite being a new character, you were thrown right into stories with heavy hitters like Nancy Frangione (Cecile) and Charles Keating (Carl). What was that like?
LB: Nancy and Charles are both interesting, larger than life people, which is why Cecile and Carl were such interesting characters. The one thing I noticed about Charles specifically, was that he was so dynamic, and his energy reached out so far in person. The camera just loved him because that's what it would capture for him, he was just so brilliant. He’s a brilliant guy. I respected that man and learned a lot from him. Nancy was a spitfire on and off camera, and she was very witty and full of life and just funny; a very funny lady. We became good friends. We really related on an esoteric level. She loved the metaphysical and I was at a time of my life where I was just starting a spiritual path. she helped me along. She was more than just a co-star, she became a true friend. Even though we lost touch over the years, she’s in my heart and she knows it.
AWT: What did you learn from AW's vets during your introduction to daytime that you still use in your career today?
LB: Those veteran actors were secure and confident in their abilities, and with who they were. With that confidence and security, they wanted to elevate everybody else to that level of performance and comfort, and to embrace actors into the show because an embraced and welcomed actor on their show adds to their show. They understood that importance. Nowhere else have I seen that level of family-like closeness. I mean, I’ve come close, but AW holds a special place in my heart, like it does with the fans and there is something about why that is. I think the fans got that sense of family and closeness and sincerity and depth from the show that I got from being on the show and being with the people that made that show. I’m not talking just about the cast, but the crew and (Executive Producer) Jill Phelps, and everyone there. Those people were just one in a million. It came through and that’s why the fans are the way they are, so hard-core. A lot of those fans still keep in contact with me today.
AWT: Where do you think Rafael is today?
LB: I believe he’s still with Maggie. They took off for Spain and they started traveling out there and through Europe. I think they ended up somewhere in Southeast Asia, maybe trying to cultivate a deeper understanding of life because they have money now and money is not an issue. I think they developed a deeper love connection. Now that he has money, Rafael realizes that all the henchman stuff and money stuff was really irrelevant and that there’s more to life. All this parlays into where I am today, in that I feel the same way. Once you’ve done a few things and have seen the other side, you realize a deeper meaning of everything. You get a sense of it and you start pursuing that more than anything else.
AWT: Tell us about your current and upcoming projects.
LB: My latest project is The Resolve. A great web series for the Internet age. I play the series lead, an unsuspecting serial killer. The characters are full of colors and it’s going to be great. You can check out it out at TheResolveSeries.com. Recently, I did two runs of 12 Angry Men in Los Angeles. We were actually supposed to be in New York this spring to do an Off-Broadway run of it, but things just started changing, so unfortunately that looks like it’s not going to happen. For the last eight years, I’ve been running my clothing line, BrandtSkinz, which has kept me really busy. It’s a great creative outlet and a phenomenal line of exotic skin garments that incorporates precious metals and stones into the garment. It's like nothing else on this planet.
AWT: Any message for the AW fans who've followed you since your Bay City days?
LB: Just keep giving us all that support! It’s nice to know that the work that we do, that we’ve done, still has such a resounding effect and appreciation after all of these years. And I love to keep in contact with those fans, let you know what comes next and what to look for down the road. Just sincere love, genuine love, from me to them.
AWT: What do you remember about your AW audition for Rafael? Who did they tell you the character was?
LB: Well, I don’t know if too many people know this, but when I auditioned for Another World in the beginning, I auditioned for a three day character called Maximillian. And I didn’t get that role. But from that audition, they thought that I did such a professional job, they brought me back to write a role for me. I had just gotten out of the academy and was like: ‘They’re writing a role for me?’ It kind of just developed after my second meeting, and I really didn’t know anything other than Rafael was an edgy, dark-sided bad boy type and that’s all I really knew at that point.
AWT: What was your background before coming to Another World?
LB: I started acting right out of high school. I moved from my hometown of Amarillo to Dallas and I had a mentor by the name of Adam Roarke, who unfortunately passed away in 1996. He was my first formidable acting teacher. He’s a very well known actor and was in a lot of movies in the 60s and 70s. I love Adam like my own father. He helped me get to New York and into the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in 1992. I went to the Academy and did one year of their two year program. After having been working back in Dallas for about five years commercially and on stage, it was hard to sit in school and after a year I just said there’s too much action going on around here for me not to roll the dice! I just wanted to give it a shot and I did and I landed a few really good national commercials and a few print campaigns, some really big work, and then just at the end, I was on my last leg and having to deal with leaving New York and go back to Dallas when I got the call to come in to read at AW. It just came together. When you least expect it, that’s when the universe and everything just comes together and it works out. Not a day goes by that I’m not thankful for that opportunity.
AWT: What do you think you brought to the part that got you the job?
LB: I think they liked my vulnerability. I was just a kid from Texas in New York, and just out of school. I had worked previously in commercials and this was my first real gig, my first big job, my first network job, and I think there was an air of vulnerability about me that worked for the character of Rafael. He had this rough exterior that he needed to get through the day to day with, but he was really a sensitive guy.
AWT: You came on as the thug who kidnapped Maggie on Cecile's orders, and left as the guy who'd charmed her into eloping with him (and skipping the pre-nup)! What was that transition like to play as an actor?
LB: It was a nice entrance! I liked it. It was a dramatic beginning, with Rafael hiding in the bushes and jumping out to grab the girl on Center Street on a dark foggy night and then kidnap her. And to know that her mother was the one who wanted me to do that was even more interesting. It was a short period from the kidnapping to falling in love to the plan to take this girl to Spain. A very short window, but the writers were phenomenal and they made it work and the transition , I think, was easier because of it. When writing is that good, it makes the work of an actor less arduous. It was great. I enjoyed those moments very much.
AWT: What was your favorite arc of Rafael’s story?
LB: I guess I liked the interaction that he had with his friend Nick Terry, who was played by Kevin McClatchy, a phenomenal person and actor. They were rebels and they shared comedic moments and they had moments like playing basketball one on one or while having a drink at Carlinos or even in silence, where they would share their feelings. Without saying anything they almost always knew what was going on with each other. Nick genuinely cared about the direction Rafael was going and would try to advise him when he felt Rafael was getting aggressive and dramatic and going off the deep end. It was a real friendship and I liked those two male characters and how they would watch out for each other.
AWT: What’s a scene or moment during your time on the show that you wish you could redo?
LB: My kissing scenes! Like I said, AW was my first real job out of the academy and I feel like every time I had a kissing scene, which was plentiful, I would black out and we would have to cut a few times because I was actually really giving the girl a kiss and I didn’t know it! It was like a moment of paralysis. I’m kissing in scenes all the time now, but looking back, I was petrified on AW, kissing Lisa Brenner (Maggie). It was just funny like that. I would apologize profusely and she would say ‘No, it’s okay!’ but I just don’t think the producers want it (and they didn’t) and I didn’t! Lisa was so sweet and very wonderful to work with, very professional and very spontaneous. It was a dream to work with her. She made it such a pleasure to work.
AWT: What is a storyline that you wish Rafael had while on the show?
LB: Something with him being a more upstanding guy where he wasn’t lurking or being a henchman or trying to convince the girl that he was worthy. I wanted him to be able to show that he was worthy. He had a heart of gold and was a good guy, he’s just had a few bad shakes, so give him a shot and show what he can do. I wanted him to do well.
Come back next week for Part #2, where Les talks Carl, Cecile and more!
AWT: After AW you went back to primetime. Can you talk about your exit from AW? What are some of the favorite roles you've played since?
CP: With AW, when we talk about stuff lasting forever, I never thought AW would be that. I never thought I’d be talking about it in 2010 because there were no reruns at the time and AW was media that we made for that moment. If you missed an episode, you missed it forever. If you didn’t tape it, you weren’t going to be able to catch it later. Whereas with primetime and with films you have a longer time to be viewed and seen, which is one reason I decided to move on after my contract was up. I mean, I loved the show, but I felt I need to move on. I wanted to do that next Hairspray, that next Cosby Show. I guess once you do it once, you want to go back and do it again. At the time I left, I was thrilled because I was positive about moving on to do more work in film and primetime, but before I left, Michael Laibson made me promise that if I was to come back to daytime, I had to come back to Another World. So it was nice to know I was still wanted in daytime.
After AW, I did Dark Justice. I loved doing that character. That was one of the few characters that I did where I got to show every facet of my personality. I loved what my character was saying politically, I loved that I was working with such a dark subject, I loved that I got to do martial arts and did most of my own stunts. It was literally everything. Dark Justice and Black Ninja were the only two projects where I got to do everything that I really enjoy.
The most recent project that I’ve done that’s out is a movie called Cover. I guess you could say that it is the black version of Brokeback Mountain. It’s explores married men who cheat on their wives with other men. It was directed by Bill Duke and stars me, Vivica A. Fox, Louis Gossett, Jr., Patti LaBelle, Leon, and Mya. It’s becoming a cult classic with strong grass roots. I loved what it was saying politically. Unfortunately 20th Century FOX got a little squeamish about it and limited the distribution. As always, in Hollywood there are no guarantees!
AWT: You wrote, directed and starred in the film, Black Ninja. How did that movie come about and what was your experience wearing three hats? CP: I got to do everything that I enjoy doing, but it was a challenge. The budget was very limited, but the overall experience was great. The Black Ninja was in a lot of ways a continuation of the character in Dark Justice. It’s about a lawyer who hates the law. He hates that people like him are able to manipulate the law so that real justice can’t be done. He starts out as a lawyer, kind of like Johnnie Cochran. He was good at manipulating the law and he knew that what he was doing might be considered to be immoral to some, but he didn’t care because he was making money off of it. But that changes when a client, an assassin, who my character gets off on several murder charges, kills my character’s wife and kids. And that’s the first time my character is confronted with the type of people he’s been getting off all these years. And he becomes a recluse, learns martial arts, and when he comes back he goes back to taking on these questionable clients, defending them by day, but meting out his own justice to the guilty at night by doing to them what they did to their victims. It’s kind of dark and humorous and a lot of action. We had a lot of fun doing it. In fact there was talk about making it a television series. Currently, we’re developing a comic book series centered around the character.
AWT: You were Seaweed in the original Hairspray! What was that experience like?
CP: There are a few projects that I’ve done that are going to last forever. When I’m a grandfather, when I’m dead and gone, Cosby is going to be one and Hairspray is definitely going to be the other. After I did Cosby, John Waters wanted to meet with me. And it’s funny- I had seen Pink Flamingos in college and I remember thinking ‘What a bunch of weirdos. I hope to God I never meet you people in my life. They’re like the Addams family for real!' And when my agent called me he said, ‘Oh, John Waters saw you on Cosby and he really likes your stuff and he wants to meet with you,’ I was like, ‘Why would he want to hire me?’ When I finally met with him, I realized that John Waters will be the smartest man I’ve ever met in my life, bar none. He has a unique way of looking at the work, but it’s not wrong and it’s not crazy, it might seem crazy at first, but you realize it’s crazy like a fox. He is absolutely the smartest man in the world that I’ve met. He has a very sincere honesty about him. He’s probably more of a humanitarian of the world than most humanitarians claim to be.
I remember when we were on the set and I was talking to him about Ricki Lake and Colleen Fitzpatrick, and I thought for sure Colleen would be the big star coming off this project. I love Ricki to death and she’s majorly talented- she can sing, I mean people don’t even know how well she can really sing. But I was looking at it in the typical Hollywood kind of way. John was like, ‘No, it’s going to be Ricki, because when you put the two of them on the screen, who is anyone going to be looking at? Ricki. And as long as she’s brilliant every time, they’re going to keep looking at her and no one’s going to be looking at Colleen.’ And it was so true! The big mistake Hollywood makes is they put these fantasy images of women out there, but realistically most women look like Ricki and Ricki is going to be the woman they relate to. I’m telling you John is so smart.
AWT: During your stint on AW, you were also working with the Guardian Angels. What drove you to participate? Are you still involved with the organization?
CP: I was involved for about ten years, but am no longer with the organization. It’s kind of a complicated story. Basically, I was a working actor and doing pretty good and was living a lifestyle where I wasn’t faced with a lot of concerns like a lot of other people. At the time, everyone in the world was talking about the Central Park jogger who had been raped and that whole situation, and I thought it was disgusting from every perspective I know. Legally, morally, culturally - everything in every way. I was on the show one day, and an actor was talking about it and he was going on about how he would’ve beaten up those guys and saved that woman and I’m looking at this guy and thinking that he may believe he would’ve done that, but I knew he wouldn’t have done anything. I’m sure there were people in Central Park at the moment that woman was being raped and did nothing because they were afraid. And I’m looking at this guy go on about what he would’ve done and then I actually thought about would I have done anything if I had been there and, honest to God, I realized that I wouldn’t have. I’d have been afraid like everyone else. And I hated that I would’ve been afraid and that it was the truth. I asked myself: What kind of man does that make me? I was kind of down on myself. Shortly after that, I remember being in the back of a limousine and I saw a group of Guardian Angels on patrol. And I thought: You know they are the only ones who would really do something about a situation if they saw it. And then the idea popped in my head ‘Why not?’ I really wrestled with myself over it. What am I gonna do? Karate chop a gun from someone’s hand? I’m a television star! But then things kept happening and I kept seeing the Guardian Angels everywhere all the time. One thing led to another and I went down and signed up. I think things happen at certain times in a person’s life where you’re kind of forced to be honest with yourself. Being honest with yourself is the hardest thing to do in life. It’s easy to point out other people’s faults, but it’s hard to be honest about your good points and bad points and then actually take action and do something about what you feel are your shortcomings.
AWT: What are you up to these days? Tell us about your current and upcoming projects.
CP: I just did an indie movie called Café with Jennifer Love Hewitt and Jamie Kennedy. Not sure when it’s coming out. 90% takes place in a cyber-café. There are all these different people who come into the café. I play a cop who comes in for coffee and donuts and Jamie plays a drug dealer who is my arch enemy. It’s pretty dramatic and has a cool sci-fi twist to it. I also have a few television projects in the works that I’m keeping my fingers crossed for. We’ll see!
AWT: Where do you think Reuben is today?
CP: I think Reuben could’ve gone down a couple of paths. He could be a cop or he could be a lawyer from what Cass taught him. I think that would be interesting. Because of his stand-up he was great at speaking and would be great in court. He would still have a chip on his shoulder about life and society, but in a positive way. Reuben was one of those characters that if you caught him on a good day he could save the world, and if you caught him on a bad day he might be the guy trying to destroy the world. Because he was filled with uncertainty he could be both good and bad. He could probably be an interesting politician! To really be fair and honest to the character that was created, he has to be troubled, there’s not going to be a magic wand waved where he says, ‘I get it now!’ He’s someone who always wanted to trust in people but just couldn’t do it. Cass and Josie were really the only two people that he ever trusted. Not his mother, brother, or sister. He really wanted to have more with Josie but there were two big things preventing that, one being that he had a good friendship with Matt and there’s no hitting on your guy’s girl and the other, and I hate mentioning it, being the issue of race. During the NYC storyline there were some letters mailed to the studio of fans accusing AW of being irresponsible showing a black man and white woman living with each other, etc... so I think the writers kind of backed off on that. Maybe it would stand to reason that Reuben would even say ‘Wow, I can’t cross that line culturally even though I’m feeling it (for Josie).’
AWT: Any message to the AW fans who've followed your career since your days in Bay City?
CP: Thanks. I really appreciate everyone’s support. I’m really , really surprised, and humbled, and happy that there’s still so much interest in our characters and I’m grateful for their support. The Another World Fan club has been really cool about reaching out and keeping contact with the cast and helping to keep the love for the show alive which has been great.
AWT: When you auditioned for the role of Reuben Lawrence, who did the producers tell you he was?
CP: It’s funny, I did a lot of primetime and film stuff, and I didn’t think I’d be doing daytime. When they first approached me, I was originally only supposed to be on for 6 months. I was the bad brother of B.J. Jefferson (Veronica ‘Ronnie’ Lawrence). But after I auditioned with Michael Laibson (AW Executive Producer at the time), I remember Michael saying: ‘You’re a star. There’s no way we’re only offering you six months, it’s a three year contract or nothing.’ I was like: ‘whoa, give me a day or two to think it over before I start shooting.' I was doing a movie-of-the-week at the time, but I really liked the character of Reuben because there was so much room for growth. I just thought: ‘Okay, give me one day to think about this, to make a decision about three years!' While I was doing a lot of stuff here and there in primetime, there were a lot of people making promises to me, saying: ‘Oh, you’ll be great for this show’ and ‘we want you for this new show’ but there was no guarantee or promise behind it. Just a lot of people making promises. If you do a pilot for a show, you’re sitting around hoping that the pilot gets picked up, but in daytime, soaps run for forever! So, when the opportunity came along to do a great character that I really liked on Another World, I jumped on it and signed on.
Originally, I thought it was going to be a six month gig and that’s all I was looking at it for, I didn’t think it was going to be anything more than that. I was supposed to be an abusive boyfriend beating up his girlfriend, and I don’t know how they were planning my demise, but it was going to be something to that effect. Michael Laibson, at the last second from the audition, changed his mind about everything. He made it so that while everyone thought Reuben was abusing his girlfriend, it was actually her father who was beating her up and I was protecting her from her father. And so I was the misunderstood, bad kid who was trying to do good things, but would always mess it up with the best of intentions.
Reuben was brought on because they wanted to build a family around his sister, Ronnie, who was already on the show. She was a nurse, and she also sang at the nightclub and was dating Zach Edwards (then played by James Picken’s, Jr.). Ronnie and Reuben’s mother, Esther, and little brother, Jesse, were also on the show, but they didn’t get a lot of airtime. Reuben was there to help the Ronnie character move along, but it became easier to write for my character than for hers so the focus began to shift to Reuben. Dondre Whitfield played Jesse, Reuben’s teenaged genius little brother, who was already in college, which made for an interesting family dynamic for Reuben since he was the street kid stuck between a successful nurse for an older sister and a genius little brother already in college. Reuben had a bit of the whole ‘Marcia, Marcia, Marcia’ middle child syndrome, because everyone in his family was so positive and he was the street kid, high school drop-out. That was another part of his angst: Why aren’t things working for me? My sister is a nurse, my brother is a genius, and I’m Reuben....
AWT: How did the character change during your two years on the show? How much did you contribute to his evolution?
CP: Oh, man. He evolved so much. He started working a lot in the office with Cass (Stephen Schnetzer), and I was thrilled with that. Most of my storylines were with Cass. Reuben became best friends with Josie Watts (Alexandra Wilson). She was the farm girl and I was the friend . They didn’t get to delve too much into a love story. I had one, but they just didn’t delve too much into it. I think one of my favorite storylines that allowed me to contribute to Reuben as a character was when they incorporated my doing stand-up in real life into the show. It was kind of showing where Reuben was coming from and showing the pain in his real life and the hardships he was going through and how he twisted that around to make a joke of it and make something that was negative into something that was positive. That was great. Although there was the problem that the writers liked the idea but they had a hard time writing the jokes so I had to write the jokes! There were a few times they would ask for me to do what was written and I would look at it from a comic’s perspective, and say there’s just no way. I think they got a little discouraged when I wouldn’t always do what they wrote!
AWT: You worked in prime-time television ( "The Cosby Show," "Spencer: For Hire") before coming to daytime via "Ryan's Hope." How did you handle the transition from weekly series to a daily soap?
CP: It’s definitely a challenge to do an hour episode a day. Especially with the dialogue. They’re challenging in different ways. It’s kind of hard to explain the difference. The primetime stuff had a bigger audience than AW, and that’s one way it’s different. When I was on AW there were almost 40 cast members but we all really liked each other; I mean softball games and the whole bit. It was like being in high school. So it was a lot of fun and everyone working really hard for the betterment of the show itself. Whereas in primetime there’s so much money and power up for grabs that everyone is trying to shine individually. And with the soaps, everyone was working for the betterment of the show. There’s so much at stake in primetime in terms of ratings every week that if you have a bad week you’re worried you’re going to get canceled. In daytime, when we had a bad week on AW, we just went: ‘Awww, we had a bad week’ but we weren’t worried that we were going to get cancelled.
AWT: What are your favorite memories of life in Bay City?
CP: I love Michael Laibson to death. He was a great producer to work with, and we got along so well. When I was on the show, I had an audition for a film where I was a black guy hiding from the mafia who pretends to be a white guy, so he puts on make-up and the whole bit. So the make-up guys at AW helped me out and did my make-up and gave me an old curly wig that Stephen used sometimes, and I’m walking around the studio and I put on a south Philly Italian accent and people are asking me: ‘Who are you?’ Security comes over and I tell them who I am and we’re all laughing and I tell them I want to play a joke on Michael. So, I go to Michael’s office and get his secretary to help me and she gets him to come out of his office to meet a gentleman who wants to act on the show. Michael comes out and I put on my act: ‘Yeah, I was thinking maybe I could act on the show. I was in a play in school, I was the letter ‘C’ in the Christmas play’ and poor Michael’s looking at me and saying: ‘You were the letter ‘C’ in a Christmas play?' And I keep going and he’s looking at me and trying to be nice but get me out of the office and looking for help from security and finally I leave but he had no clue it was me! Later, I thought how that would’ve been a cool storyline for Reuben!
I also loved working with Stephen Schnetzer. He was so cool. I was really lucky to work with him. He kind of adopted the role of a kind of father figure on the show. His heart was 100% into the show. My heart went out to him and all those veteran actors who stayed on the show for so many years and created those iconic characters that they’ll always be identified with. They were so invested in what they did and had spent their entire careers there and it was all of a sudden ending.
AWT: Was there a storyline you wish you could have gotten a chance to play, but didn't?
CP: I think they were playing around with a love triangle for Reuben, Josie and Matt. There was a story where Josie and Reuben ran away to New York City. Josie wanted to be an actress and Reuben wanted to get away from it all, so they started living together. But I think the writers were really afraid of where they could and should take that. I think I would’ve loved it if they had explored that relationship because they were really great friends. I mean, at one point, friends of the opposite sex are going to notice each other in that way and think: ‘Maybe she is that mate of mine.' Maybe a relationship isn’t about ‘Wow, she’s hot’ or ‘She dances well’ but about ‘This is someone I can go to with my problems.’
Also, it was just a little disappointing that even though Reuben was popular and the writers liked me, they had a hard time figuring out what to really do with him. He was a street kid who was rough around the edges who was trying to better himself, but he just didn’t have a good idea on how to do it. So he bounced around without really having his own storyline and eventually kind of became everybody’s best friend on the show. He was everyone’s friend, helping them with their storyline. When I did the stand-up story line that was great because it gave me and Reuben a chance to shine and it was great that it became a very popular thing on the show.
AWT: Why do you think Reuben and Josie became such good friends?
CP: I can’t remember how they met. In primetime, you have a hundred episodes to tell a story but in daytime there are thousands! I don’t think it was ever dealt with deeply on how they became friends. I don’t remember what instance made them so close, but I remember it was a slow, gradual building of the relationship to where they became such close friends. Reuben probably looks at Josie as the one who got away, the one he really wanted, and for whatever reason out there in the world, it just didn’t happen. I think that’d create some angst for him and dysfunction for him in other relationships in that the woman he’s with isn’t Josie.