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Wednesday, August 5, 2009


INTERVIEW WITH SOFIA LANDON - AW WRITER AND ACTRESS


AWT: On GL, you played Diane, a character very different from your AW character, Jennifer Thatcher. Would you say that there was some part of each character in your own personality, or were both completely created by the writers and not connected to you at all?

SL: Both Diane Ballard and Jennifer Thatcher were new characters created by the writers – I wasn’t replacing another actress. That said, I’m sure that once the writers saw my “take” on the characters, I had an influence on their development. Both women felt deeply, but, had to hold those feelings back: Diane, because she knew her love for Alan was not returned, even though she continued to hope until the end – and Jennifer, because she was always afraid her husband didn’t really love her. And boy, was she right! The difference between the two women was stark. Diane was gutsy and went after what she wanted – be it a man or a job. I believe Diane Ballard was the first soap female character to have an executive position in business. She went from babysitter to executive vice-president awfully quickly! But, then, Diane was always the smartest one in the room. Her weakness was her real love for Alan Spaulding.

Poor Jennifer Thatcher was so intensely vulnerable. Talk about low self-esteem. She couldn’t move on emotionally from the trauma of her many miscarriages, even though she did manage to have a beautiful little boy. She needed so much reassurance just to get through the day and her cheating husband sure didn’t help! When she found out that the son she loved so much wasn’t actually hers (her child had died in the hospital at birth) she turned to alcohol and drove her car off a cliff.

I cared about both characters, but, playing Diane was more fun. Scheming beats crying any day!

AWT: Jennifer was constantly being lied to and cheated on, then she was depressed to the point of more or less committing suicide. How do you play a character like that and not take it home with you at the end of the day?

SL: Well, I did take it home with me, unfortunately! Fun Fact #1: My boyfriend at the time was lying to me and cheating on me, so the line between acting and real life got kind of blurred for awhile there. Bless Lewis (Arlt; David) for being such a sweetheart. A very, nice, compassionate guy, unlike the character he played.

AWT: You stepped in for Anna Stuart as Donna (a character much more like Diane, in my opinion) several times. What is it like to take on a role that you know is only temporary and one that had been so dramatically defined by another actress? In such a situation, do you play Anna Stuart's Donna, or do you make the role your own?

SL: I don’t remember what I was up to the first time AW asked me to fill in for Anna. But, I’m sure I was excited about it. Donna was a terrific role, strong, yet comedic. That’s what I loved most about playing the character. She reminded me of the second female lead in a 1930’s screwball comedy. Like Rosalind Russell, maybe? Classy, smart, sexy and funny. Lots of fun to play. I honestly didn’t think about trying to be like Anna at all. I think the show thought of me because Anna and I have similarities in our ways of speaking and the way we carry ourselves physically, so it was a natural enough fit that I could just focus on the character and situation. Fun Fact #2: When I was playing Diane on GL, Anna filled in for Maeve Kinkead as Vanessa for a length of time.

AWT: Do you have a favorite memory from your time in Bay City? A scene that you think went particularly well - or maybe not well at all (but you can laugh about it now)?

SL: Man, we’re talking major time-travel here, I’m not sure I remember much. Oh, there was the time – during my second stint filling in for Anna Stuart as Donna – and my daughter M.J. Geier was a toddler. She had been ill the night before, and my husband and I took turns giving her lukewarm baths so she wouldn’t spike a fever. I didn’t sleep at all that night, didn’t even close my eyes. Pulled a parental all-nighter and went straight to work at the AW studios in Brooklyn. I think I had four or five “catfight” scenes in a restaurant with Linda Dano and several other actresses. Everyone was very kind - actors and crew - getting me cups of tea to keep me from nodding off. It was my most surreal “soap acting” experience.

AWT: You wrote for Another World from 1994 to 1999. How did you make the transition from actor to writer?

SL: I had just finished a soap writing workshop at NBC - I’m not sure they do those anymore – and I’d gotten an offer from (Executive Producer) Michael Laibson to join the AW writing team. I was thrilled. My family and I went on vacation in rural upstate N.Y. I took along a stack of breakdowns and scripts to study and prepare. Suddenly, I got a call from Michael saying they needed me to play Donna Love again and could I put off starting the writing job for a few weeks until Anna could return to the show? I babbled in the affirmative and the show faxed a “Donna” script to me (actually to the general store in town!) which I memorized on the bus down to New York City. As soon as Anna was better, I started my new writing job. It was a magical way to transition.

AWT: Was it odd for you to be writing dialogue for actors you had worked with, or did that actually make the process easier? Did your own background as an actor help or hinder the process of writing? Did other actors find you more approachable?

SL: Oh, my, actor/writer relations were not at all encouraged. I didn’t understand that until I became a writer and found that certain actors began chatting me up, hoping for more lines for their characters! I do a lot of theater directing now, and I think my acting and directing instincts, combined with a genuine love for actors, makes me a particularly good writer. I write for the character, of course, but, also for the actor. Some actors will shine when given a mouthful of complicated dialogue and others will stand out with just “a look” and a few well-chosen words. I especially loved writing for Stephen Schnetzer (Cass), Anna Holbrook (Sharlene) and Charles Keating (Carl).

AWT: What storylines or scenes from your time on AW were your favorites? Is there any story now that you wish you had told differently? Was there any story you would have liked to do but never got a chance to?

SL: I loved the Vicky/Jake/Ryan love story. And later on, the Jake/Paulina/Joe love story. Mainly because those actors were amazing and could handle emotional material without making it melodramatic. I still miss those characters, believe it or not.

Fun Fact #3: When Judi Evans, who had played Paulina on AW started on
Days of Our Lives as Farah Fath’s low-rent mom, I was assigned her character’s first day on-air. Since I knew what Judi could do as an actress, I wrote her a whiz-bang of a day – very satisfying.

AWT: If you were writing AW now, where do you think some of the characters would be in their lives?

SL: Cass Winthrop and Frankie would be running a bed and breakfast, solving mysteries like Nick and Nora Charles in The Thin Man film series.

AWT: You started the charity, LOVE, HALLIE, to honor your late daughter. Could you tell us about it, and also what fans can do to contribute?

SL: LOVE, HALLIE Foundation encourages youth philanthropy. We suggest following Hallie’s example, which means finding a cause you care about, learning and researching about it, and then brainstorming a way to help. Hallie’s Angels clubs work as a team, volunteering for and/or raising funds to improve situations in their communities and the world. Some causes Hallie’s Angels contribute time or money to: volunteering at nursing homes and helping with homework at after-school programs. Global causes like raising money for bed-nets to protect African families from malaria, and local causes like walking a dog for an elderly neighbor. Donating gently used books and toys to a shelter or starting an arts program for children with disabilities. Learn more at www.lovehallie.org.

My older daughter, M.J., a talented actor and writer, runs Hallie’s Angels. If fans want to start a Hallie’s Angels club, M.J. will help you get started. She stays in touch with all the Hallie’s Angels clubs. We even have one in Rome, Italy!

AWT: LOVE, HALLIE was responsible for Daytime Unites for Africa in 2005. How in the world did you manage to pull together such a massive undertaking? Is it something you would try to do again?

SL: I think Daytime Unites for Africa was unique, in that all the shows (9 at the time) cooperated to make it happen. The network heads each gave the go-ahead and the head-writers took it from there. My own motivation was wanting to help children affected by AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa in order to fulfill Hallie’s dream of saving lives in that part of the world. Also, our family had become involved in rebuilding an orphanage in South Africa and we cared deeply about those children. We still do.

Basically, when you find yourself in a one-to-one situation with someone in need, it’s hard not to become involved. Suddenly, the problem isn’t “over there” somewhere, it’s right in front of you. It becomes personally important. To quote Hallie, “Imagine yourself in a poor position. Wouldn’t you want someone to come along and lift you up?” I think the answer is yes, we all would. So, that’s a huge part of my life. And yes, given the opportunity, I would jump at the chance to organize another project like that.

AWT: Do you have any message for the AW and GL fans who continue to follow your career?

SL: Well, I’m certainly flattered, if that’s the case. I guess my message is Do What You Love (as long as it’s legal, that is)! Seriously, I’ve always pursued work I love – acting, writing and now, teaching/directing and I’m currently starting a theater in Sunnyside, where I live with my family – Unity Stage Company. I’m writing plays and working with composers, actors and artists I respect. I miss my Hallie every day, I dream about her every night. But, I can honestly say that life is very full and good. Yilinasi, a young lady from South Africa has been part of our family since 2006 – she starts college in the fall. M.J. is studying psychology and creative writing and when I’m lucky I get to direct her in a play! Which reminds me, go to my theater’s web site, www.unitystage.org to check out what I’m up to. I promise to keep it updated!

2 Comments:

Blogger yarrays said...

The network heads each gave the go-ahead and the head-writers took it from there.

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June 5, 2013 at 10:38 PM  
Blogger marabe said...

I took along a stack of breakdowns and scripts to study and prepare.

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August 29, 2013 at 1:47 AM  

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