Soap Opera Digest, 1998
By: Carolyn Hinsey
As ONE LIFE TO LIFE
Prepares To Hit The Big 3-0 Erika Slezak Braces For Impact
ONE LIFE TO LIVE celebrates 30 years on the air this month,
which is stunning even to its longest running star.
"That's quite something," pronounces Erika Slezak, who has played Victoria
Lord Braces Riley Burke Riley Buchanan Buchanan Carpenter for about 27 of those
years. "It's unusual that anything gets to be 30 years old. And has that many
episodes and keeps going. 7000? 8000? That's a lot of episodes. When I think
back, I've probably been in two-thirds of the episodes. Close to that, anyway. I
get a kick out of it when nighttime shows go, 'We're celebrating 100 episodes!'
I think,'Hello? I wasn't even born when ONE LIFE TO LIVE did its 1OOth
She's exaggerating slightly, but Slezak's point is well-taken. (Even
daytime's newest soap, PORT CHARLES, is inching up on 300 episodes. ) "The
amazing thing," continues the veteran actress, "is that all that dialogue is
still locked up in here [points to her head]. And all the important things that
I need to know, like the Battle of Hastings, are gone. I could tell you anything
about Viki ...and probably most of the other characters on the show."
Which is a good thing for OLTL, in light of the countless producers and
writers who have filed through the place during, Slezak's long tenure. "I am the
guardian of the bible," she admits, referring to the show's history. Previous
regimes have not always been respectful of what the characters have gone
through. "I cannot keep giving my kidneys away," Quips Slezak. "So I'll say,
'Oh, no, you can't do that, because we did this…' They'll say, 'Does this jive
with what you remember?' or, 'Was there ever anybody on the show named...?' And
I'll say, 'Oh, yeah. That was Emily Jones's character in 1972.'"
Does Slezak feel burdened by this uncredited responsibility? "No," she
shrugs. "I think it's amazing that I remember all of that stuff. When people ask
me things that I don't remember, I'm furious with myself. The one thing that I
can't get straight is all the Danny Woleks. I don't remember their names. I
think [OLTL] should start talking about some of these characters, in the hopes
of possibly reintroducing them sometime. They don't have to be here every day,
but these are relatives -- Danny's my nephew!"
Megan was Viki's daughter, but she is never mentioned, either. "We don't talk
about sad things," defends Slezak. "Our lives are sad enough. Besides, if they
showed her picture, they'd have to pay her. Once your contract is over, unless
you sign a waiver, I believe you have to be paid. And ABC is having major
cutbacks now, so we're not paying anybody anything. The pictures are gone. No
pictures, no flowers, no nothing." No nothing? "There is one wonderful picture
on our set that I just love. It's of Sloan and Viki kissing on New Year's Eve,
and every time Clint is over to play a scene, I turn the picture around so he
can look at it [laughs]."
Slezak allows that her sense of humor has stood her in good stead over the
years, what with OLTL's revolving door of bosses. "I do think that everybody who
comes on this show, in terms of executive producers and head writers, comes on
to do what they think is the best job they can do," she says thoughtfully. "But
things just don't work out. Either their stories aren't approved by the network,
or the meshing doesn't happen between the head writer and the executive
producer, or the actors are not there to be able to tell the story or the
audience doesn't like the story. But every time someone comes in, I am the
With new Executive Producer Jill Farren Phelps on board, Slezak now feels she
has something to cheer about. "She is a wonderful producer," praises Slezak.
"She's probably as good as [former OLTL Executive Producer; now GUIDING LIGHT
Executive Producer] Paul Rauch, which from me is quite a compliment. Paul is
extraordinary; the best I've ever worked with. His knowledge and his taste and
his sense of what is going to work is unfailing. Jill has the same qualities."
"I can't say enough about what Erika Slezak brings to this show," Phelps lobs
back. "She brings reality and poignancy and magic and class to every minute she
is on-screen. She doesn't have a false moment. She also brings an unbelievable
professionalism to the place, and she's a lot funnier and more of a 'broad' than
most people know."
To illustrate Phelps's point about professionalism, here's Slezak on whether
or not OLTL's new regime is planning to write her a story that might win her an
unprecedented sixth lead actress Daytime Emmy award. "A story that only serves
one character is never good for the show," she responds. " 'Oh, good, you
wrote me this Emmy-winning story.' If it doesn't serve the show, it's useless. But I'm here to tell you, the stories coming up are absolutely wonderful."
That's high praise from an actress who has endured some Eterna-lly bad ones over
the past 27 years. So how about a preview of the great upcoming stories?
"They're real stories, things that you read about every day in the newspaper and
go, 'Oh, my God! ' I'm very excited about them. They tried to get me to cancel
my vacation in August to do one of them, but I said, 'Nope -- it's in my
contract.' They've all seen my contract: 'You get one month off?' I said, 'I
need that time. Because my boy is going to coll... ege "
Slezak pauses for effect, dabbing at imaginary tears on her face that will
definitely be real tears when son Michael heads to Georgetown University this
fall. "I'm so proud of him, and I love him so much. I'm just sick at the thought
of freshman moving in day," she says ruefully. "I keep saying, 'Michael, will
you swear to me, swear to me! That you'll change your sheets once a week?' He
won't. He came home from his prom, and I said, 'Where's your tuxedo?' He said,
'In the hamper.' I said, 'You put your tuxedo in the hamper with the wet
towels?' He said, 'Yeah."
Aside from not being the neatest kid on Long Island, NY, Slezak is thrilled
with the person her son has grown up to be. "He's as sweet as the day is long,
and my daughter, [Amanda], is the exact same way. We worked hard to let them be
who they were, but it's to the credit of the children that they are who they
are. They are so different, but I wouldn't want them to be the same. That's what
makes life interesting."
That, and some spirited dinner table conversation. "My husband loves
political arguments. It's maddening. I get up and clear the table loudly: 'Oh
stop, this is boring.' He and Michael get into it, and Amanda says, 'Well, I
don't know why you think that way! 'We've taught them to back things up. If you
believe something, fine, but know why you believe it. Be sure about it."
The Davies household will be awfully quiet when Amanda follows Michael to
college in 1999. "I'm projecting already," laments Slezak. "I go to bed and
think,'Oh, my God. In exactly 633 days ' I'm counting backward. We will have
Empty Nest Syndrome."
Slezak will get through it with hubby Brian Davies, whom she credits for her
ability to have had it all. "I've said this a million times, but he's been the
most "perfect human being because he essentially gave up his career in Califomia
to stay home with the kids, so there was always a parent home. They were never,
ever just sitting at home with a housekeeper. My family has been the No. 1
priority in my life -- my marriage and my children. If you said to me, 'Choose
between your career and your family: I would say, 'There's no choice. Good-bye.'
This is a wonderful job and a wonderful place to be, but it'not a lifetime
Our hunch is that it is, if Slezak chooses to hang around for the next 30
years. "There are people who have been on shows for 20 years and suddenly are
told, 'We don't need you anymore.' And that can still happen. I'm prepared for
that; I've saved my pennies. But my marriage is for life. It has been hard work
for both of us, but unbelievably rewarding. And the children have been a gift
from God. The longer I live, the more I find that every day is a new adventure.
I can cross the street at lunch and get hit by a bus and that would be the end
of it. So you have to appreciate everything you have at all times. And I do."
When Contract negotiations roll around, most actors ask for more money, or
out clauses to do films or more vacation time. Not that Slezak hasn't secured
some of that, but she has mostly used her negotiations to get more time with her
“Since the kids were little, ABC has always been so nice to me,” she praises.
“I never put in more than four days a week and every third week I do three.” She
also has a first in, first out clause that means Slezak's scenes are taped
first. “It was important to me when the hours got long that I be home in time to
at least see (the kids),” she explains. As for days off, “I would give (OLTL) a
list of days way in advance: field days, school plays, parents' visiting day -- usually about six to eight occasions that I wanted, and ABC always said, 'yes.”
And always Columbus Day because we go away as a family Columbus Day weekend. I
don't know if we can this year, though, because Michael's going to be away at