October 26, 1999, Vol. 24 No. 42
When Blondie Met the Bartender
Pair A Brash
Bartender (Really A Disguised Doc)And A Woman Of Independent Means To
Get ONE LIFE TO LIVE'S Newest Supercouple: Mark Derwin And Erika Slezak
Their strength lies in their unlikeliness: Viki's a woman who's been
through the wringer (altered personalities, molestation, time spent in an
underground kingdom) while Ben's life as a bartender belied his
doc-on-the-run-from-the-mob past. They never should have met, but OLTL's sure
glad they did: This is one couple who, thanks to effortless interplay between
soap vets Erika Slezak and Mark Derwin (who share over three decades in the biz
between them) prove that there's life, love and... shh! sex after 40 on daytime.
Ensconced in Slezak's dressing room between takes, Blondie and the Bartender
discussed the very slight age difference, keeping the romance alive, and
Digest: What did you think of each other when you first met?
Erika Slezak (to Mark Derwin): You can go
Derwin (feigning ignorance): What was the
question? What was this for again?
Slezak: All right, he's not going to answer
the question. The first time I met him, he walked down the hall with Jill
[Farren Phelps, executive producer], and I went 'Oh, I know who you are!' And I
felt stupid, because I thought, 'Oh my God, now he knows I didn't know who he
was!'. Jill had said, 'I've got this guy, what do you think?', and I said, 'What
do I know? It's your show, hire him!'
Derwin (bouncing his Spauldeen ball on the table):
Does he have a pulse?
Slezak: We came in here and chatted for
about half an hour. He was just a darling, absolutely adorable. And when I went
home and my husband said, 'So, what's he like?'. And I said, 'He's fabulous,
he's going to work out.' I wasn't entirely sure if our acting styles were the
Derwin: She still hasn't decided.
Digest: How do they differ?
Derwin: She knows her lines [laughs].
Slezak: In the beginning, I thought that we
were very different, but it turned out to be the best marriage, because we're so
Derwin: I hadn't done this in over five
years, so it takes a minute to get it back. I felt like the first day was
confusing. After that... she's so damned good!
Slezak: Oh, stop it.
Derwin: Now, my first meeting with her -
when I found out - I didn't know who she was [raucous laughter]! I'm just
kidding. No, when Jill got me on the phone and said, 'We're thinking of hooking
you up with Erika Slezak,' I was like, 'Hang on a second!' I was so flattered
that they'd even think of it because I only knew her from reputation. I'd seen
the show on occasion, but--
Slezak: This is such b.s.
Derwin (joking): I just knew what an
amazing woman she was. And I was honored. And privileged. This is only the
second time I've been in her [dressing] room. This is great.
Digest: How has the relationship between Viki and Ben changed?
Slezak: We had such fun in the beginning.
And since then, it's been really underdeveloped.
Derwin: Not that we're being negative.
Slezak: They've lost a lot of the romance
from the story. We keep trying to put it back in. The biggest thing between
these two characters is that they can't keep their hands off each other. That's
the attraction. They do have this slightly older woman - very slightly younger
Derwin: Very slight.
Slezak: A lot of the mail that I got in the
beginning was, 'Oh, it's so nice to see that they don't just retire you when you
hit 50 and say good-bye.'
Derwin: Wait a minute - you're 50?
Slezak: No, I'm not. I'm just lying.
Derwin: Round it off.
Slezak: And one of the things is the
incredible sexual attraction that these two have for each other, as well as the
Derwin (deadpans): And we have it on
Digest: You guys are going on the road with this routine, right?
Slezak: I'm sending him off by himself. He
takes his Spauldeen and he goes off [pausing]. The relationship hasn't been
developed. They kind of jumped us ahead to having been together for [the
equivalent of] six years. A lot of the audience doesn't like that, because they
want to see very little steps along the way. And so do we. Now I think they have
to go back and work on this relationship, to find out how you move from step one
to step B.
Derwin: That's what's wrong! They're going
from one to B!
Slezak (ignoring him): They kind of went,
'Oh, this is fine. They had their [love] scene in the attic, now we can move on,
we don't have to deal with that any more.' A lot of the audience wants to see
that. And so do I!
Digest: Ben and Viki are good, honest people - how can they survive
together in the topsy-turvey world of Llanview?
Slezak: You take the material they give you
and you fix it [laughs] - and you adapt. Working with him, it's easy to keep
things fresh, because we never know what he's going to do.
Derwin: The key, though, is we enjoy
working with each other so much. When we go out there, we're happy to be there.
And my goal is to throw as much as I can at her because Erika catches it and
throws it back like [Yankee shortstop] Derek Jeter.
Slezak: He throws things in that are so
charming and so sweet and so --Ben to Blondie.
Derwin: One week we sat on the sofa--
remember our legs?
Slezak: The leg sandwich thing. We were
both sitting on the sofa like this [scoots toward Derwin] close together, and I
was siting like this [sets one leg in Derwin's] and he threw his leg over mine
in the rehearsal. So I just threw the other leg and he put the other leg over
that. We had a little leg sandwich. That's what makes this relationship totally
different from any other one. There's no other characters on the show who do
that. Viki's never had someone who loved her, who treated her that way.
Digest: Clint wouldn't do the leg sandwich.
Slezak: No, no.
Derwin(deadpans): You know, once he tried
to do one to me.
Slezak: I think it's absolutely adorable.
We just have a lot of fun. We don't really care if it works, we're just having
Digest: What has the fan reaction been like?
Slezak: They adore us. Why shouldn't they?
We're the cutest couple on daytime[laughs]!
Derwin: Prime-time, too. They dig it.
Slezak: Of course, in the beginning I got
some mail, 'Nobody will ever replace Clint, go get Clint back,' but all that has
stopped. They did send fuzzy dice - Clint with a heart attached and Ben crossed
out [pointing over her shoulder where the dice are hanging from a bulletin
board.]. I took all the Bens that were crossed out and put arrows on them so
that it became a heart. There were people who didn't want to let go of Clint,
but you can't stop the show, you've got to move on. Move on, folks.
Derwin: I like getting dice in the mail.
Feel free to send more. [Speaking to fans] I need a new ball, a little
Spauldeen, if you want to write 'Ben sucks' on that.
Digest: Does Ben ever feel lost in the shuffle? He moves into Llanfair
and it's like Grand Central Station in there.
Derwin: As long at they leave my blood on
the stairs, I feel at home.
Slezak: He has to mark his territory.
Derwin: But not lost in the shuffle. Viki's
made him very comfortable there. He gets along great with Kevin, they've become
pretty good friends.
Slezak: Kevin doesn't live there, though.
Derwin: He shows up a lot. Jessica lives
there and it's so obvious she has a crush on Ben [laughs]. Painfully obvious. I
think Joey does, too. For now, what we're trying to regain is what we had in the
beginning. Everyone's working to get it back, using the characters' strengths.
Digest: It seems to be working - and you two seem to be having a
Slezak: It's fabulous. There's plenty here
for your story, right?
Slezak: I thought so. If you wanted, you
could just put, 'Blah, blah, blah, blah all over the place and end with 'and
then they laughed.'