Daytimers Diary No. 45 1984
Bouncing Back--For One Life to Live's Erika Slezak, 1984 was a year of high highs and low lows
By Francine L. Trevens
Erika Slezak (Victoria Riley on One Life to Live) has always been close to her family – first it was Mom, Dad, her sister and brother, and now it's husband Brian Davies, and their children Michael and Amanda.
In 1984, one of the links of that first family was broken. On August 10th, (in the middle of Erika's five week vacation), Erika's mother, traveling in Europe with a friend, died of heart failure. Erika and Brian flew over to Europe, and then returned to the little house on cape Cod to resume the vacation they all needed.
It was an unexpected blow to the actress who had just received the highest award of her profession, the Emmy for her work on One Life to Live.
“I was very excited when I heard I won. Of course, I always said it was the nomination that counted, it didn't matter who won…but it was terrific wining. Thrilling. It's good to have your peers say you're the best, but it is still very thrilling.”
Erika claims the award made no real difference in her life, except “I know I won it, and it's very nice to be recognized after 14 years in the same role. But I've always worked hard, nothing I did that year was any different than what I did before.”
However, what she does in the future promises to be a bit different – though not because of the Emmy. There is a new producer and new writers on the show, and that means some changes.
"Of course, the nature of soaps is changing it isn't just he-she anymore, it includes more issues, it competes with nighttime television."
As to how hard she and the others on the soap work; Erika spoke of having been on the set two nights prior to our discussion until 1 A.M.
“They were filming Cassie's birthday party, and of course, that took a lot of time,” she explained. Yet actors who report to work at 7:15 in the morning can hardly be expected to be at their best 17 or 18 hours later.
“But actors on soaps are so used to doing what's asked of them, that you do it. So often we don't start taping till five or six at night. Just when other people are home having dinner – and you could go for a martini and some dinner yourself – you start doing the show… that old 'show must go on' syndrome.
“If we complain that we're tired then the guys in the control room say so are they –but the difference is they can sit down, put their feet up, and they don't have to look terrific. But, of course, they're tired too.”
Asked how she and Victoria Riley differ, Erika said, “The biggest difference is that Victoria has a lot of money. Erika doesn't. I wish we were both rich.”
She didn't see too many other differences, but felt one reason for that was that when they cast for soaps, they know what they want someone to look like. “They wanted my look for Victoria, my natural speech pattern. When I play Victoria I'm more sophisticated.”
We got to talking about her husband, Brian Davies, who used to be on the show and she joked. “They killed him off, but he died very well.” Brian is now busy with several friends establishing a new play-producing company.
Erika, however, does not anticipate acting on stage. “I'd never see my family then,” she moaned. “I spend all my time with the family when I can. I'm either here, or I'm at home.”
When she was growing up, Erika always accompanied her father, actor Walter Slezak, on his various opera engagements, film assignments or fun trips. She and Brian generally include the children in their vacations, too.
“We might as well. Two years ago Brian and I went to London without Michael and Amanda and I called home twice a day. It's better to have them with us.”
But that doesn't mean they take no time alone. “Sometimes Brian will say “let's go have supper out, just the two of us.” Last night, we fed the children in the kitchen and dined alone in the dining room and it was wonderful. Romantic.”
She and Brian also take three or four weekends without the children. After all, working 14-18 hours a day and being Mommy to a five and a three-year-old isn't easy, so they do take off by themselves for a little romantic time.
Erika recalled how, when she was about 11 or 12 and her brother was about nine, she came home from school and was told they were going to Rome. Their father was there filming a picture and it had been extended two weeks. He'd said the only way he could stay to finish Come September would be if his family – could come over. So fly they did, to be met by Erika's Mom and Dad.
“So many children in acting households never see their parents. That's not good. It was hard on Mommy when Dad made films and we were older and didn't travel with him everywhere. She was on an airplane all the time, dividing time between him and us.
“We were an extremely close family, and now Brian and I and the children are the same. I think we all always try to model our families after what we knew when we grew up, that's part of the problem and part of the good things.”
Whenever possible, Brian, Erika and their youngsters have dinner together – but with her schedule and his, it's not always possible.
Recently, the kids were impressed by Erika's Emmy. “Mommy won a reward,” they said.
“I'm pleased to have won it – now I can't wait to get it,” Erika admitted. The actual “reward” would take 6 months to arrive, inscribed and all.
“You see, there's this little old Swiss – no, I'm kidding,” she laughed.
“My husband's pleased as punch by my winning the Emmy. Even the fire chief where I live – I was going down the hill to catch the train and he said, 'congratulations on your fancy pants award,' but he meant it in the nicest way.”
Erika is pleased that the soaps are changing. “It's not just pouring coffee and doing sob stories anymore. It's fun!” We have more depth as characters, and that's exciting for an actor.”
So despite the loss she suffered during the year, and the great shock it was at the time, Erika has been able to put that in perspective. As a mother, she knows it is the natural order of things. Whatever her personal loss and grief, she did not dwell on it. She looked ahead to the promise and the challenges upcoming. But, when asked what her plans were for the future, she admitted she didn't have any specific ones.
Who can tell what will happen in a year? A year ago, nominated for the Emmy, she had said that was all the counted. Now she admits winning was a great thrill. Who knows what the next year will bring…for her, or her family? Hopefully, more victories.