Soaps in Depth
April 3, 2001
Volume 5 Issue 14
Erika Slezak Celebrates 30 years
as Llanview's First Lady
On March 17, 1971, a
theater-trained actress by the name of Erika Slezak stepped onto the set of a
30-minute soap opera called One Life to Live with a two-year contract in
hand. In the three decades since, as the show doubled in length, the
five-time Daytime Emmy Award winner has taken her beloved character, Victoria
Lord Riley Burke Riley Buchanan Buchanan Carpenter Davidson, to heaven and
through time, and has depicted the newspaperwoman's triumphs over everything
from a stroke and multiple personality disorder to brainwashing and breast
cancer. Now wed to younger doctor Ben Davidson and fighting to sever his
ties to the Mob, the heroine is embroiled in yet another front burner storyline,
the likes of which have kept her portrayer intrigued for three decades.
To commemorate this special anniversary, and pay homage to Llanview's grande
dame, Soaps In Depth chatted with Slezak about the meaning of this amazing
Remembering Her Parents
SID: If someone had told you 30 years ago that you'd still be
playing Viki today, what would you have said?
ES: I couldn't imagine being in one place for that long, or that
a job could be that interesting. Jobs don't last that long in show
business. At the time, I had just come from repertory theater, where you
go from season to season, so a long-term job like this was unheard of.
SID: I know that your father [the late Tony-winning actor Walter
Slezak] was one of your greatest supporters. Do you think of him at times
ES: I think of my mother and father every day of my life.
My father died in 1983, and my mother in 1984, and there's not a day that goes
by that it doesn't hurt. When I was offered this job, my father was so
happy, he was dancing on the rooftop. They offered me a contract making
more money per day than I had made in a week. I think it was $220 a day,
and I had never made more than $195 per week in repertory. Of course, I
didn't realize that I wasn't going to be working every day, or that they could
fire me at any time! I can't imagine how proud my father would be to see
that I'm still making money [as an actor] after 30 years. Unfortunately,
he never lived to see me win an Emmy. I know he would have been proud.
Analyzing Her Character
SID: What is it about the character of Viki that has allowed her
to endure for this long?
ES: Viki was created in the mind of a very, very bright woman,
Agnes Nixon [the creator not only of OLTL, but of All My Children as
well]. She created this wonderful, very complex character who is basically
very good, but has had so many obstacles to overcome.
SID: Even though Viki is an affluent socialite, she's had a
broad appeal to all kinds of women. Why do you think that is?
ES: She never paraded her wealth and never treated anyone
differently, or badly, for having less. She never was a snob, and she
really crosses all social levels. Plus, she's suffered the same as
anyone. She's never [known] hunger or poverty, but her emotional and
psychological traumas have just been horrendous. And she's a survivor!
therapy scenes in which Viki's alternate personalities emerged "very very difficult but wonderful."
SID: What has been Viki's greatest struggle?
ES: Multiple-personality disorder, and the knowledge and
discovery that her father had abused her. He was the man she had
worshipped all her life, or believed she did, and when you build your whole life
on one foundation and that foundation is suddenly gone, you have to replace it
with something else because you don't know if your own two feet will stand under
you. She blocked it out for all these years, and the realization of it was
the most shattering thing. Also, having breast cancer [continues to be] a
struggle. She's facing her own mortality, and she's not ready to deal with
that quite yet.
Pondering Her Storyline
SID: Gina Russo is Viki's newest rival. How does she stack
up against her past nemeses?
ES: When Gina first appeared, there was a flood of mail about
how angry people were about bringing yet another obstacle to Ben and Viki's
[romance], but she's not an obstacle to Ben and Viki's love at all. Ben
would not leave Viki for anything. However, Gina turns out to be far more
dangerous than they ever suspected. She's going to be a serious, serious
threat - not to Ben and Viki's love, but a physical threat to Viki. But
there are some fun things that are going to come out of [the story] too.
loves Viki" asserts her portrayer of The Banner publisher's fifth
SID: How did you feel about the recent departure of Don Jeffcoat
- and yet another Joey?
ES: I've got a revolving-door kid! I don't presume to know
what they're thinking upstairs, but I think they ran out of story. I'm
always sorry to see my kids go, because I love them all. When they come
on, I treat them like my children and worry about them. Donny is such a
sweetie. I miss him.
SID: Viki's had one incredible story after another for the last
30 years. Is there anything else you wish for her?
ES: The one thing I am not is a writer, and I wouldn't trade
places with a headwriter for all the tea in China! I'm constantly amazed
that they come up with twists and stories for 30 different characters on 11
shows. But a lot of fans are writing letters saying that Ben and Viki
should have a baby - and I think that's a possibility. People want to
solidify the relationship. But does she want to deal with a baby? I
don't know, but it would be a good story for the two of them, and it would be
great for Ben to have a child-he would adore it. But they'd have to do it
SID: Could you ever imagine Viki being recast?
ES: I've never been so egotistical as to think that there's no
one else to play this part, because I was the fourth person to play it.
Obviously, there were other people who have played it, and played it very
well. I just happen to have hung on longer. I think everybody can be
replaced. If I ever were to leave, they would probably send Viki away for
six months, then replace her. It would be hard, because I've been there
for so long, but we have people just starting to watch every day, so for them it
would be the only Viki they'd ever known.
SID: What is your five-year plan?
ES: To be alive and healthy, to have my kids still like me, and
be with my husband and be happy. At one point, I'll say [to OLTL] "Thanks
for the last 30-some-odd years, it's been grand, goodbye." and I will go as
quietly as I came. But I've meant what I've said to you before-I've stayed
all these years because they've made it fun. I love to come to work, and
as long as they keep it interesting. I'm happy to be here."
become wonderful, interesting people," marvels the actress of Amanda and
Michael, her kids with hubby Michael Davies.
Scenes from a Life
Erika Slezak picks Viki's most memorable moments!
Although she has 30 years of incredible story from which to choose, the
actress manages to select highlights from her character's incredible journey.
Greatest Love: "Joe Riley! I'm firmly convinced that if
Joe hadn't died, he and Viki would still be married."
Best Kisser: "I'm taking the fifth...although..." (she
pauses.) "No, I'm taking the fifth!"
Best Love Scenes: "I never really had love scenes until Ben came
along - although Viki had a wonderful scene with Sloan in the library. I'd
have to say that the best love scenes have been with Ben."
Most emotional on-screen moment: "When Sloan died. I am so
fond of Roy Thinnes. He's a delightful man and a wonderful actor. At
the time, I said, 'Don't kill his character off.' They felt it was
necessary to have Sloan die to kick Viki into the multiple-personality story,
but I was destroyed all day."
Least favorite storyline: "When Carlo Hesser hired a
psychiatrist to hypnotize Viki to kill Kevin. I found it horrendous and
totally unbelievable. they cannot hypnotize you to do something you
wouldn't ordinarily do. And to kill you your own son...no way.
Viki's whole life is tied to her three kids!"
LIFE's Work: "My husband will tell you that if I wasn't working,
I'd go out of my mind," the performer confesses. "I don't know what to do
with myself on the weekend sometimes. I run around and clean closets."