TV Guide Online
Erika Slezak Interview
By: Jonathan Reiner
Year after year, trial after tribulation, stately Erika Slezak breathes life
into One Life to Live's Victoria Lord Carpenter, the seminal soap heroine. We
can count on Viki to always do the right thing and never, ever use a
contraction, and we can count on Slezak to always give the audience 100 percent,
even when the material doesn't deserve it.
The same dedication extends into Slezak's personal life. She is blessed with
a dashing, talented husband (Broadway actor Brian Davies) and two
college-aged children (Michael and Amanda), and is quite devoted to them. Oh,
and did we mention she used to breed dogs? What can't this woman do? Jonathan
I was particularly taken by yesterday's air show. [This interview was done
immediately following Grace's death.] There were many scenes of Tim Gibbs
(Kevin) crying, but I was also affected by your performance. You didn't have
many lines, but something with your expression... you were able to convey so
much emotion. Is it more difficult when you have long, heart-pounding monologues
and you have to get a certain point across, or when you have so few words?
Very often it's much harder with the words. The words, as hard as our writers
work to make it work, sometimes get in the way. If you have ever been in a real
tragic or sad situation, the words that come out are hopelessly inadequate and
kind of cliched. And that's real. And sometimes people sit there and they say
absolutely nothing, and that is the saddest thing in the world — but you can't
do that on television. You have to say something. So when they give you a scene
when you can just really react and listen and pay attention and play the
emotion, it's a pleasure sometimes. And Timmy was so good, you know.
Oh, he was. I was also noticing how long the scenes were. In this day and
age we don't get to see scenes that long anymore.
They really wanted to hang on that because [Grace's death] is going to have
so many repercussions, so they were long. I was surprised.
The romance with Ben has sort of taken a back seat and now we're seeing
stuff with Skye and Ben's vendetta against Asa, but through it all Viki hardly
ever loses her composure. As an actress, is that sometimes frustrating?
Yes, it is. We have to imagine we [as characters] have a very full life off
camera, that lots of stuff goes on off camera, because there's not enough time
to put it all oncamera. She certainly lost her composure with Skye a couple of
times. I'm sure she goes home and throws things.
But we so rarely see Viki cut loose.
And, you know, that's part of who she is. You probably won't see it. When she
does, she does it in a very controlled manner. That's probably the saddest thing
about her. That's how she was raised. And even though the alters are integrated
now, she finds it hard to totally be Niki or Tori and just let it all go. Viki
will probably end up with a terrible ulcer someday because she doesn't let
But I think that's something that the fans appreciate — you know you can
count on Viki for a certain stability regardless of what the situation is.
There are people in this world you always look to because they do the right
thing. Viki is of those people, when she is all herself. She does the right
thing and tries to think it through, and sometimes she strays but she eventually
always comes back to it, which is why she is such a good character.
Is it more fun for you to play the stiff upper lip, or do you enjoy scenes
where she gets into it with Dorian?
I enjoy them both. The stiff upper lip is hard to do because you have to
convey exactly what you mean without being able to raise your voice. You know,
if you think about it, the most powerful people on this earth probably never
raise their voices — they just say it and people hop to, because they have that
power. They don't need to shout.
It's funny that you say that, because on the opposite end of the spectrum
we have a character like Asa, who I don't think ever lowers his voice.
Yeah, but that's because that's just who Asa is. He has the same kind of
power, where he can easily just sit at his desk and quietly say anything he
wants and it will be done, but that's not the character he is. He's loud, a very
Before we started the interview you were talking about being a mother...
now that the kids are grown
Well, not completely. My daughter is a freshman in college and my son is —
well, our daughter and our son — is a sophomore in college. So they come home on
selected weekends, they come home on vacations and they're home in the summer,
although they have jobs. It's a gentle kind of weaning. I thought it was going
to be awful, but in fact I'm quite enjoying it because when I do get to see them
it's this marvelous kind of reunion.
I'm going down to Washington tomorrow for Parents' Weekend (Michael attends
Georgetown). I'm so looking forward to it. Michael said to me, "Well, what do
you want to do Mom?" and I said, "I don't care. We'll just hang out." Were going
to go to the zoo — they have baby tigers there. He said, "Do you want to see the
Hope Diamond?" I said yes, so were going to go see the Hope Diamond and do a
little antique shopping because there are some nifty little stores in
Georgetown. Sunday morning we'll go to mass together because they have a
beautiful chapel there, and then I'll fly home in the afternoon.
You've raised such a great son — he goes to mass without even you forcing
I have to tell you something curious. From the time he was a baby I would say
every Sunday, "OK, we're going to mass at such and such a time," and both kids
would look at me as if this were the first time they had heard it. They would
say, "What? What?" and I would say, "Why are you asking me this. We go every
Sunday", or almost every Sunday."
I thought, well, Michael is going to college, that will be it — he'll never
see the inside of a church again! And he called me the second week of school and
he said, "Yeah, I went to mass last Sunday...." I didn't say anything and my
heart just started pounding, and I said "Really, you're going to mass on your
own?" And he said "Yeah, there is a bunch of us we go at 11 at night."
Georgetown is nothing if not accommodating to Catholic students. And I have to
say thank you to the friends, too, because they call him and say, "Come on,
I don't know how important his religion is to him. I certainly know what it
means to me. My goal was to give them the basis and the beliefs. That's very
important, certainly, in my life. I want it to be a part of their lives so they
will always know who they are and where they come from. And it's been very good
for both of them, I think.
That's wonderful. I think it's a mother's dream come true to see it work out
that way. Not just the mother, but certainly parents, to know that their
children have a very solid moral foundation and religious foundation.
Now Brian is not going down to Georgetown because he's in the musical
version of The Dead -- he seems to be doing more projects than usual.
He's in this very sweet movie call Man of the Century, which just opened, but
yes, Brian really kicked back on his own when Amanda was a baby. We had a long
talk about it, and he was spending a lot of time in California working there and
he didn't really want to spend all his time out there and have his children and
his wife on the East Coast. He said, "I would rather just come home. I will work
when I can but I don't really have to. I'm going to get great pleasure out of
raising my children." And that's what he's done.
He's worked when there's been work, but there's not a lot of work. He drove
them to swimming. He supervised the homework when I wasn't there. He picked them
up from school and he drove them to school in the morning. He was wonderful and
he was always there for them. And I was there a lot of the time — not most of
the time but a lot of the time. I was always home in the evenings. But during
the daytime there was always a parent there. And it's very important — you can't
just turn them over to somebody else to raise them. So we worked it out, and he
started rehearsals [for The Dead] the day before we moved Amanda into college.
So the timing was so unbelievable.
Now that both kids are in college, are you sort of itching to do outside
projects that you couldn't do because you needed to be home?
What sort of stuff?
Oh, God, I would love to go and do a play someplace. I mean, I don't
necessarily want to leave because I have this job, but I would love to do a good
play. I haven't been on the stage in a long time. I've probably forgotten how to
do it, but "I'm sure Brian will help. He'll remind me." [she laughs]
I know that you gave Robin Strasser (Dorian) some advice during her dog
Scooter's pregnancy. I didn't know you bred dogs.
Yes. We owned a bearded collie for many years. Sophie. She was old, and she
died last year. Sophie had two litters, both born at our house, and we did the
whole thing. We bred her to the best Beardy in the country and we were the
midwives. We learned a lot. It's quite an experience. We did it because she was
a beautiful dog and we wanted to continue the breed. But also, it's a wonderful
thing for children to see the birthing of puppies, to see nature at its best
when it works and to have the experience of the puppies. At one time we had four
dogs, but we only have two now — a Beardy and a Maltese.
Do you keep track of the puppies?
Not really, no. They went all over the country. One of them actually lives in
Puerto Rico. I don't even know where the others are. I have no idea. I know who
they were sold to, but people come into New York if they know there's a breeder
there and then they go back to wherever the heck they came from!