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Erika Slezak Library

Soap Opera Digest
April 3, 2001
Volume 26, No. 14

Good Show

By: Randee Dawn

"My first day I was in a fog, I was so panicked.
It was the worst and best day of my life.
I kept thinking.  I gotta do good or they'll fire me."

---Erika Slezak (Digest, January, 1977)

She did good. Real good.

That's why 30 years later (as of March 17, 2001), Erika Slezak not only remains at One Life to Live as Viki, but she presides as the show's resident icon, standard-bearer...and mom.  Though she may not have felt sure of herself on that first day in 1971, it seems probably that Slezak projected an image not unlike the one she does today:  Cherub-cheeked sweetness masking a just-below-the-surface layer of well-spoken self-assuredness, intelligence and competence.

All personality traits fans have come to read in Viki, which is one of the reasons she's been so beloved for so many years.  "Getting this job was manna from heaven," insists Slezak.  "And it has remained so.  It worked out with my life:  I've been able to raise my family and be home most of the time.  I get home in the evenings, I do homework - not anymore"  [son and daughter Michael and Amanda] are in college - but it's been fabulous."

Acting's always been in the blood for Slezak, whose late father, Walter, appeared in such films as Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat and on-stage (he won a Tony award for Fanny on Broadway); her grandfather was a famous opera singer. Erika attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, then hit the stage in America as part of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.  She was in Buffalo, New York playing Desdemona in Othello when she learned an earlier audition had won her the role of Viki on OLTL.

Where she stayed, through good and bad, taking the attitude she learned on-stage to the small screen:  Do your best, always.  "Whether you stay a week or year or four years, use it," she says, advice Slezak has taken to heart.  "You learn to speak, to walk, talk and do it all properly.  And don't negate what we do here, which I've seen over the past years.  This is one big part of our business that provides entertainment to an awful lot of people, and we owe it to them to give as good a performance as if we were being paid like nighttime people or movie people.  Which we're not."

That doesn't mean Slezak has been a fan of every story she's been a part of or actor she's worked with.  "Sometimes stories are so preposterous, or sometimes you're working with people who make it a chore.  They're not people you'd want to wake up every morning and run in to work with.  I've had very few of those. But those periods don't last long." 

In fact, Viki's current intense relationship with new hubby Ben is, says Slezak, her happiest time on the show - no small feat.  "Not to negate what's happened in the past," she allows, "but you come to work and go, "Oh, this is nice, I like having this job, I like the people I work with."  "If it weren't getting better, I would have left a long time ago."

Not that she hasn't had a few regrets, like continuing her theater career, which is where she'd always expected to end up.  Though she took time in 1996 to make her prime-time debut in the made-for-TV film Danielle Steel's Full Circle, Slezak has kept her career very focused on daytime.  "I've been here so long that I'm not somebody's first choice when they come to cast a big role on Broadway," she notes.  "I haven't done anything."  When I left drama school, I was going to be the great theater actress, and it didn't work out that way.  But there are so many pluses that you can't really focus on the minuses.  I might be waiting tables somewhere, out of work!"

Though it seems unlikely she could ever take leave of Llanview, Slezak explains that every time she sits down for a new contract, there is always that possibility, "Each time, I'm quite prepared that if it doesn't work out, I'll go somewhere else, with many thanks to ABC.  You can't ever say this is going to be forever.  I never thought, "Forever."

An attitude that makes her the kind of actress others at OLTL look to for guidance (see sidebar).  For three decades, soaps may have been good to Erika Slezak - but having someone of her caliber around has been very good for soaps. Mad about the Girl

Erika Slezak's a favorite in Llanview - and with the OLTL cast and crew; past and present, who couldn't imagine the show without her:

Robert S. Woods (Bo):  "Erika was very influential in getting me the part of Bo - watching her response to all of the [actors trying out for the role] on the audition tape is like a lesson in screen tests.  Then, the fact that she went into the control room after the test and said, 'My guy is [Woods]', that didn't hurt."

Robin Strasser (ex-Dorian):  "When I won my one Emmy for 1981-1982, Erika very graciously congratulated me.  And I said, 'Well I think next year is your turn.' And she said, 'Oh no, I'm not the kind of actress who wins Emmy Awards.'  And she went on to win five - with equal graciousness!"

Erin Torpey (Jessica): "Every day she acts like it's her first.  She's the best second mom anyone could ask for."

Michael Storm (Larry):  "From the first day Erika joined One Life to Live, she brought class and dignity to the show.  I have done some of my best work as an actor in scenes with Erika.  She brings out the best in everyone."

Timothy Stickney (RJ):  "I used to watch her rehearse because first thing in the morning, she would know your lines, her lines, the cut lines, which lights were working.  I was afraid not to know my lines.  She'd know them!"

Judith Light (ex-Karen):  "We both had been at the Milwaukee Rep, but we'd never worked there together.  I heard all these incredible things about her.  Then, when I went to OLTL, I was excited because I knew I was going to work with her.  She taught me how to work on a soap opera.  During [Karen's] trial sequences, the devotion Karen had to Viki in that whole storyline was how I felt about Erika.  She was a real model and an inspiration.

Frank Valentini (Supervising Producer):  "I've had the pleasure of working with Erika for 16 years, and not only has she been a terrific actor to work with and an incredible professional to learn from, she's also been a great friend."

Catherine Hickland (Lindsay):  "She's an amazing actress, but she is intimidating because you're terrified you're going to go up on your lines and cause her to do take two."

Hillary B. Smith (Nora):  "To work with her is a real treat; to watch her work is always a delight.  As long as she's here, the show is here."

Larry Pine (ex-Roger):  " I once asked, 'How come you have done this for so many years?' And she said her father said, 'Never, ever quit a job.'  One time, I was doing a scene with her when she had a stroke, and she started doing this eye-blinking, face-twisting thing.  I started laughing.  And she said, 'No, no, I've done research; this is how it works!'  People put down soaps as being a quick fix, but she does the kind of work that any actor would do for a major stage or film role."

Andrea Evans (ex-Tina):  "When I first came to OLTL, it was my first time living away from home.  It was very scary, and I was so young.  And Erika really took me under her wing.  One of my first days at the show, she walked me back from the studio to where I was staying so I could see where to go!"

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