Soap Opera Digest
April 3, 2001
Volume 26, No. 14
By: Randee Dawn
day I was in a fog, I was so panicked.
It was the worst and best day of my
I kept thinking. I gotta do good or they'll fire
---Erika Slezak (Digest, January, 1977)
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!"