Biography | Library | Emmys | OLTL's Viki | Official Fan Club | About site  
Home Email  
More Articles
71 Spoiled with Love
72 DTV Cover
72 Memories Family
73 Lived like Gypsy
74 Not Ready
74 Miss SuperCool
75 Life Story
76 Five Years
76 Sensitive
77 SOD Cover
77 Surprised
77 ATVA Cover
77 RBD Cover
77 Lost her Touch
77 Daytime Stars
77 Like Yesterday
78 DTV Cover
78 Long Distance
78 My Rules
79 SOD Cover
79 Don't Step

70s Favorite Holiday
70s Loving Memories
70s Most Popular
70s Viki's Life Story
70s SOD Cover

80 On Her Own
81 So happy
81 More Children
81 2nd Pregnancy
81 Will she
83 ATV Cover
83 SOD Cover
83 Good Life
84 Bouncing Back
85 Niki Smith
86 Viva Miss Viki
88 Own Life
88 OLTL 20 years
89 Private Lives

90 Share Alike
90 American Dynasty
90 Day in Life
90 Shattering Myth
91 SOW Cover
91 Leading Lady
91 Two Emmys
91 DTV Cover
91 Lady of Manor
91 No Substitutes
91 20 Quotes
92 SOW Cover
92 Episodes Cover
92 Lunchtime Fav
92 SOM Cover
93 SOD Cover
93 OLTL 25 Yrs
94 New Age Innoc
95 SOM Cover
95 24 Years
95 SOW Cover M
95 SOW Cover A
95 With Reservations
95 SOW Cover O
96 Victorious
96 Thank the Lord
96 Her Life to Live
96 Multiplicity
96 In Step
97 Adores Her Job
97 One Life to Give
97 Who Says
98 30 Something
98 Life's Work
99 High Notes
99 SOD Cover
99 Changing Times
99 When Blondie
99 SID Cover
99 SOW Cover
99 TV Guide Online

00 Daytime Divas
00 SOW Cover
00 The Babe
00 Performer
00 Life Goes On
00 Tell All
00 Will Survive
00 Incomparable
00 SOD Cover
00 To the Mob
00 Promo
00 SID Cover
00 Last Chance
01 Thanks
01 Sentinel
01 Regis
01 Pictoral
01 Big 3 0
01 Click
01 Roundup
01 Good Show
01 Celebrates
01 Tribute
01 SID Cover A
01 Wedding
01 Soap Net 1
01 Soap Net 2
01 Soap Net 3
01 Time To
01 Secrets
01 Luncheon
01 OLTL Luncheon
01 Emmys
01 Perf of Week
01 SID Cover J
01 Fight
01 Wild Nightmare
01 Inmates
01 Real Life Love
01 Postcard
01 SOW Cover
01 Reveals
01 Changeling
02 Dear Niki
02 Promo
02 SOW Cover
02 Together
02 SOU Cover
Erika Slezak Library

Soap Opera Weekly
March 26, 1991, Volume 2 Issue 13

20 Years Of Viki Through The Eyes Of Erika Slezak Llanview's Leading Lady

By: Freeman Gunter

HER FATHER WALTER WAS A renowned and beloved actor/comedian of the international stage and screen; her grandfather Leo, a magnificent tenor, was one of the golden voices of operatic history. With these bloodlines, and a diploma from London's prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, Erika Slezak was headed toward a career in classical drama when she won the role of Victoria Lord on One Life to Live. She liked it. She stayed.

That was 20 years ago, and what has happened from that day to this is now firmly engraved in the ongoing annals of television history. The long, suffering Viki is arguably the classic soap opera heroine, a modern-day Pauline with a never-ending supply of perils to surmount. And surmount them she does with a dazzling, virtuoso style that has earned Slezak two Emmy awards, and with warmth and heart enough to capture the devotion of an army of admirers.

When a new actor appears on OLTL, the first person to greet him and show him around is Erika Slezak. Why would she bother to add welcome wagon to her already formidable list of responsibilities?

ERIKA SLEZAK: I remember how frightened I was, that feeling of "Oh, my God, what if I throw up? What if I forget my lines?" I always try to put people at their ease, especially if it's a new contract player. They see everybody so busy, so confident and part of things, bantering and joking around, and they don't even know where the bathroom is. I try to make them comfortable because to my dying day I will not forget the ones who did that for me on my first day. I was a 23-year-old- frightened-to-death kid.

FREEMAN GUNTER: Did you have any inkling what your first day on the job would lead to?

ES: I came from doing repertory theater. 1 never had a job that lasted longer than eight or nine months at a time. When I was offered this job, they gave me at two-year contract. My father was dancing on the rooftop, saying,"Two years, two years! How wonderful!" Suddenly, the two years were up and I wondered, "Where did they go?" I called my agent and said I'd like to stay. And thats kind of the last thing I remember.

Next thing I know; somebody is telling me, "You've been here 20 years." That stopped me in my tracks because 20 years is a very long time. It's all gone by me because I've kept so busy. They've kept it fun and interesting for me. There was a period in the middle when it wasn't that much fun. But then when Paul Rauch (the current producer) came, he refocused the show and made it fun again. Since he arrived, I've done nothing but hop back and forth between heaved and earth, Eterna and the Old West, Viki and Niki. He doesn't let me sit still for long.

FG: An actress working in films or on stage can always turn down a script that doesn't suit her, but you're in this for the duration. What do you do when you are handed pages that strain credibility?

ES:You just do it. I have no input with the writers. We have a nice relationship, but I do hot presume to tell them how to do their work. They are kind enough to allow me to make a suggestion every now and then, and I certainly would not abuse-the privilege. If I have a problem I go to Paul and he either says, "Do it, tough," in which case I do it, tough. Or he says,"Let me see what I can do." But this comes up very rarely because, quite frankly, this is not real life.

Sometimes I say, "How can they do this to my character? All these years of working on her, trying to make her credible, and then they suddenly do this!" But I quickly come to my senses. I hit myself in the head and say, "Hey this is TV! This is not real life. If it were real life, we wouldn't do half this stuff." Viki does things no mother in her right mind would do.

FG: Is there anything that would make you absolutely put your foot down and refuse to have Viki go. through if they suggested it?

ES: Nothing that I can think of, because on television you can do anything to anyone and explain it away. You can go to heaven and have a wonderful experience there and if you want to make it real, you say, "Fine. It was all in her mind. She was in a coma and she dreamed it." The Old West was a bit like that. I loved that story.

FG: That's when I fell in love with you as an actress. This character, Miss Ginny, was not Viki's opposite as Niki is. She was very much like Viki, and yet there were subtle differences. There was a gallantry about her that often moved me to tears.

ES: Thank you. I have to tell you that of all the years I've played on this soap, she's my very, very favorite character. It was the first time that I took a lady from scratch because Victoria was established when I came. She was already who she was and I had been preceded by a wonderful actress, Gillian Spencer. But Ginny was mine from the beginning.

“When I first joined the show, Erika was very, very pregnant.
She used to literally run from her dressing room upstairs to her set.
She had all this energy and. I'd scream, 'Slow down!' She'd yell, 'I'm alright!' ”
-Robert S. Woods

Paul asked me what I could do to make her different, not just a prim, proper schoolteacher. I told him, "No, she's not prim. She's a frightened little girl; and during the period of the story; she's going to grow up." And that's exactly what she did. She went through all the stages that a child goes through in growing up, and she had to do it in three months. She had almost given up on life and then she fell in love; desperately, like a schoolgirl. She had to throw herself at Clint and deal with the embarrassment and shame of that, of begging him to make love to her, which you didn't do in those days. And then when she came out of it all, the final relationship with Randolph which was so satisfactory, so mature.

There was a joy, an; excitement, a sweetnesss and a vulnerability about her that I just loved. I loved her very much and I missed her for quite a while afterwards. I love the whole period; I felt comfortable in the clothes and with the kind of primness of that time. If only they hadn't had what we jokingly called "the revolving door" out in the desert with Clear Eyes. If they hadn't crossed that line, the whole thing would have been very realistic.

FG: Longtime fans of OLTL remember Lee Patterson as Joe Riley. Of course Clint is Viki's one true love, but in the beginning it was Joe. How would you compare Viki's love for Joe with her love for Clint?

ES: I think every woman at some point has loved someone she's not supposed to love. Maybe the family doesn't approve or he's not good enough. Viki took a risk in loving Joe. He was the Irishman from the other side of the tracks. Victor Lord hated him, thought he was an opportunist. But Viki loved him with a great passion. He was a young woman's first passionate love. Clint was a much more mature love, a very 'deep love, and they've certainly been through, God knows, everything together .

But did you know that Bob Woods (Bo) was originally brought onto the show for Viki? When I was 8 months pregnant, I did Bob's audition tape. Then I left to have my baby. I didn't watch the show for a month and a half and when I tuned in, there was Bo having a love scene with Pat Ashley (Jacqueline Courtney). Jokingly, I called Joe Stuart (the producer at that time) and said, "Hi, it's Erika. I just turned on the show and not only did you give away my coffee cup, you gave away my boyfriend!" He was not amused. He said, "It's my show and I'll do what I want with it."

FG: In this notoriously youth-oriented medium, consistently you have had front-burner, romantic storylines, the kind usually given to teen-agers in bikinis.

ES: Quite frankly, I credit my producers, all of them, for being intelligent enough to realize that the world is not peopled with 21-year-olds. The people who buy TV sets and set viewing patterns are older - in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and older. Just because you get older doesn't mean you get uninteresting.

FG: Nevertheless, that is the perception in the industry.

ES: The Young and the Restless came on and declared that everybody had to be under 30. Oh, please! Tune in today and you'll see they're all over 30 now!

FG: They come and go, but Viki is still viable.

ES: I have to say I've been extremely lucky in two things: My producer has always seen that people don't necessarily lose it as they get older, Hell, I'm not old. I'm 44. I have also been lucky in that I've always had very handsome and sexy leading men - big, strong, sexy guys with - a lot of you know what.

FG: Let's talk about the Emmys. How do you feel about them?

ES: I am very proud of my Emmys. That's an understatement. I am extraordinarily proud of my Emmys. They are in my living room. My father won a Tony award for the musical Fanny in 1955 and his Tony is there, too. Everytime I look at those Emmys I think "Whoa! Those are really mine!" It means everything in the world to me that somebody thought I was that special and that good to give me those golden statues. I am proud and very grateful.

FG: I hoped you'd win in '89 for the Miss Ginny storyline.

ES: Quite frankly, between you and me, I hoped that I would win that year, too, because I was very proud of that work. But I wasn't even nominated. I really can't complain, though. I don't knock the Emmys because I believe they are a real inspiration, something to work for and to hope for.

FG: It must have been thrilling to work with your dad on the show. Whose idea was that?

ES: Doris Quinlan, the producer. I think she thought of it the minute she first hired me. She became close friends with both my parents and she bugged and bugged my father to make a guest appearance on the

“The woman is an awesome talent, a complete professional
who can handle any task no matter how impossible
- and believe me, some of them are - and make it live.
In her presence I am rendered an admiring and speechless beginner.”
-Tony Call

show. Finally, he was scheduled to be in New York for some other reason and Doris got him to agree to appear for five days. Other than a tiny part I once played in something he was starring in, this was the first and only time we ever got to work together. And it was worth it. I already had a father on the show, so they made him my godfather from Europe who hadn't seen me in many years. My father asked the writer, Gordon Russell, if he'd mind if he made a few changes in the script. My father rewrote the whole thing. He was supposed to say, "Victoria, you are so beautiful. As beautiful as I remember you." Of course, when it came to taping he said; "Victoria, you are so beautiful. You could be my own daughter." In those days, we didn't stop the tape, so I had to play the rest of the scene in tears. He used to do that to me a lot."

FG: I suppose you still don't stop tape if you can help it.

ES: They stop tape all the time now, for any reason at all.

FG: Do you like it better running or stopping?

ES: I like it better running. I don't like stopping because you lose momentum and you lose interest. You lose everything, all the energy of the scene. Also, in those days, everybody knew their lines.

FG: Are you saying there is less discipline in daytime TV these days?

ES: Now, you've got me on my favorite subject. Yes, there is a total disintegration of discipline, and I swear it exists in young people and by young people. The people who came from a background of theater come from a tradition of discipline. You can't show up late and you must be prepared. Then came television. It made instant stars out of everybody. I don't mean old television, I mean this [television today].

Now these kids come on, they've been here 20 minutes, somebody writes one article about them - new star of daytime TV! - and you can't talk to them anymore. "I'm a star. It says so right here!" A lot of these kids come from acting schools, a lot of them don't. A lot of them can barely walk and talk at the same time, but they are on TV and they're making $50,000 to $80,000 a year to start. "No director is going to tell me what to do. If I want to fool around and talk during a scene, I will!" They are rude, they are crass and they are ignorant.

I am appalled at how people treat directors, how they talk back to them. Granted, I come from a very old-fashionied home where I was taught never to address an adult by his first name until you have been given permission to do so. That's the way I was raised, but not everybody's raised that way. My children are being raised that way, though. obviously, things have changed a lot. There is no longer a craft, an art. It's just a job for a lot of these kids. They hire the pretty ones; the network wants to see those numbers.

At the Royal Academy, the one thing they taught me from day one was discipline. You can drop a floor lamp on the stage and I wouldn't hear it because I was trained to focus on what I'm doing. I was trained in a whole different kind of theater, but it's easily adaptable. There is no such thing as soap acting. There's acting, period. It's the art of making people believe you, of being witty, being entertaining, breaking hearts. It's about giving of yourself.

It may not be entirely their fault, but not many of the new actors are willing to give anything of themselves. One actress on our show, for example, is uncomfortable with any touching,

“Sometimes, when we are doing a sensitive scene, during dress
rehearsal Erika will make a face…she puckers her lips, crosses her eye
and looks down at her nose. It absolutely gets to me every time.
It's worked on me for 12 years. “
-Clint Ritchie

physical contact, kissing or displays of warmth. She always cuts these things out of her script. Now I am sure there are reasons for this, but that's not why she's an actress. These people don't realize that they are not playing themselves. It is not they who are doing these things, it is their character. We are here to portray a character, not to suit ourselves.

Nowadays they cast to type. They don't even look at guys who are not gorgeous. A good actor can make you believe he's gorgeous. He can make you believe anything. That's his job.

FG: If Viki should die tomorrow, what would her epitaph be?

ES: One thing that's always been true about Victoria is that she does what she thinks is right in every situation. Most of the time she's right; sometimes she's horribly wrong. Her epitaph would be: "She did her best."

Biography | Library | Emmys | OLTL's Viki | Official Fan Club | About site
Copyright 2002 ESFC    Home    -   Email