She’s All Rock ‘n’ Roll
When Ilene Kristen was a little girl in Brooklyn, her father would drive the family into Manhattan every Sunday and they would look at Brownstones. Someday, they would own one and live in the Big City. Her father kept his promise. Brownstones seem to be a way of life for One Life to Live’s Roxanne "Roxy" Balsom. On a lovely tree-lined street on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Kristen could be the envy of most New Yorkers. She’s got space, she’s got light, and she’s got a boyfriend to die for. Surrounded by family photos that go back several generations, Kristen’s the kind of person you want for a friend. When I arrived, her handsome nephew was busy at the computer working on Kristen’s photos and publicity for an upcoming concert. A rock ‘n’ roll concert! At heart, and she’s got a big one, Ilene Kristen is all rock ‘n’ roll.
In the three and a half years that Kristen’s been on One Life, she’s received two Emmy nominations, a real compliment to her talents, and the only time the TV Academy has ever acknowledged this working girl’s extraordinary gifts. The morning the nominations were announced, she was a nervous wreck. “I was not working that day. I knew I couldn’t stay home and just watch. I was too crazy. So, I decided I would do the same thing I did last year, which was to try to get to Barnes and Noble. My friend Anthony Scavone called me. He got me way before I got to the bookstore. And, I ended up sitting on the church steps on 79th Street and crying. Like I did the last year at Barnes and Noble. I just was crying. I was very touched because that meant my peers really cared.”
People noticed her, but no one knew it was Kristen. She was wearing sunglasses and just sat there, a very happy woman, crying! Must have been a sight out there on Upper Broadway. Unfortunately, her boyfriend, Brian, was working so all she could do was leave a message for him, but she got to her parents, “They were really happy. And they thought it was a long shot.” Her parents aren’t soap fans, but they do watch the show. Kristen gives them a schedule! Once she got to the studio, the cast was extremely supportive. She heard a lot of, “You go girl!” Since she’s been taken off contract, this nomination is especially sweet.
As good an actress as Kristen is, she didn’t think she’d get nominated again. “I was concerned I didn’t have the scenes that I felt really showed me off,” she said. She put together some funny scenes for the first round of voting, which she believes is her strong suit in this role. “I’ll give something that no one else will have, and I’ll just roll the dice.”
Kristen is meticulous when it comes to her work and keeps records on what she believes shows her off in the best possible light. “I purposely watch every show to get some continuity. The first tape I submitted, I had circled it in my book. It was cute and there was something meaningful about it. And, I thought it was a great way, that if someone didn’t know the character, they’d (the voters) understand it. And if someone did know the character, they would laugh. And, I had some funny lines in it. I look for something that doesn’t look like soap. And I look for something that out of context can somehow tell a little story. And that can be what I call a little one act play.”
At left: Melissa Archer (Natalie), Ilene Kristen (Roxy) and David Tom (Paul) from a scene that aired the week of October 11, 2004.
“I chose a scene with Natalie, where I was giving her advice, but only in the way that Roxy could give it. And I was eating a lot of food, as only Roxy could, and I was giving her ridiculous advice, about stuff. She better plump up her lips, if she’s going to get a guy, if she’s going to get John McBain. I found it funny. And then I had a really weird little scene with Asa. Those were my first scenes, and I just threw it out there. Either it’ll work or it won’t work.”
“The second tape I sent in was a great companion to the first one. It was with Peter Bartlett and I’m running from a loan shark, who has kind of roughed me up and I come running into the Angel Street Hotel and he tries to protect me with this sawed-off shotgun. Then I’m so touched by him, he touches me so that I feel as though someone really loves me, and so I gave that scene in. It’s very touching, actually. The last part of it is that I’m making out with him. And, I’m saying, I’m moving in with you right of way, and he goes what, wha, wha, you’re gonna do what?” Then, just like a comfortable old coat, Kristen slips nto Roxy right before my eyes, “We gotta seize the day. We gotta burn baby, burn!” When Soapdom inquired as to Peter Bartlett’s kissing techniques, Roxy disappeared and Kristen’s laughter filled the entire first floor of her brownstone, “I think he had a great time.”
Right in the middle of the interview, Kristen’s gorgeous boyfriend walked in with a bag full of Chinese food. But he disappeared quickly to watch the basketball play-offs.
What Kristen loves the best about Roxy is simply – everything! “She speaks her mind and she doesn’t edit herself, and I like that because I edit myself. Long time soap writer, Lorraine Broderick created the character of Roxy specifically for Ilene. They worked together on Another World, where Kristen did a short stint. But if you look closely, there’s a tinge of Kristen’s most famous role, Delia, from Ryan’s Hope. We wondered if parts of Kristen could be found in Roxy? Talk about a belly laugh, “Well the drunk Ilene Kristen is definitely there.” Then she got much more serious, “The Ilene Kristen that used to observe certain women in bars in New Jersey is there.” Kristen’s been singing with rock ‘n’ roll bands for years, “I saw Roxy there, in Seabright, New Jersey, Asbury Park. And in New York, a lot of bar chicks.” Kristen had just done a production of MARVIN’S ROOM up at the Helen Hayes Theater in Nyack, New York. She played a hard-edged character and she was toying around with that idea. I’d been looking to do a character like that on television.” That’s how Roxy evolved.
Kristen’s got a keen eye and a terrific memory. She’s always watching people. Whether it’s in those bars where she sings her heart out in front of a live audience, or quietly on the subways of the Big Apple, she files away all of our quirky little habits. “I steal from people.” She believes she’s a lot closer to Roxy than she was to Delia. “Delia was really a foreign territory to me. It wasn’t hard to find her, but it was painful. My first two years on Ryan’s Hope were actually very painful. I had to go to a sorrowful place.” She based Delia on someone she knew, a very tragic character, a musician who was really a child-woman. “That’s who Delia was and that was hard, because I had to do a lot of crying. It was very hard…not my natural state of being.” That’s why she enjoys Roxy so much. The torrid tornado is the complete anti-thesis of Delia. She believes One Life needed a character like Roxy, someone so full of life and spirit. Roxy and Delia are both pretty whacky in different ways. Delia had a lot more to prove. She was always trying to prove things to the Ryan’s. I don’t think Roxy has anything to prove. There’s no one she answers to, or aspires to. Delia always aspired to be better than what she was.”
When Kristen was cast as Roxy, the first thing she did was to build the character from the outside in. That means wardrobe. “I get totally involved. Totally! Totally and completely involved.” Here’s the big surprise, “I wore my own clothes in the beginning.” And, it wasn’t the first time. When Kristen was in the original cast of Grease, she did her own costumes. A nice long tradition she never tires of, no matter what the role. With Roxy, she wears her own shoes and does her own jewelry. It was her idea to use hairpieces and she had a willing victim with Laurie, the show’s hairdresser, “Who is fantastic. It’s been a real partnership.” She works closely with Susan Gammie, the costume designer, who has become a great friend. “I don’t ever just walk in and ask, ‘what do you have for me’, and that’s how I build the character from the ground-up. I think the visual is very important. In the beginning I wore my own jeans. I wanted her to look lived in.”
As for what’s coming up for Roxy, Kristen’s not sure. She’s hoping for more and wants the fans to know that as well. “There are many dramatic possibilities for Roxy, many comedic possibilities. But I know how to do drama also, and I know how to put the two of them together and I know how to tell story. I think this is a character that’s worth it and I think the audience will go with her wherever she goes. I think this has to be expressed, there I’ve said it.” She’s looking for the possibilities, which are infinite. And, hopes the fans are too, “They’re smart. They’re devoted to the show. They’re very smart!”
But she seems to be very busy, with a couple of new movies under her rock ‘n’ roll belt. Fans won’t have to wait long to see her in some very different roles. She’s co-starring with Dan Lauria (The Wonder Years) in SIGNS OF THE CROSS, a tough story, dealing with several kinds of abuse. Way back in 1984 Lauria appeared on One Life as Gus Thompson. This movie, however, marked the first time Kristen worked with Lauria and she loved every minute of it. What drew Kristen to this particular character was her sadness, her meekness. An abused woman, the role was a complete change of pace from Roxy, which presented a whole new set of challenges for this curious actress.
At right: Peter Bartlett (Nigel) and Ilene Kristen (Roxy) from a scene that aired the week of March 2, 2004)
The other movie, MATTIE FRESNO AND THE HOLOFLUX UNIVERSE, is yet another departure for Kristen. “I thought the script was kind of interesting. It was a smaller part than I usually play, but I wanted to do it, because I was just taken off contract and just needed something to occupy my head. I did it because I wanted to wear a wig.” Laughing and smiling as she described it, “I wanted to wear this auburn kind of thing. It was an experiment in terror.” She was hoping people might not recognize her. The movie also gave her the opportunity to work with her good friend, Catherine Hickland (Lindsay, OLTL). Not something they get to do on One Life. “Catherine was great in it and I play her friend and I didn’t think we should do it as two blonds. I tried something different in it and I’m not sure I was so successful at it.”
Kristen knows how to belt a tune. Although she’s never considered herself a singer, she’s been vocalizing since the second grade, when she entertained friends and family with Around the World in 80 Days. “I’m a really good front person for a band.” On the other hand she has a desire to go back to her roots and tackle a musical, “There’s a show, it’s off-Broadway and it takes place in a trailer park, it’s called The Great American Trailer Park Musical and I’m supposed to do an audition for it. I met the writer and he’s been watching Roxy.” It seems as though the part could be the blond bombshell’s long lost sister, if she had one. “Betty’s the manager of the trailer park, she’s kind of a Roxy and there’s a lot of heavy singing.”
When it comes to music, Kristen does more than just sing, “I write lyrics mostly. I’ve written some melodies, too.” She loves her rock ‘n’ roll. That’s where she’s at home -- in front of a band.
Ilene Kristen is a woman who just wants to have fun! That’s the way she lives her life. You can see it on the screen, but more importantly, you can see it in her life. On the Emmy nod Kristen’s got the right attitude. “I hope people say, I liked her last year, I want to see her win this year! I’m hoping for those people.” In our book, she’s already a winner!
You can see Ilene Kristin sing on June 1, 2005 at The Triad, 158 West 72nd Street in New York City. There’s a $20 cover charge and a 2-drink minimum. Call 212 362-2511 for reservations.
|< Prev||Next >|