Woman on the Go!
She loves soaps, grew up on them. “I was very involved in my speech and debate team in high school.” That’s where she caught the acting bug, as well, studying oral interpretation, poetry, prose, and duet acting which were 10-minute skits. But dramatic interpretation was where Ms. DePaiva really blossomed. She competed nationally and was seventh in the nation. All these disciplines gave her a strong foundation, which serve her every day of her life. Like most working women, she’s constantly on the run. Her day doesn’t end when the director yells, “cut!” Kassie Depaiva’s got a husband, the very handsome Jimmie DePaiva, the one and only Max Holden from One Life. Her partner in every sense of the word, they’ve been married for nine years and together for eleven. The light of her life is JQ, her 8-year old son. His little life has opened all sorts of new doors she walks through on a daily basis. JQ is profoundly deaf, but is fortunate to have a cochlear implant, which gives him the opportunity to hear what we hear. Both mom and dad work tirelessly on behalf of deaf causes at both the local and national level. Like any workingwoman, DePaiva’s always on the run.
We were supposed to meet at a diner up near Columbia University for breakfast, when I literally bumped into Kassie DePaiva on the street. She was bounding along in a pair of jeans and an adorable pink jacket. Jeans, she loves them, and if she could, she’d wear them 24/7. Everyone recognized One Life to Live’s long-suffering heroine, but not for the reason you might think. DePaiva, along with her husband, Jimmie, often stop at the local hangout with their son, JQ. The waiter brings her the most gorgeous looking cappuccino because he knows what his customers like!
DePaiva feels blessed, having grown up in Kentucky, lived in LA and now NY; she’s had the best of all possible worlds, including the real whip cream on her cappuccino, her first Emmy nomination. She was down in Nashville for a country-radio seminar, sound asleep when the phone rang, “I was awakened from a stupor, by my fan club president, Tonya Wiesen, who was screaming at the top of her lungs, ‘blah, blah, blah, blah, blah’, and I said what?” After trying two more times, DePaiva finally got it.
“I was totally dazed and confused. I couldn’t get the television on.” DePaiva wanted to know who else was nominated. Speechless, the only thing Wiesen remembered was the record-breaking number of nominations. “There are eight people in the category.” As everyone who follows awards shows knows, five is the magic number. DePaiva, in her own unique self-deprecating manner, laughed, “They felt so sorry for me that they added three more slots.”
Then the phone started to ring, “Ericka Slezak called me immediately, with sweet congratulations, Hillary Smith, Ilene Kristen, so many people...it was just wonderful, really, really wonderful!” The first call she made was to her husband, who said, “Oh my God, you’ve broken the DePaiva curse.” “Jimmie was on the show for 17 years and never got a nomination,” explained DePaiva. “He always jokes and says, ‘don’t take my name Kassie. Don’t affiliate yourself with me. You’ll be fired and you’ll never win an Emmy.’ But so far so good.”
DePaiva really misses him on the show and believes that Jimmie and Ilene Kristen, “had some of the greatest stuff going.” As soon as she hung up with her hubby, DePaiva called her parents who didn’t even know their talented daughter had thrown her hat in the ring. Like the rest of Morganfield, Kentucky, they were thrilled!
Since she’s never been in contention, DePaiva didn’t give the nominations much thought, especially the night before the big announcement. “It’s kind of a torturous thing. It’s never been anything that’s ever been on my radar. I don’t do daytime to win awards and I think the Emmy’s don’t really mean anything unless you get nominated. And, then it mean’s something. And, I’m telling you it does mean something to me. It’s very nice, not so much that I get the opportunity to win this trophy, but it’s the opportunity to be celebrated…and to celebrate something that I believe in. I really do believe in daytime. I wake up everyday and I feel like I fight for the cause. We’re losing the audience.” This really puzzles DePaiva. “It’s not that daytime’s doing anything different,” she believes, “More than anything the audiences are different. There are more alternatives, more things for people to do.”
DePaiva doesn’t know all of the Lead Actress nominees, but she’s definitely familiar with their work. Shortly after the nominations were announced, DePaiva received a congratulatory call from fellow nominee, Susan Flannery (Stephanie Forrester, B&B) “She was sweet,” and an invitation to a very special and private event, “We’re all going to lunch on that Thursday before the Emmy’s.” A great place to be a fly on the wall!
Most of all she’s proud of the women on her show, two nominations each for Outstanding Lead Actress (DePaiva and Erika Slezak) and Supporting Actress (Ilene Kristen and Heather Tom). “Our show is such the red-headed step child, we just never get the recognition that we deserve, but then I’m a little partial. It’s nice to be recognized and celebrated.”
Talk about a gal who doesn’t take herself or Blair too seriously, “I chose scenes with Erika Slezak, and I give her all the credit. You know, they said, ‘That Erika Slezak’s so good and that woman that she’s working with, we like her, too, so we’ll give her one, too. They were scenes where Blair had hit rock bottom, after she had her brain tumor. That got me the nomination. The scene I submitted for the possible win was a scene with Hillary Smith (Nora, OLTL), then scenes with Trevor St. John (Todd, OLTL).” Smart gal, she submitted two scenes with women who already own their own Emmys, “I steal from everybody. I’m coat tailing this one.” As for acting classes, “Every day’s an acting class for me.” She’s studied both in New York and LA. But improvisation helped her break-through a real block, “I was very self-conscious as an actor and still am. That’s why I can’t watch myself.”
She auditioned for the role of Blair in Los Angeles. It was a scene with Max and a highly charged sexual scene. “I just thought I’m not gonna get this and went in and had a really good time with it.” Once she got a call back, she did some research and discovered that it was a re-cast and that an Asian woman had previously played the role. “I thought they’re not going to pick this girl next door. It’s not going to work. Well, they picked me and they flew me to New York and I screen tested with John LoPrieno (ex-Cord, OLTL) because Jimmie was on vacation. But I knew One Life to Live because I used to watch it. I remember Vicki and Dorian and Herb Callison and love in the afternoon.” DePaiva would love to get back to love in the afternoon.
Blair Kramer and Kassie DePaiva couldn’t be more different, “It’s very funny. I joke and say I can’t really be Blair unless I’ve got a pair of high-heeled shoes on because I’m such a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl. Blair wears everything just a little too tight and a little too short, a little too dangerous and it’s so not me. And, my husband jokes all the time, ‘Yeah, that looks good’, and then when I’d get home and take off all the make-up and throw my hair up in a pony tail, he’d say, ‘Where did Blair go?’ She’s in my dressing room, thank you very much. She’s down the drain. Poor Jimmie.”
DePaiva has very strong feelings about her devilish alter ego. “I love her woman-power. I love the fact that she has a strong sense of entitlement that’s actually given me courage. I don’t. I will sit and actually make sure everyone else is okay, before I will take care of myself. She’ taught me…not to be so selfish…but selfless.”
“I couldn’t have played Blair when I was in my twenties. It took a couple of hard knocks for me personally to find the brokenness in her. I pull from that and try to find something interesting and entertaining, because you don’t want to be one-note. And, you know what? I’m not a great actress. I’m not a great singer. But I have a good time and as long as I’m entertaining people, that’s all that really matters to me.” What a surprising admission from a woman who’s just been nominated for an Emmy in the Lead Actress Category and a singer who’s toured the world with the USO and the likes of Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, Stevie Wonder, and the ageless rock wonders, The Rolling Stones. “I’m not. I know that I’m not. And, that’s okay. I’m just really lucky. There’s some great actresses out there. There’s some great daytime performers, and it’s very specific in daytime, too. Not that I would act any differently in a film. We do a lot of indicating. It’s melodrama.” When it comes to exposition, the dialogue that catches people on something they may have missed, DePaiva’s emphatic on the difficulties it takes to make that interesting, “You’re not doing it for you, you’re doing it for that person who didn’t get to watch on Wednesday and they’re tuning in today for the first time, so make it as believable today as you did on Monday because that’s what we’re expected to do.”
Last April DePaiva did something totally unexpected. She jumped at the chance to belt a few tunes in Exit, a short film shot in Hoboken, New Jersey. Our girl worked hard for the money, “A nightclub singer, kind of down and out. It was a great opportunity. Anything outside of the box of daytime is fun to do.” Her co-stars were Jack Scalia (ex-Chris, AMC) and legendary film and television star, Tony LoBianco. “They were just good guys. Just super.” Exit was recently screened at WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival. DePaiva was there to cheer on her director, Jamie Dunier, who won best short. How short is the short – 24 minutes! Where will it be shown? DePaiva doesn’t know. But a best guess would be one of the independent film channels. Keep your eyes peeled!
DePaiva’s real acting break came as Chelsea Reardon on Guiding Light. That’s where she first met daytime icon, Michael Zaslow. (ex-Roger, GL and ex-David, OLTL). She rarely worked with him on either show, but he was extremely generous and kind to her. “I remember seeing him one day driving on the Upper West Side and I stopped him. He was slurring his speech and it broke my heart to see him like that.” Unbeknownst to DePaiva, or anyone else at the time, it was ALS, the disease that ultimately took his life. “It’s hard to watch the human factor of any disease and the toll it takes not only on that individual, but the people around him. I can equate it to my son’s deafness. You know, deafness doesn’t happen to an individual, it happens to a family. You really have to pull together and you have to be the bigger person and you have to be active. Because you wouldn’t believe the limitations other people put on you.”
Later that day Kassie, Jimmie, and their son, JQ, were to be filmed for a documentary produced by the Deafness Research Foundation. “It’s tragic to see disease and what it does. It’s real, it’s painful, and sometimes it’s the end. Hopefully, research will turn that around. If we could just think forward, and open our minds, and open our pockets, and do the best we can to change the world.” Since DePaiva was a first time Mom, it took her a bit of time to realize something wasn’t quite right with JQ. “When he was about nine months old, we began to realize he wasn’t responding to sound, or developing any language.”
The oddest thing about the challenges and journey that lay ahead for the DePaivas actually began two years earlier. Storyline on One Life gave Jimmie’s character a deaf child. “Jimmie thinks, in a strange way, he was more emotionally equipped to deal with it. We were both fine with it, but it caught us both off-guard. The blessing in all of that is that we called, Michelle Sheinert, the hearing teacher who came to the set. She worked at the Lexington School for the Deaf and led us to the right people.” Once it became clear that JQ was a candidate for a cochlear implant, the DePaiva’s knew their son would have an opportunity many deaf people don’t get – the chance to hear, to listen, and to speak. “It works for our family.”
The strides and advances in technology have been a real gift to the entire DePaiva family. JQ, eight years old, is mainstreamed in a local school, where his reading and math skills are right on par with other third graders. A Deaf Ed. teacher is on site several hours a week. The cochlear implant, which was done when JQ was still a toddler, coincided with intensive speech therapy from the League of the Hard of Hearing. “At one point it was 11 hours a week, which for a 3-year old is a lot. He continues to have speech therapy two hours a week. It’s a work in progress. As a parent you can’t expect the Board of Education and the school system to take care of your child,” DePaiva said. “You have to be the advocate for them. That’s what I’ve learned, more than anything, is to speak out for my son. Jimmie and I both, especially me because I’m the Mouth of the South, want to help other families because they don’t know what their rights are under the disabilities act, and through the board of education. They’re entitled to have a teacher to come into a school. They don’t know that they’re entitled to speech therapy. If possible, the therapist can come to your home. For lower socio-economic families a deaf child is some times third or fourth on the totem pole. Getting food on the table is the number one priority. Getting those other children to school. God forbid that child falls through the cracks, as many children do. Not just deaf children, but any children with special needs. It’s an undertaking. But once you start the ball rolling, the child is fine.”
“We don’t know what it would be like if JQ had perfect ears, but I think Jimmie and I have become better parents. I certainly have a lot more information on the topic and if I can share it with other people, I feel I’m obligated.” She takes that obligation very seriously, serving on the board of The League for the Hard of the Hearing. “I believe I can use my pseudo-celebrity.” Since the Christmas holidays DePaiva has become a mad woman. Her mother taught her how to crochet and she spends every spare minute, just ask her husband, creating, Kassie’s Happy Hats. Their bedroom is one big yarn ball – hats, hats everywhere! They can be purchased on her website and all the proceeds go to the League for the Hard of Hearing. As a result of her new passion, DePaiva and her son are going to be on the October cover of Crochet Magazine, “We’re going to bring some awareness to the deaf community.”
This summer while Blair and One Life take a 4-week hiatus, DePaiva and her husband, Jimmie, are taking on a couple of new roles – they’re planning to produce a movie. They’re hard at work on it now, but for the moment this extremely busy wife, mother, actress, activist, and entrepreneur is putting one foot in front of the other, and taking the time to enjoy every moment of her very well-deserved Emmy nomination.
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