...or How Some Past and Present Soap Actors Got Their Big Break!Portions of this article appeared in Soap Opera Weekly, August 10, 1999
No matter how inexperienced or seasoned, the prospect of auditioning is always daunting for an actor. For good cause. It's not easy to bare your soul in front of a bunch of complete strangers just to get a job. Even when you know you nailed the performance, it doesn't mean you get hired for the role. You can't take it to heart. You just forge ahead to the next auditon.
"You could not get the part for a lot of reasons," admits Meryl O'Loughlin, casting director for Y&R. "It comes down to five people and somebody had to have it, and it wasn't you, but you were fine. But the actor doesn't believe you. They think oh my God! What did I do wrong? I wasn't good. I wore the wrong clothes. None of that is true. As an actor, you have to remain centered. You have to do your best every time, and then let it go."
It usually has nothing to do with talent, or lack thereof. It could be that you are left-handed, so is the star. Sorry. Or, you remind me of my brother-in-law, and we don't get along. Next! "It could be as simple as you are 6'2" and we need someone 5'10", said Meryl.
If you have ability and stay positive, eventually, you may be the actor who gets the part. The one thing that will help you, the one thing that has helped stars achieve and maintain success, is studying the craft. With that as a given, here's how some major daytime celebrities got their big break.
Jerry Douglas (John, Y&R) had a successful career in film and primetime television when his agent first suggested an audition for John Abbott over 16 years ago.
"I'd never done daytime," Jerry recalls, "and had no intention of doing it. The script changed my mind. It was 99.9 percent better than the episodics I was doing." Jerry got 13 pages of material the night before his audition. He stayed up until 4 AM working the 2 scenes.
The first scene went off without a hitch. "We nailed it," said Jerry. The second scene didn't go as smooth. "The actor who ran the scene with me, wasn't that familiar with the material. He kept fumbling for the script and losing his place. I was cooking. But he wasn't really in it with me. So, I lost it! It was so embarrassing, I couldn't remember the next line! That had never happened to me before. I told my agent never to bother me with daytime again!"
But, the producers liked what they saw enough to call Jerry back to re-tape the scene. "Okay, so now, I knew it backwards," Jerry continues, "but I said to my agent, why must I...
...do it again? They want to see if I can memorize? My agent said, 'Jerry, just go do it. This could be very great for you.' He was giving me a sales job, but he was right. It was a great thing for me."
Jerry re-taped the scene and his partner still didn't know the lines. "I was so IN," Jerry remembers. "As the character, I said: 'get your script!' He got it and ran back, and I said: 'read it!' and went right back into the scene. That was my take. That test was the hardest thing I've had to do. The amount of material, the pressure. One or two days later they called to say I got the part!"
Christian LeBlanc, (Michael, Y&R) vividly remembers his first soap audition. "It was one of my biggest," he said. "It was for the role of Tad Martin, on All My Children." Christian marveled how every now and then, someone in this business gives you a little pat on the back. "It gives you a leg up and gets you through the next six months," he remarked. "I went in and the casting director said don't worry. Even if you don't get this, you'll get another part. That positive reinforcement was wonderful and kept me going. I didn't get Tad, but I did get Kurk McCall on As the World Turns, and got to work with Marisa Tomei, Meg Ryan, Margaret Collin and Gillian Moore."
Christian may have lost the role of Tad Martin, but Michael E. Knight (Tad, AMC) almost missed the audition!
"I had the wrong day," Michael said, as he remembered the events surrounding his date with fate. "I basically came in on a casting call," he continued. "It was written in my book as Wednesday at 11 AM, which was the day my manager gave me. The Monday before, when friends suggested a night on the town, I went. We were out rather late, and I was sleeping in Tuesday morning when the phone rang."
It was his business manager calling to leave a message. Surprised he was home, she told him to get out of bed and down to ABC. His audition was in an hour! He told her that the audition wasn't until Wednesday. She checked her notes and said: "No! It's today!"
Half asleep, he made a mad dash to the studio. "I played the whole thing so low key," he recalls. "My hands were in my pockets the entire time. But the casting director must have thought it was great. They called me back for the producers," and the rest is Pine Valley history. Michael got the part over 700 other hopefuls.
Paul Satterfield (ex Pierce, B&B), also almost missed out on getting the role. He got his first soap, General Hospital, because the casting director had remembered seeing him in a play a year before. "Theater is the best training for the soap format. I did a lot of theater. They...
...called me in to meet with Gloria Monte. She and I clicked. They had me test for John York's part. Five of us did. I didn't get it, but she kept us on contract and eventually wrote another part for me."
From GH, he went to a primetime show called Malibu Shores and then to Savannah, which was canceled after 2 seasons. Paul then passed on several offers to do east coast soaps. "I'm not going to the east coast for anybody, but my agents or manager turned down Brad Bell without checking with me first. When I heard it was for B&B, I told them we had to look into it, because I'd heard it was a great place to work." They had a meeting and it all worked out.
Adrienne Frantz (Amber, B&B), J. Eddie Peck (ex Cole, Y&R) and Carolyn Neff (ex Racquel, AMC) came up through commercials.
"I was 18, had just moved to NY," said Adrienne. "I had an AT&T commercial running and was doing Shakespeare. I had just started at Marymount Manhattan College. I went for a month, and I got Sunset Beach. It was so unexpected. I had auditioned for them, but such a long time went by and I didn't hear anything, and I thought, oh well. I've been through this rejection a million times and didn't think anything of it. All of a sudden, I got a call back. Then, they flew me out to LA and I tested. Another month or so went by and I didn't hear from them, and then they called and said I had the part!" When her role on Sunset Beach ended, Bradley Bell sought her out for B&B.
J.Eddie Peck (ex Cole, Y&R) wanted to pursue a career in radio, but fate took him in another direction. "I had no money when I first came to LA, so I crashed a commercial audition. An ad exec from J. Walter Thompson said I want that guy over there, meaning me! The casting director said 'he's not invited. He's crashed the audition.' The ad guy didn't care. He wanted to see me on camera and I got the part!" Eddie continued to get commercials, which lead to roles on prime time television. Eddie got Y&R because Bill Bell was familiar some of that other work. "A few calls were made on my behalf expressing interest to get me over here. I came in and read for Bill, and did a screen test. I got hired."
For Carolyn Neff, landing the role of Racquel on AMC was a dream come true. "I had been a fan of AMC for a long time. It was great to be a part of that family, even for a few months." Carolyn had gotten a commercial agent in Texas who convinced her to relocate to New York. She got a contract with the Ford Modeling Agency for print, and supported herself with commercials and other print work. "I was in Europe on a print job and found out they wanted me to read for All My Children. When I got back, I met with them. I booked a film, then another film, and then got called back to do the screen test for AMC. The whole thing took 4 or 5 months. I found out I got the job on my Mom's birthday."
Catherine Hickland did an on-the-air screen test for the role of Lindsay (OLTL). "I never had to read for them. They offered me this part, but it was only for one day," said Catherine. "The role grew from that, so of course I was nervous that day. I knew there was a lot hinging on it. So, I just got a hold of myself, and decided I would turn the day into something fun." Catherine's fun became a contract role. "I never take it for granted, either," she said. "I have gratitude every day I wake up, every day I walk up the stairs to the set, I never forget how happy I am to be there."
Jess Walton (Jill, Y&R) got the role because Bill Bell was familiar with her work on Capital, a show that taped across the hall from Y&R. "I played an ex hooker who was in love with a congressman and had an illegitimate child by him," Jill recalled of her Capital days. "When the role ended, I was out of work for two months telling myself it will be fine, it will be fine. But one door doesn't close without another opening. One day my agent called to say Y&R had fired someone, and asked for my tape to send in to them. I sent it over, and didn't think anything of it. Then, one Tuesday morning, the phone rang and it was my agent saying they want you to play Jill. It happened just like that."
Shemar Moore (Malcolm, Y&R) and Jacob Young (ex Rick, B&B, Lucky, GH) came to the attention of their casting directors because of photos published in magazines.
Shemar got into modeling during college. "I needed a source of income," he said. "People approached me time and again asking me to (model). I took advantage of the...
...opportunities. I went to New York and tried to break into commercials. Doors were slamming in my face. I was either too big, not pretty enough, not black enough, I was uni-race. Too soft looking. Too hard. For whatever reason, I wasn't the guy. But I refused to quit."
So Shemar did a spread for GQ. For free. "I just wanted the exposure." The exposure paid off. Y&R was looking to cast a younger brother for Kristoff St. John's character, Neil. An agent saw Shamar in GQ and tracked him down. "I happened to be the same complexion as Kristoff," Shamar said with a laugh.
Luckily, Shemar had studied acting in college, but he hired an expensive acting coach to prep him for the audition. "They looked at 368 guys. That's the number they threw at me. I was called back with 5 others. We did one scene with Kristoff, and I was a nervous wreck, but hid my nerves as best I could." About two hours later, Shemar called his agent from a pay phone close to the studio. "I couldn't drive my car, I was so nervous," said Shemar. "When my agent told me I got the part, I lost it! Every four-letter word you can think of came out of my mouth. I was so happy. I was screaming and yelling. Scaring people on the street! I had to tell some guy driving by in his car that I was going to be on TV! And this guy, probably a tourist, was like, Hollywood, what a crazy place."
Jacob Young had just moved to CA and was working part time waiting tables at a Denny's in San Diego. "I was traveling back and forth to LA for commercial castings. I wanted to do theatrical work, and heard that maybe the best way to get noticed for that was to place an ad in the Hollywood Reporter or the Junior Variety. I looked into it. It was $75 bucks to put my picture in and say, hey, I'm here. Anybody interested?" That $75 dollars was the best investment Jacob ever made. His picture was seen by the casting director for B&B and he was called in for an audition. "The next thing I knew, I was in a producer call back. Everything happened so fast. The casting process, then BOOM, I am on the show!" Looking like a young Brad Pitt probably didn't hurt, but Jacob had a string of theater credits on his resume. "B&B is the best thing that ever happened to me," Jacob said during his tenure on that show. And now, he's won the role of Lucky Spencer on GH.
It didn't happen anywhere near that fast for Kevin Spirtas (Craig, DOOL). "Days is not the first soap I've ever done, but it's the first one where I've been recognizable to the masses," said Kevin. "I've been acting for 18 years professionally. Broadway, features, episodic. I sing. I act. I can do the whole thing. My investment was to constantly act. To study and keep working. I had taken jobs in the past whether it was one day, or one year. My mandate was to work no matter what."
Kevin got offered a two-day role on Days. He took it. The casting director kept telling him how much the producers loved the work. Months passed. He'd run into the casting director who'd say: "You know, they LOVE you over there." "That's great," Kevin would reply. "And...?" Finally, 8 months later, he got a call from the casting director. "They want to develop the character you created and sign you for 3 years!" Kevin was so excited. "This was a Hollywood story. A gift, a Godsend," and a tribute to Kevin's rule of thumb. To show up professionally, authentically, and to work no matter what.
Walt Willey (Jackson, AMC) played numerous characters on AMC before landing the role of Jackson. "Let's see, I was Adam's jet pilot. Palmer's chauffeur. The maitre d at the Chateau. The ski instructor that rented Donna and Chuck's skis when they got in the avalanche. I put Greg in the ambulance when he broke his neck. They used me so much because I was a new face of an odd age. If you're new, you're either 60 years old and retired, or you're 18 to 24. I was a new face at 33." Walt found out he had the part of Jackson when he called his agent from an audition for another job. "If it isn't Jackson Montgomery," his agent said upon answering the phone. "I thought it was time to get a new agent. It's not as though I don't have a distinctive voice. Why was my agent calling me Jackson Montgomery? Who's that?" Walt soon found out. If he wanted the contract role of Jackson, all he had to do was sign on the dotted line.
Mick Cain (CJ, B&B) overcame a flubbed audition. "I read with Jacob Young (ex Rick, B&B, Lucky, GH), who had been hired about a week before me. We did a funny scene, which was cool, because I like comedy. They just grabbed Jacob and said here, read with this guy. I don't think he had a chance to learn the material." Mick said that there was a point in the scene where things got messed up. "You're trying to act, and if you don't know what's going on you can lose your place. But Jacob and I clicked. We said wait. That got kind of messed up. Let's go back and take it from here." They did, without missing a beat and nailed the rest of the scene. "Since we would be working together in the same story line, I think they noticed the chemistry," Mick said happily. He got the job!
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