In 2005 As The World Turns discovered Jennifer Landon, daughter of legendary performer Michael Landon (Highway to Heaven, Little House on the Prairie, Bonanza), to play the role of wayward teen Gwen Norbeck. Having limited acting experience, many in the business labeled the casting as Landon’s “big break,” when, in actuality it would turn out that ATWT was the true benefactor.
The ingénue instantly connected with the serial’s viewing audience and allowed the quirky Gwen in all her idiosyncratic splendor go to a variety of places – light and dark. Her talent became formerly recognized in 2006 when Landon was awarded the Emmy for Outstanding Younger Actress. And more recently, ATWT exposed yet another of Landon’s hidden talents: Song. The actress has recorded and performed two songs – “Slide” and “I Saw Love” – for Cherry River Music available for downloading at iTunes.com. The response is impressive and Landon’s musical cameos as Gwen have since helped to propel a developing story between she, husband Will (Jesse Soffer) and quasi-talent agent Adam (Matt Cavenaugh) to the forefront. In short, the California native is riding yet another strong wave that began gaining momentum when she performed Joan Osborne’s “One of Us” at the age of 14.
“I started to sing in public for fundraisers that my mom (Cindy) would organize for various cancer charities (dad Michael Landon succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 1991) and that originally developed through me taking guitar lessons. My teacher at the time decided we should do some performances,” she tells Soapdom from her cell phone.
So Landon can strum a guitar as well? We are immediately filled with visions of Gwen totally rocking out on stage, but before things can get too carried away the actress brings us back down to reality. “I play guitar in a very half-ass way,” she laughs. “My brother Sean, on the other hand, is an incredible guitarist.”
Despite starring in high school musicals and belting out a tune here or there for charity, Landon describes her initial reaction upon learning of Gwen’s vocal aspirations as “traumatizing.”
“Even though it made sense that Gwen could one day sing (on the show) because of her former ties with an off-screen band, I never gave it much thought,” she explains, charting her nervousness at a 10 and rising… even after coming to the realization that the character would only be on stage for one song. “I know that I can sing certain things; some types of music I feel comfortable (like musicals) and others less so (rock).” Reflecting on those early days, Landon suddenly fills with gratitude at ATWT’s persistence. “I don’t take a lot of risks, so I’m always grateful if someone- or something – can shove me into doing something.”
And true to form, Landon is her own worst critic. “I’ll record something and totally believe it is nothing but a piece of s---! This sounds terrible!” she remarks off-handedly, before closing her story with a happy ending, “but then the producers will email me the song after it’s been mixed and suddenly I think it’s great just because I generally expect the worst.”
Both singles “Slide” and “I Saw Love” highlight Landon’s strong vocal range and seem to supply a surprisingly slight twang in their beats. “Country is the word that comes to a lot of people’s minds when they first hear them. When I got my initial listen I could hear the country sound, too, but more and more I am gravitating to the pop sound,” Landon reveals, who also notices a certain Bonnie Raitt element in each tune.
Although Landon does not have any immediate plans to perform at one of New York’s many clubs and or lounges, she would not rule it out: “I would totally be open to it if I could sing back-up for a musician who does this all the time. Even though I’ve played live, I’d like to slowly enter an unknown territory with someone who already owns it.”
The actress concedes “it’s pretty incredible” to know that people can download her songs off itunes and lists her own personal favorite artists as Coldplay and Joanna Newsom, particularly her album “Ys.”
“Not a lot of people know her,” acknowledges Landon of the latter choice. “She plays the harp and sings, but a lot of people couldn’t stand her voice on the first album. However, I think it’s become more accessible to the masses on this second one. She is just this amazing writer.”
When Soapdom inquires about Gwen’s upcoming Oakdale gigs, Landon reveals a bit of a shocker: “Maybe a little further down the line I’ll be up and around singing on a regular basis. The stuff that I’m taping now doesn’t really allow for it,” she adds cryptically. Soapdom surmises that Gwen’s relationship with Adam must be at its core.
“Theirs is a tricky one,” Landon slowly adds of the interaction. “Should she trust him? No. With Adam, though, it’s the teacher and the student. It’s one of those things where Gwen becomes really vulnerable to because he is in a position to open her up.”
“He is someone who is hypercritical and breaks Gwen down, then, when she is broken, Adam gains access to her most personal thoughts… and just as quickly he will start to build her up and make her believe in herself. It’s a confusing situation for Gwen and a damaging entanglement.”
Messy, yes, but how does such a situation quiet Gwen on stage?
Landon laughs and will only tell Soapdom the following: “Gwen does something to Adam that is dark… and scary. You have no idea! You would not be able to sleep at night if you did what Gwen does.”
Which begs the question, then: Does her alter ego fall easily into a deep slumber after doing said deed?
“Not well. It’s intense.”
When asked to comment on her fictional marriage’s chance of survival during what sounds to be like some insane turmoil, Landon assures: “Will and Gwen will always prevail.”
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