The Big Actor Switch

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Why actors leave..and come back & The fine art of recasting

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Hi Suds Buds:

Same Character, Different Face

Sometimes actors leave soaps when their contracts run out.  Their demands for signing a new contract may far exceed what the networks are willing to shell out to keep them, especially if they are backburner actors or if they “do not work well with others.”  Meaning—they are not as professional about their craft as they should be -- showing up on set unprepared without knowing lines, or hung over. Hey, it’s happened! 

Other times, story dictates that an actor will be written off the show. There is just no story for that actor. Writers have explored all possible story avenues, and have exhausted them -- at least for the immediate future. So it’s “buh bye” actor.

Liza Huber (Gwen, PAS)Sometimes actors leave of their own accord if they want to explore other career venues like prime time, feature film, etc.  Or, sometimes they leave because acting may not be their first love -- at least it isn’t when they leave. Take for example Passions’ Liza Huber (Gwen). Huber originated the role, then left after a year or so, citing that acting just wasn’t her thing.  Two years later, Huber returns to the role of Gwen, after a change of heart regarding pursing a career as an actor.

Michael E. Knight (Tad, AMC)Whatever the reason for an actor leaving a soap, I will guesstimate that seven times out of ten, the character is either recast or the actor is brought back at some time in the future.  In the case of Tad on All My Children, Michael E. Knight left Pine Valley not once, but twice and was wooed back each time with bigger perks, higher salary, and the promise of top notch material to perform.  The character of Tad was a highly popular with fans. ABC wanted him back on the canvas and as luck would have it, Michael E. Knight’s attempts to land prime time work or be cast in features was lukewarm at best. The call to return to daytime couldn’t have been more opportune.  Any actor would rather work steady and collect a weekly paycheck than sit home on unemployment waiting for the phone to ring with the next audition or job. 

Cameron Mathison (Ryan, AMC)Next case is also an AMC example. Cameron Mathison, who plays the character of Ryan, another highly popular character, is about to return to All My Children after a year of fending for himself in LA trying to get primetime and feature work.  He did land a few guest starring roles on prime time series like C.S.I, but perhaps not enough to make him that keen on sitting by the phone waiting for it to ring for the next job.  Let’s look at this from the practical side of things.  Mathison was recently married and is now a new father. He’s got three mouths to feed! An attractive offer from his former soap could not be overlooked.  Ergo, Mathison returns to Pine Valley, much to the delight of his fans.

So much for actors returning to roles.  What I want to know is how disconcerting is it for fans to see new actors in the same shoes as some of their favorite characters. There is so much actor switching going on these days, it’s hard to keep track.  Here are a few examples:

Tyler Christopher (Nikolas, GH)Coltin Scott (ex Nikolas, GH)On General Hospital the character of Nikolas was originated by Tyler Christopher who left the show in 1999 and was replaced by Coltin Scott.  In 2003, ABC gives Scott his walking papers, stating that he never quite captured the essence of the role, and woos Christopher back to play Nikolas. 

Scott Holroyd (ex Paul, ATWT)Roger Howarth (Paul, ATWT; ex Todd, OLTL)On As the World Turns, the character of Paul Ryan, originally played by Scott Holroyd, was temporarily killed off and Holroyd given his walking papers, only to have the character return in the person of Roger Howarth, who played the very popular character, Todd Manning on ABC’s One Life to Live.

Liza Huber (Gwen, PAS)

Natalie Zea (ex Gwen, PAS)


I already mentioned the role of Gwen on Passions, originated by Liza Huber, cast for a few years with Natalie Zea, and now again played by Huber.

Bruce Michael Hall (Joey, OLTL; ex Reese, PAS) and twin Seth Hall (Reese, PAS)Another Passions switch occurred when Bruce Michael Hall, who played nerdy Reese Durkee, was placed on recurring status. He was soon swept away to play Joey Buchanan on One Life to Live and was replaced on Passions by his identical twin brother, Seth Hall!  At least in this case, Passions fans got to do a double take as no, their eyes were not deceiving them,  it was only an identical twin!

Jay Kenneth Johnson (ex Philip, DOOL)On Days of our Lives, the character of Philip as played by Kenneth Jay Johnson was much beloved by fans.  Kyle Brandt (Philip, DOOL)Suddenly, the character is written off the show (I believe it was story dictated at the time. If I am wrong, someone please email me on that ;o) only to return months later in the person of Kyle Brandt.  From what I can tell, fans are not warming up to Brandt in the role.

Ty Treadway (Colin/Troy, OLTL)It’s one thing to bring an actor back as an evil twin or different character, another plot device used by soap brass when a temporary character makes such an impression with fans and focus groups that they don’t want to miss opportunities. They create a new role for the popular new actor to play, like OLTL did for Ty Treadway (Colin/Troy), who – as it turns out – is again being written off the show.  

However, it is another thing completely when long-term characters are cast with new actors on what could appear to be a network whim. It is a jolt to the fans. It immediately takes you out of the story.  Sometimes it is necessary, especially when the show has no other recourse because an actor gets cast in primetime, or wants to become an equestrian.  But I think fans get ticked off when it happens too often, especially if the impetus is purely the result of internal politics and/or ratings. 

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Linda Marshall-Smith
CEO, Soapdom, Inc.

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