CAUTION: My girl, Carol, speaks her mind in a strong, brassy and vibrant fashion. If you are offended by straight talking, adult oriented language (sometimes, there's a "very" in there), please be aware that you may well find it here. Carol shoots from the hip and tells it like it is, pulling no punches and taking no prisoners. That's why I love her & why I hired her. If it's not your bag, let's part still friends and salute our differences in tastes (I'm sort of a strong strawberry flavor...) ~*~Katrina~*~
You’ve heard enough about the bad actors (and the stories they have to act through). Let’s inject a little positivity and praise on the rare few ones who manage to turn in bravura performances despite the substandard material, the socio-political red tape of their bosses and the phony-baloney, kissy-kissy pretensions of daytime celebrity itself.
Watching Thorsten Kaye (Zach, AMC; ex-Ian, PC; ex-Patrick, OLTL) the other week make a scene believable, haunting even, with his on-screen partner helpless to do a thing but stand back and watch as well, prompted me to think of other actors of his untouchable caliber.
I’m not talking about the occasional brilliance when the mood is right and the story fits. Leave those to Tony Geary (Luke, GH), Erika Slezak (Viki, OLTL) and Michael E. Knight (Tad, AMC). Otherwise, these vets tend to flail in their own schticky rut, Geary with his trademarked bad accents and excessive yelling (Maurice Benard/Sonny, GH, is starting to get in this habit), Slezak with her bad DID bad girl impersonation as Niki, Knight with a pole up his behind up against a David and Dixie pairing.
No, I’m talking about consistently outstanding acting, and the Emmy should go to. Kaye’s done it before, taken dreadful, laughable, ill-conceived material, and transformed himself single-handedly to win me over and raise his scenes to Shakespeare comparably. On PC, which was cancelled in the spring of 2003, he had to play a reluctant vampire, with corny, WB cliché dialogue, this broad-shouldered, deep-voiced, he-man who’s more likely to be found drinking many beers in a neighborhood pub while watching hockey on TV than spouting this sissified crap. But in what amounted to a throwaway scene, towards the end of the half-hour soap’s tenure, his Dr. Ian-turned-vampire was supposed to have a mildly threatening chat with Dr. Kevin-turned-drug-addicted-psycho-barely-recovered.
Kaye took that scene and went poetic, intensely, seductively, agonizingly poetic, not in a Frost la la traipsing through the forest, but a steadily hypnotic, almost violently sexualized Woolf meets Yeats, clearly condemned, on the verge of giving up and giving in, and – in an ironic twist, considering his foe Kevin succumbed to an addiction of his own – the beginning heat of succumbing to a supernatural force of will upon his soul. Ian welcomed the suffocating, yet powerful bliss of carnivorous oblivion, to be as a god for a price, and that price, he almost begged of Kevin to explain, to understand, to commiserate with... As he almost forced himself physically on his stunned former colleague, Ian lapsed into a kind of maddening, rhythmic iambic pentameter, voice growing hoarse, savage by the minute, describing the rush, the thrill of losing his soul forever, for everlasting life and the taste of blood.
I never forgot that scene. I wrote a guest commentary on SoapTown USA, “PC Musings,” (for my columnist pal, Max, now doing “GH Chronicles”) about that scene. I received praise from Thorsten Kaye and his website staff. And I waited, even though Kaye talked of returning to teaching somewhere up in Michigan, watching endless days of hockey.
Two weeks ago on AMC, my wait came to an end as Kaye’s new character, the alleged Zachery Slater, revealed himself to Maria Santos Grey as none other than the long-presumed-dead older, perfect, good brother of Michael Cambias. When Maria confronted Zach with the responsibility of revealing the truth to others and letting the grudge go, because it was based on an assumption of lies and self-recrimination for not being there, Thorsten Kaye did what Thorsten Kaye does best: He made his character’s far-fetched-sounding – considering he got more than enough confirmations from Bianca that Michael died from what he’d done to her – justifications come to trembling, dramatic life.
Pacing the small room of spyware, flinching from Maria’s unyielding, questioning gaze as if burned by her incomprehension to his loss, Zach, aka Alexander Cambias Jr. wrenched open his heart for her in abject desperation in painstakingly raw and aching bits. He made me believe that those people he was watching surreptitiously were also responsible, perhaps moreso, not just because they tortured his little brother, but because they’re still alive and well and none the better for the experience. Greenlee and Kendall bickering over the hand of Ryan, Kendall pulling every trick in the book, David throwing Adam in a crate, crowing the entire time, Jackson and Erica making lovey-dovey... like nothing happened the past year, like it was just paying the bill what they all endured.
Zach’s reveal came in a slow build, taking me completely by surprise. I thought him to be Ryan’s uncle. The credit for the mystery remaining intact goes to Kaye, an actor who often has to surpass his story, the plot turns and the very genre itself to create a masterpiece elevating common, repetitious, shallow soap to something more befitting a British stage. And often does, I’d guess, just to keep himself from going insane with boredom and frustration, not to mention the pure embarrassment of having to play the same tired notes in daytime, mainstream’s much-derided stepsister.
What he’s done to Maria and Edmund, reviving the stakes for their lackluster, struggling marriage by adding primal animal magnetism to his character’s love for Maria’s former self, Maureen, infusing physical attraction, a starving man in a desert of her oasis, her doe eyes and smoothly tanned skin, the soft curve of her breasts to her torso and buttocks, down to the core of her soul. He’s been able to literally draw out a more lively, personable, goofy person, not just Edmund’s dutiful appendage. The two of them together, a man’s man driven to softening eyes, tender glances, groaning memories, and Maria, trying with all her might not to be driven against the wall by his attentions and the fact that he’s carried a burning torch for her all these years... could reinvent AMC in a week.
The only other actor on AMC that comes close is Vincent Irizarry (David). Just as intense, foreboding, seductive, he also lends credibility through the cerebral, used often in the kind of deprecating humor meant as a prelude to annihilation for his enemies. Even when he’s little-used, he does the most with what he has, whether it’s comforting his dead brother’s surviving wife Greenlee, leaving every option available to the writers open – David & Greenlee? hmmm – or skulking about on the outskirts of a boys’ night out with Tad, Edmund, Aidan and JR, throwing verbal stones.
The mark of a great, popular actor is in his ability to make the audience wait for more. The current scenes may have nothing to do with him, or only peripherally, to drive another story; in David’s case, that of Babe’s struggle to reveal her baby Bess is really Miranda to Bianca, and Babe’s redemption through the love of Jamie... but I either don’t care or don’t notice. To me, because Irizarry is on the screen, maybe doing nothing but reading a book in the background, David is the story, or he will be soon. You’d have to be a complete nincompoop, like the folks over at GH, to ignore him.
Over on GH, where the writers regularly throw away Oscar-worthy actors and actresses the way they flush their used toilet paper, I had to say good-bye to a promising soap newcomer, Catherine Wadkins, because her character Mary, the spoiler to NEm, was murdered in her hospital bed. Here’s how great she is.
Wadkins had to come in as Mary, a war widow, who finds Nikolas stumbling up her doorstep, half-unconscious from a car accident, who at first wants nothing to do with this stranger invading her mourning period, but unable to dismiss his resemblance to Connor, her dead husband, does what she can to help. Slowly, but surely, she gives in to the rest of her mourning, disrupted and diverted down a path none of us would want to take, that of delusion, thinking, since this handsome, compelling man looks so much like my husband, maybe I’ll make him mine, nobody would know. Throughout this, she’s fighting with herself internally, and it always shows clearly on her face, this conflict, do the right thing, no, I miss Connor too much. She even balks several times when “Connor” tries to make love to her, after he has fallen in love, sincerely in love, with his own wife.
In a pivotal scene, “Connor” joins her in the shower and Mary wants him, but Mary hesitates, her face a turmoil. The miracle of Wadkins’ performance is that, without saying a word, I can see that she also feels as if she’s cheating on her dead husband, evaluating the cost to her loneliness.
Catherine Wadkins does this all the time. In black and white, on paper, her character is the nutty war widow, selfish, bitter, cruel to Emily and Nikolas, keeping these lovebirds from each other on purpose. I should hate this woman, wish her ill, cheer Emily every time she goes after Mary. I should have done a happy Snoopy dance when Mary went completely psycho and started bludgeoning innocent teenagers to death in her misguided hunt for the woman keeping her from her husband. (Well, I did, but not for the obvious reason.)
Instead, I rooted for Mary, hoping against hope that she would redeem herself by helping hide Nikolas from his evil grandmother Helena and perhaps remind the young Cassadine prince of how much he loved her regardless, on his own, amnesia or no amnesia. And maybe Nikolas would choose Mary over Emily, because Mary was nicer, funnier, complex, mature, haunting in a way no man could resist.
The difference between a great actor and a terrible one is when I notice the plot out of the performance. What irritated me about this grand amnesia story, which began last spring and culminated late in the summer, were the plot devices designed to keep NEm apart because of Mary’s uncreative lies, growing more preposterous by the minute. At some point, I gave up trying to figure out how Connor could’ve gotten injured, escaped the military, come back, declared dead but the military said he was AWOL. I didn’t care for the lies coming out of Mary’s mouth, because they were just stupid words, practically forcing me to give a hoot about NEm instead.
Instead, I watched Mary. I was never ever disappointed.
Usually when TPTB have no idea what to do with a successful character played by a great actress, because she’s been stuck in a no-win situation as the unwanted third wheel with a beloved couple thousands of fans adore and the top brass worships, they have her go bad and go bonkers, right before killing her off.
That’s what happened to Wadkins who probably would’ve liked to stay on, maybe in a story of her own, with other actors. She didn’t come right out and say it, but her disappointment and surprise at how Mary would wind up, as a nice girl gone violently insane, as she’d done as one of Charles Manson’s followers in a CBS movie several months ago, Helter Skelter. With a chagrin Wadkins could not, not to me, cover, she made mention of this being such an odd trend, already typecast.
Nevertheless, what should’ve turned into a NEm lovefest, became a masterpiece of outstanding acting for Wadkins. She made Mary the scariest villainess, the most believable case of DID this shy of Llanview, reducing OLTL’s Erika Slezak’s Viki/Niki/Tory/Tommy into high school hijinx. Her scenes with Emily, at the Quartermaine’s and later, in the hospital room, put chills up my spine. Not only did Wadkins change her character Mary’s personality, she changed her voice, her mannerisms, her mindset from Mary like a light switch.
Even worse, Wadkins’ seamless performance as a conniving alter taking over the body of a weak, but nice girl Mary made Natalia Livingston (Emily) and Tyler Christopher (Nikolas) look like amateurs. They might as well not even have been in the room, and for all intents and purposes, weren’t.
I will never forget Mary’s death scene, proving once and for all that her going crazy was not an act. She’s laying there, fading away, and in her one last glimpse, sees her beloved Connor – in a confused, but distant Nikolas – coming closer. Tears gently fill her eyes and she gives in to a smile, reaching a fragile hand out, letting death take her to her husband forever, the only happiness she ever knew. This scene came off better than Nicole Kidman’s as Virginia Woolf walking into the river to her own death in The Hours.
Catherine Wadkins should’ve stayed on GH. She should be in the movies, earning Oscars. She should be on stage in London, earning accolades. She’s an actress that’s fast becoming extinct around here, a woman who can surpass the story written against her with an uncommon, captivating beauty that reaches from within and touches everyone not wholly invested in NEm.
She, like AMC’s Thorsten Kaye, can make good and evil so seductive.
Honorable mention goes also to Scott Clifton (Dillon) who did his utmost to make the one-week murder mystery last month remotely realistic, always staying in character – when Sage’s death was announced, his was the only one to physically break down in the background – always combining humor with pathos, always turning in enjoyable performances whether suffering from a limp dick problem or in drag. I know why the writers put him in these unbearably embarrassing positions. It’s because he’s the only person who can pull them off and look like he’s enjoying himself. He probably is. But I also know he’s been hampered throughout his growing teen years as being the class clown. In an acting class, he was told that’s all he could do. Imagine the surprise when he proved he could do more. He can. And I see a better story for him that revolves around what’s happening with Lorenzo, Lois, Brook Lynn and Ned, how these people deal with loss, suffering and hopefully, redemption. This kid’s better than a one-week promotional campaign of Frons’.
Finally, I get to OLTL. Several names come to mind, including Robin Strasser (Dorian), lately, Dan Gauthier’s been killing me with his performances as the reckless, scorned soon-to-be-ex-husband of Kelly, showing remorse on his face, then quickly hiding it under ambition and ruthless cunning, payback only on his mind.
But the two actors that keep coming up, synonymous in their own unique categories with consistent and compelling are Timothy D. Stickney (R.J.) and Tuc Watkins (David).
For a long time now, I’ve been beating the drum for Stickney’s R.J. to receive a story of his own with several ladies vying for his attention. Instead, I’ve gotten nothing but crumbs or downright insults to his larger-than-life character, of Shakespearean – second only to Thorsten Kaye – proportions.
The initial reaction to such a nefarious soul as R.J. is to flinch, look away, think, villain, end of story. But I looked closer and found a tormented soul forever running from such a label since birth, since his mother and father seemingly chose his older do-gooder brother Hank over him. Perhaps TPTB, in 1994, hired Stickney as Hank’s, the D.A. foil, prepared to do away with the loan shark almost immediately, but then, looked closer too and found loads of angst to play underneath the bravado and the checkered history.
Stickney has provided more than they can handle. In scenes that required him to merely take his punishment like the town criminal, this Shakespearean-trained actor added race, self esteem and family issues to an otherwise throwaway villain, valid reasons R.J. tries to fly under the radar of legitimacy, reasons the audience cannot simply turn away.
I remember the first time I saw the human side, when R.J. remembered being with his mother, his formidable, hulking form, Laertes, Othello, crumbling before her disappointment and shame, a whirlwind of a lifetime’s worth of regrets, failures, no more second chances, as her passing hit him harder than a deal gone wrong.
I’ve remembered a lot of glimpses he’s revealed to only the audience (he’s similar in technique to John-Paul Lavoisier’s Rex in that he refuses to reveal what he believes are weaknesses), when he thought he lost Keri in a plane crash – made all the more futile by the fact that later, TPTB deigned to make that scene a fake, allowing himself one moment of sorrow and pain only after Nora left his apartment, smashing his expensive, precious trophies, himself until there was nothing left but an empty shell of a formidable hulking, sobbing man on the floor in the dust... reducing Bo, the police commissioner, into a white man exercisiing his racial might in an ugly example of police brutality in the middle of Rodi’s, when, after too much personal prodding by R.J., he turned around and beat the proud black man, with several of his cops standing in a circle watching – an amazing feat, considering that happened during the dark, anti-R.J. days of executive producer Jill Farren Phelps (boy did he hate that reign)...
Timothy D. Stickney also does what few in his industry can, he makes everybody else look good, raising their game, forcing them to do more than just stand there, recite lines and be pretty. He’s given Catherine Hickland’s Lindsay edge to her laughable vixen attempts at Nora’s expense. He’s given me more than a little food for thought whenever Blair happens into his club for a little soulmate commiseration—those two belong together.
The latest fiasco to screw him over has been his girlfriend Evangeline suddenly, inexplicably doing it in the locked cellar with John. That sex scene was as detailed, graphic and pushing the R-rating as you can get, unheard of in the daytime I’m accustomed to. John fairly threw Evangeline up against the wall and dry-humped her through her pale-blue bra and panties, grunting and growling with the kind of abandon I should’ve seen with R.J.
It’s funny. The guy is sensuality personified. And yet the only love scenes he’s allowed, however chaste and restrained, has been with Tea Delgado, again, back in the dark JFP period. You’d think R.J. was a monk.
I never saw him making love with Evangeline. Just pecks on the cheek, closed lips on lips here and there, hardly dating, mating material. And yet, newest hot shot white boy John McBain comes into town and he’s bedding R.J.’s woman within an episode of meeting her. And what happens to R.J.?
He’s still behind the bar, making eyes at Blair, making nice with Lindsay, keeping Ultra-Violet from Rex, smarting over a thwarted art heist, in the background... the same cartoon villain crap he’s been made to hunker over since he started OLTL.
This actor deserves better.
So does Tuc Watkins (David). Lately, I’ve been having recurring dreams about meeting and dating this man. They’ve almost been as entertaining as the actual man himself, tossing out one-liners, abbreviating Tico’s name in a show of one-upmanship, being a decent guy to wack-job Kelly, joking around with Adriana and being Dorian’s little pool boy.
In 1994, Watkins showed up on OLTL, initially as this dark Lord wannabe, until TPTB discovered the September 2nd-born, Kansas City native’s natural comedic ability. Then, his David Vickers was immediately paired up with wacky and wonderful Tina, engaged in money-making schemes and generally oozing forbidden sex in a hot tub, and onto the Cramer women (who could forget that S&M bonding scene with the two Marilyn Monroes?!) until he left, did some time on GH as Pierce Dorman #3, then went off to try films, leaving me strangely lonely, empty, wanting more.
I couldn’t believe my luck when Watkins (born, Charles Curtis Watkins III, btw) came back for good, after having signed a contract. And he got to pair up with Robin Strasser’s Dorian again, as good as it gets. I’d sit there waiting for them to come on, anything else was just filler, really.
When Craze, the new magazine brainchild of Blair and Kevin started up, with David at the marketing helm, I got really excited. It was neat seeing this money-hungry grifter find something legitimate he was good at.
Too bad none of this will come to any satisfying fruition.
Regardless, Watkins is like GH’s Scott Clifton (Dillon) – or, should that be the other way around? – equally gifted in comedy and drama. He’s so good at just saying lines in a funny way, with that boyish, goofy, gosh-golly Midwestern drawl, that it’d be easy to miss his ability to astound you with his quiet transformation as a basic good guy who’s had to go bad to survive. Watkins embodies the versatility and mercurial ease with which he can make ‘em laugh and tear up at the same time, while never straying from his character, history, motivation, the person he’s dealing with... even when the revolving regimes do.
It’s just a shame that, like with most acting greats in soaps, he’s under-utilized or, as heinous as this sounds, categorized in strictly stud muffin, class clown limits. In near-future episodes, he will service Kelly as they commit the ultimate act of betrayal—one that, IMHO, goes quite against the grain of the evolved and improved David who loves, respects and honors Dorian, and would never cheat on her with her own milquetoast of a niece.
Besides, Kelly? Well, it is Tuc Watkins we’re talking about, and if he can’t bring that whining, constipated wet noodle to life, nobody can.
Hey, singling out daytime actors for praise may not necessarily be the favorite sport of columnists, or attract much attention from the spoiler whores and gossip hounds feasting on their weekly intake of negativity, but sometimes, doing so helps break up the monotony and provide much-needed respite. Because if it weren’t for the above outstanding actors who’ve made my daytime viewing that much more fulfilling and worthwhile, I might have abandoned soaps altogether a decade ago.