It’s not often I think about actors as regular people trying to make a living. TPTB don’t want me to think about that business aspect much anyway, ruins the fantasy effect. But thanks to Art Swift’s pragmatic approach to interviewing Dan Gauthier (Kevin, OLTL), I have a whole new appreciation for the work involved in putting out quality soap – even if it IS at the expense of the actors’ salaries.  

OLTL is, IMHO, the worst daytime drama in terms of upper-management mistreatment. 

The sets and dressing rooms are located in the basement of an ancient (but architecturally relevant) building across the street from an ABC News hotbed. There’s really nothing of culinary value to lunch at nearby (unless you dig cafeteria-style noshes in a bookstore or a hot dog from a stand). 

And most of the cast can’t get the respect accorded a Maurice Benard, Susan Lucci, Peter Bergman, Deidre Hall, Tony Geary. They can’t even land a cover or a two-column-inch interview in any major soap magazine (thank God for ABC SOAPS IN DEPTH, or else we’d all be OLTL-deprived). 

I mean, when’s the last time you saw Timothy D. Stickney (R.J.), Tuc Watkins (David) and John-Paul Lavoisier (Rex) doing a triple-threat interview with a two-page centerfold pictorial of the three most interesting character actors goofing around off the set? 

Rumors throughout the years, since the ‘90s, had the cast in various stages of envy, resentment, desperate dysfunction. One cast member actually commented that they were all one big dysfunctionally messed-up family, desperate to glom onto any decent story with passably realistic-sounding dialogue, without giving in to ridicule. Any diehard OLTL fan knows of the unspoken, in-house word game, where the cast mate who can subtly insert the word of the day into a scene wins (Erika Slezak/Viki often took first prize, natch). 

Gauthier gave a surprisingly down-to-earth nuts and bolts narrative you’ll never find in SOD, SPW or SID – and, I daresay, most fans never wanna know – that helped me relate to the beautiful, glamorous celebs on TV as people a bit more, impossibly perfect icons a bit less. 

At the recent November 2004 Super Soap Weekend – a two-day weekend extravaganza of ABC Daytime promotional hype involving crowds of adoring fans and a Disney World backdrop – rumors of just plain snobbery came to rest on some male OLTL cast members unnamed, as reported on by SOAP OPERA DIGEST/SOAP OPERA WEEKLY’s Carolyn Hinsey in her weekly “It’s Only My Opinion” column. They acted, she described, like they couldn’t be bothered to be there interacting with the fans. She then chastised that if they aren’t willing to be grateful for what they have, how they got in the limelight, they should skip future SSWs altogether. 

After reading Art Swift’s January 2nd interview of Dan Gauthier (Kevin, OLTL) in SOAP OPERA NETWORK, I understand (if the SSW description is true) a little of why any of the actors would feel resentment, restlessness, disappointment, put upon by this thanklessly challenging job. 

Gauthier gave a surprisingly down-to-earth nuts and bolts narrative you’ll never find in SOD, SPW or SID – and, I daresay, most fans never wanna know – that helped me relate to the beautiful, glamorous celebs on TV as people a bit more, impossibly perfect icons a bit less. 

It was the kind of interview I always wanted to conduct as a journalism major and one I always wanted to read as a reluctant soap fan. 

Instead of blowing smoke about gratitude to the fans, reaching for the stars by going deep, mentoring skilled newcomers and the usual clichéd soap star navel-gazing, Dan Gauthier talked about struggling to make the mortgage payments, pay the bills, keep a roof over his family’s (he has a wife and teenaged son) head and food on the table – on a working actor’s salary – in light of the latest trend of movie stars joining primetime to, themselves, earn a better living. 

Before, in the golden olden days, Gauthier could pull in $60,000-80,000 a year doing recurring, guest, part-time and pilot roles on TV. He did his share of such hits as ELLEN, TOUR OF DUTY, BEVERLY HILLS, 90210, MELROSE PLACE, SISTERS. He even came close to landing his own TV show or two, as well as a six-episode story arc on ONCE AND AGAIN. That is, until the movie star regiment barged in, no longer averse to the stigma of slumming it on TV – which also failed to pay enough like it used to for recurring guest stars like him, as rates decreased. Nowadays, movie stars are everywhere in primetime, Gauthier said. Which inevitably meant very little for him. 

With a family to support, Gauthier decided to look into another genre of entertainment with the same kind of stigma primetime once had for movie stars – daytime drama. Six or so years ago, he tested daytime’s waters with little success, because nobody knew him from William Shatner. When he tried out for the often-recast role of Kevin Buchanan about a year or so ago on OLTL, he had to try out against known daytime actors, and try out frequently. 

Being Kevin has often been a thankless job, rife with the kind of stilted, scattered, slipshod dialogue long-time fans like me have complained about for years. Gauthier and his colleagues have more than noticed this substandard, rushed dialogue themselves, and have done as much as they could to fine-tune it before the material hits the airwaves. 

As an example, Gauthier read aloud to reporter Swift a sample of a script for an upcoming scene between him, a constituent and the constituent’s little boy. . . some ridiculous convoluted rambling nonsense about never having seen “mitts” on a kid like that, he’ll make a great ball player. While the youthful actor (he’s way past the youth demo age group, believe it or not) hesitates to place blame on the dialogue writers – they’ve got their own cross to bear with their constant deadlines, and it isn’t easy coming up with pithy, sharp dialogue on demand every day, he allowed – having to say a mouthful that doesn’t sound natural or in character oftentimes daunts him. 

The much-heralded, cross-over baby-switching story did a lot for AMC. Raised the soap’s ratings (it’s now high up there in the prized youth demo, surpassing GH), closer to #1 and #2 Y&R and B&B on CBS. Created buzz amongst the mainstream, Stephen King watches, across soap shows, Kristen Alderson (Starr) watches too. Made household names out of Alexa Havins (Babe), Justin Bruening (Jamie), Jacob Young (JR) and Eden Riegel (Bianca). Rejuvenated the on-screen careers of Bobbie Eakes (Krystal), Michael E. Knight (Tad), Vincent Irizarry (David) and Susan Lucci (Erica). 

But for OLTL, according to Gauthier, it didn’t do much but provide AMC with the plot device fodder to reach its higher ratings, increased buzz and mainstream acceptance. Early on in June, for about three weeks, OLTL did its part to propel the baby-switching story, Gauthier added, but that’s about it. 

The payoffs remain with AMC, as the babies biologically belong with AMC parents. Gauthier’s character Kevin already knows he’s not got a chance in Hades of custody, and the actor made it sound like he and his cast mates are pretty much just going through the motions to February Sweeps for the inevitable reunions of parents and children over on AMC, despite the tease of a major custody battle between two mammoth families, the Buchanans versus the Chandlers. If they give me Ace, Gauthier said, I’ll be very shocked, it won’t happen, I’ll lose custody of the boy, feel like crap for a few days and then it’s on to the next story. 

Doing a soap like OLTL as a character like Kevin has been the most difficult in Gauthier’s impressive career (he’s done TV and movies), the stilted, silly dialogue, the supporting status, the nebulous character motivations. . . he and his co-stars are forever trying to nip and tuck down to the original, raw, explosive essence of key scenes. 

Dressing room mate and frequent on-screen partner Trevor St. John (Todd) singled out a fight scene between him and Gauthier that really stood out for its awkward realism. They worked on that scene for hours with a stunt expert, intent on showing how fighting between two men who weren’t good at it would turn out. St. John said he was really proud of how they went at it without throwing one fist, or coming off like a carefully choreographed ballet of implausible round-house slugs as per usual in daytime or film. 

St. John, Michael Easton (John) and other leading actors on the show have given their feedback on improving story to the writing staff, as requested, and Gauthier is free to do so too, he just may soon, but at this point, he’s stymied by the supporting actor status that leaves him with less say, less pivotal airtime. 

If he did approach TPTB, he’d ask for the show to lighten up – like they do on PASSIONS – add a monkey for hilarious effect, and if a Kevin and Kelly reunion is in the works, please make it “explosive and dramatic and raw,” not a sudden attraction firing up again after a few drinks in a bar with Kevin going, “Y’know, Kelly is hot.” 

Considering the frequency with which his co-stars lavish praises – rare on OLTL, much less daytime, these guys are too busy trying to polish turds on a regular basis with no sunlight in that cramped basement in Manhattan – singling HIS scenes out as extraordinary, explosive, dramatic and raw. . . and the frequency with which I find myself startled out of my comatose reverie at the same stilted, silly dialogue, at something different Gauthier does with Kevin – smirking with sexual lust on his face as Blair at once verbally smacks him yet invites him into Rodi’s Bar for a continuation post-Todd-gone-missing, at a loss of his usual command when faced with the kidnapping of little Ace, with Dorian and Viki yelling at him to contact the police hours ago, always on fire with Todd in his face (I never know what they’ll pull next) – I’d say the new head writer, Dena Higley, would do well to

  1. investigate the dialogue problem,
  2. bump up Gauthier’s status to romantic leading man,
  3. hire that trained monkey as the latest pet of Todd’s,
  4. move the studio to a better location with windows, larger dressing rooms in the heart of restaurants galore,
  5. and give everybody on that little-known, often-overlooked soap a raise to rival that of a movie star slumming it on primetime.

Often, we forget actors are people too. 

On OLTL, it’s painfully obvious, perhaps moreso than on other soaps where THOSE actors tend to put on glamorous airs. OLTL’s actors seem more like you and me, working class blue collar types, trying to earn some decent money and turn in some decent work first, raise the bar in an original, dramatic, raw and realistic manner along the way. . . then get back to them about accolades, fan encounters and putting on a happy face at the next SSW. 

Realism, right?