The Ring of Truth?
Soap Opera Stars Say Soapdish Parodies Days of Their Working Lives
by LIBBY SLATE
The new film Soapdish, a comedy about life at a fictional television soap opera, features cameos by real-life soap stars, mentions soaps such as All My Trials and The Bold and the Brass and has its share of the young hunk and sexpot characters who inhabit daytime TV.
But does the broad humor of Soapdish and the travails of soap opera queen Celeste Talbert (Sally Field) of The Sun Also Sets, reflect life as real soap actors, writers and producers know it?
“I thought the film was extremely funny. All of us in daytime have said that the real drama is behind the camera,” said Samuel D. Ratcliffe, one of the head writers of NBC’s Santa Barbara. “The most outrageous reality takes place between the producers and the actors and the writers-and then the camera starts rolling.”
“(The film) is farce, not comedy, and it has to be taken that way,” said veteran actress Jeanne Cooper, who has played Kay on CBS’ The Young and the Restless for most of the serial’s 18-year run. “It’s such fun. It hits some points, and there are others that are bigger than life.”
Cooper is among the soap figures who believes that the film’s credibility lies primarily in the character of head writer Rose Schwartz (Whoopi Goldberg), who objects to bringing back a particular soap character because he had been decapitated nearly 20 years earlier. “Miss Goldberg hit it on the head,” Cooper said. “She made it reality.”
Added Maria Arena, a writer for The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful: “Whoopi’s character had an integrity about her characters and story. She said, `I’m not going to write for a guy who doesn’t have a head.’ We feel the same way-we don’t just bring someone back to life.”
But according to Stephen Nichols, who in October left his role as Steve on NBC’s Days of Our Lives and appears in Soapdish as a Daytime Television Awards presenter, “That sounds ridiculous, but it happens all the time on the soaps. If they want to bring a character back badly enough, they will.”
For Nichols, Celeste’s visit to a shopping mall so as to be besieged by fans was the film’s “most striking, real scene. Here’s an actress who’s done a show for 20 years and is feeling down on herself, so her writer-friend suggests she go to a mall and sign autographs. It was a very moving scene.”
Arena said that she could relate to that scene, but from a more practical perspective: “When our actors and actresses are recognized in public places, they can be mobbed.”
She also got a kick out of Celeste’s husband, a young stud named Bolt (Paul Johansson, a former Santa Barbara cast member). “That hit home with us on Bold and Beautiful, with our (character) names like Ridge, Thorne and Storm,” she said.
In general, Ratcliffe found the Soapdish characters “certainly exaggerated, but not all that exaggerated. I can think of (real soap opera) characters who were outrageous, where you’d think, `Oh, come on, they can’t do this.’ We did a story on Another World with a gangster. We decided we were tired of the stereotype, so we made him a pudgy character named Tony the Tuna because he liked tuna steak. And on Santa Barbara, there was Bunny, who was a transvestite gangster.”
What rang true for Finola Hughes, who plays Anna on ABC’s General Hospital and has a Soapdish cameo, were the clips of soap scenes shown in the film’s Daytime TV Awards ceremony.
“It’s a great take-off, especially the zoom-ins (to close-up shots of actors),” she said. “There’s this stagnant pause at the end of scenes that I’ve never understood, but that is peculiar to soap opera. When we were on the (Soapdish) set, the director, Michael Hoffman, came over to me and said, `That is what they do, isn’t it?’
“I also liked the ad-libbing and the reading of the prompter (while enacting soap scenes)-that made me die,” she added. “We used to have a rolling prompter (on General Hospital) but we got rid of it about a year and a half ago. It was ridiculous, because people were in a scene and they’d be looking off to the side.”
Actors in New York, where Soapdish is set, also found some degree of veracity to the film. According to Robert S. Woods, who plays Bo on ABC’s One Life to Live, “It captures the involvement we have with our own characters. Your character becomes part of your real life, every day, every week of the year.”
And, said Ricky Paull Goldin, who portrays Dean on NBC’s Another World, “Some things were very inside, very spot-on, like the director going, `Go to Camera One, I mean Camera Two.’ And the egos-I find it hard to walk down the halls of my own soap sometimes, because I can’t get past another actor and his ego.”
By and large, though, the consensus among those polled was that, despite such kernels of truth, the film greatly exaggerates life in soapland.
For one thing, they say, real-life performers would never get away with the kind of behavior displayed by the cast of The Sun Also Sets. Regarding the attempts by younger actress Montana Moorehead (Cathy Moriarty) to have Celeste dropped from the soap, promising the producer that she will sleep with him if he dumps the older woman, Arena said, “I couldn’t find a parallel for all that back-stabbing. An actress would never get someone off, especially one who’d won awards and was America’s sweetheart.”
All of the writers said they enjoyed a good laugh at the film’s depiction of story meetings, with their gleaming boardroom settings and corporate formality. And a story meeting visit by network daytime head Edmund Edwards (Garry Marshall), while amusing, also bore no resemblance to reality, Arena said. “Network executives don’t sit in with us. They give enough credibility to our head writers.”
Bradley Bell, a writer and associate producer with The Bold and the Beautiful, did laugh at much of the film-“I was howling at the award show clips”-but, he said, “I was a little let down. I don’t know why they had to take the farce so far. With more of a reality base, they could have gotten some of the poignancy of the film’s characters. They made all three characters (Celeste, Jeffrey Anderson, played by Kevin Kline, and aspiring actress Lori Craven, played by Elisabeth Shue) so absurd that you were left with no one to root for. I can’t think of any point in the movie that I was really moved.”
While those interviewed said they were aware that some colleagues were offended by the film’s depiction of the soap world, Nichols said, “Some people are protesting that (the filmmakers) are making fun of the work, that everyone on soaps is melodramatic and overacts. I disagree. They’re just saying that this group does.”
Added Goldin, “I think we all have to have a sense of humor about our jobs. The most important thing is that soap actors don’t take this movie too seriously, and start picking it apart. If they do, they should consider another line of work.”