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Erika Slezak Library

Soaps in Depth
April 3, 2001
Volume 5 Issue 14

Erika Slezak Celebrates 30 years
as Llanview's First Lady

By: unknown

On March 17, 1971, a theater-trained actress by the name of Erika Slezak stepped onto the set of a 30-minute soap opera called One Life to Live with a two-year contract in hand.  In the three decades since, as the show doubled in length, the five-time Daytime Emmy Award winner has taken her beloved character, Victoria Lord Riley Burke Riley Buchanan Buchanan Carpenter Davidson, to heaven and through time, and has depicted the newspaperwoman's triumphs over everything from a stroke and multiple personality disorder to brainwashing and breast cancer.  Now wed to younger doctor Ben Davidson and fighting to sever his ties to the Mob, the heroine is embroiled in yet another front burner storyline, the likes of which have kept her portrayer intrigued for three decades. 

To commemorate this special anniversary, and pay homage to Llanview's grande dame, Soaps In Depth chatted with Slezak about the meaning of this amazing milestone.

Remembering Her Parents

SID:  If someone had told you 30 years ago that you'd still be playing Viki today, what would you have said?

ES:  I couldn't imagine being in one place for that long, or that a job could be that interesting.  Jobs don't last that long in show business.  At the time, I had just come from repertory theater, where you go from season to season, so a long-term job like this was unheard of.

SID:  I know that your father [the late Tony-winning actor Walter Slezak] was one of your greatest supporters.  Do you think of him at times like this?

ES:  I think of my mother and father every day of my life.  My father died in 1983, and my mother in 1984, and there's not a day that goes by that it doesn't hurt.  When I was offered this job, my father was so happy, he was dancing on the rooftop.  They offered me a contract making more money per day than I had made in a week.  I think it was $220 a day, and I had never made more than $195 per week in repertory.  Of course, I didn't realize that I wasn't going to be working every day, or that they could fire me at any time!  I can't imagine how proud my father would be to see that I'm still making money [as an actor] after 30 years.  Unfortunately, he never lived to see me win an Emmy.  I know he would have been proud.

Analyzing Her Character

SID:  What is it about the character of Viki that has allowed her to endure for this long?

ES:  Viki was created in the mind of a very, very bright woman, Agnes Nixon [the creator not only of OLTL, but of All My Children as well].  She created this wonderful, very complex character who is basically very good, but has had so many obstacles to overcome.

SID:  Even though Viki is an affluent socialite, she's had a broad appeal to all kinds of women.  Why do you think that is?

ES:  She never paraded her wealth and never treated anyone differently, or badly, for having less.  She never was a snob, and she really crosses all social levels.  Plus, she's suffered the same as anyone.  She's never [known] hunger or poverty, but her emotional and psychological traumas have just been horrendous.  And she's a survivor!

Erika calls therapy scenes in which Viki's alternate personalities emerged "very very difficult but wonderful."

SID:  What has been Viki's greatest struggle?

ES:  Multiple-personality disorder, and the knowledge and discovery that her father had abused her.  He was the man she had worshipped all her life, or believed she did, and when you build your whole life on one foundation and that foundation is suddenly gone, you have to replace it with something else because you don't know if your own two feet will stand under you.  She blocked it out for all these years, and the realization of it was the most shattering thing.  Also, having breast cancer [continues to be] a struggle.  She's facing her own mortality, and she's not ready to deal with that quite yet.

Pondering Her Storyline

SID:  Gina Russo is Viki's newest rival.  How does she stack up against her past nemeses?

ES:  When Gina first appeared, there was a flood of mail about how angry people were about bringing yet another obstacle to Ben and Viki's [romance], but she's not an obstacle to Ben and Viki's love at all.  Ben would not leave Viki for anything.  However, Gina turns out to be far more dangerous than they ever suspected.  She's going to be a serious, serious threat - not to Ben and Viki's love, but a physical threat to Viki.  But there are some fun things that are going to come out of [the story] too.

"Ben truly loves Viki" asserts her portrayer of The Banner publisher's fifth husband.

SID:  How did you feel about the recent departure of Don Jeffcoat - and yet another Joey?

ES:  I've got a revolving-door kid!  I don't presume to know what they're thinking upstairs, but I think they ran out of story.  I'm always sorry to see my kids go, because I love them all.  When they come on, I treat them like my children and worry about them.  Donny is such a sweetie.  I miss him.

Seeking Her Destiny

SID:  Viki's had one incredible story after another for the last 30 years.  Is there anything else you wish for her?

ES:  The one thing I am not is a writer, and I wouldn't trade places with a headwriter for all the tea in China!  I'm constantly amazed that they come up with twists and stories for 30 different characters on 11 shows.  But a lot of fans are writing letters saying that Ben and Viki should have a baby - and I think that's a possibility.  People want to solidify the relationship.  But does she want to deal with a baby?  I don't know, but it would be a good story for the two of them, and it would be great for Ben to have a child-he would adore it.  But they'd have to do it pretty quickly!

SID:  Could you ever imagine Viki being recast?

ES:  I've never been so egotistical as to think that there's no one else to play this part, because I was the fourth person to play it.  Obviously, there were other people who have played it, and played it very well.  I just happen to have hung on longer.  I think everybody can be replaced.  If I ever were to leave, they would probably send Viki away for six months, then replace her.  It would be hard, because I've been there for so long, but we have people just starting to watch every day, so for them it would be the only Viki they'd ever known.

SID:  What is your five-year plan?

ES:  To be alive and healthy, to have my kids still like me, and be with my husband and be happy.  At one point, I'll say [to OLTL] "Thanks for the last 30-some-odd years, it's been grand, goodbye." and I will go as quietly as I came.  But I've meant what I've said to you before-I've stayed all these years because they've made it fun.  I love to come to work, and as long as they keep it interesting.  I'm happy to be here."

"They have become wonderful, interesting people," marvels the actress of Amanda and Michael, her kids with hubby Michael Davies.

Scenes from a Life

Erika Slezak picks Viki's most memorable moments!

Although she has 30 years of incredible story from which to choose, the actress manages to select highlights from her character's incredible journey.

Greatest Love:  "Joe Riley!  I'm firmly convinced that if Joe hadn't died, he and Viki would still be married."

Best Kisser:  "I'm taking the fifth...although..." (she pauses.)  "No, I'm taking the fifth!"

Best Love Scenes:  "I never really had love scenes until Ben came along - although Viki had a wonderful scene with Sloan in the library.  I'd have to say that the best love scenes have been with Ben."

Most emotional on-screen moment:  "When Sloan died.  I am so fond of Roy Thinnes.  He's a delightful man and a wonderful actor.  At the time, I said, 'Don't kill his character off.'  They felt it was necessary to have Sloan die to kick Viki into the multiple-personality story, but I was destroyed all day."

Least favorite storyline:  "When Carlo Hesser hired a psychiatrist to hypnotize Viki to kill Kevin.  I found it horrendous and totally unbelievable.  they cannot hypnotize you to do something you wouldn't ordinarily do.  And to kill you your own way.  Viki's whole life is tied to her three kids!"


LIFE's Work:  "My husband will tell you that if I wasn't working, I'd go out of my mind," the performer confesses.  "I don't know what to do with myself on the weekend sometimes.  I run around and clean closets."

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