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Erika Slezak Library

Daytime TV
May,1991, Volume 21, No. 12

Lady of the Manor

By: Anne Marie Allocca

It's hard to believe that Erika Slezak will celebrate her 20th anniversary playing Viki Lord Buchanan on One Life to Live this March 17th. She's won two Daytime Emmy Awards as Outstanding Lead Actress (1984 and 1986). Daytime TV spoke with Erika at length about Viki's current stroke storyline, Niki Smith, her leading men and her future.

Daytime: It's hard to believe you've been in Llanview for 20 years.

Erika: It's hard for me to believe. It does not feel like 20 years. I look in the mirror and see that same 24-year-old who started. I know I look a lot different. My hair has gone through a lot of changes. I feel a little bit more grown up, but not a lot. I look at home and know that I have children and a husband, but it does not feel like 20 years has gone by. I look at my children and do not believe how old they are!

Daytime: Do you remember your first day?

Erika: Yes. I remember it very well: I was hired the day before and it all was a bit hush-hush. I was replacing another young lady. We rehearsed at the Dorchester Hotel. I think the first rehearsal was at 8:30 a.m. I arrived so early because I was so nervous. I think I was there at a quarter to eight. Better to be early...not a soul was there. I sat on the floor in the hallway. Nat Poten, God bless him, who played Jim Craig, Ernie Graves (Victor) and Lynn Benish (Meredith) literally took me by the hand and walked me over to TV One (the studio) and showed me where my dressing room was. They got me through the day. Hazel Roy, the costume designer, put a nickel in my Costume. 'That Will bring you good ' luck.' I kept that nickel forever! I did not know if I was going to make it to the next day. Here I am 20 years later still loving it!

Daytime: What has been your favorite storyline—and least favorite?

Erika: I think it is a toss up. I loved the Old West storyline because I loved Miss Ginny. She was a wonderful character. I loved going to 'Heaven.' Also the whole Niki storyline, I think it is a toss up among those three. [As for my least favorite] I do not want to say it. I do not want to sound ungrateful for anything. I am sure that I do have storylines that were less favorite than others. I do not think Eterna was my all-time favorite. It was not my least favorite. It was an awfully good idea that unfortunately got confused.

Daytime: What are your thoughts on Niki Smith? Those scenes must have been difficult.

Erika: Everytime I play her, she is so different and so much fun. She has also evolved over the years. When Paul Rauch (OLTL's exec producer) took over the show and decided to bring her back...that's really the only time I played her. I did in flashbacks and other people's recalls. She had never really appeared for me. Gillian Spencer played her when it first happened. So, when I started playing Niki we had to work up a new character essentially. The hardest scene was a mirror scene where Niki and Viki had a conversation in the mirror. Because of the way it was shot, we had to do it in one take. I did Viki first and I obviously had to learn both sets of dialogue. I would say the Viki dialogue out loud. In my mind I had to leave the exact amount of space to fit in the Niki lines. They were angry with each other. It was quite a long scene, 5 or 6 pages, which is not that long, but it's long for one person to be talking. Technically it was the most difficult thing I had to do.

Daytime: You had some wonderful on-screen lovers – Clint, Joe, Steve, Roger – played by some superb actors. Tell us what comes to mind when you think of them.

Erika: I love them all. Bernie Grant (Steve) was the first one. Bernie had a very dry sense of humor. He complained more than anything, in the nicest possible way. Lee Patterson did a wonderful Joe Riley. Lee was an unbelievable gentleman, sweet and kind as can be, and very funny. And Clint Ritchie! Clint is a cowboy and I love him for that. He is terrific. He cares so much about so many things. Larry Pine (Roger) was lovely, but it was for such a short time though.

Daytime: What comes to mind when I say these names? Clint?

Erika: He has been my husband for all of these years.

Daytime: Joe Riley?

Erika: He was wonderful. He was kind of like every woman's ideal. He was gruff, but yet he was tender, gentle, strong and handsome.

Daytime: Steve Burke?

Erika: He was a father figure and ready to take care of Viki. She wanted to be taken care of and then she realized her love really belonged with Joe.

Daytime: Roger Gordon?

Erika: That's hard...also someone very gentle.

Daytime: Tina?

Erika: Tina has been a lot of fun and a lot of trouble!

Daytime: Has your current storyline, having a stroke, been your most challenging storyline to date?

Erika: Yes. Because it is such an enormously difficult disease or is totally real. The writers and I had discussions beforehand. They said to me that this is not going to be for TV. This is going to be for

"I look in the mirror and see that
same 24-year-old who started...
My hair has gone through a lot of changes."

real. We have to tell a story about a real problem that millions of people in this world live with. You can't fool around with this. You can't have a stroke and be better four days later. I have had letters from stroke victims. They have written in to say they like what I am doing and they think it is fairly accurate, which is nice to know. That's what I was trying to make it real and to show people how unbelievably difficult it is to have to come back from day one. People tend to treat you when you're a stroke victim as if you're not there. 'She can't talk, I guess she can't hear.' They talk over your head. They talk about you when you're in the room. You just want to scream and you can't do it!

Daytime: What would you like to see in Viki's future?

Erika: People ask me that and I just do not know. I would like to see her keep on working. I would like to see her work shorter hours (Erika laughs.)

Daytime: Do you see yourself playing Viki for ages? Do you have a message for your fans?

Erika: It does not seem like I have been here for ages. I continue to think of it as going on. I play it one day at a time. I don't even try to think where I will be next year. I'd like to thank them (the fans) for being so wonderful these 20 years and hanging in there. Keep watching, please!

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