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Erika Slezak Library

Soap Opera Digest
March 19, 1991

Shattering the Myth

By: Donna Hoke Kahwaty

Erika Slezak Puts Prima Donna Rumors To Rest,
And Talks Frankly About Herself And Twenty Years On OLTL

Just The Facts:

Birthday: August 5

Education: Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, London

Her Famous Father: The late Walter Slezak, who won a Tony for Best Actor in a Musical for Broadway's Fanny.

Did She Root For Clint Or Roger? "Clint. I just didn't buy it that you love someone twenty-five years ago and you forget about him and he comes back into your life -- enough to totally destroy your marriage, which is so wonderful and you have all these kids."

On Children: "If Brian and I had met earlier, I would have had five or six kids 'cause I love 'em."

Making her entrance in an elegant black dress and looking years younger than she does on television, Erika Slezak's first priority is making it clear that she didn't demand to be taken to Sfuzzi, a trendy restaurant near the ONE LIFE TO LIVE studio. "I was only joking," she explains in a manner suggesting she's anything but the prima donna she's rumored to be.

In fact, Erika laughs with shock at the report that she won't run lines with anybody, or that her television children were unnaturally soap stunted for years at her bidding. "Okay, I'll set you straight now. I have nothing to say about anything on that show. They don't ask me about story, they don't consult me about story. They are nice if they tell me what the story is," she swears. "I work for them. I'm a slave in there like anybody else is. I've just been there longer and maybe am a higher-paid slave, that's it."

If she has any clout at the show, Erika only exercises it to be first in in the morning, and therefore first out at night, so she can spend as much time with her children as possible. And if she doesn't want to do an interview on her day off, that's why. Time is very important to her, and it's something she doesn't waste. Though most people admire that quality, it made Jessica Tuck (Megan) nervous -- at first. "I remember when I finished my first scene with Erika, she said, 'I can work with this girl. She can do it in one take.' Just what I didn't need to hear because from then on, I was terrified of messing up," Jessica recalls. "Things have gotten a little looser since then. The other day, I had an uncontrollable laughing fit and even Erika, the ultimate professional, cracked a smile."

If she's seen as a prima donna, Erika says, it's only because she is usually a very serious woman and, initially, that can be intimidating. Ask Karen Witter: "When I first met Erika, she terrified me because she appeared very disciplined and serious, and I took that to mean that she wouldn't be any fun. But she's turned out to be a blast."

That seems to be the consensus: Beneath a dignified exterior, Erika is a spitfire, and tons of fun. A reluctance to do interviews in the past few years, however, has given her an undeserved reputation. But that lack of press, Erika says, is as much because people haven't been asking as it is because she didn't have much to say. "I lead a very quiet, normal life," she states. "I go home at night; I'm Mom."

That's an understatement. Erika's life revolves around her family -her husband of twelve years, actor Brian Davies, and their two children, Michael and Amanda. "There is no point in having children unless you are prepared to give up the time that it takes and devote it to them. The world is in bad shape and kids need every ounce of help and love that you can give them," says an ardent Erika, who even takes time out of her busy schedule to reach out to the children who write to her.

"I don't think children want a letter from a fan club president," she explains. "They want somebody famous to write them a letter that says, 'Dear So-and-So,' with their own name. Then they say, 'My God, somebody took notice of me.' That's all half the kids in this country are looking for. If parents are just going to turn their kids over to somebody else, then don't bother."

Unfortunately, a time-consuming job like Erika's means that sharing the special times in her children's lives is sometimes frustratingly beyond her reach. "They live with it," she says matter-of-factly. "It bothers my daughter enormously some days that I go to work. She cries sometimes, 'Mommy, please don't go to work, stay home with me.' It's very hard to take those little arms off your neck and say, 'Darling, I have to go to work.' "

For Amanda and Michael, Mommy's work is a vague concept: Erika doesn't allow them to watch the show. Number one, she explains, the material is not suitable for children, and number two, even though the kids know she's playing a part, acting isn't something they always understand. "Amanda [watched me] one day when I had to play a very sad scene and I was crying," Erika recalls. "After the scene, she was very upset. 'Gee Mommy, I don't like to see you cry.' She knows I'm acting, but if she sees real tears, she thinks I really made myself sad to produce them."

The practical Erika is not worried that her children will miss out on a significant part of her life; she has key episodes taped and tucked away for a rainy day when her children are old enough to watch them. "In twenty years, what you see is an incredible change of hairstyle and makeup. At first, I had the big eyes, Cleopatra eyes, and lots of hair," Erika jokes, but goes on to say, "When I joined the show, we were sitting around the kitchen table, discussing relationships." She pauses, and comes to a realization. "I was going to say that now we don't do that. But two days ago, I had a scene sitting at the kitchen table with Tina discussing her relationships. So, in a sense, we haven't come anywhere."

Erika counters criticism about OL TL's wild forays into the fantastic with a realistic viewpoint. "It's television, you know. It's not real life. Sure, why not have an underground city? Why not go to heaven for two weeks?" she says. "Some people got very upset with the Old West [storyline]. Come on. There are only a certain amount of stories on this earth. How much more can you do? Any bit of imagination is welcome."

Erika will admit that while OL TL was once one of the most socially relevant soaps around, it's lost some of that in recent years. "They're always looking for happy endings. You know what Tina really would have done in her dilemma right now is have an abortion. Tina's not so moral that she wouldn't have done that, but no, they had her thwarted because she had a cold," she points out. "If you want to have an abortion, you go to New Jersey in the middle of the night and you find an abortionist who will do it. Then you deal with the difficulties of having had a sleazy, disgusting abortion in New Jersey in the middle of the night. That is almost more interesting than 'Is it Johnny's or is it Cord's?' "

Erika finds her current stroke story, however, her most challenging to date, but is bothered when the press touts it as "Erika's Emmy-Winning Story." A two-time Emmy-winner, Erika doesn't want anyone to think she's not grateful, but she declares the Emmys a strange subject. "All the members of the Academy who are involved in daytime TV are working in daytime TV and can't watch television," she observes. "Nomination is a very tricky subject to which there is no easy answer."

Nevertheless, it surprises Erika that after twenty years, she's still in a position to be nominated. Her twenty-year front-burner status in daytime is shared only by Susan Lucci (Erica, AMC) and Eileen Fulton (thirty years as Lisa on ATWT), and Erika is often asked why she doesn't pursue the outside projects these women do.

"I think the answer to that question is that I don't want to leave home," says Erika who, when she hears a location shoot is being planned, hopes like crazy that she's not on it. "Also, nobody's ever asked me. I have it in my contract, but they have never come to me. It's one of those deals where you do a movie or they pay you 'x' amount of money. And every year, they pay me 'x' amount of money. Susan [Lucci] also works harder at it, I guess. I'm not really that interested because I keep so busy on this show."

If that weren't the case, Erika supposes she'd go California, but wouldn't really want to. "If I had to go to California, I would go and make the best of it, but I don't think it's a healthy atmosphere in which to raise kids," she says. "The city [L.A.] is so show business oriented that it's maddening. You can't go anywhere that they don't talk about the meeting, the interview, the this, the that. It's such rubbish! Get a job, get a life. That's the side of it I don't like."

Male Co-Stars Remember Day One With Erika Slezak

Michael Storm (Larry): "My first impression of Erika was that this is a very serious individual. She was understandably nervous, but she also had a supreme confidence about her. We were all intimidated by the Slezak name. She was very mature and self-confident. It took us all about a half an hour to see that under this staid exterior, she was a real ball of fire. She was the best audience for me to have because she loved breaking up with laughter and with her, I found a real victim for my practical jokes. I was the first person to break her up on camera while we were taping. We actually had to reshoot the scene because she was so hysterical."

Bob Woods (Bo): "I screen-tested with Erika when I auditioned for Bo. A few of us recently played that tape back, and I think one of the reasons I'm playing this role is because of Erika. She went into the control room after my audition and told everyone, 'That's the guy.' She made me look great. When I first met her, I thought she was so nice and so cute, because she was pregnant. She has been a tower of strength and support for me, and she's all pro."

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