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Erika Slezak Library

Soaps In Depth-ABC Edition
July 25, 2000, Vol. 4, Issue 30

I Will Survive

By: Unknown

Erika Slezak says Viki's Got A Lot More Life to Live

In her 29 years of playing One Life to Live's Viki, Erika Slezak has seen her character weather storms mightier than a nor'easter. But none have been more powerful or more poignantly depicted, than her ongoing bout with breast cancer.

"It has been very difficult," admits the five-time Emmy winner, whose character has undergone a modified radical mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, and is currently dealing with the devastating effects of chemotherapy. "It's an odd thing to say, but it's also been an incredibly rewarding storyline for me to do in an emotional sense.

"As you get older, life teaches you a lot," she continues. "And I'm learning as much from my pretend life here as I am from my real life, through stories like this."

"I was hesitant to do this [breast cancer] storyline at first because it's not a happy one," confesses Slezak. "But it has turnedout to be a wonderful focus for Viki rightnow, and [the writing team has] been giving me fabulous stuff to do."

LIFE Lessons

While Slezak was aware of the breast cancer epidemic in this country, diving into this plot brought the cause into crystal-clear focus for her. "You don't realize how widespread breast cancer is and how many people are affected directly or indirectly [until you are forced to]," she explains. It's touched a nerve because it "makes you aware of your own body, your own good fortune and what other people have been through." The actress worked with OLTL's medical consultant, Cora McCraw, and combed through countless books and pamphlets on the subject. But no amount of research was more sobering than her one-on-one talks with real life breast cancer survivors - among the OLTL staff. "I've talked to a number of women - right in this building - who had mastectomies and lumpectomies," she reveals. "They were very generous with their information and very forthcoming."

At the beginning of the summer, the Davieses
trekked to Monaco, Monte Carlo and St. Tropez. "The children always travel with us," says Slezak, with husband Brian and kids Michael and Amanda.

Reality Television

Slezak even goes so far as to put her current story on par with the Emmy-winning dissociative identity disorder plot that found her playing not only Viki, but also "alternates" like Niki, Tori and Jean. "This was scarier than the DID story," she asserts. "I'm not in any way saying that that wasn't an important thing, because certainly there are many people who suffer a horrendous experience [with DID]. But Viki still had some control over that because it came from within her. It wasn't a foreign thing living inside her like cancer.

"How do the two stories compare? You don't walk down the street and run into six people who have multiple personality disorder, but you can walk down the street and run into at least six people who have had breast cancer or some connection to it. This is something that touches us all, and I've had a lot of positive responses from the story."

Knowledge Is Power

Understandably, living vicariously through a cancer patient can take its toll on even the most rational person, and Slezak has been no exception. "I'm not a hypochondriac, but I did get a little paranoid," she acknowledges. "I'm still trying hard not to panic, and I've learned that you have to be very aware and you have to protect yourself."

Personally, Slezak has a mammogram every year, and stress that all women over 40 should follow suit. "I've been faithful about that," she says. "I go to the gynecologist every six months, and I also do self-exams. "The earlier breast cancer is detected the more treatable it is," she continues. "So it all has to do with mammograms and self-exams. If this story sends one more person to get a mammogram, then it's been [worthwhile]."

“Your body is important, and you must take care of it,” says the actress. “You just can’t trust it to keep serving you.”

Do The Right Thing

While Viki seems to be out of imminent danger, Slezak maintains that by no means is she out of the woods - nor should she be. "This is an ongoing story," she insists. "Viki is going to have to live with this forever. Every time she goes back to the doctor, she'll wonder, "Oh God, did it come back? She's not just cured.

"I'm hoping that they never give up on that, and I don't think that they will," she adds, "because Jill Farren Phelps and Megan McTavish are very committed to following through with this story." After all, in this case, follow through is a matter of life and death. "When you do a story that is this real," Slezak points out, "you have to be true to the actual facts."

Heading For A Wedding

The one beacon of light through Viki's darkest hour has been her long-awaited reunion with on-again/off-again significant other Ben Davidson. But will the star-crossed lovers live happily ever after? "Never in soap opera land!" Slezak quips, quickly clarifying, "Actually, I know we're going to be happy. I think I hear 'Dum dum duh dum...' in their future!

"[Usually] I hate weddings, funeral and parties [on the show] because they take so long to shot, and we're here late. But this wedding I'm looking forward to. It's going to be fun!"

In fact, Slezak has some small requests for Ben and Blondie's big day. "I've been teasing [TPTB] by saying that I want a big, white, wonderful wedding dress," she reveals. Because the first time I got married on the show [after two other actresses already had played the character], it was already Viki's second wedding, so I never got the big dress. I want the big dress! I deserve it!"

Slezak predicts that, Skye and Asa be dammed,Viki and Ben will walk down the aisle.

Home Alone

While Viki's life has reached a "Crossroads," so has Slezak's. She and her husband of 21 years, fellow actor Brian Davies, have survived their first year in an empty nest. Their son Michael, 20, has finished his second year at Georgetown University, and their daughter, Amanda, 18 completed her freshman year at New York University. "At first, I thought, "How are we going to get through this?" Slezak reflects. "But it went pretty quickly."

Easing the transition over the past year was the fact that mother and daughter could visit in Manhattan, where OLTL and NYU are based. "We talked at least once a day, and we saw a lot of theater together," says Mom.

"And a few trips to the capital city where Georgetown is situated didn't hurt the family unit, either. "I will take any excuse," Slezak confesses, "to visit Washington, DC."

As for the rest of the summer, Slezak will enjoy some more quality time with her daughter, who has taken up residence in their Long Island home until the fall semester starts. And the Davies clan will travel to Europe to visit their son, who is studying abroad until August. "I have a terrific family," Slezak concludes. "I'm very proud of all of them."

Looking Ahead

As Slezak's children make their own way in the world, will she be tempted to spread her wings as well? Maybe...and then again, maybe not.

"I've been at OLTL for 29 years because I've been happy for 29 years," she says. "I will probably stay as long as I'm happy."

And right now, Slezak has a lot to be happy about. "I have my sweet little Ben and good stories," she observes. "I'm not going anywhere, for a while at least."

So does all of this mean that Viki is a survivor? "Good Lord, yes!" Slezak enthuses. "She's been through so much in her life - although nothing that has been so out of her control as this. But Viki has determination, fortitude and strength of mind. Oh yes, she will survive!"


In praise of Younger Men -- In Daytime Women Are Taking The Lead!

"I'm so touched by how much the fans love this relationship," says Erika Slezak of the Ben and Viki pairing. "It's like Jill said to me ages ago, "Whose fantasy is this not?" As OLTL fans are reveling in Viki's happiness with her younger beau, other leading ladies are proving that age doesn't matter.

Erika Slezak tells Soaps In Depth Why Viki's Always Smiling
Ben and Blondie Take 2

Viki's health problems aside, Llanview's long-suffering heroine is having the time of her life - thanks to the love of Ben Davidson. And Viki's good fortune has put a smile on the face of her portrayer as well. According to Erika Slezak, the cute couple's on-screen chemistry is a direct result of the actors' rapturous rapport. "We work well together because we like each other," she relates. "Mark Derwin is just like Ben, only a lot sillier. He doesn't have that intensity. In fact he's probably one of the funniest people we have around here." Slezak goes on to explain that having a good screen partner makes the workday a whole lot better." You come to work in the morning and you know it's going to be a cheerful occasion," she says. "Mark makes everyone happy - he's adorable."

The fans love Ben and Viki's relationship
because it's so light-hearted," says the actress.
"They compliment each other well."

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