Soap Shrink at Sea: On Deck with One Life to Live’s Susan Haskell

Thinking Marty/Susan Fans Comment Update: John enthuses, “As for Susan Haskell, she is incredible. It’s too bad it took such an ill-conceived story like the one Marty has had this year for me to realize what she can really do with powerful material” … while MissD concurs, “(Marty/Susan) has been a fave of mine and is the reason I recently came back to the show. I’m glad to hear that she understands why people are so unhappy with the recent Todd/Marty storyline and that she is not so happy about it herself”  … and more. See Comments below. 

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Dear Thinking Fans, 

Despite the recession, I took the plunge and booked passage on SoapNet’s “Rock the Soap Cruise” March 20 - 23. And am I glad I did!  It was a never-before-seen opportunity for fans to mix with more than a dozen stars in a relaxed, casual environment during the three-day sail from Long Beach, Calif. to Ensenada, Mexico and back.  Viewers and journalists alike had many opportunities to have thoughtful dialogues with the actors without the constraints of time pressure and huge crowds.

I was able to get eight amazing interviews with top actors on today’s shows.  I’ll post these interviews over the next few weeks. In them, you’ll read scoops, insights, and uncensored quips directly from the performers themselves.  I learned so much about the craft and talent that goes into our dramas every single day, and felt the sincere love and devotion the actors have for their respective shows.  I can’t wait to share all these interviews with all of you Thinking Fans, so please keep checking back to Marlena’s site for the answers and responses you won’t read anywhere else.
                                                                Damon
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By Damon L. Jacobs

During the “Rock the Soap Cruise,” I sat down for a long chat with the Emmy-winning Susan Haskell of One Life to Live.  I found her gracious, humble, and willing to speak to me even after signing autographs for three hours!   With a cloudless blue sky above and the  Pacific Ocean sliding by around us, we spoke of many things, including the phenomenal reaction to her first stint as Marty Saybrooke (1992-1997, with brief appearances in 2004 and 2005) compared to the response she has received since returning in mid-2008.  And she talked about why she came back and how she perceives her popularity after being absent from the show for ten years. 

D:  Susan it is so nice to meet you. 
S:  Ah, likewise, thank you. 

D:  So finish the sentence for me:  Marty Saybrooke is the quintessential  ____
S:  (laughs) Tortured woman!

D:  Yes! I was also thinking “survivor,” especially because of the story that was told about the gang-rape between 1993-1995. 
S:  Yes I would agree with that.

D:  When you came on the show Marty was a bit of a troublemaker, then had the this traumatic event happen to her.  How did you approach this experience?
S: I was thrilled, actually.  They came to me about the gang-rape story line, they wanted to make sure I was okay with it and I said “absolutely.”  It was an amazing story, they wrote it so well, they really handled everything beautifully.  I just thought, “We need to put the message out there.”  I knew they had rape stories on other shows.   But the follow-up, what happened after, which is what you mentioned, her strength is what I wanted to make sure got on there.  I had so many people calling and writing, telling me they had been raped and it was helpful to them.  That was just amazing for me, to think that I can do what I love to do and actually help people. 

D: Was it important to you to help others in your job?
S: Oh, absolutely.  I’m on TV, it’s lovely that we’re entertaining people, and I think that’s great.  But when there’s more to it than that it’s a real chance, it’s a real gift.  Some people would write and say, “I would never have come forward if it wasn’t for this story.  I wouldn’t have told anyone. I thought it was my fault.”  It was amazing, I was blown away by how much it helped. 

D:  Your performance in that story was just so emotionally naked.  How did you know?  
S:  I just imagined myself there.  I do.  I imagine myself there, and then whatever happens happens. 

D:  Were you clear with the writers where the story was going and how it would proceed over the next two years? 
S:  No, that kind of thing kind of unfolds.  But we would touch base, we were make sure we were on the same page.  I always made sure I knew a little bit about what was coming up so I could make it make sense and know where it had to go.  You don’t get that in life, but on a soap opera you can, so you can fill in that space as well as you can.  They had my back, they really did. 

D:  What about this time?  Has the rape story had the same kind of impact? 
S:  (pause).  No.  I don’t know if they could get that back.  That was just amazing the way it affected the whole town and big families.  But I think what they came up with this time was a different way of reintroducing the character and giving me something a little different to play.  It’s such a sensitive subject, you don’t want to make it trivial, and I still try to make sure it doesn’t become that.  But I don’t know, I hope people still get something out of this story again. 

D:  Have viewers shared with you about feeling helped this time the way they were last time?
S:  Not as much.  But it’s a different situation.  It’s not the same response. A lot of people were upset.  Even though I didn’t know who (Todd) was they were upset .. .and I get that. 

D:  How was it for you to be involved in a story line that had many fans feeling betrayed and not giving you a positive response? 
S:  You know, I don’t take things personally, and I understand, I totally get it.  I was concerned about the same things that were bothering them.  But that’s part of it, too.  It doesn’t always go the way you might think, and that’s soap opera. 

D:  How do you deal creatively when things are not going the way you may prefer?
S:  Well, I’m not the boss.  I don’t get the final say.  But I do have really good communication with the writer and the executive producer, so I call them all the time if something doesn’t sit right with me.  And they are very very open to what I have to say.  Which is nice.  I mean I don’t have the main story points.  But within that I try to keep it as honest as I can.

D:  What led you to come back to the show? 
S:  The timing, I think.  We were enjoying the East Coast, obviously Thorsten is working there too, and the kids were getting old enough so I could be gone a little bit.  And the fact that I’m not gone all the time is perfect.  It gave me a chance to do what I like to do but not be away from my family for too long. 

D:  Ten years went by between seeing you as Marty.  Why do you think there was such a clamoring for you after such a long period of time?  Why do you think you connect with viewers in that way?
S:  You know…I can’t say that it’s just me.  I think that the story really created that.  I really do.  I was given a real opportunity and I was thrilled it lasted like that.  

D:  But were you surprised that after ten years that people really wanted Susan back?
S:  Yes, I was.  I really was.

D:  Why would that surprise you?
S:  I don’t know.  It’s ten years!  You think something is forgotten.  But it was nice, really nice the way people responded, that they were still thinking about it. 

D:  But why the clamoring for you versus another performer who’s been off the canvas for ten years and isn’t so much asked for? 
S:  I think that it just has to be about the writing and what I’ve gotten to do.  And she’s a really interesting, complex character. 

D:  As a viewer, it seems to me you go to an emotional place that many can’t go to. Marty’s pain is almost primal, like how she wailed on the hospital floor after Todd’s rape a few months back.  It seems you take it to a level that a lot of actors won’t go to.  Is it me, am I just projecting this?
S:  I don’t know … I just do what hits me.  You know what I mean?  That’s just the way it feels.  I don’t know, that’s just what comes out. 

D:  How is it for you to do scenes like that?
S:  It’s pretty tiring.  I go home very tired at the end of the day.  You know it’s not real, but it’s just physically it can be tiring.  I can walk home and see Thorsten and the kids and know everything is fine. It’s just literally a physical thing. 

D:  What would you like to see happen for Marty now?
S:  Oh goodness … I think the story with her son is important.  I’d love to have them continue with that and show more of that mother side to her, to develop that relationship even more.  And being happy once in a while wouldn’t be too bad.  I know it’s not always as dramatic.  But Bob Woods is a friend of mine and I would love to work with him a little more.  And I love Hillary (Smith), we’ve had some nice stuff together.  I don’t know, it’s a constant learning process because of the amnesia process and just where she is. 

D:  Would you like to see her get her memory back?
S:  I don’t know if that’s necessary.  It’s almost set now, and she keeps getting these flashbacks. I think that’s probably more interesting than just, boom, knowing everything.  It’s more fun if it’s hard to figure out. 

D:  What would you like to say to the Thinking Fans out there, especially the readers of this column who aren’t so thrilled with the way the story went this time? 
S:  Just know that the old Marty is there.  They’re going to keep seeing more of her.  And remember, it’s just drama.  And these are just people’s ideas of how to do a twist in the history of what had happened.  And I understand.  I understand where they are coming from. 

D: You understand because …
S:  I was concerned as well.  Very concerned.  But it not my final decision, and I love Ron (Carlivati).  He’s a great writer, and I think the show is very interesting right now.  But yes, it was hard for me, too.

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Damon L. Jacobs is a family and relationship therapist practicing in New York City, and the author of  Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve.  He blogs regularly at www.shouldless.com.

Comments

  1. Mike Goldberg says:

    Hey Damon, great interview! Looking forward to the rest!

    Damon says: If you like this one, Mike, just wait till you read the rest!

  2. John says:

    Damon, how fun! I can’t wait to see who else you interviewed.

    As for Susan Haskell, she is incredible, and I’m ashamed to say I’ve been familiar with her on OLTL for nearly 15 years and I only came to realize that in the past year. By the time I started watching OLTL, Marty had been turned into such a bland, Harlequin-worthy heroine by the stories that were being written for her. I think the quality of acting across the board was better a decade ago, so I just kind of took for granted an actress who could play a bland heroine credibly and give it all that she had to give. I had heard the hype about the rape storyline and had even seen a few clips but never really sought them out. It’s too bad it took such an ill-conceived story like the one Marty has had this year for me to realize what she can do with really powerful material.

    It’s interesting to hear that you are such a fan of the original rape story. I never saw it at the time, but I have seen the rape episode and parts of the trial online recently, and I know this is an unpopular opinion but as much as I’ve really tried to understand I’ve never been able to wrap my mind around one troubling aspect of it in particular. I’m curious as to your opinion, as a mental health professional…I’m certainly not one, but am I wrong or did Marty seem to have some sort of personality disorder before she was raped? Generally, my understanding is that people aren’t “cured” of something like that…they can learn better skills and recognize distorted thoughts, but the basic personality is still pathological. Whereas Marty became soooo good, and without any kind of therapy geared toward her own issues (that I know of). It seems to me like it could have been construed at the time as though the rape itself changed her. But I don’t know, you yourself (in this interview) called Marty at that time “a bit of a troublemaker”…do you think that’s all it was, and that the rape just forced her to grow up? I know that kind of thing happens a lot in soaps, but because the original rape (and the homophobia story, in which Marty at her worst played such a pivotal plot role) are so revered for their realism, Marty’s transformation stands out for me more than others. I know this is probably an unpopular opinion, and I never saw the story in its entirety so I could be wrong…that’s why I’m so interested to hear your take.

    Damon says: Thank you John for your thoughtful response! We encourage intelligent discussions here, even when they are “unpopular.” It is true that personality disorders aren’t “cured”, they are considered to be a lifelong condition. However, it’s also true that personality disorders are rarely diagnosed in young adults, given that developmentally they aren’t really considered adults yet that will have life long characteristics. Marty was a pretty destructive young woman when she started, but acting out is clinically considered somewhat “normal” at such a young age. I do not enjoy rape stories at all to be honest with you. But what I did appreciate was the how powerfully her healing process unfolded over a period of two years, and how compelling Ms. Haskell’s performance remained. Between ’93-’95 she was in no way saintly, she still drank and acted out quite frequently. Unfortunately, her shades of gray were eliminated with the change of headwriters in late 1995, and she became rather one dimensional and saintly until she left town in mid-1997.

    I hope you keep reading more of the interviews to come, John, and that everyone feels free to share their thoughtful critical opinions in this column.

  3. n69n says:

    Well done, Damon! We are all so proud of you!

  4. Matthew J. Cormier says:

    WOW, Damon, WOW that is one of the most impressive interviews i’ve ever seen. EVER. Susan Haskell was very honest and answered all the question in a very grand fashion. I’ve been a fan of Marty (and Susan) since she first came on OLTL in the 1990s and was glad when they got her to come back — I never did accept Christina Chambers as Marty … I love the story they are doing with her right now — it may not be the same Marty of 15 years ago — but that’s okay because in 15 years people can change a lot.

    As for John’s question — I do think that Marty’s rape could partly be considered “redemptive rape” in that it was used to make a character that was previously seen as a troublemaker turn into a herione. It is also important to remember that Marty was not only a troublemaker before her rape but she had LIED about someone being sexually abused — she accused Andrew Carpenter of molesting Billy Douglas (which led to Billy confiding to the town that he was gay) … But also remember Marty was a heavy drinker, drove a motorcycle and wore leather clothes (not exactly a heroine) and only after being raped did Marty realize the consequences of her actions and turn into a good girl.

    But I think that because of the way the rape story was told I can excuse this practice, just this once. Because Marty became a more fully deminsonal character after the rape. And it was one of the few soap opera rapes where the attackers faced some kind of punishment in court. Plus it gave us Nora’s GLORIOUS courtroom scenes. It was different from say GH’s Elizabeth who was raped SOLELY to redeem her. Remember she came on as a cigarette smoking, foul mouth, short skirt wearing, boy crazy teenager who was the bad girl granddaughter of Audrey Hardy and wasn’t saintly and nice like her sister Sarah. But after being raped she turned into a spineless wimp who couldn’t go outside alone and it was AFTER the rape that she got the attention of Lucky Spencer who she had been chasing for a year before the rape to no success.

    What do you think, Damon — was Marty’s rape a redemptive rape?

    Anyway, Damon, as always BRAVO on your interview and the article, very insightful. i can’t wait to read the rest.

    Damon says: Thank you for your enthusiastic response, Matthew! As I said above, I generally abhor rape storylines. I don’t like violence being used to redeem a “bad” female character. But for me the redemptive part of the story was the psychological journey that Marty and half the characters in town went through afterward. I never saw Marty as a “good girl” after that. Remember, she used to run around drunk at Rodi’s, and even nearly slept with Andrew! When Patrick came into her life there was a change in headwriters, and it was soon after I perceived her depth and hard edges becoming erased (remember that horrible story with Dylan Moody?).

    I am so honored you enjoyed this interview. If you think this one was good, just wait until you read the rest!

  5. Matthew J. Cormier says:

    BTW, John, part of the reason that Marty was so self-destructive and, well, troublemaking when she was young was because she was so lonely. It had been explained that her parents had died and her only living realtive, an aunt, had been spending Marty’s inheritance left and right — it was in fact looking for this aunt to get her money back that led Marty to fall for Patrick Thornhart and the ensuing story that unfolded over Marty’s last few years in Lainview.

  6. Damon, I’m so pleased that you enjoyed the cruise. Iit was a wonderful experience for coordinators/actors and guests alike. I really enjoyed reading what Susan had to say and I look forward to reading the rest of your interviews.

    Damon says: Thank you ,Michelle, for being such an integral part of making these interviews happen.

  7. MissD says:

    Thank you so much for this interview! I started watching OLTL around the same time Marty came on in 1992. She has been a fave of mine and is the reason I recently came back to the show. Unfortunately I am not pleased by the writing of the recent stories, but I am hanging in there for the time being. I’m just glad to hear that she understands why people were so unhappy with the recent Todd/Marty storyline and that she was not so happy about it herself. It makes me feel a little bit better about that whole nonsense.

    Damon says: Thank you, MissD! This interview helped me with that as well. Believe me, she gets it.

  8. Deep Dish says:

    Susan Haskell’s wonderful performance as Marty Saybrooke was one of the main reasons I began watching OLTL years ago and loved it. Her relationships with Billy and Andrew as well as the gang rape/trial kept me glued to the television set. Thanks for such an interesting interview, Damon, I look forward to reading all of them.

  9. John says:

    Thanks, Damon, and everyone, for your insights. Of course, you’re the professional, and I’m sure you’re right that people whose personalities are still forming are too young for a personality disorder diagnosis… That does sound familiar from my brief stint working for a psychiatric department.

    I do think it would have been interesting if Marty, who may not have been diagnosable yet but definitely seemed headed on that path, had remained unlikable and destructive and the story was unflinching in that she nevertheless did not deserve what happened to her. Or if they’d kept Ryan Phillipe’s character around and had him and Marty form a weird bond over the paradox that the same people who would not take her word that Todd and his frat buddies had raped her were the same people who had such a hard time believing that his being gay was NOT a symptom of some kind of twisted sexual abuse. But that probably would have been further than the envelope could have been pushed in daytime at the time, let alone now.

    But it sounds like Marty’s transformation was more complicated than it seemed to me out of context. Like I said, the first time I ever saw OLTL was several years after the rape story, and Marty was not really on my radar screen (all of the hype about OLTL by that point was about Dorian and Viki and Victor’s murder, and Erika Slezak kept winning Emmy after Emmy, so when I happened to make it home from school in time to catch the end of it before GH, I started to get a sense of who the characters were). Although I did recently see the episode in which Todd went to find Marty in Ireland on YouTube. Something about a child (not Marty’s or anyone else’s whom we knew) who was dying, and her last wish was to see Marty again, and only Todd with his private jet could find Marty in Ireland and bring her home in time to say goodbye? To me, that was bad writing, but I’ll take your word for it that there was more to the overall story.

  10. Christian in Boston says:

    Nice job, I am really hoping that Susan gets the emmy nomination this year, I really feel she deserves to win. She was amazing.

    Damon says: I’m with you, Christian. I think she deserves to be recognized again for her compelling work this year.

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