PART TWO OF TWO PARTS
In Part Two, James DePaiva talks about being Max, then not being Max; about the joys of family life; about being angry for a long time, and about dealing with those destructive “shoulds.”
By Damon L. Jacobs
D: Now, you mentioned being terribly shy. But I remember when Max came back One Life in 1992, the promotional ads that ran during ABC’s prime-time. It was close-up shots of every part of your body, your shoulders, your butt, all this for your big return. As a shy person, what was that like for you?
J: That was somebody else’s body. I was unavailable for that campaign. I was off at a health spa getting in shape, I wanted to look good for when I came back, so I told them I couldn’t do it. It wasn’t my body. I came back and Jessica Tuck said, “That’s not James’s body, he doesn’t have hair there.”
James and Kassie at last year’s Hoboken International Film Festival
Photo by Kristina Scheetz Rible/NJ.com
D: Would you consider going on the next Rock the Soap Cruise with Kassie (Mrs. DePaiva) or does that just feel like it’s too much proximity to fans?
J: Well, there’s a reason I’ve never done one. But, I don’t think now it would be an issue. I’m over 50 now, I’ve been off the show for at least five years. Now there would be a couple of people that would remember me and it would be nice and casual. I might do it. Kassie said next year I should go on the cruise.
D: You may enjoy it.
J: Well, that’s because I’m out of it now, I’m not in it. And also because my ego’s not in it anymore. To be Max Holden my ego had to be as big as a truck. The turning point for Max and whether I enjoyed doing him was when I was realized that Jim DePaiva and his life was bigger than Max’s. Max’s life in the beginning was so big,
On his last days on One Life: “If it wasn’t said outright, it certainly was implied that I was too old and made too much money. Would I say that it hurt? Absolutely. But I mean they did absolutely everything they could to diminish the value of the character. I had to sit there for a long time watching them drive him into the ground.”
there was no way I could ever compete with that. But the character kept being brought down, brought down. He was making money, losing fortunes, completely cocksure of himself with any woman in any given situation, then he was completely emasculated.
D: How so?
J: The girls weren’t picking him. He was taking little jobs, his dream disappeared. This is a guy who had seen himself as king of the world, then decided to bartend at Rodi’s. There’s one point where they said, “We’ll just make him a father, we’ll just have him walk around with kids strapped to his chest.” That just didn’t work for me. At a certain point I said that if the role of Max Holden were now being recast, and you put out the breakdown for what this character is, I would not attend an audition for it. What’s the point? Everybody has certain skills or natural tendencies in their performance. Mine is to be big. I like to play big characters. So to play mundane boring whatever, it doesn’t work for me.
D: What would you have liked to see happen for Max?
J: To be honest with you it’s so far from memories now, I don’t know. In the beginning they were excited to write for Max. You could tell the producers and the writers would come in and say, “What can Max do today?” Later it became, “Jim has a big contract guarantee, what show can we stick him in doing something and help everyone else out?” When the producers’ and writers’ mindset switched it became an issue. They change them a lot, and they don’t always get you. At a certain point I contacted Paul Rauch because I was going to go to Guiding Light. There was a role created that he very much wanted me to play. I was in negotiations with him because ABC hadn’t come back to me. Then ABC opened up negotiations and I said, “I assumed you didn’t want to, I’ve already lined something up at Guiding Light.”
I had begun a whole campaign with Claire Labine at that point. I would break into her office and I would put posters and things up about what Max was about. She really had no idea what this guy was about. I would put these things up so she would get excited about writing for him. Claire eventually said, “Okay, I get it.” So I re-signed. A month later they fired Maxine Levinson, brought in Jill Farren Phelps, and Jill Farren Phelps went about trying to get rid of Claire Labine. So I did all that work, I finally found a head writer that was going to try again, and then they get rid of the head writer. ( pause) So I was not in the best of moods.
D: What role were you interested in at Guiding LIght?
J: It was Benjamin something (Ben Warren). Hunt Block got the role. I had been directing, I had done about a dozen shows or so on One Life to Live. And Paul said, “I can’t have you direct.” So I decided, alright, I’ll take One Life to Live, because I was directing every month. Then I worked with Jill, and I just couldn’t be in the booth
James in 1988 with twins Kirk and Robert Raisch, who played Baby Al on OLTL. From Soap Opera Update magazine.
anymore. So I dropped the directing part of the contract. Benjamin was a phenomenal character, and Hunt did a great job. I’m certainly not going to say that I could have done better because he’s so good. But it was a great great character. When I originally talked to Paul I said, “I want you to create a character for me, but I want him to be so good that if I say no you’re going to find somebody to do it anyway.” And that’s what they did, they created a great character … and I didn’t get to play it. Careerwise, in hindsight, it would have been better for me to do it. It certainly wouldn’t have been better financially though. At least I would have had one more credit on my resume, it would have looked like I did something. You put Max Holden and One Life to Live and people ask, “You do anything else?”
D: How do you deal with disappointment in a situation like that?
J: I deal with it horribly. Horribly. Mean, angry, throw tantrums. I’m a miserable person. I pick up furniture and throw it. Those are things that I’ve been working on since I’ve been gone. I’m understanding how to take the fuse out of the dynamite. I walked around 24/7 angry and obsessing, obsessing about things I thought were wrong at One Life To Live, about people that were pissing me off. And that’s all I did. I have a wood shop upstate. I’d go up there, work on something, and that’s all I would think about.
D: Even when you weren’t at work you would carry that with you?
J: 24/7. All day long. I thought, “This job is going to give me cancer. I am so angry.”
D: Yet you stayed.
J: I had alimony to pay. I said I want to get one year past my alimony, and I got one year past my alimony.
D: Have you now come to terms with what happened to Max under Jill Farren Phelps?
J: I made more money under Jill Farren Phelps than under anyone else. That’s one way to come to terms with it. You know, I have my issues, she has her issues … I don’t know if I have come to terms with it.
D: Are you still carrying that anger 24/7?
J: No, not at all.
D: So what did you do with it?
J: I let it go.
J: Well, the first thing was not being in the studio and not talking about it. And Kassie didn’t talk to me about One LIfe to Live too much. She’ll tell you that you can still get a rise out of me. That’s because I let a few “shoulds” come back in — but then I knock them down real quick. I read some of your book. And when I did the Executive Re-Invention Program (a self-help transformation workshop), the first thing they hit me with was the “shoulds.” That’s what was causing most of my problems here. My “shoulds”: This should happen, this is the way it should be. One Life to Live was not the way it should be in my mind. Too bad! Get over it! Who cares! I learned from this seminar things that I never learned in psychotherapy and counseling and things like that. It also gets to the root of where the “shoulds” are coming from. I believe that a lot of stress and horrible things are from “shoulds.” And this seminar says, “Okay, you’ve been throwing tantrums for five years because you didn’t like the way you were treated. Are you over it now?” There’s a reason I haven’t done much as an actor in five years. I had my little tantrums. I was still pissed off. I said, “Fine, then I won’t be an actor.”
D: The main problem I have with “shoulds” that I discuss in Absolutely Should-less is that most of the time my “shoulds” conflict with what’s happening in reality. I’ll have “shoulds” about what someone else has done but they don’t care. Subsequently, I get angry, I lose sleep, I’m the one who pays the price, not them.
J: I know. Everyone whose guts I hated — they didn’t give me a second thought. I was tearing myself up.
D: Have the “shoulds” kept you from continuing to do the work you love so much?
D: Do you want to see that change?
J: That’s the problem, I don’t know if I want to see that change. Part of it is choosing the life you want to live. But at the same time, maybe the things you thought you wanted are not the things you wanted anymore. For me, I don’t know if I’d be willing to give up the time I spend with my children. Especially my son. I have a relationship with him that I certainly never had with my father. I don’t know if it’s worth giving that up. I also have a wonderful life outside of Manhattan, outside of acting. I’m selfish. I don’t know if I want to do theater because I’m not willing to give up weekends and nights. That’s my family time, that’s when I go up to my house in the country. I really love those times. .
D: You and Kassie were very public about your son’s deafness when he was young. How is he doing now?
J: Phenomenal! He’s excelling in school. Socially he’s one of the most outgoing persons I’ve ever met. It’s disgusting (laughs). He feels like he’s on the cover of GQ all the time. He goes to school wearing a hat and a tie. He’s an absolute joy. We tell everyone that his deafness ended up being a blessing. It forced Kassie and me to be, instead of being parents that are like, “Okay, do whatever you want,” we had to be so much more hands-on, much more proactive. Unless the world runs out of batteries, we’re good. Then we’d have to learn sign language.
D: Do you know sign language? I remember Max had to learn it.
J: I had a coach every day. That was fun. First you had to hold two babies, learn your lines, then learn how to sign everything. They say, “Do this and this,” and I say, “How do I do this while I’m holding a kid?” They’d say, “Well, you’re not talking to them so don’t sign,” and the advisor would say, “No, you have to sign everything. You don’t stop just because you’re not talking to them, especially as a parent you don’t do that.” There were a lot of things that were not up to date and current about deafness in that story.
The DePaivas, with son J.Q.
D: So, after all that struggle and anger, much to my dismay and millions of others, they fired you.
J: If it wasn’t said outright, it certainly was implied that I was too old and made too much money. Would I say that it hurt? Absolutely. But I mean they did absolutely everything they could to diminish the value of the character. I had to sit there for a long time watching them drive him into the ground. And I’m the one sitting there facilitating this character I love, driving him into the ground. So that made the anger a lot worse. And it wasn’t the most pleasant of send-offs. Is it something that deep inside I had been wishing for for years? (Laughs) Yes. Because I knew I couldn’t walk away from it. I mean, one year I said to them, “You paid me for fifty shows I never did, how can you keep doing that?” They said, “We’ll never do that again.” So the next year they paid me for twenty-seven shows I never did. I said, “How can I be worth keeping around?” That was me just putting stuff in their mind to get rid of me, because I knew I couldn’t walk away from it.
D: Was it hard for you to be married to someone who has stayed on the show this whole time?
J: Absolutely. And she’ll come home, she’ll want to complain about something and I’ll want to fix it which I’ve been learning not to do at all. I can’t take care of it. I’ve got to realize she just needs to vent, she doesn’t need me to take sides or anything. I have certain feelings about certain people there and I have to realize they’re from before, they don’t matter.
D: What would you do differently if you could go back twenty years, knowing what you know now?
J: (Pause) I would have been divorced a lot sooner. I would have been out of a relationship that was not healthy. I wouldn’t have stayed on One Life to Live. I would not have come back to One LIfe to Live. That was all ego. Everyone was saying horrible things about me when I left. I kept hearing things about how much better my replacement was. I thought, geez, I thought these people were supposed to be my friends. But I really don’t know what I’d do differently. I mean, I have two phenomenal kids and an incredible wife, it’s hard to complain. Am I going to sit here and piss and moan that I didn’t have the acting career I always hoped to have? I know a lot of actors who had those careers and I’m a lot happier than they are. Having a great acting career doesn’t necessarily pay the bills.
D: What advice would you have given yourself ten years ago on One Life when things really started going downhill?
J: If you’re unhappy with the situation then leave.
D: It’s interesting how One Life still remains such a central part of your life. You can’t escape it.
J : Oh yeah. I have to show up at the Christmas parties and things. For the first couple of years I couldn’t do it, because the tantrum was still happening.
D: Do you think there’s any higher reason why we are sometimes forced to repeatedly deal with people or places that get to us?
J: Not really. I don’t think there’s an omnipresent being that really gives a shit. I don’t think people are put there to force you to learn. You’re going to run into problems no matter where you are or what you’re doing. Eventually you’re going to keep repeating it or learn from it. You know it’s that old story of turning left, walking down the street, and falling in the hole.
D: I love that story! I use it a lot with my clients.
J: And finally you realize to stop turning left. I kept falling in the same hole, I kept getting mad about the same things. But I’m very happy right now, I can’t say I’d want to change anything. For me life has always been a learning thing. That’s why I started taking guitar lessons again. I’m learning something new about myself all the time. And it makes me feel better about myself. It makes me feel more connected to who I actually am versus who I want myself to be for other people.
D: It sounds like One Life has been such a blessing and a curse.
J: Even the good times were dysfunctional. I would stay out drinking till 4 in the morning then be at work at 7 in the morning. I was not behaving professionally. I was wild. At one point Russell Anderson (who played Max’s brother, Steven) said to me, “Jim I think you like drama in your life.” When I was younger, all I wanted was to not be bored. In a lot of ways I have manic depressive tendencies. I wanted highs or lows, I didn’t want anything in the middle. And yeah, I was creating a lot of drama in my life. I don’t want drama anymore. I don’t need it. I don’t need it to make me feel like I’m alive. It probably had to do with the feeling of being numb because I was always doing what I was told to do all the time. I wasn’t following my heart.
D: And now you are?
J: I hope so. Probably not. (laughs) Every time I have this great epiphany and feel like I’ve really come through and made this great change, five years later I go, “Boy was I kidding myself.”
D: Anything else you’d like to say to the Thinking Fans out there?
J. Thanks for being fans, thanks for giving me a wonderful life. If you have any questions, ask Damon, and I’ll answer them.
Thinking Fans: Answers to your questions for James and Kassie can be found on Damon’s blog, www.shouldless.com.
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.