Thinking Fans on KDP: Matthew J. Cormier observes, “Kassie has clearly thought a lot about what makes Blair tick and has put her own life into perspective” … OLTL no more scolds, ”When you have an actress dedicated to giving wonderful performances and staying true to her character, she shouldn’t be used as a prop in favor of ’romantic rapes’ and Johnny-come-latelies” … while “Brava!” is heard from a cheering section manned (actually, womaned) by Kathie, Farrah, Cammie, Melody, Janell and Laura … and more. See Comments below.
By Damon L. Jacobs
This is the last of the Soap Shrink at Sea series of interviews I enjoyed doing so much on SoapNet’s “Rock the Soap Cruise.” I hope they were as fun for you to read as they were for me to write. I learned so much about the passion, devotion, and resilience that goes into acting on a daytime soap.
In this last interview, One Life to Live‘s Kassie DePaiva shares with us her insights into Blair’s behavior, her thoughts about Blair’s father, and the inner secret that goes through her mind in every scene with Todd.
Thank you so much for reading, and for all your support.
D: I wrote a very popular column about Blair last year.
K: Yes, It was great.
D: Thank you! The focus of the column was how Blair is one of the few women on daytime who is truly sexually liberated.
K: (Laughs) I laugh because my husband would be goin’, “Believe me, she’s just pretending.” I come from a southern Baptist background, where everything had to be real proper. I think in my early 20s I could not have even attempted the part of
“Just remember, it’s a soap, y’all! You’ve got to get through the things you hate to get to the things that you love. You’ve got to see the challenges, you’ve got to see the conflict. If there were no Martys or Teas to put a thorn in Blair’s side, how boring would that be?”
Blair based on that. I got the part of Blair when I was 32, and by then I had come into my own as a woman, and I felt that I didn’t have anything to apologize for. I was struggling in a real life marriage that was crumbling. Life experience had gotten me to say, “What the heck, I’m not going to get any younger.” What’s great about Blair is that she doesn’t apologize to anybody. She feels she’s entitled to it, and sex is a way for her to relieve stress and to get the job done if she has to. She knows who she is.
D: You seemed to bring that confidence to her from the moment you started.
K: When I started, my character was hooked up with Max. And then Jim (DePaiva) and I got married, so we had definite chemistry. But I think the most interesting dynamic is what happened with Todd and Blair. He was sexually challenged after the rape, and she struggled to connect with him sexually when he still pushed her away. I think you saw that struggle, and whenever Todd did something to really hurt Blair, she would put on a red dress and use sex with another man to punish him. That’s the only thing she knew how to do. Whether that’s healthy or not, I don’t know.
D: Yet up until about a year ago she was in the abusive tug-of-war with Todd.
K: I think it’s extremely abusive. Not so much for her, but for her cubs. You want Mama Blair, Mama Bear, to watch after her babies. And Todd has just gone way too far. Will Todd and Blair ever reconnect? Maybe. But there’s going to have to be a lot of healing and apologies on his part. Why would you go back to a man who lies to you constantly? Even though Blair believes Todd is a good man, that inside there’s something there, his demons are so damaging to the family unit, it’s just exhausting.
D: For me the worst thing he did was telling Blair that Jack was dead as a baby. Why would she go back to him after that?
K: He fooled her. See, Blair might know who she is. But she is broken. I think there is a broken sad part of her. She clings to Todd because he’s the family she never had. She is all about the fantasy of making that family work. And Todd represents that whether good or bad. And she’s fighting to cling on to that.
D: Is she clinging to that fantasy because of her own background of being passed around from foster home to foster home?
K: Yes. But what is interesting now is the dynamic she shares with John. She doesn’t have to push so hard. John is available, he’s present … that is, when he’s not running around after Marty. But Blair gets him. too. There are aspects of Blair that make him cringe because she just comes right out and says things. But the same thing that make him a little bit nervous he loves because he’s not that way. She just says it like it is.
D: John is so different from the kind of men Blair has been attracted to before.
K: And I think that’s why it’s interesting. We’re both sexual characters. Michael Easton I find very sexy in his own quiet smoky way. But I also think Blair loosens him up. He can laugh at himself, she busts on his black clothes. He enjoys Blair, and that’s something you haven’t seen him do with other women.
D: The Thinking Fans who read my column about Blair pointed out that she never had a father figure in her life. Do you have an idea of who Blair’s father is, or if we’re ever going to find out?
K: I don’t know if they can tell that story because the previous Blair was Asian-American. What I was always told was that Addie was raped in a mental institution. So there was a rape involved, and that’s never been dealt with either. I always had thought it would be interesting if Stuart from All My Children had had sex with Addie in the institution and he was actually my dad. But they don’t really do the crossover stuff anymore.
D: Did you get a lot of flack for being the recast for a woman of color?
K: No. What was interesting was that I was living in Los Angeles at the time, I had been off Guiding Light for two years, and I hadn’t watched One Life To Live. I grew up watching it, but I hadn’t watched it in a while. So, I had no idea I was even replacing somebody. And then I had no idea it was an American-Asian woman. So I went into the casting director’s office. The script was very sexual, it was with Max. And I thought, “Here I am the girl next door being all sexy and stuff. I don’t have a shot at this,” so I just had fun with it. And then all of a sudden I get a callback and I said, “Really?”
D: Your scenes with Robin Strasser from the very beginning are some of my favorite in daytime. You two have always had such chemistry. How did that come about?
K: I adore Robin Strasser. I think the feeling is completely mutual. We’re always fighting for the cause, that is, the cause to keep daytime on the air. She works twice as hard as anybody on that show making sure she presents, and represents, Dorian Lord. Whether it’s telling the prop guys they’ve done it all wrong, or going to wardrobe, she is in control of Dorian. I’ve learned a great deal from working with her. But our personal friendship has always been strong. Even when we were just starting out, it was good then.
D: I remember some of your first scenes as Blair, just sitting in a living room talking things over with Dorian. There was a powerful connection.
K): Well, it was interesting because she is bigger than life. Dorian is a bigger than life character. And being a nervous actress working with her … it was like Dorian might flip out and get mad and I thought, “Oh my God, is she acting or is she really mad?” It took me a while to get into the groove and say, alright, I’ve got to stand toe to toe with this woman or I’m not going to be here very long. And I think when that started to happen there was a lot of mutual respect.
D: It seems to me this past year Blair has grown up a lot.
K: I think they have definitely matured her. She’s trying to break the patterns of the past.
D: Which patterns?
K: She’s trying to break the pattern of going back to Todd. She’s trying to break the pattern of going out for revenge, because she was all about revenge. I think she’s putting her family first for the first time. (pause) I was really shocked about how they wrote Blair in the Starr story line and her giving up the baby. Because of Blair’s past I would have thought she would have been the last person to let Starr give up that baby, even more than Todd. But they chose to write that way, so I played it that way. I loved it because you finally got to see Starr appreciate her mother for the first time. But then it’s interesting, because she appreciates Blair, but the minute Todd comes back into her life … he knows how to manipulate her, and she keeps secrets from Blair. It’s just this awful viscous circle of a major dysfunction.
D: It was so different to see her offer unconditional support to her daughter about this.
K: And I’m so glad they did that for the public service announcements. Because there are teen pregnancies and most of them feel so scared they can’t talk to their parents about it. I think One LIfe did a very good job of showing there are options and there are human struggles with a teenage pregnancy.
D: Now let’s talk Live Week. I’ve been watching my soaps my entire life. But your breakdown during Live Week, when Blair learned of Todd’s betrayal, was one of the most amazing scenes I’ve ever seen. How did you prepare for that?
K: I was so scared for Live Week. When Gary Tomlin said we were going to go live, I said, “You know what, don’t write me in. “ I did not want to do it because I knew I was carrying the “A” story at that point. I worked four out of the five days of Live Week, at the peak of a story line. That was extremely emotional. You just had to be right there and tap into it and make it happen. I haven’t viewed that tape in forever. I should go back and look at it just to see it.
D: I could not believe you didn’t even get nominated for an Emmy for that. I really can’t stand the Emmys to begin with, but …
K: … well, me neither. And that’s sweet. But if you look at those Emmy reels everybody does such good work. And I think it’s ridiculous to say that One Life to Live is a better show than Young and the Restless, than General Hospital, than Guiding Light. We’re all trying to cram 10 pounds of manure into a 5 pound bag. It’s a lot of work to take on, and everybody deserves an Emmy just for getting through the day! I want to celebrate the genre, but for you to say that my acting was better than Erika Slezak, it’s apples and oranges. Let’s just celebrate the whole thing. We all have to work together … I think an actor is only as good as her scene partner. An actor is only as good as the writing they’re given. They’re only as good as the support they’re getting within the company of actors they’re working in. I just feel so blessed I’ve been able to ride this pony for as long as I have. I just turned 48 yesterday, and I’ve been doing this job now for 16 years. I keep thinking, “They’re going to fire my any minute now, they’re going to figure out I’m a fake.”
D: Are you going to submit something for the Emmys this year?
K: You know I just hate watching myself. This year I worked a lot, but I was pretty much a supporting actress, for John’s story, for Starr’s story, for Todd’s story, for Marty’s story, that’s fine. But it’s hard to pick an episode, because I’m in the Leading Lady category. Based on my amount of work I should be there. But I’m there as Blair yelling at the doctor about Starr’s baby being dead, and all of a sudden they’re panning to Marcie, they’re panning to Starr, so I can’t use those. The show that I did pick was one of my first dates with John. We get together on the roof and share the beer and she yells, “I’m Blair Manning and I’m gonna kick some ass and take some names.” I actually look like a leading lady in those. Also, I think Michael grounds me as an actress, so I feel like I’m playing a different character when I’m working with John. With Todd she always has to be on the defensive. With John, it’s just, she can breathe. She breathes, and you get to see a lighter side to both of them. There’s a trust involved.
D: Was that hard for you to go from a lead actress on the show to a supporting actress?
K: It’s not hard (pause) but … I get written beautifully, but I haven’t really had a story. It hasn’t been about Blair. I mean, she’s in it. It’s all in the writing. So as long they use me, that’s all I care about.
D: What would you like to see happen for Blair?
K: I would love to get to sing more. I would love to have John and Blair develop more. John marries Blair this month, but he doesn’t marry her out of love, he marries her because Todd is trying to take the kids. So he’s her ultimate hero. He’s her knight in shining armor. And he actually makes her smile, and that’s important.
D: Have you ever thought it might be wise for Blair to try be single and not have a man in her life?
K: I told Frank Valentini, I said, “Listen. After Spencer, after Todd’s stuff, you can’t throw these characters ([John and Blair) too quickly into the fire. You've got to give us some time to develop some stuff." I think it would be good for her to find herself again. I think it would be good for her to take back the newspaper, and work as a powerful woman. But I just feel like I'm along for the ride. I told Frank the other day, "I don't even think of myself as an actor." And he said (in a masculine voice), "Well you should." And I said, "Well I don't!"
D: What do you think of yourself as?
K: I think of myself as an entertainer. I think of myself as being very lucky. And I know how to do soap operas, I've conquered that challenge. And I love it, and I don't want to be anywhere else. But I'm just really not the actor type.
D: What is the actor type? What's the difference?
K: Acting is not my life. There's the difference. Acting is not my life, but it's a very big part of it. Music is not my life. What my life is is being around people like my family and friends who I love and enjoy and helping them to be better. And allowing them to love me so I can do good things.
D: That leads me then to ask, how do you handle disappointment or frustration when things on the show are not going the way you would prefer?
K: You know, it's really obvious on the paper when it's not good. Or for Blair when I read it and say, "Come on, really?"
D: Can you share an example of that?
K: I'm trying to think ... I think the last thing that really bothered me was when it was written that John and Blair sleep together, and while she s asleep Marty appears to him in a dream, and Marty says, "Come on John, Blair? Can't you do any better than that?" Do you remember those scenes? And we did that on a Friday, I got in my car afterwards, and I felt just dirty. And it's that kind of stuff. I mean, that's awful to have a man dream of another woman while he's ... you know. I mean it makes for good soap opera. But that's something where I just went "Really? Did it have to be me?" But everything is heightened, everything is fantasy, I try to keep a good perspective on it.
D: One of my favorite Blair scenes was around 1995 when she's screaming her head off at Marty, grabs a scissors, and chops off her own hair.
K: That was my idea. Because I always felt that Todd never truly loved Blair. He only loved Blair because she kind of looked like Marty. That was always my inner secret as an actor.
D: What is the biggest difference for you working with Trevor St. John vs. Roger Howarth?
K: They are very different in their approaches to Todd. It's hard for me to say. Trevor has definitely chosen to be more sexual than Roger chose. But Roger was out of the bag with that rape story, so he did have to carry a lot more on his back with that stuff. Trevor walked in and didn't have that. He didn't know what that felt like, so he had to manufacture that in his own heart and in his own mind. They're both extremely creative, and both comedic actors, I think, and they both can be moody and broody.
D: Do you miss having Jim (DePaiva) on the set?
K: I do. I miss Jimmy not being on One Life To Live, I miss Max. I think with Phil Carey]s passing they need a good mean guy. Not to take anything from Bob Woods or Jerry Ver Dorn. But those two characters are too soft. We don’t have an asshole on the show. Let Max come back and say, “This is how it’s done now.” Have him be the mean cowboy. Jimmy is charming and sexy and still looks really good. I would love that, but I don’t think that’s gonna happen.
At sea, from left: Van Hansis, Melissa Claire Egan, Kassie DePaiva and our Soap Shrink, Damon L. Jacobs
D: I can only imagine what it’s been like to have two coworkers pass away in such a short period of time (Phil Carey and Clint Richie). How are you doing with that?
K: I was actually on a leave of absence when Kathy Alderson (Kristin’s mother) called and said that Clint Richie had passed away, and that Phil had taken a turn for the worse. Both of them are what I grew up watching. To me they were real cowboys, and they were unbelievable actors. I thought Clint Richie was just … he reminded me of Robert Duvall. Everything he said was real to me. I loved Viki and Clint. And with Phil … I think Asa hated Blair more than any other character on One Life To Live. He hated her. So it was fun, it was fun to work opposite him, and I enjoyed him immensely. He is missed.
D: I once saw an interview with you in which you said you had to wash Blair off your face at the end of the day. Can you tell me more what that meant?
K: Blair exhausts me. Everything with her is heightened and big and dramatic. There’s a lot of angst in her life. When I have to put that in my body I’m tired. Your body doesn’t know the difference. She wears me out.
D: Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give Kassie starting One Life to Live 16 years ago?
K: To breathe. Know that you are at the right place, you are doing the right thing. And don’t second guess your heart.
D: Anything you want to say to Thinking Fans reading this who love you and love One Life to Live, but are feeling discouraged and frustrated by what they’re seeing on screen?
K: Just remember, it’s a soap, y’all! You’ve got to get through the things you hate to get to the things that you love. You’ve got to see the challenges, you’ve got to see the conflict. If there were no Martys or Teas to put a thorn in Blair’s side, how boring would that be? Blair always ends up with the short end of the stick, but eventually she knocks somebody in the head with it.
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.