Erika Slezak Interview: "One Life to Live" Makes a Triumphant, Risqué Return Online, and Its Mainstay Has Plenty to Say About That
Image attributed to Erika Slezak
Erika Slezak is best known for her 40-year role as Victoria “Viki” Lord on the ABC daytime drama One Life to Live. She has taken home six (1984, 1986, 1992, 1995, 1996 and 2005) Outstanding Lead Actress Daytime Emmy Awards for her performance (and along with actor Justin Deas is second to seven-time winner Anthony Geary for the most wins playing one character).
The Hollywood, California native is the daughter of Tony award-winning Austrian actor Walter Slezak and is married to Brian Davies. The couple has two children, Michael (born 1980) and Amanda (born 1981).
"You know, people seem to enjoy it and love it. I think it’s exciting. I like being back. We’re on hiatus already, which is kind of nice because we work five weeks on and five weeks off as we share the studio with All My Children. They are shooting now. Apparently the fans just love it. That’s what they say anyway. I know that when we debuted last Monday, we were #1 and #2 on Hulu for the whole day and month, I think. The subscription on iTunes was very high. I don’t get it all, but that’s what they told me."
One Life to Live aired its final episode on January 13, 2012. However, in early 2013, Slezak confirmed that she would join Prospect Park’s online revival of One Life to Live reprising her role as Victoria Lord. The new 30-minute episodes of the series premiered April 29, 2013, and can be seen on Hulu, Hulu Plus and iTunes.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Erika, the reboot is great!
Erika Slezak: It is!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Have you had any feedback from the fans?
Erika Slezak: You know, people seem to enjoy it and love it. I think it’s exciting. I like being back. We’re on hiatus already, which is kind of nice because we work five weeks on and five weeks off as we share the studio with All My Children. They are shooting now. Apparently the fans just love it. That’s what they say anyway. I know that when we debuted last Monday, we were #1 and #2 on Hulu for the whole day and month, I think. The subscription on iTunes was very high. I don’t get it all, but that’s what they told me.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): When we spoke last year, we thought it was all over because Prospect Park could not raise the necessary funds. How long after that did things change, and were the actors kept apprised of the progress?
Erika Slezak: I don’t think anyone was kept apprised. I know that Jeff Kwatinetz (CEO of Prospect Park) called me in December (2011) before you and I spoke, and he said, “I want to thank you for being so supportive.” I said, “Well, it’s such a good idea. It’s so clever and smart, and it is the way of the future.” He said, “We’re not giving up. Hopefully, we’ll be able to pull this off eventually.” I said, “Good luck!” I hung up and thought, “Well, if they can do it, good for them.”
At that point, everyone had dispersed. Everyone had gone their separate ways. I figured it would be hard to get everybody back again. Then last November, I got a call from one of the lawyers at Prospect Park and she said, “We have the money, and we think we can do this. Would you be interested?” I said, “Yes. Absolutely!” Then I didn’t hear anything until probably early January when they called and said, “We want to make a deal. We’ve made our deals with the unions. We’ve got all that under control.”
They didn’t have the Writer’s Guild at the time, but they were working on it. From then on, it just kind of flew, and quite frankly, kudos to Prospect Park, The Online Network and to those two guys, Rich Frank and Jeff Kwatinetz, for pulling together two half hour shows from scratch in four months, which is what they had to do. It’s brilliant.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How do you feel about the $25 million lawsuit Prospect Park filed against ABC?
Erika Slezak: I’m no attorney, and I don’t know the details of it. But I understand it’s about the characters, and in my opinion, Prospect Park is in the right because they own the characters. When they licensed One Life to Live, it came with all the characters of the show that had currently or had ever been on the show.
Roger Howarth came, and he played Todd, and he was with us for four weeks, and now he has gone back to General Hospital. As I said, I’m not sure what all the details of the lawsuit are, but they do own those characters, and ABC apparently killed off several of them. But, again, I’m not a lawyer and probably don’t know what I’m talking about. It's only my opinion. I can’t speak beyond that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Erika, you were also concerned it wouldn’t work unless Frank Valentini came back. Was he ever asked to join the reboot?
Erika Slezak: That I don’t know. I was concerned because when we went off the air, I thought, “If anybody has the know how to immediately turn this around and put it on another medium (the Internet), it would have to be the people who knew the show so well.” A year went by, and Ron (Carlivati) and Frank both went to General Hospital. When they said we were starting up again, I wanted to know if they had Frank and Ron. They said, “No. We are looking for a new producer.”
They did actually find people – Jennifer Pepperman and Ginger Smith who had been connected with daytime for many years. Ginger had been with All My Children for more than twenty years, and Jennifer had been with us years ago, and then she went to As the World Turns where she was a full time director and producer, and then she came back to us as a director and producer, so she’s very familiar with the medium, and she knew how to do it. They found writers who knew what they were doing, so in a way, I guess I was wrong. Yeah. They could do it without Frank and Ron.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): With the current writing and production team, do you have as much input as an actor as you did before?
Erika Slezak: I don’t really think so. I never had a lot of input. If there was something that I thought was just horrible, I would go and say, “I don’t think this is going to work.” Most of the time, they never listened to me anyway, and no, I have no input on this now. The only thing I would do if I found something that was totally out of character, totally wrong, would be to bring it to their attention. But in my contract, it doesn’t say that I have the right to write it. It says that I am playing the part of Viki, and I’ve always felt that way.
They were very generous when they have listened to me in the past. I think the only time I ever went up and said that something was ridiculous was when they had a storyline where I was supposed to kill my son. I said, “Hello … not going to happen.” They wanted me to be hypnotized and kill my son. I said, “It’s just not possible.” I wasn’t going to kill him anyway, but almost kill him.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It’s rather unusual to hear Blair Cramer say, “asshole.”
Erika Slezak: Or to hear a lot of people say a lot of weird things. But, you know what? I have to say it was entirely appropriate. Todd is an asshole sometimes, and when Blair said it … Blair is that kind of a character. She’s a very contemporary woman. And, why not use the language if she can?
I was watching with my family, and I think my daughter and son went, “Wooo!” I kind of went, “Oh, I didn’t know she said that.” But there are other people saying all kinds of things. I don’t think that anything is out of character. Everything they’ve written has been appropriate, has been character driven.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Todd saying “bullshit” was definitely not out of character (laughs).
Erika Slezak: No, not at all.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How far will the show be able to push the envelope with the expletives and in the sex department?
Erika Slezak: I think as far as they can (laughs). I don’t know. It’s not going to happen with me, I tell you that. Viki’s extent of language would be “hell” and “damn.” That’s about it. And, there’s going to be no nudity on my set … or not with me. I don’t know how far they can push it. I don’t think we have any censorship, so essentially, they can do whatever they feel is in appropriate taste.
We don’t want to offend our audience that have been with us for so long who are hopefully now watching, but we want to keep it contemporary enough for the new audience. When Blair says, “asshole,” and Todd says, “shit,” or whatever, the kids are going to go, “Yeah, Right. Okay!” The older audience might go, “Oops.” But I don’t think it’s going to stop them from watching. I hope not anyway.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You’re saying that we won’t see Viki and Clint having hot sex on the honeymoon night?
Erika Slezak: I doubt it (laughs). You may see us close the door and vanish. That’s about it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Leaving it all to the imagination.
Erika Slezak: Yeah. Let’s be age appropriate.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I love that the digital age has already been mentioned several times.
Erika Slezak: Yes. Everybody’s had to say it at least once. I also had to say, “Yes. Now I get it. The Internet is where it’s at.” Everybody’s had to say it once, and that’s fine because it’s true. It is all about the Internet.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That’s where all entertainment will be one day. I’m always working on the computer, so over there in a corner of the screen, One Life will be playing.
Erika Slezak: That’s wonderful. I think that’s what a lot of people are doing. I had an email from a friend who works from home and said, “Oh, I was working on my computer, and on my iPad, I have the shows playing.” I thought, “Good for you!”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’m impressed with some of the new young people on the show especially Corbin Bleu.
Erika Slezak: Yes. He’s a doll. He’s just a doll. He’s also one of the nicest young people I’ve ever met in my life. Corbin has a sense of who he is, and there’s no need to be ridiculous or silly or pushy. He’s just so calm and collected and has such a work ethic. He’s just wonderful.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Since you and Robin are friends, I imagine that it didn’t take long for you two to pick up that special dynamic you have with each other.
Erika Slezak: That happened day one. I was so happy to see her. She actually didn’t come until the second week because of the way the sets were built, but I was delighted that she was back because there is nothing like Viki and Dorian. I think we’re going to get in it a lot more in the future. At least, I hope so.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Can you give us a peek into future Chapters? I have to get used to saying Chapters instead of Episodes.
Erika Slezak: I saw that on the computer (laughs). We’ve only shot, I think, twenty episodes so far, so when we go back to work May 20, we have to then catch up kind of quickly. I’m not sure how all the shows are all put together because so far, we’ve just been shooting segment scenes, and then they put them all together in the editing room because of the limitations of space and sets, what sets have been built and what has yet to be built. I know that this fight between Viki and Dorian is going to escalate considerably.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I figured Dorian would go right into revenge mode.
Erika Slezak: Oh, yeah. Well, that’s where she goes (laughs). That’s what she does automatically.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I love the fact that One Life to Live is nominated for Outstanding Drama Series.
Erika Slezak: I know. Isn’t that funny? Two weeks we were on the air last year. But I think it’s fascinating because the show that I’m sure they submitted was a brilliant show called “Between Heaven and Hell,” that Jill Mitwell directed for which she won a Director’s Guild Award. It drew all the characters together, and there were a lot or people asking, “Where are we going? Are we good people or bad people? Are we going to heaven or hell?” Some of us survived and a few didn’t, but it was a very good show. I would love for us to win. I would love it!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you have a personal pick for Lead Actress?
Erika Slezak: I didn’t see the list.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Susan Flannery (The Bold and the Beautiful), Peggy McCay (Days of our Lives), Michelle Stafford (The Young and the Restless) and Heather Tom (The Bold and the Beautiful).
Erika Slezak: Wow! Okay. I’m afraid I can’t pick one. I know that they are all fantastic. Susan left the show last year. It would be nice for her to win. Michelle Stafford is a super actress, so is Peggy, and so is Heather. I have not a clue. I hope to be judging, so hopefully I’ll see their tapes.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Susan (Flannery) speaks very highly of retirement. Has that thought ever crossed your mind?
Erika Slezak: Not yet. When the show went off the air, I thought, “Okay. I’ll sleep for a while, and my agent will hopefully get me more jobs.” That’s what I’m doing. I’m auditioning. Now that the show is back up, of course, I don’t have as much time. But I don’t want to stop working. Not yet. I really do enjoy it. I may be forced to quit. You never know (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That will never happen.
Erika Slezak: Well, let’s hope.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It’s very sad about The Young and the Restless star and legendary actress Jeanne Cooper. Are you two friends?
Erika Slezak: I know Jeanne. Tell me what’s so sad. I know she’s ill, right?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): According to her son, Corbin Bernsen, Jeanne is in critical condition, and he recently posted on Facebook that he and the family needed to let her go, that they did not want her to suffer and be in pain.
Erika Slezak: Oh, I’m so sorry. Oh, I didn’t know that. That is a dynamite lady! I used to see her just at the Emmys and stuff. She’d see me first and go, “Hey kid! How are you doing, kid?” I just loved her. I didn’t know her well literally, but there was a wonderful personality going on there, and I’m really sorry to hear that she’s so ill.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Jeanne never met a stranger.
Erika Slezak: I think that’s what I meant about I don’t really know her, but when she sees you, she treats you as if you’ve been her best friend forever, which is fantastic.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Yes, it is. Again, congratulations on the reboot. Have you ever watched online shows?
Erika Slezak: I’ve never watched anything online, frankly, until the show came on because I’m old fashioned. I grew up with a pencil, an eraser and a piece of paper. My computer is still this foreign object over there in the corner, so I watch a lot of television, and there are any number of shows I really adore and just have to watch, and my husband thinks I’m crazy. But that’s okay.
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