Cady McClain Interview: 'All My Children' Actress Releases First Live Album
Cady McClain is a two-time Emmy Award winner for her roles on the daytime dramas All My Children (Dixie Cooney) and As the World Turns (Rosanna Cabot). She has also worked extensively in film, television, and theater.
In 2008, McClain was featured in two independent films: Soldier’s Heart, winner of Best Narrative Feature at the GI Film Festical, and Home Movie, a psychological thriller released through IFC. Other film credits include the festival award winning film Alma Mater. Television credits include Law and Order SVU, Cheers, and St. Elsewhere.
"There’s such magic and imagination each woman brings to her creativity and to her work. To put her into a box just because she has breasts is ridiculous (laughs). It makes me a little pissed off and defiant I guess."
The actress is also very proud of her work in her one-woman piece Mona7, which she wrote, produced, acted, and co-directed. The thirty-minute multimedia performance deals with issues of abuse and identify through collaged video, surrealist word play, and viewpoints movement.
McClain released her first album of music entitled Blue Glitter Fish in 2006. Two years later she published her first book of three, Conversations with the Invisible, compiled of poems and collages and is currently writing her first novel, Murdering My Youth which is loosely based on her childhood.
In October 2010 McClain released her first live album of music called Club Passim named after the famous live music club in Cambridge, Massachusetts where it was recorded. The CD displays McClain’s open and easygoing relationship she continues to cultivate with her fans and is for sale at her live gigs and at CDBaby.com.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Cady, great music. Some of the songs were on your first album, correct?
Cady McClain: Absolutely. This is a live version of that album as well as a couple of new songs that were originally going to be on that album. I produced and released them as fully produced singles. But I wanted to put out a live album because so many people ask me if I’m going to do a gig or go on a tour and I don’t do that. I’m not much of a get in the van and drive around kind of girl. I have done these very special little gigs here and there and this one was just particularly special. I thought that this was a great way for people to have the live experience.
It may not be in 3D but it is certainly an opportunity to feel like you’re in the club. I also really like the way these songs sound acoustically, not fully produced with strings and what not. I think you get the raw story behind the songs and that’s really why I wrote them to put those words out into the world. I think it’s very effective in that way.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How would you describe your music?
Cady McClain: It’s blues and jazz influenced folk, but it really falls under folk music or acoustic music because it’s storytelling music in a very classic structure of the storytelling. It’s that kind of old fashioned structure, three verses, a chorus, and a break, so it’s heavy on lyric driven which is what folk music is. The words are really what’s more important than the orchestration or the background.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is there some Joni Mitchell influence?
Cady McClain: Yeah. She’s considered kind of a folk artist, but spent so much time in the jazz world that her mechanical ability as a guitarist and a songwriter just deepened because of those influences. So yeah, definitely, Joni is the queen (laughs). We all worship at the Joni temple (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you self-taught on the guitar?
Cady McClain: I’m mostly self-taught. I’ve taken a couple of lessons but I’m afraid they haven’t made much of an impact (laughs). I learned from hanging around other guitarists. That’s really the best way to learn. Get them to teach you their tricks (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you writing from your own personal experiences, Cady?
Cady McClain: Absolutely. I think 90% of songwriters do but I think there’s something about in the way I work as an actor that is very much like the way I work as a songwriter and as an artist. I was taught that the more personal, the more universal. I figured out if it’s deeply deeply true and honest to me than there’s a really good chance that it’s going to resonate with somebody else because we’re all more alike than we are different even though we’re all unique. That’s kind of where I come from.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): “California” is a favorite of mine and so is “Mr. Know It All.” That one seemed somewhat defiant. What was the inspiration for “Mr. Know It All?”
Cady McClain: Well, that one came from hanging out with guitarists … male guitarists who knew everything there was to know (laughs). There’s a lot of ego in the music business, especially as a woman coming into the music business. You really sometimes get more teachers than you’re really looking for. Let’s put it that way (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You’re getting some help that you really didn’t ask for.
Cady McClain: Exactly. I think, too, the things that a woman brings to her work are so much more than her sexuality. That’s how women have generally been defined for the last 50 years, whether or not they’re married, have children, whether or not they’re playing on their sexuality to make a living. There’s such magic and imagination each woman brings to her creativity and to her work. To put her into a box just because she has breasts is ridiculous (laughs). It makes me a little pissed off and defiant I guess.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I can understand that.
Cady McClain: Right? Every woman does, right? We all deal with that. Sometimes it’s really shocking like, “Wow I can’t believe I have to deal with this stuff, you know?”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Sometimes it doesn’t seem like it has progressed much in the last 50 years, does it?
Cady McClain: I know, right? I have a nice story around that song. Jill Larson who plays Opal on All My Children has this adopted daughter Anni-Ming. When she was little I had first written the song and gave her a copy of it. Annie loved it. She’s this spicy little girl who was being raised to be very much free and independent and I loved that. She knew all of the words to the song and would dance around the living room (laughs). So there’s hope for the next generation. They might not have to put up with so much crap.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Cady, you’ve also published books of poetry. Are you working now on a novel?
Cady McClain: I am. I’m about 90 pages into it. I’m very very proud of the book. It’s called Murdering My Youth. I call it intentional fiction because it is based on my life’s experience but changed in certain ways in order to serve a story. The story is about growing up fast. That’s probably all I really should say until I finish the damn thing (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You have previously mentioned that you were abused by an alcoholic parent.
Cady McClain: Yes, that’s definitely in there. It’s always a relevant topic certainly but particularly relevant because many of the women who have reached out to me over the years from my work on daytime related to my characters’ struggles. There are a lot of women who are dealing with victimization on daytime. They would see themselves in the character and reach out to me and I would reach back.
I’ve had a couple of interesting dialogues with women that I might never have met or known if it hadn’t been through that work on TV. It has given me a lot of encouragement that the story of becoming yourself and finding freedom and self acceptance after coming out of very difficult childhood situations is something that’s gonna resonate with many people; women in particular, but I think some men also.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you have a projected date for completion of the book?
Cady McClain: My goal was to finish it by the end of this year, which I think I’ll have my first draft by then. I have someone in the publishing world whose going to take a look at it and then we’ll go from there.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Cady, you were 19 when you began on All My Children. Was that intimidating as a young woman to enter the daytime arena?
Cady McClain: Yes and no. Yes because I was young, but I had been acting in Los Angeles for 10 years before that so in a way I had a lot more behind me than someone who would be just coming out of high school or college. Sometimes it was surprising to me when I’d meet somebody older who acted much more childishly than me (laughs).
Walt Willey used to make fun of me. He’d say, “You’re taking a nap on the set?” He’d give me hell because I was so professional. I’d go onto the set and do relaxation exercises and sense memory work and all this stuff and then I’d lie down on the set and take a little nap (laughs). He’s like, “Who does that?”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Yes, because daytime drama moves pretty quickly.
Cady McClain: Well, it sure does now. It didn’t move as quickly back in 1989 I’m telling you (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Most actors call daytime a great stepping-stone to other opportunities.
Cady McClain: Yeah, it can be and I think probably it was more so in the past than it is now. What I find with my experience in the last couple of years is that the budgets and the pacing of the show has become everything. The directors are no longer able to sit with the actors and talk about the scene or give notes in the fashion that they used to because everything is being influenced by the speed and the pace at which these shows have to be produced in order to meet their budget deadlines. That takes a lot of creativity out of the equation so I don’t know if young people are really … maybe they’re getting some practice but I certainly don’t know if they’re getting the kind of lesson in acting that you used to be able to get.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Many fans were disappointed with the “poison pancake” death.
Cady McClain: Yeah … oh God (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It wasn’t even germane to the storyline because the Satin Slayer said that he didn’t kill Dixie.
Cady McClain: Right.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Maybe that is what is wrong with daytime right now. The plots are not so much character driven as they are drowning in melodrama.
Cady McClain: I think you are absolutely on to something. I think Dixie’s death was a quick random choice. They wanted to kill this character off in some sort of a dramatic way that’s going to save the ratings. There could have been such an amazing story. Tad and Dixie could have had a wedding. She’s finally running across the street to Kate and she gets hit by a car and dies in his arms.
The audience gets served this wonderful opportunity to have all their hopes and dreams met and then the tragedy. That’s melodrama, but wonderfully so and so satisfying. Just a random pancake death (laughs) … and that’s why I laugh. It’s just so embarrassing and just so tragically small and an insignificant way to kill off a character that has been around for so long.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Yes, the fans did not receive closure.
Cady McClain: No and they tried with the ghost and everything, but I think there is some aspect that has been lost. Of course, nobody cares what I think really (laughs). I’m just the actor. The higher ups don’t listen to me and heed what I say very often, if at all. I think they want to listen to the fans but they also want to have their own ideas.
My thing is that what Agnes Nixon did was to bring Christian morality tales to daytime; what is right, the challenge of doing the right thing, good versus evil. That has all been lost. They want to be Dawson’s Creek now, you know, and have teenage romances. I just shrug my shoulders and say, “Okay, I’m not running the show. What do I know?”
Days of Our Lives seems to be doing some good stuff. The Young and the Restless does some interesting storylines and it’s not about being young or old. Some of the ABC shows seem to have lost their way.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): As the World Turns had a great gay storyline but they never consummated the relationship.
Cady McClain: That was because there was someone with very strong religious points of view way way high up at Procter & Gamble. That is what I heard. They didn’t want to have a gay storyline at all and if they were going to have it then it was a fight every step of the way to have that. There were many restrictions put on it because of this one person’s belief system.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): The Hubbards are the token black family on All My Children, but there is also a shortage of Asians and Jews on daytime.
Cady McClain: It certainly doesn’t reflect American culture (laughs). It’s true. The problem is that it’s always been that way at least since I’ve been around. There was one Asian woman on As the World Turns who became very popular, but, why just one? It’s very strange and I’m not exactly sure what is the big hold up. I remember seeing that One Life to Live had a whole big black family and I was like, “Yea! That is so great!” I don’t know whether they’re still on the show.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): One of them just got carted off to prison, but they had some front burner storylines. What do you think daytime needs to do to turn the cancellation trend around?
Cady McClain: I think that some sort of conference needs to happen between the writers, the producers, and the people that have the power over these shows (the networks). I think that’s where it’s all happening. It comes from the very top that says, “Your ratings aren’t what they used to be.” Well, nobody’s ratings are what they used to be. I remember talking to Chris Goutman about this a little bit about the endless fighting the producer has to do to keep not only to keep his show on the air but to tell the stories that they think are relevant. I know the caring is there.
I think it’s just that much has to be decided on in terms of the times we are in. Nobody wants to wait to have their results. They want to have their results today and I think that’s part of the problem. The bottom line has been made about money and what was initially the cash cow is no longer that. I think that’s across the line for TV in general and throughout the entertainment business.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you interested in getting back into daytime?
Cady McClain: Well, I think I would consider it. I think I have more passion for storytelling. It would be very exciting if somebody asked me to write. That would really get me going. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I did write the first half of the whole Adam/Dixie thing. That was my idea and I wrote the whole breakdown of how that would work. The writers liked it and they used it. I thought that was fabulous. I loved doing that and I think I would have something to offer them.
As an actress, I’d just love to have an ear. It’s much more different as an actor because your job is really to do what they tell you to do, to work with what you’re given, and do the best you can. I hoped I’ve proven I can play great characters with Dixie and Rosanna. They’re just completely different kinds of people so I have an ability to create different people. By character, I mean a whole human psyche. If I were asked to do something I would hope it would be something exciting like a new personality.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’ve been calling Dixie the heaven greeter …
Cady McClain: Yes, I know (laughs). Tad’s sister Jenny … what’s her name?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Kim Delaney.
Cady McClain: I’m this generation’s Kim Delaney (laughs). I’m up there in heaven in my little robe saying, “Oh Tad, oh.” (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That has to feel like a waste of your acting talent.
Cady McClain: There are times … but you’ve just got to roll with it, you know?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I know. What’s next for you, Cady?
Cady McClain: I have another album’s worth of stuff that is sitting there staring at me saying, “Record me please!” I’m definitely going to get that out by January or February, March at the latest to put it out there in the world. Then the book and then we’ll see what happens.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Sounds good. If you had to give me your life’s mantra, what would it be?
Cady McClain: To thine own self be true. The rest of it goes, “And so it follows like the night to day that thou can’t be false to any man.” It would be that. To thine own self be true … then you can’t be false to anyone.
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