Patrika Darbo was born to be an actress. She was performing in shows long before she made the decision to give up the business world and pursue acting full time 25 years ago. Since then she has appeared in one hit primetime show after another, had a busy stage and film career, and was a regular on DAYS OF OUR LIVES. She has also been nominated for a Daytime Emmy and was once named one of TV Guide's 16 Sexiest People in Television. In a new interview with We Love Soaps, Darbo reflects on her life and career with her own special mix of warmth and humor.
We Love Soaps: Can you tell me about your background? Where did you grow up?
Patrika Darbo: I was born in Florida. My parents separated and I lived with my grandparents for a while until my mother remarried and we went to live in Wisconsin. My stepdad worked for the Milwaukee Braves. When Milwaukee moved to Atlanta, we moved, and I ended up in Georgia.
We Love Soaps: I didn't know your stepdad worked for my team, the Braves. Was he there when home run king Hank Aaron played?
Patrika Darbo: My dad saw every home run Hank Aaron ever hit except one, when he was in the hospital with his cancer. He was terrific. He was known as the "biggest little man in baseball" because he was only 4'2". He always told me if you want it to go after it and don't let people stop you. I certainly had a good role model. Before my dad passed away he was with the Astros. He left when Ted Turner came in as owner. He had been with the Boston Braves, Milwaukee Braves and Atlanta Braves, and was with the Houston Astros before he passed away.
We Love Soaps: Growing up I loved sports and soaps. I would talk to my guy friends about sports and my girl friends about the soaps.
Patrika Darbo: You know what though, most of the sports guys know most of the soaps and watch them because they play night games. Several sports guys have come to me and said, 'Oh my God, my grandma loves you and so do I!'.
We Love Soaps: That's how a lot of fans got started watching the soaps, with their mother or grandmother. My mom always had them on.
Patrika Darbo: I think that's pretty much why soaps are losing their audience. We're not of a generation now where mothers can stay home. Everybody works so kids are not hearing, 'sit down this hour with mom and be quiet while we watch this.' They don't have that anymore.
We Love Soaps: I love the genre, but I'm not sure the daytime soaps are consistently compelling enough or topical enough to reel them in even if they are potential viewers.
Patrika Darbo: They take so long to get where they're going. Before there wasn't that much to watch, and there wasn't forty thousand stations and the internet. With that, people don't want to spend an hour that kind of repeats itself for five days and doesn't move forward.
We Love Soaps: Most of the shows I am watching in primetime are serialized. I love FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS and even LOST is a serial.
Patrika Darbo: If you're not watching LOST, you're lost [laughs]. My friend Sam Anderson is a recurring character (Bernard) on LOST. We worked together on GROWING PAINS umpteen years ago.
We Love Soaps: Did you always want to be an actress?
Patrika Darbo: My mom when I came out she first wanted to call me Sarah Bernhardt so I'd have to say "yes" [laughs].
We Love Soaps: And your parents were supportive?
Patrika Darbo: My dad said you can do what you want to do, but you will get your education and will always have something to fall back on. They were supportive on one side but were realistic on the other knowing the statistics. The support was there when I was doing things, but they made sure I got my education. And I always try to stress that with kids and younger people that it's the most important thing you can do.
We Love Soaps: When did you move out to Los Angeles?
Patrika Darbo: I went to college at Georgian Southern in Statesboro near Savannah. Then I moved to L.A. I was not a good table waiter. I got a 9 to 5 job but it made it tough me to get out for auditions. I can't tell you how many "dentist appointments" or "migraine headaches" I had so I could go out on auditions. It all worked out. I was a lady executive in the business world as well as trying to act and it wasn't until 1984 that I decided I would fully pursue my acting and I've supported myself ever sense.
We Love Soaps: You were doing a lot of theater at the time?
Patrika Darbo: I was doing a lot of what they call Equity Waiver Theater. This is not a theater town. They bring things in and people like to go see it, but there's no local theater really, mostly community theater or the Equity Waver. My husband and I met in community theater. Once I was union, I had to start doing Equity Waver and I did "Cheatin" written by Del Shores and then did "“Daddy’'s Dyin’…'...Who’s Got the Will?". That was when I was put under contract by ABC and later did STEP BY STEP with Suzanne [Somers]. Del wrote some other stuff and then I ended up doing "Sordid Lives" for him.
We Love Soaps: I am a huge fan of Sordid Lives the movie and the SORDID LIVES television show on Logo but have never seen the stage production. There is a New York production that started this month. What character did you play?
Patrika Darbo: I played Nolita. That was the part that Delta Burke played in the film, and Caroline Rhea is doing on the TV show. I was supposed to do it in the film. Del had called me two times and I could do it. The first time I was booked on DAYS and the second time he had the money to do it but then didn't. He called me a third time but they wouldn't let me go [from DAYS] because I was in heavy storyline so I didn't get to do the film. It's a cult thing. It ran for two years in Palm Springs and Del got a star on the walk of fame there. We did the play there to standing room audiences. They used to say "the gays and the grays" loved this show.
We Love Soaps: I was looking at your resume and you have guest starred on all kinds of primetime shows. DIFF'RENT STROKES, ST. ELSWHERE, PUNKY BREWSTER, RIPTIDE, SEINFELD and many more.
Patrika Darbo: On DIFF'RENT STROKES I played one of the mothers in a children's show where a guy dressed as a squirrel died. It was very bizarre [laughs].
We Love Soaps: What were some of your favorite sitcom experiences?
Patrika Darbo: I had fun on SEINFELD and people still remember that one. Doing STEP BY STEP as a series regular was a good thing too.
We Love Soaps: Who did you play on MAMA'S FAMILY?
Patrika Darbo: Even though I had a Southern accent and talked like this, the major thing you would remember me from was being the second guest star to this older lady. She was hysterical and I decided I had to create something memorable that I could do so I walked with a bounce. I had this hat on that looked like a phallic symbol so I when bounced it just went up and down and up and down as I walk. It was the episode about the women who couldn't read.
We Love Soaps: You played Roseanne in TV movie Roseanne and Tom: Behind the Scenes. What was that like?
Patrika Darbo: Well, honey, it's good to be queen. It was a great experience. Neither one of the movies did that well (two Roseanne movies came out around the same time). I think ours was the best. Roseanne liked ours the best. I played two different people - Roseanne and her alter ego. I had a great time and it's another one of those things where's not a lot of roles that come along for heavier women so I couldn't turn it down.
EDITOR'S NOTE: In Part 2 of the We Love Soaps interview, Darbo talks about her time on DAYS OF OUR LIVES, her film roles, a recent guest appearance on DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES and much more.