We Love Soaps: When Vivian began on DAYS OF OUR LIVES, for the first year she seemed pretty down-to-earth, well grounded in her motivation, and clear about what she wanted and didn’t want. And then came Dr. Wu and the herbs.
Louise Sorel: It got a little wacky.
We Love Soaps: And Vivian burying Carly alive during the summer of 1993 ended up being one of the most famous and beloved story lines in soap opera history. When you learned that Vivian was going to be responsible for trying to pull of one of the most grisly and cruel murders on daytime, how did you respond?
Louise Sorel: Well, I didn’t murder her! She did have some air. All I could think of was Stephen King. You know, I was constantly surprised. Particularly with James Reilly [head writer of DAYS from 1993-98], nothing was out of bounds. Anything went. Because Crystal [Chappell] committed to it, I just went in and did it. I tried to make it kind of Noel Coward-ish. I mean, I would dial her, I gave her a phone. I’d say, “Hello Darling, did I wake you from your nap?” It was just ridiculous. I thought, “What am I doing?” But then I thought, “Don’t think about it, just do it.” And I think that part of that is why it worked, because we committed to it. I mean, we thought it was funny, but at the same time when you’re doing it you have to do it.
Louise Sorel: Then they wrote this thing on the script, “Vivian does a jig on [Carly’s] grave.” And maybe it was just me being belligerent, but I just said, “Vivian doesn’t do jigs.” So I went up to the office, and I sad, “Tom [Langan], I don’t do jigs.” “What would she do?” he responded. And at this point he was like, “Oh my God, here she comes” [laughs]. I said, “I have no idea.” He said, “Fine, what are we supposed to do?” I said, “I don’t know, I’ll work on it at lunch.” And I stayed on the stage at lunch time, while everyone was gone, and thought, “What would I do, what would sort of catch every body off balance?”
And I started remembering the character of Ophelia [from Shakespeare’s "Hamlet"], “She loves me, she loves me not.” And I started doing that with the flowers, I started walking around the grave, thinking of her [Carly], like kind of in a twisted way I really did love her. And then I said, “Okay, I think I’ve got it.” They said, “What are you going to do?” And I said, “I’m not really sure.” So they brought the cameras back, the director was Phil [Sogard]. I think I annoyed him, but he trusted me. He said, “Just pull the cameras back, we don’t know what she’s gonna do.” I thought, “I’d better do something.” So I walked around the grave, “She loves me, she loves me not...” and then I threw myself on top of her, and then rolled around and just laughed. I do not know where that came from. And I heard dead silence on the set, it was like a freeze. Even when they called “cut” it was very quiet. The crew came over and said, “Jesus Christ! That was very scary.” I guess it worked.
We Love Soaps: Why do you think fans look back at Vivian’s run on DAYS and love her and relate to her so much?
Louise Sorel: I’m not sure. I hadn’t watched soaps until then. Soaps in their original form were wonderful. They just told quiet stories about relationships, and that’s what I thought they were about. And then James Reilly, I think, was one of the first who came in and went to the moon. Maybe soap audiences hadn't seen those theatrics before.
We Love Soaps: So you weren’t ever consulted ahead of time as to where the story was headed?
Louise Sorel: No.
We Love Soaps: Was that ever hard for you as an actress not to know what was going to happen or where things were going?
Louise Sorel: Yes, and you know what? That’s when you say, “I’m the actress, I do what I’m told to do.” Not that I didn’t question. But when I was told I was going to be a box of french fries, I said, [pause], “Fine.” I mean, that has been a really funny long running joke. Ivan and I, he was a hamburger, I was a box of french fries. And we played the whole show like that! I mean, I thought I was a pretty damn good sport. And then they were afraid to tell me, the costume guy would say, “You don’t want to know what you’re doing, do you?” I said, “No, don’t tell me.” He said, “Okay here’s your costume.” I said, “WHAT? A box of french fries?”
Louise Sorel: One day, the producer Tom [Langan] came down, I was in the make-up room, and pulled up his chair really close and I thought, “Oh no, Oh God.” He said, “I just want to tell you something about the new story. It’s gonna be really interesting. However, there’s a little catch. You will be bald.” And I’m being made-up and I’m thinking, “I have enough problems. I’m going to be bald.” I said to him [enthusiastically], “Really?” I thought, “Whatever.” [Laughs] The next minute I was Elvis Presley. Then I was a bag lady. And then I was Carmen Miranda. And I thought, “You just do it.”
We Love Soaps: Did you enjoy that part? Did you like being able to be spontaneous and wacky?
Louise Sorel: I have to admit I did. The only issue I had, and this also drove them mad, was that I wanted to do it right. And it’s not their fault, there’s just no time. There’s so many people in so many scenes. And things would happen and they would say, “Now you’re French.” I said, “If I’m going to do a French accent then I have to do it right.” I need somebody to work with,a dialect person. And they got me a dialect coach [because] I wanted to do it right. It’s not that I was trying to get something out of them at all. It’s just hard on a soap to try to accommodate all that because of the time frame. They knew I just wanted it to be better. I wasn’t gaining anything, except, perhaps allowing me to go through a thought process to make it work. I’ve decided I’m going back now and I’m just to going to do it. I’m going to surprise them all. I’m just going to go back and say, “Oh sure, fine, no problem.”
We Love Soaps: Did it ever feel like just too much? Did you ever get a script and think it’s just too out there?
Louise Sorel: Not really. You know, you get into that crazy head of James Reilly. I got that first soap award [in 1994] and said...I thought it was funny, it just comes out of my mouth, I can’t help it, “I don’t know what they’re smoking up there, but keep smoking it.” [Laughs] I meant it. And he had a good sense of humor so I knew he would get it. Because it did look like someone was smoking something. And it worked, otherwise I wouldn’t have been up there.
We Love Soaps: So Jim Reilly left DAYS, and after a few years you were excused from the show [in 2000].
Louise Sorel: That’s a way of putting it.
We Love Soaps: Okay, you were fired.
Louise Sorel: I was fired.
We Love Soaps: What was it like to be fired after all those years?
Louise Sorel: Horrible.
We Love Soaps: Did you have any idea that was coming?
Louise Sorel: Well, what happened was, usually they ask you, they would call your agent in September to start negotiating for next February. And it was September, and I was thinking, “I’ve been on the show eight years, let’s find out what’s going on.” So my agent called two or three times. And I get all up in arms because I feel like we both deserve more respect than that.
Louise Sorel: And I went to Ken Corday and I just said, “My agent is not getting a call and I feel I deserve better consideration.” He may not have known my agent had called, I don’t know. He said, “Well we talked about it and, no, we’re not picking it up.” It was like “AGH” [makes a stabbing gesture to her heart]. But I know they didn’t want to say anything because I still had six months to go, and they’d rather an actor be happy. And he was paying me very well. He’s very generous. Things have changed because of the economy, but Ken was perhaps maybe the most generous producer that I know of. So I was being well paid, and, it could have come from a source that I don’t even want to think about. Whatever it was, it was too bad because I thought Vivian and Ivan were really the Laurel and Hardy, they were fun. So it was a shocker for me. I felt hurt. And I miss those people. The day that ends it’s like a deadening sound. Deadening.
We Love Soaps: How did you cope with a such a significant change in you life?
Louise Sorel: I went to Greece, France, which was good for my head because that’s always helped me keep balance. But it was really hard. You wake up and you’re going to ...no you’re not. Everybody has had this experience. It just gets in your blood, eight years. They’re your family, I had a lot of those people in my home. I’m a crew person, I loved the make-up and wardrobe [people].
We Love Soaps: Did you keep in touch with any of the actors after that?
Louise Sorel: Not really, [pause] I needed to separate. John Aniston [Victor] is a friend. Even though I haven’t seen him in a long time I’m sure as soon as I see him it will be like no time at all. But I was in New York a lot, and I pretty much just stayed away.
Stay tuned for Part Four where Ms. Sorel shares her experiences working on PORT CHARLES and ALL MY CHILDREN, writing her memoirs, and her celebrated return to daytime.
- Lunch with Louise Sorel, Part One
- Lunch with Louise Sorel, Part Two
Damon L. Jacobs is a Marriage Family 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.