Under Fire With James DePaiva, Part Two

In Part One of our interview with former ONE LIFE TO LIVE star James DePaiva, the actor shared his thoughts on the new musical he's starring in, "Under Fire." As we continued, DePaiva shared insights about his ego, reflections on Max Holden, and suggestions for surviving the loss of GUIDING LIGHT.

We Love Soaps: Where has your ego been in the process of this show ("Under Fire")?
James DePaiva: Somewhere in the safe deposit box I have at Chase Bank. My ego is very destructive. I really try to do anything that will allow it to come out. I really don’t think it has come out in the last few years, and I’ve been a happier man for it. But it was necessary for survival. In my years as Max, it was necessary for survival. I’m pretty anonymous now, I don’t have to put anything on when people see me. I just play the doting husband when fans come up to Kassie [Depaiva, who plays Blair on ONE LIFE TO LIVE].

We Love Soaps: Did you go into the play with the conscious intention not to let your ego interfere with the process?
James DePaiva: No. And I would honestly say that the only reason I could have any ego doing this show would be out of gross insecurity. I am working with four people that have starred in Broadway shows, musicals. I don’t think I can come to them with an ego. I’m like, "Am I holding on my own? I’ll work harder, I’ll work harder. I swear I’ll be better tomorrow." These are all people who make their living on the Broadway stage. For me to come in with an ego would just be pathetic. It would be so sad.

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We Love Soaps: People are always wanting to know if there are any plans for Max to return to Llanview?
James DePaiva: If there is I don’t know about it. Maybe they contacted somebody else. [laughs] It’s possible. But there have been no rumblings, nor would I expect there to be. There’s really no need for Max at this point, other than to come back and make Roxy’s life wonderful. I would love to do that just for Ilene [Kristen], just to work with her would be phenomenal. I don’t have any reason to go back, do I? Like Blair is ever going to leave Todd for me? Geez, you couldn’t pay me enough to play that again. God, that was painful.

We Love Soaps: Well, there is Roxy. And unfortunately, with Phil Carey’s passing, many feel that leaves a hole as the rough tough cowboy that Max can play so well.
James DePaiva: Max would have to change a lot because they certainly took him away from that Max. Someone said, what’s the character you played? And I said, “Let’s see. His wife died so he was raising twins on his own. That’s what he did. And then when he went out and had a date everyone at home got pissed off. ‘Why isn’t he home taking care of his kids, why is trying to sleep with that girl?’” Okay, you make him a risk taker, then you make him a gambing-aholic. Can’t take any more risks, sorry, it might feed my addiction!

James DePaiva: The character was painted into a corner. I always saw him being a Brad Vernon kind of character, and eventually being an Asa type character. But then I saw Blair as becoming the next Dorian, and Nora being the next Viki. I always saw soaps as you had your generations and every ten years it would kind of move up a notch. Like I’m ten years younger than Bob Woods (Bo) and so I was kind of in the Bob Woods spot for awhile. And then when I got ten years older than Roger Howarth (ex-Todd) moved into that spot. Everyone was moving up that chain and then the chain just blew all to hell and made no sense. But there’s been so much turnover in soaps between head writers and executive producers. I’m so excited that Gary Tomlin and Paul Rauch, my two favorite producers, are producing shows in L.A. because they both love soap operas. And they both have very very different perspectives on them. My greatest years as Max were in the Paul years [1984-1991]. Paul got the character. Paul always said, “Let’s not make the sinner a saint.” After Paul went, they tried to turn me into Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing and I became the saint. Once I became the saint, who cares?

We Love Soaps: Max was portrayed with a heart of gold in the '90s.
James DePaiva: I remember when I started the character. I’d say what he did, and people would say, “That’s so evil, that’s so bad.” I’d say, “Well, no.” I always saw myself as the good guy but the writers had to give me bad stuff to play. But I had to believe I was the hero in it, which is what made it work. Then they started writing me as the good guy and all boredom broke loose. [laughs] All ennui hit the fan. There were wonderful stories though. The gambling story was great. And there was wonderful stuff with Susan Batten [Luna] who is joyous. I couldn’t have had a better actress to work with. Then the stuff with Ilene was working so great and they killed it. I had the good fortune to work with a lot of phenomenal actresses and have a lot of fun stuff to play as an actor and as Jim. But for Max, it was so wrong. So wrong. So I said, “Okay, do I celebrate that I have this wonderful stuff to play with this wonderful performer, or do I piss and moan that it’s destroying this wonderful character that I have so much invested in?

James DePaiva: When I worked with Paul in the early days, I would come to him and say, “Paul, I have this wonderful idea.” He’d say, “Great, show it to me.” He’d either go, “That’s terrible,” or “Great, let’s do it.” We had a remote and I said, “This script doesn’t work. It doesn’t build right. The peak happens in the wrong place for this relationship with Gabrielle.” And he’d go, “You're right.” And then I’d hear, “Paul came up with these great rewrites for the scene.” I’d say, “Thank you, Paul. Congratulations.” It was his show, God love him. He gave Max a career. I am always appreciative of that.

We Love Soaps: Speaking of Paul’s work, as people are reading this it will be within the first week of losing GUIDING LIGHT off the air. We’ve been talking with our readers a lot about GUIDING LIGHT and grief/loss issues on WeLoveSoaps.net. Do you have any words of advice or comfort for those fans?
James DePaiva: Same thing the church would say - pray. Lots of prayer. Lots of meditation. Pick up a good book. I would say to look for your next long-term investment. Soaps will last in some form or another. They may not be on network TV. They might be on book, or tape, or something. We don’t know. But soaps go back to major novels. All the major great novels were soap operas. That’s why they’re 1000 pages long — so it takes you forever to get through it and you follow the nuances and you’ve got all the different families and everything. All the great epic novels were that way and soaps are just an extension of that. It’s a chance to tell a long term story as opposed to, “I have one hour, this is the story.”

James DePaiva: Unfortunately, a lot of soaps got in the habit of saying, “I have two weeks for a story.” When I came on ONE LIFE TO LIVE, our headwriter was Peggy O’ Shea, and she said, “I don’t want a new character unless I have him for at least two years.” She had a long-term arc. And that’s why a lot of the characters get bashed around. All the characters. Any character you are invested in. You will see them completely humiliated and destroyed because someone did not have a long term view of what the character was and no one was there protecting the integrity of the character. They had someone sitting there who said, “Wouldn’t it be cute if we make this person look like an idiot? Then we can all laugh at the mean guy who has a heart of gold.” But I don’t know on network TV that it’s going to last much longer. It’s also become a very expensive medium and it doesn’t make the money it used to. So a cheaper way to do it will come along.

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.

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