Bree Williamson has become a formidable actress in daytime television in the past seven years, consistently delivering heart-wrenching and convincing performances in the role of Jessica on ONE LIFE TO LIVE. But as I learned in this We Love Soaps interview, her off camera ambitions are also industrious, determined, and inspiring. Please enjoy this candid conversation as we discuss poltics, Psychology, and the legacy of CHARLIE’S ANGELS.
We Love Soaps: Your name reminds me of my favorite CHARLIE'S ANGELS character.
Bree Williamson: That’s not a coincidence. That’s where my mom got my name from.
We Love Soaps: You could have been Farrah!
Bree Williamson: My dad wanted to name me Farrah, but my Mom won, so I’m Bree.
We Love Soaps: I understand you studied Psychology in college.
Bree Williamson: I did a double major in Psychology and Women’s Studies at the University of Toronto.
We Love Soaps: I love these subjects combined, especially given the history in this country of Psychology being used against women.
Bree Williamson: I was just doing something today with Planned Parenthood. I’ve been working with that organization for going on ten years now. I used to be a sexual health counselor in Toronto. I am now on the Board of Advocates. I host different events. This a National Week of Action for them to stop the Stupak Amendment.
We Love Soaps: Can you tell me more about that?
Bree Williamson: The Stupak Amendment is an amendment to ban any aid for abortion. Broadly speaking, under Stupak a woman wouldn't be able to buy health insurance that has abortion coverage except in the cases of rape, incest, and life threatening emergencies. It’s a major step back for women’s health care. It’s shocking.
We Love Soaps: As someone who grew up in Canada, why do you think the United States has such a problem with this issue?
Bree Williamson: I think it’s people being misinformed. Or not informed about women’s health issues. It’s black-and-white politics. Like [the thinking] that abortion is bad and you should be against it. Planned Parenthood isn’t pro-abortion, it’s pro-choice. I think it’s literally misinformation, people don’t understand what it really means.
We Love Soaps: Many had hoped that by having a President who is openly pro-choice that this would stop being such a fight in this country. What happened?
Bree Williamson: I don’t know. I wish I was a political analyst so I could take you through it. I’m shocked. Women voted for him because he was so pro-women’s healthcare. Hopefully this won’t [pass]. And hopefully if people go to www.ppaction.org and are able to spread the news and talk about it, then people will be informed and this won’t happen again.
We Love Soaps: It sounds like activism and politics are very important to you. How did that translate into an acting career?
Bree Williamson: It was strange. I was in Toronto, working at Planned Parenthood, and acting on the side. It’s sounds weird to say, but it was extremely lucrative at the time. You could get an agent and audition for commercials. Because the dollar was so low, a lot of American companies were shooting in Canada. So it was really lucrative for Canadian actors. It was just a side gig for me, and University and Planet Parenthood were on the front burners. Then I got this audition for ONE LIFE TO LIVE, and I got it. So my life took a drastic turn where acting became the forefront and Planned Parenthood is not how I make my living.
We Love Soaps: Were you familiar with ONE LIFE TO LIVE before your audition?
Bree Williamson: I was. My mom watched ALL MY CHILDREN growing up. And I had seen a couple of episodes of ONE LIFE TO LIVE. I knew the Marty Saybrooke rape story with Todd and Nora. It’s funny being on the show, because Susan Haskell [Marty] is back. Also there was another episode, a fantasy episode, where all the characters switched. Viki was Todd, and I remember watching that thinking, “Wow, that must be a really fun show to work on!” Careful what you wish for.
We Love Soaps: You had a challenging time stepping into a role which had been so closely associated from early childhood with a different actress. What was that like for you to come in as the new Jessica?
Bree Williamson: Luckily I didn’t realize how big a deal I was stepping into. I had acquainted myself with the show a bit, but I didn’t realize it was such a huge deal. I didn’t know Erin [Torpey] so I didn’t know I looked like her. Everybody was really supportive. It was a nice transition. Erin was really ready to go. She wanted to go explore things and move out to California and have a life change. And I was ready to come in. So you couldn’t ask for a more seamless recast than that. There was no drama, no controversy, just happy good feelings. I think that’s why it worked so well. From the fans perspective, Erin played that role from when she was a baby up until young adulthood. And obviously with young adulthood they start to explore really adult storylines. So I think it was a perfect time to enter a new Jessica.
We Love Soaps: We had seen Erin Torpey as Jessica grow up, have sex, miscarry a baby...
Bree Williamson: But you saw her as a young woman doing that. I’m not sure how much sexiness was attached to it. Obviously David Fumero is super hot, I’m sure it was sexy. But it was right after the story where she found out Mitch was her father. You couldn’t have timed it better for someone else to come in so the fans could be a little more open to it.
We Love Soaps: How was the initial fan reaction to you?
Bree Williamson: It was great. I got a little bit of flack for my Canadian accent.
We Love Soaps: How was that reflected to you? Did people write in?
Bree Williamson: People wrote in, but I think it was maybe one letter that I got. It’s weird I remember that one negative letter when everyone else was so positive. Obviously there is some adjustment, I get it. I didn’t expect everyone to jump on board right away.
We Love Soaps: You were thrown head first into a story with three very powerful women: Dorian, Blair, and Lindsay, all tricking Mitch. You were holding your own in those early scenes.
Bree Williamson: Thank you! I remember having these 90 page days on my third or fourth day. I remember having one extremely difficult day with Kristen Alderson. Kristen and I had 30 or 40 pages together. I was struggling. I was nervous, we were behind, and I made us behind. I went back to my hotel, because I was still in the hotel the show put me up in. I called my Mom and said, [in crying tone] “I’m no good at this! I’m awful! They’re going to fire me. I’m probably coming home.”
We Love Soaps: Do you typically second guess yourself like that?
Bree Williamson: It’s one of those things where you have confidence when you get on set. Then the second you start screwing up your confidence gets less and less. It was just a learning curve for me. And since there was no time allowed to have a learning curve, that was my one day. That was my one day where I blew it and that’s it. I came to work the next day three times as prepared. And I hadn’t had a day like that since.
We Love Soaps: Did Kristen Alderson help you get through that?
Bree Williamson: She was a baby! Looking back at that and seeing her now, she was a baby. She was a genius, and ran that set, even at that age. She’s great.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Please come back for Part Two where we discuss her approach to portraying Disassociative Identity Disorder and that famous funeral episode. Plus, what was the one emotional scene that she couldn’t leave at work? Find out tomorrow!
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 is blogging about surviving the holidays at www.shouldless.com.