We Love Soaps: Two years after you started, [Jessica's alter] Tess was brought into the story. What was that like for you when they introduced a new personality?
Bree Williamson: It was great. It’s my favorite favorite. I know the fans are sometimes like, “Oh, it’s Tess again?” It’s so much fun for me, she’s so great. My life at ONE LIFE is [divided] by pre and post-Tess.
We Love Soaps: Did it seem it was a validation that you were doing well on the show and they weren’t planning to ship you back to Canada?
Bree Williamson: Yes, it really was. It was awesome that they handed me this gold and said, “Here, do you what you want with it.” It was written so well, the Nash stuff was written so well. It was flattering and awesome of them to do that for me.
We Love Soaps: As a Psychology major, had you studied much about Dissociative Identity Disorder (D.I.D.)?
Bree Williamson: There was Abnormal Psychology and Introduction to Personality. For my degree I could take either/or. I took Introduction to Personality instead of Abnormal because it seemed more interesting. It was studying Jung, Freud, all those guys. But I knew Dissociative Identity Disorder and the controversy around it—whether or not it truly is a disorder. I had heard about it, and I rented Sybil. It was fairly daunting when they say, “You go to Jess, you go to Tess...” It’s daunting to think about how you’re going to accomplish that so it doesn’t look cheesey, or fake.
We Love Soaps: D.I.D. is certainly more common on soaps than diabetes or everyday medical issues. Once I was actually working in a psychiatric emergency center, I saw that it is extremely rare. And if one does disassociate, it’s quite subtle.
Bree Williamson: But that’s not as much fun to watch, you know? I always tell people that the soaps try to stay as accurate as possible while keeping it still entertaining. The writers and myself try to keep it real, and keep the audience engaged.
We Love Soaps: In your first round as Tess, there was some controversy as the show seemed to be making an argument for the genetic component of D.I.D. But the second Tess 2.0, it made more sense in the context of the abuse Jessica had suffered.
Bree Williamson: And it’s really important for a soap to raise awareness about sexual abuse. We ran PSAs during the whole story. Although the D.I.D. may not be as accurate as some things, it does shed light on sexual abuse, and it helps shed light on Hepatitis C. Jessica has Hepatitis C, and I’ve had many fans come up to me and say, “Thank you so much, nobody writes about this.”
It was a means to an end in that way. It was entertaining, but it shed a lot of light on different things. There was even a little abortion thing in there too. Tess contemplated an abortion when she first found out she was pregnant. And it wasn’t negative. She decided to have [the baby], but it wasn’t negative about abortion. Which I was happy about. Abortion is tricky to have on soaps. There are two things [a character] gets from a pregnancy. You get a child, and you get a storyline. So to terminate it with an abortion and not have it be dramatic...you don’t want to have trauma attached to an abortion on a soap. It doesn’t sound the right message out into the world.
We Love Soaps: Soaps absolutely have the means to teach and educate their audiences in ways that no other art form does, because of the consistency year after year. That can be a curse and a blessing.
Bree Williamson: I did a whole Soap Nation tour around the states this past summer. Even Planned Parenthood doesn’t reach that far. It’s a great audience we have access to that can be informed on these [issues].
We Love Soaps: And it comes from someone who is a role model. The last couple of years as Jessica, your character has gone through some of the deepest emotional traumas that anyone could go through. First with Nash’s death. That funeral scene for which you were Emmy nominated just tore the guts out of anyone who watched it. What was it like for you to approach doing that scene?
Bree Williamson: I wasn’t excited about the storyline because it meant that Forbes [March] was leaving. They were having trouble with where the character was going. But I was looking forward to playing something that traumatic and meaty. The funeral scene: I remember being depressed for three weeks. First there was Nash’s death scene, then so much lead-up to it. There were the scenes with Natalie and Viki in my bedroom, every day I would come to work and bawl my eyes out more than usual.
So I just remember talking all day. I talked and talked and cried and cried all day. Everyone was really great. The part that people forget is that I was on the floor with Hillary [B. Smith] and Erika [Slezak], so I’m performing not only in front of the camera, but in front of these vetrans of daytime. It was really fun, it was a really great challenge. It was written so well. They took their time carving out really great scenes for me and made a meal out of it. Which was really great. You hate it when someone leaves the show and they don’t do anything about it. It sucks Jon Brotherton (Jared) is leaving. The only good thing about it is they are making a meal out of it. Brian Kerwin (Charlie) gets stuff, Erika Slezak gets stuff, Melissa Archer (Natalie) gets stuff. It just means story for a huge amount of people. It means good viewing.
We Love Soaps: How did you take care of yourself when you were coming to work bawling your eyes out day after day for several weeks?
Bree Williamson: Days like that, days like the funeral, where I can just cry all day, it’s like a release. I just leave it there. Because they were such long days I had no time to do anything except get up, go to work, go home, and go to bed. So that helped a lot. It was like a death, it was sad, because Forbes was leaving. We were all sad because of that. There was a place to put that sadness in my mind. I just felt I had cried to much so by the time I went home it was released.
It was also fun that it picked up with me being Tess again, so that allowed me to get spunky and vengeful and angry. It’s weird, it does affect where your brain goes when you’re playing different things. The worst time I had leaving it at work was when Tess delivered the baby last time and lost it. I remember going home to my husband and just bawling. I mean obviously Forbes is alive. But losing the baby, it was just awful. Delivering a stillborn baby was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to play. [As Tess] “Why aren’t you crying?” I could cry right now.
We Love Soaps: So what did you do to take care of yourself then?
Bree Williamson: My husband hugged me. You just try not to make not such a big deal of it. It was just shocking for me because that’s the first time it ever really got to me on a sad level. Just being okay with the fact that it makes you sad helps to move on.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Come back tomorrow for the final part of my interview with Bree Williamson, as we discuss life lessons learned, including losing at the 2009 Emmy Awards.
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.