Longtime soap fans will never forget Taylor Miller's run on ALL MY CHILDREN as Nina Cortlandt Warner. Her pairing with Peter Bergman's Cliff is one of the most memorable in daytime history. Miller created the role of Nina in 1979 and played the role off and on until 1989. She returned in the mid-1990s a couple of times and will be returning again for soap's 40th anniversary in January. Miller also played Sally Frame on ANOTHER WORLD for a year during a break from AMC. For the past 20 years, Miller has been raising her two children in Chicago and occasionally performing in plays or acting in films. The role she plays in her latest film, Hannah Free, is a huge departure from Nina and she is winning rave reviews. Miller recently spoke with We Love Soaps about her days as a soap star, her other roles, life as a mom, and seeing both her children off to college.
We Love Soaps: You grew up in New Orleans and went to Tulane. Did you always want to be an actress?
Taylor Miller: Yes. But I wasn’t encouraged to be that. The question was always how are you make a living doing that. I was always in plays growing up and I wanted to major in theater but I ended up majoring in history. The idea was that I would be a lawyer, which I thought was very theatrical.
We Love Soaps: A few years after college you landed the role of Nina on ALL MY CHILDREN. Had you moved to New York at that point?
Taylor Miller: I started to model in Texas. And then the people came from New York - Wilhelmina’s husband - to the modeling agency in Texas. I asked him if I could make it in New York and he said, “Yeah.” I had a cousin living in New York so I went up there on March 1st. I went to see Wilhelmina, Ford and Elite, the three modeling agencies. Elite had a connection with Michael Bloom, which was an acting agency. I thought I could get more bang for my buck [with them] because I really wanted to act. I went to Elite to see this woman and I said, “I want to act,” and she said, “Well, why don’t you take some acting classes?" So I went to see Michael Bloom and said, “I’m ready to act now,” and they said, “Why don’t you take some classes?" Then they finally listened to me and said, “You are ready to act now.” And all of this took place [in March] because my audition for ALL MY CHILDREN was April 1st, so I got all of that done in a month. Sometimes I wonder how I accept other people's opinions now when they say I’m not ready for something. I'll say, “Oh, alright." As my friend says, “Keep putting yourself back to kindergarten.” So ALL MY CHIOLDREN was my training ground.
We Love Soaps: Cliff and Nina on ALL MY CHILDREN are one of the most popular couple's in soap history. How did their storyline start?
Taylor Miller: Peter [Bergman, who played Cliff] was already on the show before I was. My dad had not been hired yet. I auditioned with this gentleman who was auditioning for Palmer. He took out his ascot and wiped off his glasses and when he put them back on they were hanging from the hinge. I tried to continue but was terribly distracted by it. The director, Sherrell Hoffman, said, “Why did you stop?” So I just told her I wanted to start again. I really had a feel for that character right from the beginning. I had a couple of friends who had come up from SMU acting school and they were helping me read it and were saying, “How about doing it this way?” And I said, “No, I’m going to do it this way.” When I went into hair and make-up they said, “We’re going to do your hair like this,” and I said, “Would you please just keep it simple?”
It’s funny how I remember all the details. I had on this Albert Nipon dress that my mother had sent me. It was very simple, very sweet, and when I pulled it out of the box I was like, “Oh, what am I going to do with this?” They said, “Be very feminine,” and all the rest of the [auditioning] women were dressed in ruffles, and I was dressed in this beautiful, light, pinky-peach Albert Nipon sheaf dress with very fine tucking across the top, and a jewel neckline. It was a very Nina dress. In fact, Nina ended up wearing some Albert Nipon [laughs].
We Love Soaps: One of the forces driving the story was Palmer's disapproval of Cliff. What was it like working with James Mitchell and so many of the other veteran actors that were on ALL MY CHILDREN at the time?
Taylor Miller: I was so lucky. Elizabeth Lawrence (Myra) taught me about continuity and about detail. She would drive people crazy with detail. As a novice I would go, “Oh please, let’s get on with this.” I was watching some old clips recently and Elizabeth Lawrence was brilliant. She was supposed to be on a couple of days but people were so interested in who she was they made her Nina’s grandmother. Gillian [Spencer, who played Daisy] was a brilliant subtext person. She told me when she auditioned for Daisy she pretended there were bugs crawling up and down the wall. I hadn’t been to acting school but I got it. And James Mitchell (Palmer), one of the kindest men in the world, was about finding the humor in situations. They were my teachers.
We Love Soaps: Why do you think Cliff and Nina became so popular and are still remembered so fondly to this day?
Taylor Miller: Peter was a very giving actor and about not putting a shadow on my face and making me look good [laughs]. I don’t know. I think it was one of those things where they hired people with great chemistry together. I had never had a job of this magnitude before but James had not had a job in a long time and he wanted this to work. Elizabeth Lawrence and all of them had been in the industry for so long they knew what it took to make people work together, and they just dragged us along.
I remember Jørn Winther, the producer, came up to me and said, “They wanted to fire you and I said no.” And I thought, “Fire me? I didn’t know you could even be fired from a job once you got it.” I was taking acting classes and Jørn said, “You better learn how to act.” One day I had this scene in Nina’s bedroom and I was acting like it was cold in the room and Sherrell Hoffman came in and said, “What happened to you?” and I said, “What do you mean?” And she said, “You were acting there.”
I had so many lines to learn and it was all so overwhelming to me and they all carried me. I remember having like a paragraph to learn that was maybe two or three inches long and was struggling through all those words and I didn’t understand what they were saying and was just trying to learn them.
We Love Soaps: Soaps were at their pinnacle of popularity, at least in pop culture terms, in the early 1980s. Being in your 20s, how did you handle the immediately popularity you found on daytime?
Taylor Miller: I wasn’t very good at it. I didn’t like it very much at all. We would have people standing outside the studio every day. I would take the subway and people would touch me and stop me. I found it very overwhelming.
I was at a friend’s birthday party in L.A. a couple of months back and there was this woman [Marion Ross] who had been the mom on [HAPPY DAYS] and she was a woman who had acted throughout time and dealt with fame. I asked, “How could you stand it?" And she said, “How old were you when you got famous?” And I said “Like 20." And she sid “That’s it. You got famout too youg.” She got famouns when she was older and needed to spport a family and I just happened to drop into it.
EDITOR'S NOTE: In Part Two of our interview, Taylor Miller discusses leaving ALL MY CHILDREN the first time, her stint on ANOTHER WORLD, and why she left AMC again in the late 1980s.