In Part One of our interview with the outspoken and classy Anna Stuart, the soap legend shared her experiences and insights starting on THE DOCTORS, going to GENERAL HOSPITAL, then filling in for Maeve Kinkead as Vanessa on GUIDING LIGHT. In this part, she reflects upon starting on ANOTHER WORLD, and how her own integrity, strength, and independence lent itself to bringing Donna Love to life.
We Love Soaps: About a year after GUIDING LIGHT finished, ANOTHER WORLD came calling.
Anna Stuart: Yes. I had been eligible for unemployment, and I took it. I was going to sign for my last check on the day that I had the audition for Paul Rauch. Back in those days, the wardrobe department would let you borrow clothes for things. GUIDING LIGHT let me borrow that pant suit with the wonderful fox fur throw for this audition. Here I am, standing in line [wearing the outfit] at the unemployment office to get my check, and I can’t tell you the dirty looks I got.
So then I rushed off to the audition and I had to kiss Stephen Schnetzer. I was auditioning for Felicia. I went into the ladies room to gargle with Lavoris to make sure I was fresh. And they called me, “Anna Stuart, where are you, we are waiting for you!” I didn’t expect it, and I spilled the Lavoris all over my all white pant suit. So here I am trying to cover the Lavoris stains with the white fur throw. I walked up into the room and Paul Rauch never looked up, he never even looked at me. He had a tendency to be sort of intimidating that way. He had issues in that area. I didn’t get that part, and that was that. I didn’t want to do another soap anyway.
About three weeks later Paul Rauch called my agent and said, “We have a character in mind but it’s recurring, would she be interested?” I said, “Absolutely, if it’s recurring then I don’t have to make a commitment.” So I started doing Donna Love as a recurring character, and the rest is history. By the time they asked me if they can put me under contract, it was eight or nine months into the run. The character had taken with the audience, so they had to pay me more money than they would have if they had put me under contract right away.
We Love Soaps: What did you understand about Donna when you first started playing her?
Anna Stuart: She was very wealthy. She was intimidated by her father, and not very accepted by him. Her mother had died and had loved her and been very supportive of her. She had one of those mixes, not unlike me, of being very willful and forceful, and she was very, very vulnerable. Very vulnerable. She had a very delicate place in her. Lots of neuroses that she played out lots of way. I was on the show all together for 16 years. In the course of the show I changed, and I changed the character as well.
I was supposed to be a southern bell as I grew up. That didn’t work out too well. I was supposed to marry someone doctorish or lawyerish and be socially prominent and do that southern thing where you do the right social class, you entertain and socialize with the right people, you belong to the country club, you dress the right way, and blah blah blah. I didn’t do any of that.
We Love Soaps: Why not?
Anna Stuart: It wasn’t my thing. I came out leaning to the left. I was always off center. I was always attracted to the bad boy. I wasn’t interested in the guys who had the resume and the money. I was always more interested in the people who were more creative and usually had some of the bad boy in them. I didn’t care about all the dogma of it, I didn’t care about the structure. I didn’t care about being inside that box. It wasn’t appealing to me, it was too confining. I wasn’t very popular in high school, I didn’t date. I went off to New York, with my parents support, when I was 19, and I never looked back. I was out of there. My parents would bribe me to come home to be a secretary. I said I’d rather die.
We Love Soaps: You’ve really had to break out of ascribed societal roles.
Anna Stuart: It’s not even that I had to. It’s just that’s what I continued to do. But I had to pay for it.
We Love Soaps: How?
Anna Stuart: Different ways. I came to New York and started living with someone. That didn’t go over too well with my family, I sort of had to keep that hidden. They didn’t want a scandal. When they found out I was living with someone they didn’t communicate with me for quite a long time. I wanted my parent’s approval, yet I had to go my own way. It all came out in the wash. They accepted the fact along the way that I had a very different lifestyle from how they anticipated for me. Now it’s a very different kind of relationship.
We Love Soaps: How were you able to break out of those roles that said you “should” do things in certain ways?
Anna Stuart: I went back and forth. I tried to do things a certain [traditional] way. Then I would burst out because it didn’t work. The necktie was too tight around my neck. When things are just in people, they are in there, and you follow the path. If you don’t, then you pay for it every day of your life. There’s always a little voice that says, “You didn’t honor who you were. You didn’t do what you wanted to do.” You get to the end of your life and say, “I didn’t do it.” Look at the movie Revolutionary Road. It’s about a couple in the 50s. The husband [Leonardo Dicaprio] settles and the wife [Kate Winslet] can’t live that way in the suburbs. She’s too creative. He was creative too but he settled.
We Love Soaps: As a therapist I often see people in this position of settling, who then suffer long term depression or drug and alcohol abuse.
Anna Stuart: Listen, I’ve spent my whole life doing things I didn’t want to do. I’m not saying that I’ve marched along being Katherine Hepburn. Not at all! But I’ve spent my life trying to do the things I want to do, to psychologically be the person I’ve wanted to be. I’ve spent my whole life in that effort.
We Love Soaps: Who is it you want to be now?
Anna Stuart: At this point, I’m not marching with big loud noisy drums. It’s not like that anymore. Now it’s more quiet. When you peel the layers of an onion, you peel it, peel it, peel it, and you get down to a little place. It’s all about going to the quiet place within you. In that quiet place you can do anything. You can be angry, you can be sad, you can be all those things without judgment on yourself. It’s about trying to stay in your center. It’s easy to be holy in the temple, so to speak. But when you go outside of there, how do you live in the world? How do you keep yourself quiet in the world so that you can be who you want to be.
For instance, my fellow, who I’ve been with for 12 years, who I adore, snapped at me about five years ago. It’s not like him, we don’t do that. But he was being really ugly. At one time I would have been intimidated and felt that I wasn’t good enough. I would shrink away or get an attitude. But instead, I walked back in the room and I said, “Who do you want me to be that I should think it’s okay that you are dealing with me like this right now? Who would you like to be?” It wasn’t aggressive. I was grounded in my center. I was in a quiet enough place that I could speak with reason and not have to do battle.
We Love Soaps: That is wonderful. It takes much strength not to respond to attack with attack.
Anna Stuart: Attacking back is fine, as long as it’s clean. As long as it’s not below the belt.
We Love Soaps: How did he respond to that question?
Anna Stuart: He was like, “oh.” He got it. I spent my whole life around alcoholics, and I was in Al-Anon and went to Al-Anon meetings for a very long time. I learned how to detach with love in many instances. You learn a lot in those rooms.
We Love Soaps: I think this inner process you describe helps me to understand more my love for Donna Love all those years. I saw her struggling to maintain the balance between marching to her own drum, and doing what her father Reginald expected of her in those early years.
Anna Stuart: And she was a very sexual woman. She always had the affairs with the gardener, with the horse groomer, with the people that were more working-class. That’s what Michael Hudson was.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Press here for Part Three where we discuss the three major Vicky’s (Wheeler, Heche, Buchanan), favorite Donna moments, and how she felt about Donna’s recast in the 1980’s. Until then don't miss a second of Anna's role on GOTHAM
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 re-imagining a world without "shoulds" at www.shouldless.com.