By Marla Hart
July 7, 1994
The shadowy figures are fading fast from the soap opera landscape. Not that they've ever made up the bulk of any fictional town's population, but such characters as the vampire Barnabas on DARK SHADOWS, the backstabbing wannabe prom queen Nola on THE DOCTORS, Dorian in her early Lady Macbeth incarnation on ONE LIFE TO LIVE, or Patch, the one-eyed dark prince on DAYS OF OUR LIVES have been given short shrift on daytime in recent years.
So it has been an unexpected pleasure to watch actor Roger Howarth as a lost soul in search of spiritual redemption in his role as ex-rapist Todd on ONE LIFE TO LIVE. It's those dark corners that make Howarth so interesting to tune in to, and which, no doubt, helped earn him this year's Emmy Award as outstanding younger actor.
"It's not a standard archetype. That's why I decided it would be fun to play him for the next two years," says the 25-year-old Howarth.
It's not his storyline-the rapist who later saved the life of his victim and will soon be sprung from prison-as much as it is the presence of a real fish out of water that has gained him popularity.
"It's certainly not my responsibility to monitor how people respond to Todd," Howarth says. "We didn't set out to set him up as alternative. He lives on the fringe of society. He's psychotic, not the type of person you meet every day. . . . but people are fascinated by aberrant behavior."
But once psychos catch on with the viewing public, producers fix what ails them with assembly-line predictability. Bad tempered? Abused as a child? Confused? Separated from twin at birth. One can bet writers will soon enough reinvent young Todd as a romantic leading man.
Of course, Howarth, who just signed a two-year deal with the soap, doesn't see it that way. "He's not being redeemed at all," he says. "Todd, as I see it, is looking for a way to overcome this rage so he can live in society again. From now on, his menace will be on the surface, not exploding. It's more interesting if his violence is on the surface and that he play against it. That's where the subtlety is."
Howarth grew up in Westchester, N.Y., where he got his first taste of acting in high school. He dropped out of George Washington University in Washington D.C. after his first semester to join up with the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center. While pursuing a theatrical career along the East Coast, including performing in "Macbeth" at the New York Shakespeare Festival, Howarth worked a series of restaurant jobs where he discovered once and for all "acting beats shucking oysters."
His first daytime gig was in 1992 on LOVING as a low-echelon frat boy, a role from which he graduated to play frat boy No. 1 on "OLTL" (1 p.m. weekdays, ABC-Ch.7). There was no grand scheme to bring Howarth on board the soap until it became clear that his iconoclasm was catching on.
"I was hired in December '92 to plant drugs in Jason Webb's jacket. All I knew was that my first name was Todd," he recounts. "I don't know what happened next. They called me in again and suddenly I had a last name `Manning.' Then I get called to read another day."
The actor, who is married and has a 2-year-old son, went on contract in spring, 1993. "Every actor at one time passes through daytime. I wouldn't have said yes to the offer if I didn't want to stay a while on daytime," Howarth says. "I don't crave fame. It's kind of goofy. I didn't want to be a public figure. I wanted to be an actor, not a movie star. But I love rock 'n' roll-there, I'd rather be a rock star. That would be cool."
Like all soap actors, Howarth admits he serves the script most of the time, but every now and then he goes off the page. "You get to direct yourself. You come up with a little bit. It's improvisational. Maybe you're doing it just for your castmates, but the audience catches on."