Back in February, Roger Newcomb and Damon L. Jacobs had the opportunity to both interview the wonderfully multi-talented Emmy winning Hillary B. Smith on the last day of filming at the old ONE LIFE TO LIVE studio prior to their recent move. If you didn't see our WE LOVE SOAPS TV episode featuring this interview we will be featuring it in the next three parts. In Part One, Roger discusses her "feisty" role on THE DOCTORS, and how she made a tough recast work on AS THE WORLD TURNS.
We Love Soaps (Roger): Thank for joining us today. I was reading your website recently. You have had a fascinating life. You came to New York and did theater. You were on the show NURSES with Michael Learned [currently featured on GH]. But your first soap role was on THE DOCTORS in the role of Kit.
Hillary B. Smith: I had already done Off-Broadway, while I was at Sarah Lawrence. Then I got a series and moved out to L.A. Then I came back from the series, and got THE DOCTORS.
We Love Soaps (Roger): Did you sign a long-term contract? Did you know the show was going off the air?
Hillary B. Smith: No I had no idea that soaps...I knew some of them faded away, but I watched THE DOCTORS when I was a kid. So I couldn’t imagine it wasn’t going to be there six months later.
We Love Soaps (Roger): You thought it was going to go on.
Hillary B. Smith: I was hoping it would. I had just done NO SOAP, RADIO out in L.A., which was a sitcom. As much as I like sitcoms, I was a huge soap fan. All I ever wanted was to live in Manhattan and work on a soap opera. Doing the THE DOCTORS was brilliant because we were done by two in the afternoon. I could do theater if I wanted to. We had a lot of people who did theater.
We Love Soaps (Roger): Elizabeth Hubbard was on that show.
Hillary B. Smith: Yes, that’s how I knew Liz. And then she followed me to AS THE WORLD TURNS. And Alec Baldwin, who ended up being my roommate in California after the show went off. He and myself and a guy named Tuck Mulligan, who was also on THE DOCTORS, ended up sharing an apartment out in Los Angeles.
We Love Soaps (Roger): There has been talk for a year that THE DOCTORS is coming to Hallmark Channel. That work could come back and be visible.
Hillary B. Smith: I actually have some video tapes of me on THE DOCTORS.
We Love Soaps (Roger): Your taking over the role of Margo on AS THE WORLD TURNS was the most shocking thing I had scene. At that time I was thirteen-years-old and I was such a Tom and Margo fan. I was with a buddy down the street, and somehow I finagled it that the show would be on. I remember the announcer saying, “The role of Margo Hughes is now being played by Hillary Bailey.” I screamed out, “No,” I was so upset! But obviously you won me over very quickly and legions of fans. What was it like for you to come into such a popular part?
Hillary B. Smith: I had no idea because I hadn’t watched AS THE WORLD TURNS. At that point I had been doing series work out in Los Angeles. I came back because my husband and I decided I was going to get married. He lived in Boston and so I thought, “Why don’t I do daytime for awhile so I can commute between Boston and New York.” I screen-tested for it. Me, Dana Delaney, Mercedes Ruehl, it was an amazing group of women looking back on it.
We Love Soaps (Roger): You screen-tested with Justin Deas?
Hillary B. Smith: I did, and he was not happy. Because he and Margaret (Colin), they were not yet together. This was his way of interacting with her at work, he didn’t like the idea that she wasn’t there anymore. I think I handled him the best and that’s why I got the job. Subsequently we became really good friends.
We Love Soaps (Roger): You had a really successful run. Tom and Margo were the most popular couple of the decade, and you made it work with four different Tom’s.
Hillary B. Smith: Well first of all Justin was easy to make it work with. Once he and I became friends and he no longer tried or fight it, we had a blast. He, to me, was one of the most talented actors I’ve ever worked with. He could say more with just a word or a look. He was so there and so present. And then I had Larry Bryggman playing my father. Oh my God, that was a dream come true. Brilliant actor. And Benjamin Hendrickson, I got to work with these incredible people.
We Love Soaps (Roger): Margo had relationships with John [Larry Bryggman], Lyla [Anne Sward], Scott Bryce as Craig.
Hillary B. Smith: Scott Bryce and I are still friends, we still call each other brother and sister. We actually worked together on SOMETHING WILDER, the sitcom I did with Gene Wilder. He came on playing my old boyfriend, and we had to kiss. We were sharing an apartment at the same time. We came to this moment where we had to kiss and we couldn’t do it. We bumped noses, we banged heads. We couldn’t do it, we were so brother and sister oriented.
We Love Soaps (Roger): Then Scott Holmes took over [as Tom].
Hillary B. Smith: I got to pick Scott.
We Love Soaps (Roger): He was the 13th Tom Hughes, but he is the one that is still there. Maybe you should be in casting. You got married, eventually you had a daughter.
Hillary B. Smith: She came on with Julianne Moore was on and she played Julianne Moore’s found baby. And then I left. I wanted to have another child and I never got to see Courtney. My husband and I moved from Boston down to New Jersey so I could be closer to the studio and so we could have a baby. So I had my daughter and I was working nonstop. I would go a couple of days without being able to see her, it was tough.
Hillary B. Smith: So when I decided to have a second baby I gave notice. They wrote my pregnancy in. Actually it was really funny. When I wasn’t pregnant they made me pregnant, and then when I was pregnant they made me not pregnant, and then made me pregnant right after I had the baby. So I left the show, and the writer’s strike happened. They couldn’t replace me and they didn’t know what to do. So six weeks after [my son] was born I was talking to Douglas Marland and he said, “What if you come back and you bring your son, would that work out?” I said, “Sure, let do it.” So I got to work with my son, who was the littlest union member. Now he’s twenty-one.
We Love Soaps (Roger): You left the show in 1989. Were you just burned out by then?
Hillary B. Smith: I wanted to spend more time with my kids. I felt I had taken Margo to the length I could take her. I needed to do something else. Doug’s feeling was, “Go take a break and come back.” I said, “I’d loved to do that, I just need a break.” Our Executive Producer Bob Calhoun had left, sadly. He was over at GUIDING LIGHT by that point. Lawrence Caso, our new Executive Producer, didn’t want that. He didn’t want me to be able to come and go. He didn’t want to set that kind of precedent. So I left. The next day I flew out to California for a pilot and came back. I literally could have been gone five days. But that’s the way it worked. It was really time. I felt I had taken her as far I could take her. It was time for someone else to breathe new life into her, and Ellen Dolan did.
We Love Soaps (Roger): You worked a lot in the three years between AS THE WORLD TURNS and ONE LIFE TO LIVE.
Hillary B. Smith: Nonstop. And that was a problem. I did Heidi Chronicles, then I did a movie, I was in one of Sandra Bullock’s first movies [Love Potion Number 9], it was great, it was nonstop. But it was nonstop. I was constantly packing a suitcase. When you are not on a soap opera you literally can get a call at 10 am saying that you need to be on a plane by 3 o’clock. I was literally dropping off my kids at school and saying, “I’ll pick you up in the afternoon” and then come back two weeks later from a shoot. It was crazy. I was blessed to have been working so much. But after three years of that, it was time to settle down again.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Press here for Part Two in which Hillary talks to Roger and Damon about starting on ONE LIFE TO LIVE, and the chemical ingredients that comprise the secret to Bo & Nora's success.