Ron Hale: The We Love Soaps Interview, Part Two

In Part One of our interview, Ron Hale shared aspects of his early soap career on SEARCH FOR TOMORROW and LOVE IS A MANY SPLENDORED THING, as well as how he got to pal around with Robert Redford.  In Part Two below, he shares his experience getting hired on RYAN'S HOPE, and the ingredients that made the show so magical for its cast, crew, and audience.

We Love Soaps: Given you had just had this wonderful experience working with Robert Redford in a Hollywood film, did you have reservations about signing on to do a soap opera in New York?
Ron Hale: Oh sure.  My whole thing was I had a wife and three step kids.  It was a thirteen week guarantee.  I just came off working four weeks on a movie and got paid probably more money I seen in my whole life.  I had some money in my pocket, and signed a contract with ABC.  All I knew was that we were starting a new show, no one knew how it was going to go.  I said, “Of course I’ll sign, I’m guaranteed a certain amount of money for 13 weeks.” And that’s why I took it.  I had a family to keep a roof over their head, food on the table, shoes on their feet. 

RYAN’S HOPE was a wonderful time.  Not only because Paul [Avila Mayer] and Claire [Labine] created these wonderfully honest and real characters.  But it was a totally collaborative effort.  They were head writers and executive producers.  They were at the studio every day.  That was the most wonderful situation you could have.  This was their baby, they created it.  If you had any questions you could go to them, it was an open door policy.  I remember this one Friday night I got home from work and that night I got a call from Claire.  She said, “Did you get the script for Monday?” I said, “Yes, I got it today at the studio.”  She said, “Did you get a chance to glance it? We were a little worried because in that one scene with Delia, Paul and I weren’t sure if you thought it was right for Roger to do this.”  I remember at the time I was flabbergasted.  I thought, “My God, these people trust my opinion about what this character would actually do or say?” I can’t remember exactly what the scene was.  But she said, “We were kind of on the edge with this.  It’s no problem, we can do some rewrites over the weekend.”  I said, no, except maybe some word changes, which they always allowed us to do.  But I said, “No, the essence of the scene is fine.  It’s a challenge, and I think Roger would certainly do this,” whatever it was.  She said, “Oh, thank God! We are so thrilled.  Good, good, good.”

That was part and parcel of why that was such a wonderful show.  It wasn’t, “Here’s your script, here’s what you say...” with no discussion. They trusted the people they hired.  They trusted that we were fairly intelligent and fairly talented people who would have opinions about their characters.  That seems to be really gone.  I look back on those years, and all those shows as they started going to an hour, starting having three executive producers.  Now it’s big production numbers.  Everyone has to have big car crashes, cave-ins, hospitals blowing up.  They do so many things that I think are done better in primetime and in movies than they ever are on soaps no matter how hard they try to make them look real.  It just looks like a soap opera trying to do an action film.  It always reads that way to me. 

We Love Soaps: I have always said that Maeve Ryan could do more damage with a disapproving look than Sonny Corinthos could do with a bullet. 
Ron Hale: Absolutely. Have you ever talked to Rosie O’Donnell about RYAN’S HOPE? That was the family that she wanted to be a part of.  That was heaven for her to imagine having a mom like Maeve, having brothers and sisters like the Ryan kids.  And she wasn’t the only one in America.

We Love Soaps: Roger Coleridge was the only non-Ryan to stay on the show during its entire run.  The others had been related by marriage.  He operated outside the lines.  I have said that decades before E/R or GREY'S ANATOMY, Ron Hale showed how to make the life of an ethically challenged TV doctor sexy, fun, and delightfully devious on RYAN'S HOPE.
Ron Hale: Well, thank you. 

We Love Soaps: How did you relate to Roger?
Ron Hale: In the beginning it was kind of difficult.  Paul and Claire had given us all biographies on our characters.  They gave me an envelope with 20 pages written about our characters.  They had written Roger’s entire childhood.

We Love Soaps: Do you still have that biography?
Ron Hale:No.  I wish to God I did.  I have no clue whatever happened to that.  So here I was an actor, and they are saying, “Okay, here is the character you are playing, and this is why he is who he is from the day he was born.” It was amazing.  Yet still, on paper, Roger could have been a mustache twirler.  He could have been more villainous but I just didn’t see that.  Once again, if somebody is a little on the bad side or the evil side, they don’t look at themselves that way.  This is the way they behave and they are perfectly happy that way.  I just kept looking at Roger and saying the same thing.  He is self-centered, upwardly mobile, he hates the Ryan clan, he hates the boys.  There was a little jealousy there to some extent because Roger’s father never gave him a hug.  He was always trying to get his father’s love by being the best at whatever he did, which was school or surgery.

But that was the thing I fought from the get-go.  How do I make this guy do these things and make them rational choices? Not just, “Oh I’m going to blackmail my sister for no reason.”  I always tried to find something that the audience and myself would understand why Roger was thinking that way.  Not just trying to hurt somebody.  It was about finding the humor in the character.  And that came about with Ilene [Kristen] and myself.  They were not going to have us paired together in the beginning.  But then we had to some scenes together.  And I can remember like it was yesterday that from day one we hit it off.  We were madly in love with each other as co-workers.  I loved her work. We started doing scenes together.  We would just look at each other and we knew, “Oh my God, we can really have fun with this. It doesn’t have to be heavy.  We can find moments to lighten it up and have these characters be funny.”  I know that caught on with Paul and Claire when they first saw us do that stuff.  They said, “This is great. You guys can do stuff and be silly and at the same time have the ability to screw up other people’s lives.”  Claire described Roger as a “rake.”  I loved the booze, loved the women, loved the money.

We Love Soaps: And the leopard print sheets!
Ron Hale: And the leopard print sheets.

We Love Soaps: Now when Roger was scheming with either Delia or Rae there was literally a sparkle, a gleam in his eye.  Were you aware of this?
Ron Hale: I think it was just enjoyment. I hate the term “in the moment,” it is so overused.  But in those scenes doing things, whether it was plotting with Rae or Delia or whoever, there was enjoyment in doing those scenes.  It was like a couple of little kids plotting, “Okay, we’re going to sneak over there, we’re going to throw toilet paper in the tree.”  There was that conspiratorial joy of those scenes.  I wasn’t looking it the mirror seeing how I could make my eyes twinkle.  I think that was the enjoyment of just working with wonderful actors and having those moments be real between us.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Press here for Part Three in which Ron Hale talks about what led to the downfall of RYAN'S HOPE, as well as why he was lured back to daytime for GENERAL HOSPITAL.  How did Mike Corbin go from being a six month role to a 15 year career? Come back to find out!

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Therapist now accepting new clients in New York City.  He is also the author of the popular book "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve," currently available at Amazon.com. For more information about scheduling an appointment, please email him at Shouldless@gmail.com.

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