We Love Soaps: Given that you have worked on daytime soaps for the majority of the past fifty years, what do you think the remaining six soaps need to do to stay alive and vital?
Nicolas Coster: To be honest I haven’t kept track of the shows in recent years, so I’m not an expert anymore. People who have been out of it for awhile and still voice profundities are idiots. It’s like a journalist. It's as if you haven’t been there grinding out a daily column, and then you come back five years later from your farm in Connecticut. I could give you a better opinion about low budget movies because I’ve done seven of them in the past three years. I don’t consider myself an expert on daytime anymore.
Let me tell you the positive instead of the negative. SANTA BARBARA, ALL MY CHILDREN, ONE LIFE TO LIVE, ANOTHER WORLD at their best, were innovators in storylines. They were not just going for rich production values and tricky shots, and crazy fantastic plots. And by “fantastic” I mean unbelievable. Because that is where they lost the audience: going for unbelievable plots. Stanislavski meant what he said when he talked about the suspension of disbelief. I teach a lot. I teach at the University of Georgia. I’ve given my first lecture at the New York Film Academy at Universal Studios. I tell my students, “If you don’t believe it yourself, how on earth do you expect your audience to believe it?” On daytime, if you’re showing off a bunch of big hunks and a bunch of pretty girls who are almost naked, then all the audience has to do is turn on HBO, or a lot of other cable channels, and they will see women really bare, and men really bare. So who needs a tease? Who needs a Russ Meyers 1950s movie on daytime television? I think that’s a crock. You can see I’m a man of absolutely no opinions whatsoever [laughs].
We Love Soaps: I completely agree with you. I think what daytime can still offer, that no other art form can, is the consistency and the investment in character based storytelling. Unfortunately, all the shows at various times have turned their back on characters and focused on “fantastic” plot based events. They continue to erode audiences by doing that.
Nicolas Coster: I would think so. I don’t pretend what I don’t know. That would be my thought. I also think something was lost when they went off live to tape. It was that immediacy. You would have flaws on live TV. It was the closest thing we had to reality television. We screwed up a lot! Those warts and pimples were on television and the audience got a sense of immediacy from it. Now when they screw up they can yell cut and go back like film. The production values cannot possibly compare with film, they don’t have the money to do so. So why try? Why not do what you do best, which is what you described. I hope THE BAY will do that.
We Love Soaps: Do you remember filming that last episode of SANTA BARBARA?
Nicolas Coster: Yes, I remember it very well.
We Love Soaps: What was that like?
Nicolas Coster: Terrible. Terrible. [Pause] It was tragic. It was because of other people’s goofs, not the cast. It was because of other people’s goofs and misjudgments that the show is off the air. It never should have been. That show won more prizes deservedly than any other show in the same period of time ever in history. It did not deserve to lose Boston. It was all trickle down after that. Once they lost Boston we were on our way out, and they all knew it. And then the last irony is that we shot the whole thing in Laguna instead of Santa Barbara. That was sad. It was very windy, it was cold, it was very sad.
Pam Long [SB's last head writer] was just wonderful. She picked up the baton of zany. I always go back to the '30s comedies with Cary Grant, Carole Lombard, William Powell, Myrna Lord, Fredrick March. They were zany, but they were believable. They took believability to the outer reaches but never dropped off the cliff. Pam Long had that ability. I just adored working with her.
We Love Soaps: You then went back to AS THE WORLD TURNS.
Nicolas Coster: I went back. I was doing an Off-Broadway musical at the time. I had a very nice run there including the final section with Clair Bloom, the great British actress. Someone in the cast came up to me and said, “My gosh, when I watch you two together it’s like watching a real movie.” I said, “She is that quality of actor and she brings that out in me.” She treats the material as if it were a movie, not just a campy daytime thing. I’m not saying the other actors did treat it that way. There were many fine actors on every soap opera I have done who would be great movie stars if they had a different turn of the wheel of fortune. And great stage actors. Larry Bryggman is a great stage actor. Paul Rauch hired everyone from Broadway or Off-Broadway shows on ANOTHER WORLD.
We Love Soaps: It was sad that they replaced Clair Bloom in the role of Orlena with a different actress who treated it as a campy and less believable.
Nicolas Coster: I have absolutely no comment on that.
We Love Soaps: Your character Eduardo brought much to the ensemble. He revitalized the character of Lisa, and brought much interest to the Lily/Damian storyline. And then...they killed him off. Did you know that was in the cards for Eduardo when you started?
Nicolas Coster: No, that was a surprise. I think that was an expedient move on their part. They just decided to switch. Joe Mascolo on DAYS OF OUR LIVES [as Stefano] played an archetypal villain and no one did it better than Joe. I think [ATWT] wanted me to do a pastiche of that character and I didn’t want to go there because Joe had done it already. That’s the reason we established Eduardo as being Maltese instead of the cliché Sicilian. He was a genuine Maltese aristocrat. I went to the Maltese council, checked with them, did research. Paolo Seganti was such fun. He is genuine Italian, he was a lot of fun.
We Love Soaps: It sounds like Eileen Fulton was in a better place than the last time you worked together following the cancellation of OUR PRIVATE WORLD.
Nicolas Coster: Yes, she was just lovely. I went to her cabaret acts. She has a lot of pizazz. Eileen could have been as big a movie star as Jane Fonda, easily. Eileen is a wonderful actress, she is very beautiful. The trouble might have been that she resembled Jane Fonda a bit too much. Again, it’s a wheel of fortune. It may have been the fact that she elected to stay on AS THE WORLD TURNS all those years, instead of giving her all to Hollywood.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Press here for the final part of our interview in which this insightful talent reflects on how therapy has helped his acting, and why he continues to help disabled individuals learn to scuba dive.
Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist seeing individuals, couples, and families in New York City at Mental Health Counseling & Marriage And Family Therapy Of New York. He is also the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve."