We Love Soaps: Early on in Henry’s time in Oakdale there was a lot of speculation about this sexuality. And I remember you even fed into that in interviews. His attention to hair and fashion were not typical for your regular Oakdale male.
Trent Dawson: I asked about that early on because they didn’t have a love interest for him of either gender. With some of the writing I thought, “He has got to be gay.” I asked Christopher Goutman [Executive Producer of ATWT] about that. And I guess CBS and Procter & Gamble, who are still pretty conservative, but more conservative then, said, “No, none of that, play up the romance with Katie.” I said alright, I’ll do that.
Immediately, I was trying to set her up with Holden. And they weren’t writing any romantic stuff. That wasn’t working. So then I thought, “Henry wants money and power, he’ll flirt with anybody to get money and power.” I made Jon Hensley so uncomfortable on certain days. I would say, “You look so handsome in that tux, Holden...” I would flirt with anyone, it was a blast! The only thing I didn’t like about the Katie and Henry storyline was, “Oh, they made him straight? Alright. Straight or gay, can’t it just be that we don’t know?” That is always so much more fun to play. He could be an equal opportunity slut. So that was a lot of fun to be ambiguous in that way and gave him me a lot of freedom. And it gave me a lot of freedom with the character. Henry is very theatrical. Anytime I asked if [my performance] was too big for camera they would say, “No, keep chewing the scenery.” People always ask, “Are you a good guy or a bad guy on soaps?” Neither one. But I thought about they guys who played the straight up good guys or bad guys and how they would get bored in those roles. I never had to worry.
We Love Soaps: I think also one of the reasons why audiences loved him is that he didn’t fit into any easy set of categories. He was never good or bad, in the beginning he didn’t seem straight or gay, and he wasn’t either serious or comedic. And Henry had a sweetness to him. There was always a kindness deep underneath all the machinations.
Trent Dawson: That and a sense of loyalty to Katie. I think you’re right. I wasn’t playing sweetness. It’s one thing to put cough syrup in Molly’s sandwich and make her sick. But when you start to talk about killing someone, that’s taking it too far. And also even though I’m 6”2’, [Henry] was always getting the crap beat out of him, I was always the victim of violence on that show (laughs). He could talk a big talk but underneath he was just a little boy. The kind that drinks too much and gambles and runs around and gets in these strange little adventures. It wasn’t until the end of the run of the show that he really said, “This is what I want, and I what I want is Barbara.”
We Love Soaps: His relationship this past year with Barbara (Colleen Zenk) has been one of my favorites. What was it about Henry and Barbara that clicked and made us root for them?
Trent Dawson: I don’t know what made you guys root for them. I know that our demographics of women over 50 were really rooting for us. I got a lot more interesting fan mail once this started.
We Love Soaps: What was the difference?
Trent Dawson: They were very turned on by it. They were very inspired by this storyline. At the Paley center there was a lot more intimacy with older women than there used to be. And that’s great, bring it on. Colleen and I had wanted to work together for some time, we had done very little together. She is from a theater background, she is incredibly professional, and we just clicked like this (snaps). We just kept egging them on to give us a storyline. I assumed it would be some machination as you said, some kind of snarky little deal where we’re pulling the wool over someone, or some deal goes bad. I did not expect a romantic storyline. I’m grateful for it.
We Love Soaps: It seemed the genuine affection was obvious. They could have been played for laughs, and they certainly could have stayed separate. But they ended up being in a very mature and loving relationship.
Trent Dawson: We did. Part of that comes out of the respect we have for each other. I got some reactions from people who said, “I don’t know if I can believe this.” But I think by the end they did. We sold it.
We Love Soaps: Any chance we’ll see you and Colleen working together in the future?
Trent Dawson: I hope so. I saw her in Summer Stock. I would love to. It’s hard to plan in this particular field. If it’s possible, sure, in a heartbeat.
We Love Soaps: There are so many changes happening in the world. We are sitting here five years after the devastating tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. You have been part of the recovery effort.
Trent Dawson: I think one of the early things I did was to make people aware how bad it was. It was days before people could get communication out, and a lot of people thought the hurricane missed the city. And even our government officials thought it missed the city.
We Love Soaps: I’m going to refrain from responding to that.
Trent Dawson: A lot of people messed up, let’s put it that way. I’ll be diplomatic about it. So I went to [Chris] Goutman asked if I can do a spot, a public service spot for the Red Cross. That was the first step. I had never been a position where a minor celebrity could do something in the face of a tragedy like this. It’s one thing to raise money for The Humane Society or cancer or things that are ongoing. I never thought I’d be in a position to say, “You guys need to pay attention this right now and go down and help.” I planned to go down earlier. A bunch of us, Michael Park, and some folks from GUIDING LIGHT planned to go down earlier and then Hurricane Rita and we were stopped. We eventually did get down there and were able to build some shelters. Hopefully being there would cheer people up.
We Love Soaps: What kind of work did you actually do when you got down there?
Trent Dawson: You had all these folks that had been displaced in Baton Rouge. We went out and made dinner for them. We had a major Cajun chef come out and make a three course meal. Probably a couple of hundred people came out. They ate some of the best food they had in a long time. Then we danced. It was joyous occasion. They all had been stripped from their homes, their communities, and sleeping in cots in a big auditorium. Just to go out and party and release. Hopefully that’s the main thing we did. And we did the same with other shelters, we gave them a break and a release, same way soaps do in the afternoon at 2pm. I was hoping it would serve that purpose. I went down later with Habitat For Humanity and what was great about that is that I inspired some fans to do the same thing. I forget that I can type something up and say, “Hey you guys this is Trent...Henry. Will you take an interest in this?” I forget that there is that possibility out there.
We Love Soaps: And that your fame does have some power and influence, such as “The Revival” looks at. So how did helping others help you?
Trent Dawson: I don’t know how much it helps me. It was my state. That’s where I’m from, Baton Rouge, those are the people I grew up with. I wasn’t concerned with how it was helping me.
We Love Soaps: But you have been part of hands-on efforts to help others, not just in New Orleans in other countries as well.
Trent Dawson: I feel more comfortable picking up a hammer than just being Henry. I’d rather go in and do some caulking than telling people to what I say you should do.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Press here to watch the complete interview with Trent Dawson. Then stand by for Part Three in which Trent discusses ways to cope with grief/loss after AS THE WORLD TURNS go off the air. Until then Purchase your tickets to "The Revival" here.
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."