Kathryn Hays delighted and fascinated us for 38 years in her complex and compelling role as Kim Hughes on AS THE WORLD TURNS. Despite limited screen time in recent years, she never failed to entertain and enlighten her audience, and could speak volumes with one single "Kiddo." But who is this underrated talent, and how has she navigated the highs and lows of portraying Kim? You'll learn these answers and more in this rare interview.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: It is so delightful to speak with you! Your work on AS THE WORLD TURNS has touched my life and so many millions as well. I would like to start by asking you some questions about your career prior to starting on the show. You started doing theater at a very young age. Has acting always been your passion?
Kathryn Hays: Yes, I came that way. I’m serious. That is always what I wanted to. Even as a very little girl, I was always into pretending and making things up. I was an only child. In those years we didn’t have television, so I learned to play by myself. I remember pretending that I was on stage dancing or singing. I didn’t catch the bug, I just always had it. It’s not like I thought about growing up and making a living of it.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Did your family listen to a lot of radio?
Kathryn Hays: They did. When I was about four or five years old, I remember my mother being very annoyed with me because I didn’t want to go outside and play in the middle of the day. I would rather listen to the soaps on the radio. I could recite the schedule of the shows on the radio. That had completely faded from my thoughts by the time I started on the show (AS THE WORLD TURNS). It wasn’t until years later I remembered how I just lived by those stories on the radio. GRAND CENTRAL STATION was the name of one of the Saturday stories I looked forward to. I was just glued to that radio. It developed your ability to use your imagination because you were just listening. Once I started going to school and learning to read I would have my nose in a book all the time. Then my mother would still try to get me to go outside and play [laughs]. I loved the books that were long, the ongoing stories. You’d get caught in a story, the people became friends in your mind. I loved how they evolved and grew and changed. It was the perfect medium for me.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Did you have many friends growing up?
Kathryn Hays: I would usually have one best friend. We moved a lot. I was always the new girl at the school. I think that probably made it more likely that I would maintain the ability to be my own entertainment. I never really liked sports. I loved music and was a serious piano student. At one point I thought that was what I wanted to do. But once I started going to a children's theater, there was no doubt that was what I wanted to do. I think my mother saw it as a way to put all that creative stuff in my head.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: It sounds like this creativity came so natural to you. Did you ever have any doubts?
Kathryn Hays: I never questioned that this was what I wanted to do. But there was a period of time when I completely withdrew from it. It was right after I had an experience around age 18. I was working in Chicago as a fashion photographer's model. I was hired to do a job for a television show in Chicago where I had the lead. It was very challenging because I was playing a character that was outside of my personal experience. It caused me to question. I perceived it as a life challenge. I realized I needed to have more center before I allowed myself to be pulled apart.
I don’t think I’ve spoken to anyone about this. I made a very important choice—which was to withdraw for several years, until I found some kind of center for myself that was strong enough to go through the work and not be pulled apart from it. I have always been so grateful for that wisdom that came to me. I really felt it was a divine guidance. It was protective. There was some instinct that knew I had to learn this in order to produce another person out of my head. If you didn’t want to end up in a lot of trouble and be a very unhappy and confused person, you needed to have a center that was very strong. I eventually found that for myself.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Did someone on the show say something negative to you?
Kathryn Hays: No. The director and I had a talk after the show, after the experience. He said to me, “There is something going on inside of you that is more important and more interesting than anything in any script.” I didn’t know what that meant at that time. I’m not sure he knew what he meant. But he was right. I just had an inner sense then. I couldn’t put it into words then. I’m having trouble putting it into words now.
What I was looking for was something so completely bedrock within me. So no matter how disturbed or upsetting a role was, or how much emotional turmoil you went through as an actor, you knew you were acting. When you are doing the kind of thing we were doing [on AS THE WORLD TURNS] day after day after day, it is drama. You are always going to have turmoil. So you are always having an emotional problem to act out. If you run that through yourself day after day, and if you don’t have a strong center, then you can be pulled around in awful ways. I used to work with an actor who did a lot of work separate from WORLD TURNS. Depending on the play this person was doing, the character they were doing outside of the show would come into rehearsal. I would tease this person, and we would laugh about it together. It was exhausting because these characters pulled this actor in so many directions, they couldn’t leave it behind.
If you don’t have the center, it feeds into you. That was not something I was willing to have happen. If you are sensitive at all, and allow those emotions to go through your work, then you need to be able to walk away from it at the end of the day and remember who you are. Just imagine walking around with the kind of emotions that we were acting. If a family member was dying, or we were ill, or having a terrible relationship problem, these are the kinds of things we were dealing with [on the show]. If you walked around with those feelings all the time in your own life it would wreak havoc with your health and your peace of mind.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: And you took downtime to get that inner bedrock?
Kathryn Hays: I did, but I still had to keep reminding myself about it all the time. You’d come out of the studio and be all wound up. I saw how it could wear you out. The first few years on the show I pretty much kept to myself. I did have friends, but I would never do social things during the week, and often I would just collapse on weekends. I was emotionally tired.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: How did you take care of yourself then?
Kathryn Hays: By the time Kim came along I had won my way to a wonderful spiritual understanding of being. I had a spiritual life that had rescued me in terms of finding what I had been looking for and having that strong center. That was my protection, that was my ability to go through those things and give the work what I wanted to give, and not have it rob me of my health, my strength, my peace of mind.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Please come back for part two in which this inspiring talent discusses her Emmy nominated role on STAR TREK, her experience with Irna Phillips, and her take on the trials and tribulations of Kim Hughes.
Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist seeing individuals and couples in New York City. He is also the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve."