THE BAY, you know something powerful is going to happen. The multi-faceted talent Lilly Melgar is bringing a new confidence and energy to her roles that soap fans have never seen before. Who is behind the woman who played the legendary Lily Rivera on GENERAL HOSPITAL and the mysterious Claudia on BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL? And how have disappointments and challenges forced her to evolve as an actress? Find out in this revealing multi-part interview.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: This first part of our interview will be running on The Third Annual Give Up Your 'Shoulds' Day. Every year on the first day of November I do an event to encourage people to try just one day without a destructive “shoulds.” Are there any “shoulds” that you can think of that you be willing to give up for one day?
Lilly Melgar: "I should have been acting this whole time." That’s the one.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: So on Monday November 1st, you are willing to go one whole day without that “should?”
Lilly Melgar: Absolutely.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What do you think that will be like to try one day without having “shoulds” about the past?
Lilly Melgar: I would feel so free! Because I have said that a lot. That I should have taken more acting roles. But if I had I wouldn’t be where I am today. And I really really honestly can say that I like myself now. It’s not because I’m Lilly from GENERAL HOSPITAL, or Lilly from TU MUSICA, or Lilly from THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL, or Lilly from THE BAY, but because I’m Lilly! And that’s what really cool.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I love hearing that. Now let’s go back a bit. I learned from watching you host the ACME Comedy Hour that you came in second in an Ms. El Salvador pageant. Did that really happen?
Lilly Melgar: Yes, that did happen. There are a lot of funny stories around that that I never share because they sound like excuses [laughs]. [Y&R's] Michelle Stafford and Michael Fairman and were trying to get it out of me. I wouldn’t share it, they kept saying, “Dish!” So they’re probably the only ones who know [laughs]. The bottom line is that I didn’t win and it all worked out in the end for me.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Just like Adam Lambert!
Lilly Melgar: Exactly. I mean, where is the winner of that pageant now [laughs].
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Early in your career you took on hosting gigs on several different shows. How did this girl growing up in Downey come to find these opportunities?
Lilly Melgar: Nobody in my family had ever done it. So I had no clue how to get into the business. All I knew was that between ages 8-10 I would watch movies, then go into the bathroom, look in the mirror, and recreate the scenes that I liked with myself. Like “The Champ.” I was a wreck after that. So I would go into the bathroom and recreate the scenes. I was a little cuckoo.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Was "Grease" one of them?
Lilly Melgar: Are you kidding me? Not only was "Grease" one of them, but I was still doing that one until I was 25-years-old! The first hint that I wanted to act was that people would always ask me what I wanted to do when I grew up, and I would say, “I want to be one of CHARLIE'S ANGELS.” I didn’t realize that that meant I had to be an actress, I just knew I wanted to be one of those girls. I was so young.
Then, in junior high, I became obsessed with GENERAL HOSPITAL. And I told everybody, “When I grow up I’m going to be on GENERAL HOSPITAL.” My friends were like, “How are you going to do that?” My answer was, “I don’t know, I’m just going to do it!” Of course, all of my friends remember that, and were on that journey with me, they are still most of my best friends now. But again, at the time it wasn’t that I really wanted to act, it was that I wanted to be on GENERAL HOSPITAL.
Then I won the Ms. El Salvador in the California pageant. There was a director that I was graduating from UCLA film school. He saw me in the pageant and offered me a lead in his short film. That’s when I realized what I really wanted to do. On the first day of filming, he gave me a scene where I had to watch my fiancé die. And I had never acted before! He always tells the story that he was mortified thinking, “I made the biggest mistake, this girl can’t act!” [laughs]. He said “Okay. I’m going to do this backwards. Let’s just start filming from the beginning and then at the very end have you do this scene.” By then I was warming up to it, kicking some butt. His short film ending up taking the best short film of the year at UCLA.
When I went to El Salvador to compete in the national El Salvador competition, I told everyone I was going to be an actress. I still did not know how to make it happen. But out there I booked every major campaign, every major commercial, I ended up staying three months just working working working in Central America. It was good for me because it was practice, it was getting me in the room, and getting me bookings. So by the time I got back here I knew this was what I wanted to do. My uncle heard of an open call for a Latin sitcom. He told my mom about it, and there I was, standing in line for two hours, for this open call. Again, I didn’t know how to get into this business. I ended up booking it! Once I worked with real actors and a real director it was history. Then I did a commercial workshop, I got an agent, and was booking commercials left and right.
So it started really good for me. I screen tested for GENERAL HOSPITAL when I was 19-years-old for a role that Laura Harring got [as Carla Greco], that lasted about three or four months. And I was really devastated. I mean, you’ve to got to understand, this was my be-all-end-all goal. I said, “Okay.” I was going to go to college for fashion merchandising instead. One of my cousins said to me, “What do you mean? You are our biggest influence. You’re going to give up on a dream because you didn’t get this? I thought, “No!” That same day, literally hours afterward, I got a call from my agent. He said, “They saw you on the Taco Bell commercial, they tracked you down, they are trying to replace a VJ on a very high-rated music video show on Univision, and they want you to come in today. I said, “Okay, that’s cool.” That was TU MUSICA, my first gig. They loved me and I went on a different journey as a music video host. It was the highest rated show, it doubled in ratings on the MTV Latin channel.
It was a great ride for me. My second interview was with Carlos Santana. Sipping tea, in his backyard, discussing his spiritual philosophies, and I’m barely twenty-years-old! So I’m grateful that I did not get GH when I wanted it. This was such a fantastic journey, and it was then I met Ricky Martin. I did that, then an Access Hollywood-type show called DESDE HOLLYWOOD. Then RITMO INTERNACIONAL which was a STAR SEARCH like competition show.
After RITMO, I heard Ricky Martin was going to do GENERAL HOSPITAL. I called his manager and said, “This is my biggest dream in life.” So I went to visit Ricky in the VIP room after one of his concerts. And lo and behold, there is Wendy Riche and most of the cast that I ended up working with. When Wendy saw me and Ricky together, she asked who I was and what I did. She loved our chemistry together. Next thing I know, I’m being written into GENERAL HOSPITAL, Claire [Labine] is asking me if its okay to use my real name, and I said, “Sure, just please spell it differently with one ‘l’.” It ended up being a time when GENERAL HOSPITAL was back on top of the ratings, and you had Wendy Riche in charge, who I think is the best thing to ever happen to GH. We took Emmy's each year for Best Show. Ricky Martin and I got to work together as the first Latin leading couple on daytime ever.
So I learned a great lesson. Sometimes things are better in God’s timing than my own. I tend to get impatient, I want what I want now. But everything in my life has continually showed me that you have to have patience. Sometimes getting it when you want it is nowhere near the fulfillment and success that it is at the right time.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I firmly believe this from my own life as well. Anytime I haven’t gotten a job or a relationship or something I wanted, it turned out so much better in the end. Did not getting GH the first time discourage you?
Lilly Melgar: It was devastating. At that time it was a huge blow. But fortunately something happened right around the corner. Sometimes it takes years for these things to make sense. But things turned out so much better. I got to have the experience and knowledge on TU MUSICA interviewing some of the most successful people in the world. You cannot walk away from that unaffected. I believe it enriched me as a human being in ways I may not have been had it been the journey I had wanted when I wanted it.
Editor's Note: Come back for Part Two when we discussed Lily's life and death on GENERAL HOSPITAL. How did Lilly cope with Lily's demise, and her legacy in Port Charles ever since.
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." He is especially excited about hosting The Third Annual Give Up Your "Shoulds" Day on November 1st.