Soap fans know legendary actress Joan Van Ark best for her iconic role as Valene Ewing on KNOTS LANDING, which she played for over a decade. She also has an extensive theater background, including a Tony nomination, and has appeared in a number of other television shows and films. In 2011 she joined the world of indie web series with a hilarious and spot on appearance in PRETTY. In this exclusive new interview, find out more about the beloved actress, her thoughts on a storied career and much more.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You grew up in New York City, right?
Joan Van Ark: Yes! As an actress, the New York City part of me, and the more rural Boulder part of me, where we moved when I was seven, has served me and the characters I played well throughout my career.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Did you always want to be an actress?
Joan Van Ark: Pretty much. That developed more in Boulder. I auditioned for a play at the Community Playhouse. The quarterback on the football team didn't ask me to the prom, so I said, "Screw boys," and went and auditioned for a play. I didn't get the part I auditioned for, but got the flower girl, and the bug bit. I did a monologue as my audition and you could hear a pin drop. They complimented me so much I said, "Who needs guys?"
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You came back here to New York and did a lot of theater.
Joan Van Ark: It's my heart and soul.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You had a Tony nomination for "The School for Wives".
Joan Van Ark: I did that with Brian Bedford who's currently knocking them dead in "The Importance of Being Earnest." He's in drag for that play. I learned more from Brian, because I only went to college for one year, and then got my Equity card. I credit Brian Bedford for teaching me everything any lucky actress could know at a college or university.
EDITOR'S NOTE: "The Importance of Being Earnest" is closing on June 26 so see it before it's too late!
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I value studying your craft, but sometimes you learn more from actually doing a job than studying to do it.
Joan Van Ark: Doing is what it's all about. It's about your own process of how you arrive at a character, and getting cast in something, anything, and breaking it down with the director and learning your lines. Doing is the best teacher of all.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: My family was huge DALLAS fans and I loved you from the first second. Valene was probably the most sympathetic character ever on that show.
Joan Van Ark: David [Jacobs] created KNOTS LANDING before DALLAS but CBS wanted something more flashy. So Gary and Valene were the spinoff characters from DALLAS and KNOTS LANDING ended up lasting longer.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Of all the big primetime soaps in the '80s KNOTS LANDING was my favorite. It seemed more grounded and relatable.
Joan Van Ark: It was more grounded, and had more heart and soul, and less over the top, like everyone being killed in Moldavia, or whatever they did on DYNASTY.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I think my all-time favorite storyline, maybe on any television show, was when Valene thought her babies died and she became Verna Ellers and lived in Tennessee, where I grew up. They played it out perfectly.
Joan Van Ark: I did a radio interview a few months ago with a man from Tennessee and I jumped right into the accent. I'm so proud of that. The only time KNOTS LANDING was the number one show for the week was the episode Val got the kids back.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I've always been sensitive to southern accents and so many are bad, but you do it amazingly well.
Joan Van Ark: I can play those parts, like Tennessee Williams ladies. As Joan Van Ark, I've been auditioning for Blanche my whole life. His characters all had that sort of soft Southern thing.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Was that your favorite storyline, or did you have another favorite moment?
Joan Van Ark: The twins was really quite a gift. And the way she flipped out and became Verna Ellers, which is a true psychological condition that could happen to someone who has gone through incredible emotional trauma. I also loved the wonderful continuum of the Gary-Val relationship. I think that Ted and Joan, and therefore Gary and Val, was always respected and I really like that in a storyline and a character relationship for a show that lasted as long as KNOTS.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I loved Valene's friendship with Karen as well.
Joan Van Ark: Oh, yes! CAGNEY AND LACEY was on at the same time that KNOTS was, and I used to watch what I call "soul food," which excites me as an actress if I see other good work. I would watch Sharon Gless and Tyne Daly. They had an incredible chemistry and connection and power. They were brilliant as both the people they are and the characters they played. I think the Karen-Val connection was a rich one and a true one. I'm in constant contact with Michele [Lee], Ted [Shackelford], Julie [Harris], and sometimes Constance [McCashin] even, who's back in Boston. Ted and Joan, and Michele and Joan, are connected together forever. And I see Donna [Mills] all the time and we've worked together several times.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You were on NIP/TUCK together!
Joan Van Ark: And we were cougars. I loved, loved, loved doing that. I'm proud to be a member of the Beverly Hills Cougar Club! To see Val and Abby together as cougars was a kick.
Continue reading Part 2 in which Van Ark shares more thoughts on KNOTS LANDING, her YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS experience and working on hit web series PRETTY.
Roger Newcomb is a producer and writer in New York City. Aside from co-hosting WE LOVE SOAPS TV, he has written and produced a full-length indie film, Manhattanites, and two radio soap operas, SCRIPTS & SCRUPLES and ROCKLAND COUNTY. He has also made acting appearances in indie web series IMAGINARY BITCHES and EMPIRE. He has consulted on numerous indie soaps and is currently an associate producer on THE BAY and executive producer on the upcoming indie short May Mercy Lie.