We recently had a conversation with Sydney about her 30 year career, soap opera morality, web etiquette, being an actress, and her dream job. Read the transcript after the jump. See her in DROP DEAD DIVA this Sunday, July 30 at 9pm on Lifetime.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: How are you doing? Thank you so much for your time, Ms. Penny! You’ve had so many roles in so many different soap operas, and you’ve also had a lot of lead roles on non-soap TV. Can tell us about how the atmosphere is different on set? Which do you like better?
Sydney Penny: Oh, Kevin. Sure, I would love to answer your question. I hope I can do it justice.
Well, you know, I have been really fortunate to be able to experience the whole spectrum of the acting world, and you’re right. Every one of them is different. Daytime, the way that it’s shot, is quite different from nighttime television. Series are very different from shooting a television movie... and all of that world is very different from the world of film, and also the world of theater, which is its own animal entirely.
I would say that what I find similar is that I’ve been fortunate to work on projects where people are usually very happy to be there and very supportive of each other and the work tends to be a lot more fun. Because, you know, its long hours, it can be a lot of drudgery.
But the differences, I think, are primarily in the length of time you have to accomplish what you’re trying to film. In a daytime, hour-long show, you’re shooting about, say, 40 actual minutes of content every day. And in a show like DROP DEAD DIVA, you have about seven days to accomplish the same amount.
So that obviously changes the amount of time and consideration you can give to each scene. It gives everyone from actors to lighting to directors and wardrobe more time. Although, you know, it’s quite a serious pace.
It’s quite a lot when you compare it to a film, where you’re maybe shooting two pages a day. And so I really think the time element is what distinguishes it the most even more so than money. You know, I’ve seen films where there’s a ton of money lavished about and they still don’t manage to create anything quite as well as a film that is on a tight budget where people are focused and passionate about what they’re doing.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: As Carol in DROP DEAD DIVA, you’re going to be playing a CEO, and I was curious: if you were to start your own business, and sell anything you wanted, what would it be?
Sydney Penny: Oh, that’s fun to think about. Gosh, you know, I think everybody, particularly actors, engage in fantasies like that. Well, actors are prone to fantasies any way.
But, you know, I’ve always thought that it would be fun to have -- well, there’s a couple of different things -- I always thought it would be kind of fun to have a cool restaurant where you come in and, you know, you could have some kind of--whatever the food would be--something kind of cool.
But in this interior space you’d be able to project films, like sort of classic black and white films or, you know, foreign films of the 50s from France and Italy, and creating a bistro atmosphere. To combine things I like, food and film.
That sounds like a lot of fun!
Sydney Penny: I think it would be fun, but then I think it’d be a lot of work... and my job never felt like work, even though it is.
Tell us more about the role that you’re going to be playing on DROP DEAD DIVA.
Sydney Penny: I sure can do that. Carol Kritzer is the CEO of a fashion company that has been providing Stacy with clothing in exchange for discussing it on her personal blog--which is lovely until Stacy trashes the clothes! Still, unfortunately, Carol is forced to reward her for basically trashing her company.
But it all works out well in the end (but a little unexpectedly) and I really enjoyed getting to play this very tough, incisive woman. It’s sort of a different role for me.
Do you think that there are a lot of people out there who are on the Internet and do this sort of thing? They video blog, they tweet, without really realizing the repercussions of what they’re saying?
Sydney Penny: I do think that the Internet has a strange aspect to it, in that there’s a level of anonymity. You can create any name you want, you create a total identity that’s not grounded in any form of truth, and say whatever you want. And I have actually seen it firsthand be very harmful to people, because there is a sense of anonymity which lends a kind of boldness, and it chucks all of the normal rules for just being nice to people out the window.
You know, I have a friend who... there was an article that was published about him that was entirely fallacious and he had no recourse. There was no way to go back and sort of--there was no one to take to the carpet, because it didn’t exist really. And unfortunately, there’s a lot of websites that are willing to print anything, just because it’s going to bring in advertisers, because they know that the more salacious a rumor, the more hits they’re going to get.
So I think it’s a tricky world out there, and people seem too willing to chuck the rules of natural human kindness because they’re anonymous.
What is it, you think, that makes [some actors] want to distance themselves from the soaps? And more importantly, what will you take from your time in daytime that you’ll be wanting to share with others?
Sydney Penny: That’s interesting. You know, at a certain point in one’s career it does seem like people do a lot of running away from what they’ve done before, which is sort of funny. And people often talk about you need to reinvent yourself every now and then because it’s a fickle marketplace, it’s savage, at the end of the day you are basically a product that you are hawking 24/7, and the viability of that product is your responsibility.
It’s a horrible way to look at one’s self and one’s life. But there’s always that little part of you that has to pay attention to that fact. For me, you know what? I came into soaps, you know, after already having a career of 15 years with very successful projects that kind of covered the gamut, and it was a very beneficial experience to me and just kind of naturally led into other things.
And, you know, I just never felt the need to kind of pretend like it never happened. It was a good experience, it was in its proper context in my career, and people can say what they want. But you know what? After 33 years, I’m still doing this job and it’s the only job I’ve ever had. So I’m not too concerned that I need to fiddle with the formula too much.
And as far as what I will take away from my soap experience, I think I have it to credit for making me realize that you can accomplish absolutely anything you want to do because everyday you’re handed a script and you do not know what’s going to be in it.
You could be an angel one day and a murderer the next. You could suddenly find that your character is going through a bout of depression or robbing a bank. And you learn that all of these are possible to you as an actor and that gives you a huge amount of self-confidence.
I always think it's a good experience for young actors to jump in with both feet and bite off as much as they can chew (and probably a little bit more) to challenge themselves that way. So that’s definitely what I would pass along.
And, you know, it’s just made me a stronger person, a tougher person, and it has given me an enormous amount of self-confidence: because if you can work in that medium, and do 60 pages of work a week--or a day--you can do anything.
In the soaps, and particularly in DROP DEAD DIVA, there seems to be an underlying message. There is a little bit of something to be learned from each of these episodes. I’m wondering, do you think that’s part of the overall appeal?
Sydney Penny: Well,I think that we as the human race have always needed to have a forum in which to share stories with each other, really a kind of a guide book on how to get through life. And I do think that soaps, because of the way that they began (it’s something that happens everyday) it’s the same trusted people that, over a period of time, they begin to feel like family.
They’re in your living room all the time, and then it’s very much the same thing with any cast of characters that you like, and begin to trust. And I think that drama naturally has to have a situation that unfolds that involves some form of conflict and some sorts of obstacles, and you’re always trying to figure out, how are they going to get out of this one? What lessons am I going to learn from it? I think without even realizing that’s what you’re doing.
So I do think that it’s natural that this type of storytelling engages an audience in that way. And it does end up, in a way, giving a moral to a story.
Your current storyline involves getting in trouble on the Internet, and the unknown consequences. I was wondering if you had thoughts on the use of Twitter? And if you are on Twitter, have you ever tweeted anything you regret?
Sydney Penny: Oh, you want me to tell stories on myself! Actually, I’ve been on Facebook for a while and I enjoy that. That’s been a very cool sort of relationship to develop directly with fans. I found it much more rewarding than the old, you know, get a letter and send back a photograph. You know, you never really have any contact.
But Twitter is kind of an interesting thing. I’ve only just begun, and my account is Sydney_penny and truthfully, I am going to have to go on in the next couple of days and figure it out, because I’m a total Twitter newbie. So the total, correct answer would be no, I’ve never tweeted anything I regret, because I’ve never tweeted anything.
We look forward to be one of the first to follow you.
Sydney Penny: Well, please do. I’d love to have [someone] tell me how I’m doing, because it’s all new. But from the time I was little, you know, my folks would always say to me, “Don’t ever say or do anything that you don’t want to be read-about by friends or seen in a photograph” and that’s a lot to lay on a, you know, a 10-year-old.
But, you know, being in the public eye my entire life, it was something that was very good advice. I’ve tried to live my life as a good person. But then, you know, in the public life, you have to be even that much more cautious, I guess... unless you just don’t care, which obviously some people don’t.
Your career has been very rich, and you started very young. If you could go back in time, to 1980 or so, when you were just starting out, what advice would you give your younger self?
Sydney Penny: Oh, that’s fun. Well, you know, it’s always a temptation to say, “Oh, don’t go and do that project” or “Why don’t you go and try to do something more in this direction.” But, you know, I look back and honestly I feel that my career has been more or less inseparable from the course of my life. It has been there forever and has been responsible for taking me so many interesting places, introducing me to, literally, nearly everyone I’ve ever met, in some tangential or direct way. Including my husband.
Sydney Penny: Yes, and my very best friendships. So I think a long time ago I stopped thinking about, “oh, should I have pursued film a little bit more,” “should I have, you know, maybe stopped working at a certain age and taken a ten-year break,” you know, you wonder all of these things. “Should I have become a florist.” Who knows. You know, maybe there was another career out there for me. I don’t know.
But I can’t be anything but grateful for what has come for my way, so I pretty much don’t think about it anymore. I just enjoy where I am.
Kevin Mulcahy Jr. is a Harvard alum who is currently working as a staff contributor at welovesoaps.com writing theater and web series reviews as well as other in-depth features. Read all his Web Series reviews here. To contact Kevin, email firstname.lastname@example.org.