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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Catching Up With Robert Kelker-Kelly

Robert Kelker-Kelly - Photo Credit: ABC
Robert Kelker-Kelly burst onto the soap opera scene in 1987 when he took on the role of Sam Fowler on ANOTHER WORLD. He left in 1992, then assumed the role of Bo Brady in DAYS OF OUR LIVES from 1993 to 1996.

He returned to ANOTHER WORLD as Bobby Reno/Dr. Shane Roberts from 1996 to 1998, then joined the cast of GENERAL HOSPITAL in 2001 as Stavros Cassadine. He reprized the role of Stavros for a short-term story arc on GENERAL HOSPITAL earlier this year.

In 1997, he married former DAYS co-star Miriam Parrish.

We Love Soaps recently caught up Kelker-Kelly to revisit his daytime career and to find out what he's doing now. Check out our exclusive interview below:

WE LOVE SOAPS: Did you mostly grow up in Kansas?
ROBERT KELKER-KELLY: I was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and lived there about a year and a half. My father was in the Air Force and was stationed in Wichita Falls, Texas, for a year or two. He was a forensic pathologist. That's the first place I was introduced to airplanes. Then we moved to Wichita, Kansas, where he ran a practice with a friend of his. I grew up in Kansas from the time I was three years old until I was eighteen or nineteen.

WE LOVE SOAPS: The one time I drove through Kansas I remember seeing a big "Home of Bob Dole" sign.
ROBERT KELKER-KELLY: It's not the "Home of Don Johnson" anymore which is kind of funny. My sister still lives in Kansas City, Kansas, and is an organic farmer.

WE LOVE SOAPS: We run a daily Soap Opera History column and you've appeared in it a lot recently. August 10th was the 26th anniversary of your debut on ANOTHER WORLD as Sam Fowler. How did you get from Kansas to New York and a job on ANOTHER WORLD in 1987?
ROBERT KELKER-KELLY: I started acting in high school and got into Shakespeare. I moved to Florida doing theater. I did a movie, and don't even remember the name of it, but met a girl who was a Playboy playmate and chased her out to California. That relationship didn't work [laughs], but I got an agent who at the time, J. Michael Bloom, who was Alec Baldwin's agent, and Bob Hoskins' agent. His formula for making actors become stars was the Alec Baldwin formula: get them into soaps, because Alec started in soaps (THE DOCTORS), then move them into nighttime, and then from nighttime to movies. I never made the break from daytime to nighttime. At the time I got cast on ANOTHER WORLD I was homeless, sleeping in my Jeep, or on anyone's floor that I could, and working as a secretary for a headhunter's office in L.A. God, I had forgotten that. [Laughs]

I couldn't make enough money as a secretary for these four very powerful pissed-off women to afford to get my own apartment. I had a Jeep and I would sleep in there if I couldn't find people from my acting class or friends that would let me sleep on their couch. ANOTHER WORLD was a godsend.

WE LOVE SOAPS: I remember the summer of '87 well , because of the Oliver North hearings on TV - they kept interrupting daytime soaps...  Anne Heche started a month before you, made her first appearance, and then - the show was off the air for two weeks.
ROBERT KELKER-KELLY: Anne Heche was brilliant, but she was nuts.

WE LOVE SOAPS: When you came on, Sam and Amanda (Sandra Ferguson) were instantly on the front burner. Were you working all the time? And how did you deal with that?
ROBERT KELKER-KELLY: It was a lot of work to process. Sandy, God bless her, had no acting training at all, and I had a whole bunch of theater training, which really didn't matter all that much in soaps. It may have helped a little bit. They just threw us to the wolves. It was a lot of work and a lot of location shooting in New York. It was a ton of fun, but I remember the stress at the time being pretty high.

ANOTHER WORLD stars Victoria Wyndham, Douglass
Watson, Kale Browne, Anna Stuart, Robert Kelker-Kelly
and Sandra Ferguson.
WE LOVE SOAPS: My favorite actor growing up was Douglass Watson [who played Mac Cory]. Do you remember anything about working with him, or what he was like?
ROBERT KELKER-KELLY: I'm going to be kind of gooey and effusive about these people right now, Doug Watson and Constance Ford (who played Ada). Doug was a great. He was an awesome human being. It was the 1980s so you could still smoke in the studios and I smoked cigarettes back then; I don't anymore, thank God. We would sit back behind the Cory mansion set waiting for cues between scenes and smoke cigarettes together and play "Stump The Actor" together. He would pick from one Shakespearean play and throw it out and I would have to figure out out what the play was and what the character was. Then I'd do the same thing with him. I don't remember ever working so hard with Shakespeare even when I was doing it.

Later on after he passed away I went and took a look at this career and found Doug Watson was brilliant. He was known was the American Olivier in the 1950s. His acting was so good in Julius Caesar specifically, Marlon Brando had the scene that Doug did with him cut from the film because he wiped the floor with him. Doug played Octavius, and there's a scene in the play where Octavius comes to see Marc Antony and it’s the presage of things to come. It was Shakespeare's way of saying that Marc Antony is on top right now but he's about to get his ass kicked by this kid. Apparently Doug Watson nailed it so much that Brando saw the footage and said it's got to go, "If you don't get rid of these scenes, I'm walking."

Do you know about the history of the old studio in Brooklyn?

WE LOVE SOAPS: Yes. It's such an historic building. You guys were shooting right across from THE COSBY SHOW at the time you were first on ANOTHER WORLD.
ROBERT KELKER-KELLY: THE COSBY SHOW was in the new section, and we were in the old section that was originally built for the New York Philharmonic in the 1910s. In the 1930s they actually put a pool in and did those pool movies with Esther Williams. I'm a big history buff, and it's such a cool slice of history.

WE LOVE SOAPS: After ANOTHER WORLD went off the air, AS THE WORLD TURNS moved in and stayed until 2010. Since then, they've shot some movies and other things there, but it's not occupied full-time like it was for so many decades.
ROBERT KELKER-KELLY: If I had the money I would buy that place and turn it into a museum. The Three Stooges worked in that house. It's just amazing stuff.

Anyway, my first day at work at ANOTHER WORLD I was on the third floor, and was nervous and scared, and wanted to just get a sense of theater again. When I'm in the theater, before a play I would go behind the blacks and just pace and find a way into the emotional life of the character, which didn't really work in soaps because we didn't have that kind of luxury or time. But I was looking for that so I went through this door thinking it was going to go onto one of the stages and it turned out it was one of the catwalks above the studio, one of the light walks where they would hang lights and you have a bird's eye view of the soap set.

When you look down from the top, it's incredibly busy. On one side there's a line of four or five sets and on the other side there's a line of these different sets and then there's the area between the two of them where they have the cameras and lighting and all that stuff. They shot the scenes much more in order at that time; at least that's how I remember it.

So I go onto the catwalk and light a cigarette and I hear on the far side of the studio where they were lighting a scene a crash and a scream, "Props!! I need more fucking props!"

It was Connie Ford. She worked from a standpoint of being a trained actress from the neighborhood playhouse. She believed that he character's life came forth when she was doing business. She had to have things to do, props to play with - and she scared the shit out of me when I heard that scream!

She was a great actress. She worked with James Dean...

Robert Kelker-Kelly with DAYS co-stars Kristian Alfonso,
Lisa Rinna and Crystal Chappell. - Photo Credit: NBC
WE LOVE SOAPS: You left ANOTHER WORLD in 1990 and then joined DAYS OF OUR LIVES for over three years. What was that like?
ROBERT KELKER-KELLY: DAYS was even more exhausting than ANOTHER WORLD. I was working, on average, 90 hours a week. They were shooting one to two shows a day so we would be doing 120 pages of dialogue and that went on for a long time. I went through one three-year contract and negotiated a second contract, and then that one fell apart.

But it was exhausting. They worked us to death. At the time, because my shirt was off all the fucking time, I would get up at three o'clock in the morning, go to the gym from four to six, and then be at the studio from six to eight (or nine) at night... and then go to sleep and do it all over again.

We were doing this five days a week, consistently. It was insane. At that point in time DAYS had a high viewership, and they worked the hell out of us.

WE LOVE SOAPS: After DAYS you came back to New York and returned to ANOTHER WORLD, this time as Bobby Reno. Maggie DePriest, who was the head writer when you first started on the show in 1987, was back at the helm. She also, coincidentally, created the character of Bo Brady for DAYS back in 1983. How did your return to ANOTHER WORLD come about?
ROBERT KELKER-KELLY: DAYS OF OUR LIVES left such a sour taste in my mouth from the standpoint that I couldn't sustain it any longer, I was tired. At that point I was kind of getting bored with the material because the material was getting worse in my opinion. I had already started thinking, "how could I get out of the business?" but I didn't know what else I could do. That was still very much in the gestation period of how to transition myself into a career that was not quite so chaotic and exhausting.

It felt good to go back to New York, and I wanted to go back to New York for a number of reasons: I like living in the city, I have a bunch of friends there and I prefer the cold of New York to L.A. I don't like L.A. for the driving and congestion - and the industry is all-encompassing.

Robert Kelker-Kelly in the March 1994 issue of Playgirl
You can go to New York as a soap actor and be completely anonymous in the city, and have conversations with people on the street, and sit down in a coffee shop, and strike up a conversation with someone, and just have it be completely about something else. It was very invigorating as far as getting some diversity in my life instead of it being just about business and the industry.

Right before I left L.A. I got some teeth work done, and I was sitting there with my mouth open, and this dentist said to me, "I've got this script, you would love it." All I could think of was let me get the fuck out of town. It was nuts.

WE LOVE SOAPS: Was there talk of you coming back to ANOTHER WORLD as Sam, or was that never on the table?
ROBERT KELKER-KELLY: NBC called me up and said they wanted to bring me back to ANOTHER WORLD. I said, "Playing what character? Sam?" And they said, "Whatever we can figure out." I sat down in Jill Farren Phelps' office when I first got there, and we had never met, and she said to me, "NBC shoved you down my throat. I'm not happy about that. I've heard bad things about you. You better behave." I said, "I'm sorry." She and I are now really good friends.

WE LOVE SOAPS: This was around the same time Frankie Frame was killed off, and fans were blaming Jill for a lot of things happening on the show.
ROBERT KELKER-KELLY: This is just my take on it, but by that time NBC already had it in for ANOTHER WORLD. Jill fought really hard for that show and fought hard for those characters and was slammed at every turn. She started to bring the ratings up and they shit-canned her immediately.

NBC worked really hard to kill it. It was so painful to watch them do that. And it was so obvious what they were doing. It was just depressing.

WE LOVE SOAPS: You were on DAYS when Carly was buried alive and Marlena was possessed by the devil. I think NBC saw the success of that and decided they wanted to do stories like that on ANOTHER WORLD. Soon we had Vicky Wyndham playing an evil Rachel Cory look-a-like named Justine.
ROBERT KELKER-KELLY: I'm one of those old soap people who believes if you have good characters and good stories you don't have to resort to demons and evil twins, not that I'm complaining about playing a guy brought back from the dead many times. [Laughs] I'm a firm believer that if you have good compelling stories and good actors, all the histrionics on the side don't make a dang bit of difference.

I teach acting occasionally, and I had a kid I was teaching - in July - that goes to school in Missouri. He's a big fan of superhero movies like Iron Man 3. He went and saw Pacific Rim and I said, "That's a superhero movie, right? Was it a good compelling movie?" He said, "It was entertaining." I said, "Wait a second, was it a good compelling movie?" And se replied, "No, not really." I asked him why and he couldn't really pinpoint it.

Then I asked him the same question about Iron Man 3. He said, "It was totally awesome, entertaining, compelling, the whole nine yards." I finally got him to pinpoint it: because A) you had a fantastic actor in Robert Downey Jr. and B) you had a really good human storyline at the center of all the histrionics and technology, which was a guy learning how to deal with his fear. That's a really good story. Why they can't do that anymore or figure out that formula, at least in the soaps, is beyond me.

WE LOVE SOAPS: So they brought you on as Bobby Reno, a carpenter who went to work for Vicky (Jensen Buchanan), and she fainted the second the saw him. It turned out he was given Ryan's eyes.
ROBERT KELKER-KELLY: Oh God, yes. And then they changed it from Bobby Reno to Dr. Shane Roberts.

WE LOVE SOAPS: I loved Lisa Peluso on SEARCH FOR TOMORROW when I was a kid so I didn't mind when they brought her on [as Shane's wife], although that was a dramatic shift in your storyline.
ROBERT KELKER-KELLY: Working with Lisa was great. She was a great lady with great energy. Jensen Buchanan was great. I've had the pleasure to work with some really great, powerful actresses. I preferred working with people like Connie Towers [who played Helena on GENERAL HOSPITAL].

WE LOVE SOAPS: Which leads us to GENERAL HOSPITAL, where you played Stavros Cassadine. What was that experience like for you?
ROBERT KELKER-KELLY: It was brilliant. Jill [Farren Phelps, then executive producer of GH] called me up where I was working as a mechanic in Massachusetts and said, "Are you interested in auditioning for this?" She told me it was short-term and he'd be killing people and trying to take over the world so I said, "Excellent. Let me audition." I did, and I have to say, I'm incredibly grateful.

It was the best experience on any soap I ever had, working on GH. It was the silliest story, but the actors, writers, directors, crew and everyone associated with GENERAL HOSPITAL was brilliant and gracious and kind. And there was no bullshit. It was just really nice, and working with Genie Francis and Tony Geary was a pleasure and a joy.

I really, really was sorry to see that go by the wayside when 9/11 happened. I would have stayed gladly. I was having a blast.

WE LOVE SOAPS: What are you working on these days?
ROBERT KELKER-KELLY: I'm a charter pilot. I fly Lear jets, Lear 60s, for a company of out Spirit of St. Louis airport in St. Louis, Missouri. I also instruct on the side because I like to teach. I still teach acting occasionally, private coaching, monologues and things like that. I'm living in the Midwest. And I'm a dad.

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, worked as a producer on the first two seasons of Emmy-nominated THE BAY, and is executive producer on the indie short May Mercy Lie, which is currently making the rounds at film festivals. He appeared in FRANCOPRHENIA in 2012 and the documentary SOAP LIFE, out on DVD in 2013.

11 comments:

  1. I love RKK! I got to meet him when he did the Shakespeare Santa Cruz festival in the 90s. He took the time to talk to me about my interest in soaps and tell me a few backstage stories. I had to admit that I sometimes skipped my Shakespeare class to get home to watch 'Another World!'

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    1. So cool that you saw him at a Shakespeare festival. I loved the story about him playing Shakespeare trivia with Doug Watson.

      Oh, and I lived in the South Bay and was in Santa Cruz a lot in the late '90s. :)

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    2. Roger: I went to school with Damon Jacobs!

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  2. I share a birthday with RKK - same day, same year. I guess thats why I always felt a connection with him and his characters. Glad to know he's doing something he enjoys.

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  3. Wonderful interview Roger. Would love to see Robert back on daytime. He looked so great on his all to brief stint on GH.

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  4. Come back to DAYS PLEASE!!! I know it sounds crazy- BUT you were GREAT!!!!!

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  5. This was a phone interview, right? Because you could not have spoken during an in person interview due to drool...

    Jamey Giddens has proposed RKK as nu-Ridge on B&B, and I salivate at THAT idea.

    He seems to have found some maturity and serenity. It would be nice to see him back on a soap.

    Mark Harding

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  6. Super-Great Interview With Robert Kelker-Kelly, Roger. Brava!

    Brian :-)

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  7. I wonder if Robert is still married to Miriam Parrish? Remember THAT behind the scenes drama? I always thought RKK was a good actor, but I always thought he was a bit of an ass offscreen...maybe he has mellowed now that he is older.

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  8. When I started watching DOOL in the spring of 1993, RKK was in full BO swing. So he was the Bo I was introduced to. 2 years later, he's gone, in comes PR and I was bummed because RKK was such a great actor. To this day, though not as often as I used to, I'll chant "BRING BACK KELKER-KELLY" and it drives my wife nuts.

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  9. What happened to RKK's hair? remember when it was past his shoulders on AW and DOOL?

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