|Nelson Aspen with Anne Marie Howard in 1988 and 2014.|
NA: I knew you as simply "Anne" Howard. When/Why did you add "Marie?"
AMH: I had to add my middle name Marie when another actress by the name of Ann Howard removed herself from 'inactive' status in the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and became 'active' again. She had seniority and, at that time, they didn't allow two actors in the union to have the same name. Many actors had to add their middle initial or middle name, or change their name entirely to join the union. It was a bit of an adjustment for me, but my agents and friends got used to calling me Anne Marie or AMH for short. When I recently made the move back to NYC in January, my theatrical agent asked if I would mind going back to Anne Howard since that's what casting directors knew me as when I was on the soaps. I checked with the union and they've eased up on the rules a bit so I was able to take my name back. Now that I'm back in NYC where I started, it feels like I've come full circle.
NA: How much did AW impact your life?
AMH: AW changed my life in the best way possible. First of all, it was the most exciting job I ever booked. I had just completed filming John Carpenter's Prince Of Darkness and had starred in two television pilots, both shot in Los Angeles, one for HBO and one for NBC. Though the pilots were not picked up to go into series, work kept taking me to LA, so I decided to move there. I hadn't really considered acting in daytime drama, but I took an acting class with Milton Katselas and he told me it would be a good thing for me to do, that my look was right for soap operas and the discipline it required would help me become a better actress. So, I opened myself up to the possibility and a month later I was flown to NYC to screen test for the role of Nicole Love.
On the flight there, I saw another actress reading a script and memorizing her lines. I asked her if she was testing for AW and she said, yes. I told her I wasn't given the script ahead of time and she asked if I'd like to borrow hers and copy it down, so I did. Thank goodness, because when I got to the hotel late that night, I found out that I was the first actress scheduled to test early the next morning. It helped that I already had the lines memorized and could get a good night's sleep. The actress was Elizabeth Storm and I will always be grateful to her. There were a few lines in the script that required Nicole to speak in French so she helped me with that, too. We went out for margaritas that night after our screen tests to celebrate whoever booked the job. She was so gracious when she found out I'd gotten the role. One fun thing about the test is that Steve Schnetzer (Cass Winthrop) was there to do the scene with each actress testing. There was a kiss in the scene and he's a really good kisser! I was really looking forward to more! One of the perks of being an actress is getting to kiss your leading man. And Steve was sexy, handsome, and great fun to work with!
NA: What are you fondest memories of playing Nicole?
AMH: I loved the fashion shows. I got to wear the most incredible designer clothes! I remember that Angel, the head of the hair department, cut off my hair when I started the show so that I looked more like a high-fashion model. Our executive producer, John Whitesell, was out-of-town at the time and when he came back he was angry when he saw Nicole with short hair and yelled in the control booth, “why did she do that without asking permission?” Thank goodness Angel told him that she had made the decision. All was forgiven quickly when phone calls started coming in from fans loving the look and wanting to know what designer I was wearing.
The hardest scenes we shot were when the plane crashed and Cass and Nicole had to swim in the lagoon. The water on the set was stagnant and we spent weeks in it and both got sick. I wasn't thrilled about being in a skimpy swimsuit either. When I read the script, I went into John Whitesell's office crying. He said, “Sit down. Tell me what you're worried about.” “My thighs,” I sniffled. He thought for a moment, then asked, “Do you like your stomach?” “Yes,” I said. In his loving, but gruff father-like manner he told me, “Then you'll wear a sarong,” and added a bit more gently, “How's that?” “Good,” I said and left his office feeling much better. The sarong turned out to be a really thin, tiny piece of material that I wore over bikini bottoms, but it covered me a bit more and I was grateful. Now that I look back on it, it's kind of funny that I was so worried because I was young and thin, but at the time it was traumatic!
I still remember being in a beautiful designer wedding dress when it was revealed that Nicole had killed Jason Frame. There was a great scene where Cass came to confront Nicole at Michael and Donna's house. Cass pummeled Nicole with question after question, finally pushing her away disgusted, leaving her crumpled on the floor in a heap, sobbing. She would never marry Cass and her life was forever changed. Great stuff for an actress to sink her teeth into!
AMH: From the beginning, the writers always saw Nicole involved with Cass, but experimented with the possibility of a relationship with John Hudson (David Forsyth). Nicole had quite the history before I arrived at AW, and was played by two other actresses before me. I think it was a bit of an adjustment for the fans to see Cass in another relationship so soon after Kathleen (Julie Osburn) died. Cass and Kathleen were together a long time and were so much in love.
NA: Killing Jason Frame felt like it was out of left field for some fans. Did it seem that way to you?
AMH: There were clues, intentional red herrings devised by the writers, that pointed to every one of us who had been in the mirrored funhouse where Jason Frame was killed. It could have been any one of us and kept the viewers trying to guess who killed Jason Frame. Our new executive producer, Michael Laibson, called me into his office and told me if it turned out to be Nicole who killed Jason that it meant I'd be leaving the show earlier than initially planned. He wanted to know how I felt about that since I had a signed a three year contract and had only been there for two years. Since Nicole was the least likely suspect, I thought it was exciting to be the chosen one and that it would make for a shocking and dramatic story line. I also felt ready to move on and was looking forward to getting back onstage again. But it was helpful to learn of Nicole's demise ahead of time and have the ability to plan ahead and prepare myself to leave the show. It was also some of the best work I got to do on the show. When Felicia (Linda Dano) found out that Nicole had been willing to let her take the rap for Jason's murder and sit in a jail cell without coming forward to tell the truth, Felicia was livid. When Nicole was put in jail for the crime she committed, Felicia confronted her, asking her why she did what she did. Nicole tried to explain herself, but came to grips with the fact that Felicia wouldn't ever understand and would never be able to forgive her. It was a heart wrenching scene, beautifully directed by the fabulous Melvin Bernhardt. It was thrilling for me, as an actress, to be so exposed, not to wear make-up or designer clothes. I remember telling Linda that I felt it was easier for me to be vulnerable - without the thick mask of make-up I was always wearing and without all the fancy clothes. It was easier to act in this raw, exposed, vulnerable state, and I loved that time on the show. A lot. Unfortunately, it was also time to leave.
NA: After AW, did you hang around NY or decide immediately to head West to Hollywood?
AMH: When I was on AW, I didn't have much of a personal life because the hours were long and I worked a lot. I met a man who lived in the same apartment building I lived in on Horatio Street in the West Village. We even lived on the same floor, but when we got off the elevator he turned to the right and my apartment was to the left with a view of Hoboken across the water. He had a big dog. One time when we were in the lobby, his dog stood up and licked my entire face. Later he told me that was the moment he fell in love with me, because I smiled and laughed instead of being grossed out. We started dating towards the end of my time of AW, and he asked me to marry him 3 months after we met. We planned our wedding together and 3 months after we were engaged, we got married. When AW ended, I went right into the role of Mags in Painting Churches, a beautiful 3-character play. When the play ended, I got a phone call about taking over for Patsy Pease who played Kimberly Brady-Donovan on the NBC soap, Days of our Lives.
|Days of our Lives|
NA: Wow! Was it a culture shock being in LA?
AMH: Yes, I hated LA at first. The energy is so different from NY. It's much more laid back and things seem to move at a slower pace there. But I eventually settled in and grew to love it over the years. There was a lot of television work there and I really enjoyed guest starring on a number of primetime series like Castle, Criminal Minds, Private Practice, Monk, Nip/Tuck and Desperate Housewives. Now that I'm back in NY, I find myself missing LA more than I thought I would, especially the wide open space and beaches. But I go back to LA every 3 - 4 months to work, visit family, and reconnect with friends and agents. I'm actually much more social in NY because everything is in close proximity and it's easier to get places. Being stuck in your car on the 405 freeway during rush hour can be really frustrating. It's much easier to hop on a subway, or walk. I love walking!
NA: What was the reaction to your stepping into the role of a fan favorite like "Kim?"
AMH: I didn't have time to think about it too much because it happened so fast. Since AW aired on NBC right before DOOL, a lot of viewers tuned in to both shows, so it was easier to accept the change when they already knew me. Still, Patsy Pease had long blonde hair and blue eyes and I have shorter blondish hair and brown eyes, so we looked quite different. It must have been jarring for the viewers.
NA: Soap fans have always been passionate. Any interesting encounters?
AMH: Years ago, I was at Universal Studios standing in line for a movie next to my boyfriend who was paying for our tickets. I noticed that the woman behind the counter kept staring at me. Finally, she yelled out accusingly, “You killed Jason Frame!” I defended myself telling her, “My character did. I didn't actually kill him.” Sometimes when you're in someone's living room for an hour every day, five days a week, the role you're playing becomes so familiar that it's like a real-life person and you forget that it's really an actor playing a part. I grew up watching Luke and Laura on General Hospital and when I finally met Genie Francis in person, I still found myself thinking of her as Laura. The same thing happened when Maureen McCormack, who played Marcia Brady on The Brady Bunch, was at the same commercial callback in LA. I kept looking at her, thinking “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!”
Most of my fan encounters are wonderful. I always love when a stranger says hello and tells me they love my work. It's fun to meet the fans and share stories. AW fans were really helpful when I started the show, giving me information about Nicole's past because they'd been watching for years and they knew!
Fans have rallied around me offering support when I've needed them most. They've been great during this time of transition from LA to NY, too. I'm so grateful for the support.
NA: Do you think Social Media helps or hinders soaps?
AMH: I think it could have saved the soaps if it had come a bit earlier. I love being on Twitter or Facebook and seeing a post from one of the soaps, fans, or actors about something that's happening. I can keep track of what Linda Dano, Crystal Chapell, Judi Evans or Nelson Aspen are doing by following on social media. Most of my interviews have come about via that way. Even the books I've contributed to have come about that way. One you may enjoy is called “The Aspiring Actor's Handbook: What Seasoned Actors Wish They Had Known” by Molly Cheek and Debbie Zipp with excerpts and advice from myself and others.
NA: Daytime TV soaps are much more scarce than in our day. Do you ever tune in to the 4 remaining shows?
AMH: Sometimes I watch GH because it's the soap I have the most friends on and the one I grew up watching. I love GH because they're always trying new things, like the nighttime spin-off General Hospital: Night Shift (I guest-starred on the show), and the web series they've done, filming a day in the life of their character, in which the actors talk directly to the camera about what's happening in their lives.
Sometimes I tune into DOOL, too. That was a fun show to work on. When I worked on AW we had AM and PM sessions, which means they taped the show out of order and though you may have had scenes throughout the show, it was possible that you could tape them all in a half day. On DOOL, they taped the show in order so you were paying more attention to the show in its entirety and were more aware of what the characters who weren't in your story line were doing.
NA: Do you miss the genre?
AMH: I'd love to do a nighttime soap, like Revenge, Mistresses or Devious Maids. It was so much fun to be on Desperate Housewives. I'd love to guest star in an episode of House Of Cards, Orange Is The New Black, Girls, The Good Wife, Mad Men, The Blacklist, House of Lies, The Newsroom, and the list goes on . . .
NA: You're back in NYC pursuing theater...singing and dancing. Does it feel brand new? Or like old times?
AMH: Both! I'm really enjoying taking singing and dance classes again (tap, ballet, and theatre dance) and have definitely come back to NY with more credits, confidence, and knowledge of the business. I feel like I'm living my dream again.
NA: And what's going on in your personal life?
AMH: For the first time in years, I'm single, and I'm loving it! I was married thirty years ago for five years. We're still friends, but he remarried shortly after we separated and has two kids. I wasn't ready to have children at that point in time, and he was six years older than me and really wanted to start trying, which is why we finally divorced. That, along with the distance, proved to be extremely challenging. We didn't have mobile phones, or text messaging, or Facetime, or Skype, so it was difficult to communicate long-distance with the 3 hour time difference.
NA: Are you happy to be out of Hollywood?
AMH: I'm really enjoying the change. There's a lot to love about Hollywood, but New York is so much more energizing and invigorating. Although I did theater in LA, I was rarely compensated, and theater doesn't command the respect there that it does in NY. I can't wait to be back onstage in NY!
I love that I can walk to all my appointments, or hop on a subway and be wherever I need to be in a matter of minutes. And I'm much more social here. I live so close to the theater district that I can walk a few blocks and see a Broadway show whenever I feel like it, which I do often!
NA: Still in touch with any of your Daytime pals...aside from me?
AMH: I love being in touch with you again, Nelson! I'm looking forward to seeing a lot more of you. It's fun to see you in front of the camera now! I recently ran into Stephen Schnetzer at a voiceover audition and Alice Barrett (Frankie, Another World) at a commercial audition. I used to see Charles Shaughnessy (Shane, Days of our Lives) in LA from time to time and we'd always stop to chat and catch up with each other. Linda Dano and I chat on Twitter occasionally. I'm very close to Judith Barcroft (Lenore, Another World), Sonia Satra (Lucy, Guiding Light), Steve Caffrey (Andrew, All My Children) and Carmen Thomas (Hillary, All My Children). But I have to say, you've made the best transition out of the soap world, Nelson Aspen! I want your job!
NA: It's a good life! And now that almost 30 years have passed, where do you imagine Nicole Love is these days? She must be out of prison by now!
AMH: (laughs) Yes, she's out of prison and has finally forgiven herself. I imagine her in a loving relationship, but not married. I don't think she could bear the thought of being in another wedding dress. Even though she's forgiven herself, what happened with Cass still haunts her. Felicia doesn't talk to her anymore and she has no contact with Cass. Donna will always love her and continues to be supportive. I'm sure Nicole learned many lessons from the tragedy of Jason Frame's murder, and will never tell another lie for the rest of her life. She's in great shape, very active and enjoying every second she can spend outdoors. Always an artist, she still draws and has come up with a new fashion line, not prison garb, but not high fashion either, something for everyone, casual yet chic in an affordable price range.
NA: A line of sarongs! Perfect for two weeks in a stagnant lagoon!
AMH: Ha! I think she's slowly making her way back and enjoying her freedom, traveling the world with her younger, sexy boyfriend. They cruise on the Crystal line to exotic places and embark on adventures like sky diving, sailing, and motorcycling. Nicole doesn't plan on wasting one precious minute of the time she has left!
NA: What would be your dream job?
AMH: I have two dream jobs. My ultimate dream job would be playing a series regular in a primetime series. Acting in a Broadway play has always been my biggest dream. I envision both happening. I will never give up and continue working really hard every day towards those goals.
NA: Better kisser: Steve Schnetzer or Charles Shaughnessy?
AMH: Oh, that's a tough one. They're both really good! Cass and Nicole embarked on such fun capers together, but Kim and Shane were in bed more often and Charles Shaugnessy and I often car-pooled to work (from Santa Monica to Burbank). My first day of work, Charles and I shook hands, took off our robes, and climbed into bed together. I was in a skin-toned strapless swimsuit and he had pajama bottoms on and we were under the sheets hugging each other and kissing. He was such a gentleman, but I admit I was nervous because he's such a handsome and sexy man and I'd just met him, and there we were kissing and telling each other we loved each other in front of a room full of people. The crew was great, but wow! What a way to begin a show!
NA: Even though I hadn't hung out with you in years, I felt like I kept in touch with you via all the zillions of commercials and infomercials you've been doing. That's a wacky world, isn't it? How'd you lock into it and what have been some of the best/strangest products you've hawked?
AMH: I was acting in a lot of television commercials, which are really like 30-second films that are directed by some of the biggest film directors. My agent, John Paradise (Sounds like a soap opera name, right?!), brought me into his office at Abrams Artists Agency and asked if I'd be interested in putting together a reel of all the spokeswoman jobs that I'd done over the years. He told me about infomercials, which are virtually 30-minute commercials, and asked if I had any interest in allowing him to pursue work in that market. I was open to it, created a host reel, and started booking jobs right away. I loved infomercials because it was the first time in my career where I could travel and not have to be there to audition in order to book the job. The clients were casting directly from our host reels. The money was fantastic and it was fun work. I got to interview Donald Trump for his Wealth Building Seminars, Vanessa Williams for Time Life's Ultimate Love Song Collection, George Foreman for his George Foreman Grill, and more.
Hosting led me to my favorite film job I've ever had, which was working with Nicolas Cage in The Weather Man. I was Bryant Gumbel's co-host on “Hello, America!” – the morning talk show in the film. Nicolas Cage was hired as a weather man on the morning show. Bryant and I did a cooking segment with Wolfgang Puck where he taught us how to make Baked Alaska. I was flown to Chicago twice to work in an actual newsroom. I remember being picked up from the hotel and driven to work at 4 a.m. and seeing people just coming out of the bars! On the set, crew members would ask me what station I was with. It was a huge compliment to have them think I was actually a news anchor!
NA: It's so fun to be back in NYC together. It makes me feel like a kid again!
AMH: Moving back to NYC has been a big transition, and though I'm loving it and am thrilled to be living in Manhattan again, it's like starting over which is daunting and exhilarating at the same time. It's easier to travel the world from here, and I've been getting around. I've been to Iceland, Denmark, Scotland, London, Portugal, and there's much more of the world I'd still love to see. Now that I'm older, I have more confidence and feel more grounded. I've grown comfortable in my own skin and look forward to growing old gracefully.
NA: "Old" is certainly not an adjective I'd use in describing you!
To keep up with Anne's professional adventures, visit
Nelson Aspen is a regular contributor to We Love Soaps and popular broadcast journalist around the world. His new book, "My Prime Time" will be released this fall. You may visit him at www.nelsonaspen.com or follow him on Twitter @nelsonaspen.