Saturday, July 25, 2009

WLS Interview: Catching Up With Linda Cook, Part Two

In Part One of the We Love Soaps interview with soap veteran Linda Cook, the actress talked about moving around as a child, how she got into acting, and her memorable role as Laurie Ann on THE EDGE OF NIGHT. In the second and final part, Cook talks about her memorable run as Egypt on LOVING, her battle with breast cancer, the friendship she developed with Carroll O'Connor, and shares what she's up to now.

We Love Soaps: After your role as Lucy on ALL MY CHILDREN, you went the complete opposite direction with Egypt Jones on LOVING.
Linda Cook: Trash. Total trash. Trashy characters are the most fun.

We Love Soaps: Do you have any memorable scenes as Egypt that stand out in your mind?
Linda Cook: [Laughs] Oh, I just remember the scenes with Randy Mantooth where we'd have on our sneakers underneath the covers. Randy was always falling in love, in real life, with some brunette. Blondes were not his thing. I was like, 'I can't help it, Randy, I'm a blonde in this show.' He was funny in my audition. I had just come back from L.A. to do a show Off-Broadway, and was told there was an audition for the soap. One thing I learned out there was that no one has any imagination in casting when it comes to casting you in a part they don't think you're like. You have to absolutely go in like the character. They told me this character was trashy so I went in a really short, black dress and high heels. The casting guy at LOVING was so great. He said, 'You absolutely nailed it, but when you come back you have to wear something whore-ier.' And I went, 'Okay, I'll just look in my closet for the whore-y clothes.' I think I wore a turquoise tube top for a skirt, and pink tube top for a top. It just got trashier after that. I went there in character. Everybody else looked seriously sexy in black, and I looked like something out of a bubblegum machine. And they cast me.

We Love Soaps: What was the audition scene like?
Linda Cook: When we did the screen test, it was a scene about 'I'm back, and I'm know you're rich, and now you have all this money and never divorced me, ha ha, ha.' Everybody was playing it pretty tough and I was playing it like, 'Isn't this cool, I just hit the lottery, I'm so happy.' Randy was doing kind of a very low key read during the audition, and I leaned in and said, 'I'm a little deaf in this ear, could you talk a little louder?' Which is true. So he kind of looked at me like I was insane. And I played the scene like, 'Hi, how are you, I just won the lottery, yippee' and got part. Two or three months into it, one of the casting people who hadn't known me before said, 'Now that I know you, I never would have thought of you in a million years for this character.' And I said, 'I know. That's the problem.' I had been playing doctors and lawyers and stuff at that point.

We Love Soaps: I don't know if there's ever been another soap character named Egypt.
Linda Cook: [Laughs] I don't think so. I'm not sure there's ever been another character with that name. And not just Egypt, but Egypt Jones. I thought it was the best character name next to Sadie Thompson that I had ever heard. I would play her again anywhere in a heartbeat.

We Love Soaps: ABC owns the character, right? They could bring Egypt onto any of their current shows.
Linda Cook: [Laughs] Please, bring me back. She's only gotten trashier over the years. She's heavier and now she has read hair but still pretty trashy.

We Love Soaps: In addition to your soap roles, you've guest starred on several prime time shows like L.A. LAW, LAW & ORDER and IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT.
Linda Cook: [IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT] was so nice because I had done a show on Broadway with Carroll O'Connor and Frances Sternhagen. It was this four character play, and he played my dad. I played a college girl even though I was in my 30s at the time. No one caught on that I was older. I owe it all to Michael Attenborough, who was the director. He gave me the best note on how to play young saying, 'Just act like you know everything.' [Laughs] We got great reviews. The play was a little before its time and dared to have some jokes about Vietnam. Carroll and I got to be friends, and tried to hire me a couple of times [for IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT] but I had been working on something out of town. He knew I had just been through breast cancer in 1992 and needed credits toward insurance. Finally, his office called me and said, 'This is your last shot. This is the last show of the series and it's a two hour television movie.' He wrote me this great character who was this drunk woman whose husband was dead and her son was kind of a weird, Peeping Tom. That role was played by Josh Lucas, if you can believe it. The father-in-law was played by George C. Scott. I didn't know that until we had arrived. They shot it in Georgia outside Atlanta. He knew I was from there, and that's where I had met Patrick, so he offered to pay for a ticket for Patrick, and get us a rental car to see our old places. I got there about 10 o'clock at night and the driver picked us up and ask what I thought about working with George C. Scott, and I about died. I thought, 'Holy hell, I'm working with George C. Scott in the morning!' It was a really great week of shooting down there listening to him and Carroll telling war stories. Josh was an absolutely stunning young guy, and Carroll recognized his talent right away. He was like a young Paul Newman.

We Love Soaps: I didn't realize you had breast cancer. Was that between stints on LOVING?
Linda Cook: 1992. I was doing a show Off-Broadway at the time called "Dearly Departed" and I was getting ready to go out to L.A. I think I had just had like a million dollars worth of pictures taken with my long, blonde hair. The show we were doing was a really black comedy about death. In the very first scene, grandma and grandpa are getting a letter and grandpa falls off his chair and dies. I was doing that show and found a lump in my breast. It was like New Year's Eve and I thought, 'Holy shit.' I knew immediately what it was, but then I had to go in and do this show. And I couldn't get into a doctor for days after that because it was New Year's. I had great doctors, and we caught it early. Luckily I didn't have to lose a whole breast, just a little chunk. I did six months or so of chemo and radiation treatments, and lost all my hair. That's when I made the switch to being a red head.

We Love Soaps: What did you do with all those new headshots?
Linda Cook: Oh, I still have those, and I must say I look fabulous in them! I had new ones taken before my hair all fell out. Back then it was not cool to have cancer. It was starting to fall out and my friend recommended that I go buy a wig that I like and have my hair cut to match it. So I found this sort of punky, red wig and I had a guy cut my hair to match. I had just changed agents and went in to see my agent and my commercial agent and they loved it. Then three days later all my hair was gone and I had my wig on and nobody really knew about it until I got through the whole thing. I later told my theatrical agent and he said, 'How did you do that and we didn't know about it?' And I said, 'I'm just a really good actress.' I waited until I had done a couple of real hard shows like "Lips Together, Teeth Apart" and "Mothers." I wanted to wait until they could see that I was healthy. And I actually worked during that time doing commercials as well.

We Love Soaps: You were on AS THE WORLD TURNS as Cynthia around the same time, right?
Linda Cook: Actually with that character Cynthia, I had real short hair, and that was my real hair growing back. I remember that she was a total sex maniac.

We Love Soaps: You worked with Terry Lester?
Linda Cook: Yes, he played Royce. And they discovered they could tape our dress rehearsals because we would just go full out during them. So we never got a second shot at it. We basically got a read through, a camera blocking and then we taped it. It was sort of a forerunner to where they are now.

We Love Soaps: You made an appearance in ATWT a couple of years ago and things have changed a lot in how the show is produced. They generally do one take of everything.
Linda Cook: It's really weird. It's hard for the crew, the camera men and women, and it's very hard for the actors. You don't have any opportunity to adjust or get a critique or anything. I have nothing but admiration for everybody. It used to be in the olden days, when we were live, you would have a reading of the script the night before and everybody would make suggestions about lines they thought should be changed. Then the next morning we would have run throughs and rehearsals and dress rehearsals and you would get notes. There was a lot of time to adjust things, and now it's like instant acting. You have to be so on your toes and so sharp.

We Love Soaps: When you were working on THE EDGE OF NIGHT or doing LOVING or the other soaps, did you imagine that one day some of your episodes would be available to be seen again as they are on sites like YouTube today.
Linda Cook: No. My biggest fear was that I would say a curse word and get fired. I had been working in theater and as a dancer and touring so much that I had a pretty colorful vocabulary. And suddenly I was put into this P&G soap. I think Marilyn Chambers had just been fired from the front of the Ivory Snow box. She went into porn so there were all these clauses in our contracts saying if we did anything, anywhere, anytime to embarrass them they could fire us. So I was always thinking, 'Please, God, don't let me say a cuss word on live TV.' The first week I was on, I was replacing somebody and they put me in five shows in a row. I didn't know any better and learned all five shows over the weekend. Then I realized that you only learn one at a time or you'll make yourself insane. But I was so afraid I was going to screw up and that would all they wrote for that job. But I never thought classic soaps would be shown somewhere again.

We Love Soaps: With the cancellation of GUIDING LIGHT by CBS, we will be down to seven soaps on broadcast television come this fall. How do you feel about that?
Linda Cook: It is absolutely heartbreaking to me. I don't know so much about the west coast soaps, but in New York, it was the thing that helped young actors train and develop for television, film and theater. It also used so many character actors from the theater. I remember when I was LOVING, we went through six or seven producers in the first few years I was on. It was like 30 people came and went. We were jokingly called LEAVING. People would come in and wipe out whole families and veteran character actors. I think they made a huge mistake thinking young people only tuned in to see young people. I watched soaps in high school, and the stories that interested me were the ones where the young people interacted with the older ones because that's where the conflict came. When they started thinking the older characters were not interesting, they lost a lot of the flavor and depth that got people sucked into the storylines.

We Love Soaps: Would you sign a contract to do another soap full-time?
Linda Cook: Sure. But I don't think people want you to be on contract these days. There were and are so many wonderful actors who were on contract who have been taken off contract. I would be here in New York, so sure, it would be great. And days I'm not doing that I could do real estate and commercials.

We Love Soaps: How long have you been working real estate?
Linda Cook: About 12 years. I do sales and rentals, and all the relocations for the Netherlands Mission to the U.N. Everything from a five story brownstone to a studio apartment. I work with Custom Brokers and basically anything that's for rent or sale in New York, I can show.

We Love Soaps: Do any of your clients recognized you from your soap roles?
Linda Cook: Sometimes they do. Since I'm still acting, they are aware of it because I'll say I can't do this or that today because I have a callback at that time. The two of them go nicely together because I'm an independent contractor. I did a show at Lincoln Center where I took off seven months then I went back to real estate. Real estate is fascinating as an actress because I get to go into people's places and open their closets. [Laughs]

We Love Soaps: Thank you so much, Linda. It has been a real pleasure.

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