Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Eric Sheffer Stevens: The We Love Soaps Interview (2 of 3)

In Part One of our interview with Eric Sheffer Stevens, the actor discussed getting into the acting profession and landing the role of Reid Oliver on AS THE WORLD TURNS. In Part Two below, the actor talks about the rehearsal process on a soap and shares his feelings about working with daytime legends like Don Hastings and Larry Bryggman.

We Love Soaps: You've done a lot of theater, but have you done a role this long before?
Eric Sheffer Stevens: No. The longest I did was [the Broadway show] "Coast of Utopia" which was a three-part massive trilogy at Lincoln Center that Thomas Stoppard wrote. That was three years ago. It was nine months once we extended it, but that was multiple characters in all three shows, so I wasn't attached to any of them. It didn't feel like I was living in one person's skin for that long like this is.

We Love Soaps: How did you adjust to how daytime is shot? You had a lot of lines. You're doing it one take and moving on versus rehearsal and preparing for a show.
Eric Sheffer Stevens: Right. I had the one day a few years ago on the other [New York soap] so I at least knew they don't rehearse. That was good to know going into it. I was shocked that you just walk into a room like this, and kind of just roughly block it, and then everybody's down on the floor, walk it through once for cameras and then tape it. You're used to rehearsing things over and over so by the time you actually come around to shooting your stuff you know it really well and feel confident about it and have made some good choices hopefully. As much as I thought I had prepared, that first day on this show I was a bit shell-shocked.

We did it, I was fine, then I couldn't find anybody to run lines with. I ended up just barely getting dressed and going down to the floor and meeting Jake [Silbermann]. It was the only time I was there and I think any time in his years there that he slept in and missed his alarm and didn't show up in the morning. So we never rehearsed. The first scene was when I actually show up at the hospital and I was just kind of staring through Van's eyes to the back of his skull trying to get through it, something about a silver spoon in his mouth. I was supposed to refer to my watch, and I'm holding a file, carrying a coat, then I'm supposed to hold Jake's arm and lead this blind guy through a door, and he kind of bumped into the door, and then they go, "Okay, that's a buy." And I'm like, "Really? You're going to keep that?" I couldn't believe they wanted to keep that and they did. And it ended up looking fine once all the cuts were in. And so after that first day I went, "I really need to know my stuff more than I thought." So I would drill it before I would show up at the studio.

We Love Soaps: This is such an historic show. They shot the pilot in 1955 and it had its debut in April 1956. Helen Wagner passed away in May but she was in the original pilot. There's nothing else that I know of where a person has done that. And for the first 20 years of WORLD TURNS it was live.
Eric Sheffer Stevens: That was one of my favorite things about working with Don [Hastings] and Kathy [Hays] is talking to both of them, and then when Larry [Bryggman] came on, about what it was like to do it live.

We Love Soaps: Can you imagine doing this live?
Eric Sheffer Stevens: They used to rehearse all morning. They would get together and do a read-through the night before. Then they would do a blocking and then they would go live. But the format that it is now, no way. I couldn't imagine. You'd have to figure out how to dig yourself out of several holes.

We Love Soaps: People did a lot of theater too. They would rehearse the show in the morning, it was live on the air and then do theater at night.
Eric Sheffer Stevens: Michael Park was doing a musical ("The Burnt Part Boys") all through the end. He was shooting during the day and then go to the theater at night.

We Love Soaps: So you're not a singer?
Eric Sheffer Stevens: I'm not.

We Love Soaps: That's what Van said but then he sang a song in a play "Dance Dance Revolution" called "Shake Your Ass For Freedom" and he was in tune. It was actually pretty good.
Eric Sheffer Stevens: I can hold a tune. I have a little folky voice, but I can't do a musical.

We Love Soaps: So Reid won't be singing before the end of the show?
Eric Sheffer Stevens: I can't say [laughs]. No.

We Love Soaps: I won't talk about exactly what happens, but are you satisfied with the conclusion of the character?
Eric Sheffer Stevens: Oh yeah. That was one of the interesting things about coming on when I did in the last year of the show. He had an arc which was nice. It was just one storyline that kind of goes through and then it has an ending. It is satisfying to not just leave the character hanging. I liked the way they wrapped it all up. I thought it was really well done.

We Love Soaps: Would you do another soap?
Eric Sheffer Stevens: Sure. There really aren't that many. There's only one here now. There were four here just two years ago.

We Love Soaps: You worked a little bit with Larry Bryggman (John Dixon). We did a countdown of the 50 Greatest Soap Actors of All Time recently and he came in at #3. For 35 years he played that character and did theater. What was it like working with him?
Eric Sheffer Stevens: I loved it. We only got to work together two weeks but I interacted with him all the time and I was honored. It was great to work with him. He's fantastic and he's just a lovely guy. He's very good.

We Love Soaps: Reid is a modern day John Dixon. The Reid and Chris rivalry is like a young John and Bob. My dream scene was John comes back and him and Bob are watching Chris and Reid argue and saying, "This is us, the next generation."
Eric Sheffer Stevens: That's funny.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Stay tuned for Parts Three in which Sheffer Stevens talks about his current project, Vermont Shakespeare Company's "Much Ado About Nothing," and the future.

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