Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Timothy D. Stickney: The WLS Interview, Part Three

In Parts One and Two of our exclusive and fascinating interview with Timothy D. Stickney, the multi-talented artist discussed his draw to classical Shakespearean theater, his reaction to being told he doesn't "exist" as a black man in the arts, his response to ignorance and prejudice in his professional career, as well as his meticulous attention to R.J.'s dialogue on ONE LIFE TO LIVE.  In the third and final part below, Stickney reveals racism that took place on and off screen, and ways that we can all be part of affecting change in our communities. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: In 12 years I don’t remember R.J. Gannon ever having one hot and heavy love scene.  The other men that started in 1994-95 were constantly taking their clothes off.  How much of that was racially motivated?
Timothy D. Stickney: I often had opportunities squashed.  They will never, ever say it this way, but I had opportunities squashed because of the racist population in their audience.  It wasn't even people who consider themselves “racist,” but people who become very uncomfortable with stories that mixed different races. 

There was a crime-based story that could have put the Gannon family in the forefront.  The bad guy was not going to belong to any specific group, but he was a racist who didn’t like all the mixing of friends and romantic partners in Llanview.  They decided to cut that part out.  They also had the false realization that the same viewers weren’t as disturbed by Latino characters because they didn’t think of them as “black” or whatever.  They were almost “white” which meant they didn’t get the same amount of letters.  So a lot of opportunity went away from us and then was rewritten to involve the Vega family and their friends.  And we were out.  That was that.

One of the last quiet fears in America is still the “Mandingo Syndrome,” the fear of the black man’s sexuality.  Generally, when he is depicted in mainstream media, he is either a bookworm, awkward, or with no sexual attraction at all, so that he can be brilliant and rich.  Or, he’s all sexual drive and physical attraction with very little intellect.  So as R.J., if I flirted with someone and they noticed or responded, then it had to be with my brother’s girlfriend or his ex or whatever.  I thought, “I could try to fight them on this.  But R.J. is intelligent, he is frequently wealthy, so I’ll at least get two out of three.  If I also go for sexually viable I might cut my own throat.”  So I decided never to fight them on that.  I let them do what they were going to do with that.  There simply were no characters of color that were intelligent, wealthy, and sexually viable. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: And really still aren’t. 
Timothy D. Stickney: No, you either have to be a hypochondriac, or you can’t dance, or you’re fat.  Nothing against people who are overweight, I have been fighting that my whole life.  I have fought to be the weight I want to be, let alone what others want me to be.  I understand that.  I was in L.A. for a stretch of time, auditioning a lot.  I am a New York classically trained actor so initially all I went in for were serial killers roles and nut jobs.  They asked my agent one day, “Can he be funny?” He said, “You’re not giving him funny scripts, you’re giving him killers.” I had about a month and a half of sitcom auditions.  It went down to wire on many of them.  But usually, in the callback stage, everyone else in the room would be the fat black guy because he is not considered sexually threatening.  When the fat black guy walks into the scene no one sends their daughters out of the room. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: How do you not take these classifications and limitations personally?
Timothy D. Stickney: That’s the struggle for a professional artist.  On one level it is entirely personal.  But on the working level, in order to survive in this business, that is just the reality.  How angry can I be that I breathe air, and that I have to breathe every few seconds? It can be frustrating.  But if I waste all of my time focusing on that I won’t get anything done.  I make note of it, I’m aware of it.

When I have the power in a situation, I try to be very wary of my own prejudices, judge the caliber and quality of the work, and not grind any axes from my past.  I try not to create a new situation in which someone comes away saying, “Black directors never cast me because of this...”  But there is much to be dealt with in this society that hasn’t been dealt with.  We pretend it’s no longer an issue.  However, we tend to remember the things that block our way.  I am probably a much more sensitive and more human actor of depth because I’ve had to step back and see the situation, as opposed to just riding a continual wave of success and acceptance.  People who have that journey have very little introspection or world view.  That’s how I deal with it. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: How does society move forward and get to the point of having less of these artificial classifications and stereotypes for black men?
Timothy D. Stickney: Unfortunately it’s a one-by-one conversion.  They have to have an experience where they truly meet the person who they consider as foreign.  They have to encounter that person in their shoes.  They have to have that epiphany moment of, “He or she is just like me!”

Race is really bullshit.  Okay, yeah, historically there is a lot of energy with that and a lot of vibration and momentum toward believing that we are different creatures.  But I prefer to believe that we are all the same, it’s all energy.  Once you accept that then it’s easier.  We are holding onto these separations because we get something from them.  They give us either security or power and that is very alluring.  But energy is a constant.  It is the same.  Once you get past your death grip on your physical construct of power and affluence, and accept that you are no better or worse than the creature next to you, whether it’s four legged, winged, black, white, whatever, then it’s a happier journey.

We are only human, we want to feel safe.  We want to keep what we think we’ve got.  If that means I hold onto this little bit of prejudice about you, it is very hard to get people to change.  I’ve had some very cool hippie conversations with friends of European decent.  I would say to them, “The problem is that you have an implied rightness.  If we were both running down the street screaming ‘help me’, who do you think people would run to help, you or me? If you ran in front of me, and I was behind you, who do you think people would assume needed help?  And if you ran behind me, who would they assume needed help? Would you give up your implied rightness?  All you have to do is tell me you would give it up.  Obviously that won’t do anything. But tell me you would have the world treat you on first sight the way they treat me on first sight.”  They aren’t able to do that.  They’re not willing to give up something that didn’t believe they had. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: A lot of people aren’t willing to look at how privilege operates in every day examples.  In subways, on the streets, in department stores, there is always an element of this.  I do think it is important we all find ways to look at that without shame or guilt or blame.  Just to acknowledge that this is the world we are in, this is a reflection of that world.
Timothy D. Stickney: It is what it is.  You didn’t create it.  You don’t hold responsibility for it.  But don’t deny that you profit from it.  Just like there are gender differences.  I have a different experience at the mechanics than my wife does.  I have no more ability than she does.  Similarly, she is going to get more bargains at the store because she is a woman.  It cuts all ways. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You gave an interview in 1996 in which you said, “You just have to be able to laugh at yourself.”  Do you still feel that way?
Timothy D. Stickney: Absolutely. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: How do you do this given the world and society we’ve been discussing?
Timothy D. Stickney: The first thing that pops into my head is George Carlin, who I miss very much.  In the grand scheme of things, none of this matters.  For me today, I have issues, I have problems I can not solve, bills I can’t pay. But, in the larger view, what does it matter?  George Carlin was talking about every one going green to save the world.  But we’re not trying to save the world, we are trying to save ourselves.  The world is going to be here.  She’s going to shrug us off, wait a Millenia, and have a new creature come up and see if maybe it doesn’t create plastic and the atom bomb.  Knowing that, how really crucial terrible is it if tonight I totally bomb, if the audience hates me, if they leave at intermission?  Yeah, it’s bad.  But the sun will rise [laughs]. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What’s coming up for you?
Timothy D. Stickney: I’m back up to Canada for the Stratford Festival where I love working.  It’s a lovely environment, it is great people.  It’s nice to be embraced for what I do.  Often in film and television they wish I’d be something else.  They meet me and they wish I was a rapper.  I had to ask the universe for people who wanted me for what I am and what I do.  Fortunately and unfortunately it took me to Canada.  I’ll be there for my fourth season in a row.  But I would love to work at home, I would love to work in the United States.  In the last four years I’ve only worked in the States for about four months.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Any chance we may see R.J. back in Llanview? He has a lot of rich history with many characters still on the show.  Bo, Nora, Dorian, Christian, all have ties to R.J.
Timothy D. Stickney: Well, they didn’t kill me.  I’m still lurking about.  I’m told that every now and then I’m used as a boogie man.  “R.J. did this, R.J. did that...”  so that’s positive.  I think we’ve always had a good working relationship so I’m not opposed to that.  I understand soaps are shrinking, both in their audience, and in their commitment to cast and story.  But I think I’m easy to work with.  And I think we’ve created a good villain over time.  It would be interesting for me to see where he is now. 

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Therapist now accepting new clients in New York City.  He is also the author of the popular book "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve," currently available at Amazon.com. For more information about scheduling an appointment, please email him at [email protected].


  1. I hope Mr. Stickney knows of the many MORE fans who watched OLTL hoping against hope to see R.J. in a story of his own with WOMEN all over him. I know I did. He was, is and will always be the kind of actor I respond best to, the kind of actor I once hoped I could be (breaking barriers) had I the courage to rise above a damning self-perception as an unhireable minority, the kind of actor that should be cast as a lead as wide as the human imagination.

    Kudos to you, Damon, for doing this interview and giving this great actor such care.

  2. I loved the Gannon family on OLTL. It saddened me to see them marginalized and then disappeared.

    I miss Mr. Stickney's RJ. I wish he would return to OLTL.


    Thank you for your insightful and realistic interview. I'm always impressed by how you and Roger are forthright in your examination of privilege and prejudice. I wish more

  3. Thank you Mr. Stickney for your candor. It is sorely needed especially now in these, the genre's waning days. I can honestly saw that as a black woman and knowing what I know now about the behind the scenes practices, I regret ever giving OLTL a moment of my viewership. Of course if I hadn't I would've missed out on the magic of Mr. Stickney's talent.

    And thank you Damon for shining a light on this subject.

  4. Thanks for this wonderful interview with Timothy D. Stickney. His statements should open readers' eyes! Thanks, Damon!

  5. Thank you all so much for your comments. I am most happy doing these interviews when I have an opportunity to share someone's truth. I am grateful that Mr. Stickney gave me this chance to partake in this unique and necessary dialogue.

  6. As a African American male it pains me that daytime literally has a fear of black sexuality. With a few notable exceptions. Black love in daytime is rarely played to the levels that are reserved for say John and Marlena (Days), Victor and Nikki (Y&R) etc.

    It even pains me more that African American characters in general are regulated to side stories and social issues. Despite a few notable exceptions it just doesn't seem it is going to happen before the genre comes to an end.

    I watched Passions because it showed African Americans in diverse roles as leads along side the rest of the cast. So you would think that OLTL that once cornered the market under Ellen Holly their first daytime star would mine its history and its audience and give us the competent diversity and stories that brought the show to fame.

  7. David,

    Sadly, Ellen Holly's experience on OLTL has never been repeated. The show simply has not allowed a black woman the kind of long term success she experienced in the late 1960s through the early 1980s.

    After Paul Rauch purged OLTL of African Americans, the show has repeatedly brought in black performers and then marginalized them and fired them. Over and over.

    All My Children is the only show currently on air that seems to give its African American cast good storylines. Y&R makes a feint effort at it with the character of Lily but, in many ways, she is treated as virtually white. The other African American characters are sidelined with minor stories.

    It's sad to see how little progress daytime has made in 40 years since Ellen Holly debuted on OLTL.