Friday, July 8, 2011

INTERVIEW: From Theater to TV to the Web - Joan Van Ark, Part 2

Soap fans know legendary actress Joan Van Ark best for her iconic role as Valene Ewing on KNOTS LANDING, which she played for over a decade. She also has an extensive theater background, including a Tony nomination, and has appeared in a number of other television shows and films. In 2011 she joined the world of indie web series with a hilarious and spot on appearance in PRETTY. In this exclusive new two-part interview, find out more about the beloved actress, her thoughts on a storied career and much more.

In Part 1, Van Ark discussed her early career and KNOTS LANDING. In Part 2 below, she shares more thoughts on her time on KNOTS, her stint on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS, and working on Indie Soap Award-winning PRETTY.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: The last season of KNOTS LANDING was hard to take without Val. She was the heart of the show.
Joan Van Ark: Well, it was my fault. I jumped over to NBC to do a pilot which did not sell. I was so ready to go, after fourteen years with the one lady, so I auditioned for the pilot and they cast me. It wasn't as cleanly negotiated as it should have been. When the pilot didn't sell, they asked me back, and I did do the four-hour finale of the show.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Gary was paired with someone else and it really didn't work.
Joan Van Ark: Stacey Galina is a brilliant little actress, but I think Gary-Val were like Luke and Laura. Some characters and actors are meant to be together, and that was Gary and Val.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You are a runner. Was Valene's running on KNOTS LANDING because of you or did they just happen to write that in for the character?
Joan Van Ark: David Jacobs, the creator of the show that I adore, put it in the pilot, Valene running on the beach in the sand. He said Valene from Texas might have never sen the ocean. He put that in because I loved running. He gave me a color photo blow up of that, and I have it in my office.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: KNOTS was always on against very stiff competition - HILLS STREET BLUES and L.A. LAW.
Joan Van Ark: Those are the two shows that didn't let us have the ink we might have had. I think people in the industry thought KNOTS was too pedestrian and the other two shows were more cutting edge.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Ted Shackelford is on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS as Jeff paired with a character named Gloria, which you actually originated. But the two of you never appeared on the show at the same time.
Joan Van Ark: I left before Ted came on. He has said in several interviews that he didn't think they would connect those characters if I was still playing Gloria. He's probably right on that. I wouldn't imagine they would link us up.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: That's happened on daytime a number of times in the past. A show would bring on actors from a popular couple on another show and it just didn't work for some reason.
Joan Van Ark: I think the audience was probably drawn to the strength of the other pairing and doesn't find the new pairing as strong. I don't think I would put the same two people together like that.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Daytime has become even faster paced over the years to the point of hardly having any rehearsal, and sometimes just doing one take of a scene.
Joan Van Ark: I couldn't have been treated better. They were so generous and accommodating. But the rhythm is so fast. You get there at 7 in the morning, and go to make-up, and then you shoot it in one take, unless you've fallen off a chair and broken your nose [laughs]. That is tough for me as an actress. Maybe it's the theater in me where we have a least a little rehearsal. But I couldn't have been more beautifully accommodated with and I'm in total awe of all of them on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS. Since I left the show I have watched it, which I didn't do when I was on it, and I see how brilliant they are so I just say God Bless them. They are amazing.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I've always been so impressed when visiting a studio to see an actor get so much emotion out of a scene in one take.
Joan Van Ark: It's unbelievable. The ones that are skilled at that quick process I think it's mind boggling.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: So how did you hook up with PRETTY? Was it through (creator) Steve Silverman?
Joan Van Ark: It was Steve who knows my daughter. She does a lot of stand-up and voice overs and things which are in Steve's world. She called me one day and said somebody is going to email you about a part he wants you to do. Steve emailed me and explained his show and the concept and gave me the link. Besides just loving Steve right away, I watched all the shows and loved the concept. I loved them having an adult actress (Stacy McQueen) playing a young girl. They are doing it as TODDLERS & TIARAS meets AB FAB, which is my desired next zip code, and I loved the characters, so I wanted to do it. It was really just the capper on the end of Season Two. I never worked with the cast. We were isolated on a Saturday morning in the San Fernando Valley at an undisclosed location, which was like an old shoe factory or something [laughs].

I did something for the first time in my entire working life, let them do my hair and make-up from head to toe. I had to take a deep breath, and Steve wisely had no mirrors in the entire place, except a small one in the restroom. I caught a glimpse of myself and was terrified. I thought I looked like a man in drag. But that was the whole idea, taking a chance, letting go and trying to recreate Annette Champagne down the line.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I thought the whole thing was brilliant and you looked great.
Joan Van Ark: What I wanted to do was much more of Annette's voice, the way Stacy's done it. I had rehearsed it that way.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: It was totally perfect. Steve is so naturally funny to come up with this concept.
Joan Van Ark: Here's how I know. I've been blessed to work with the great Ryan Murphy and Steve is a junior Ryan Murphy. This is not my first rodeo. Right away I had a sense that he's got it. I trusted him and I did something I've never done from the Kennedy Center to Broadway to everywhere. I said you do your thing and I'll do mine and we collaborated and there you are.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Watch Van Ark on the PRETTY Season Two finale below.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: If you could go back to the beginning of your career, and give yourself one piece of advice, knowing what you know now, what would you tell yourself?
Joan Van Ark: Wow. What a f--king question. I've been so blessed. Don't stress maybe? But I still would. I feel like I'm the same character and personality and have the same rhythm I had when I started out at Yale. I'm the same damned Gemini I've always been. I would try to say to relax. I might say don't be so completely exacting, but I know myself and I wouldn't listen now or then [laughs]. Here's my deal -- if you're going to to go rehearsal or go for a part or go to work, go for an "A" or just stay home. A "C" doesn't do it for me. I've got to get an "A." I would say try to give up a little but the other Gemini twin would say, "You idiot. You know good and well you're not going to do that." But that might be the advice, not to be perfect every single minute.

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 and is currently an associate producer on THE BAY and executive producer on the upcoming indie short May Mercy Lie.


  1. Thanks for the GREAT piece. I am the world's biggest KL fan. JVA is one of the greatest actresses.

  2. I'll battle you for that title! :) KNOTS had such critically acclaimed competition from NBC during its entire run or else it might have been #1. It did amazingly well considering all the HILL STREET BLUES and LA LAW hype. I loved the other primetime soaps of the time, especially early DALLAS, but KNOTS will always be the most special to me.

  3. Joan is everything you dream she will be: A talented, funny, smart, totally proud to admit she's a diva, diva. It was an honor to work with her.

  4. If anyone has or is getting the KL 1st season DVD, watch the alternate Pilot with voiceover. Ted and Joan do such a great job with it, they dish about behind-the-scenes and compare then to now, and there are several funny parts too.

    Thanx for the interview, Roger!