Friday, July 22, 2011

INTERVIEW: Julia Barr Reflects On Her Career and Brooke English, Part 1 of 2

Emmy Award-winning actress Julia Barr grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where she caught the acting bug at age 8 in a local youth theater group. She appeared in a production of "Peter Pan" when she was 13 and continued acting while attending high school and college, as a theater major on a regional campus of Purdue University.

In June 1976 she landed the role of ALL MY CHILDREN's Brooke English, where she stayed for 30 years playing one of Pine Valley's most beloved characters (and Erica Kane's biggest rival). In 2010, she appeared on the show's 40th Anniversary special later returning for a three month run. In September, she will return to AMC once again as the show comes to a close on ABC.

In this exclusive new two-part interview with WE LOVE SOAPS TV, Barr reflects on her career, shares thoughts on her historic ALL MY CHILDREN run, discusses the show's move to the web, and updates us on her other projects and more.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What was your journey from Indiana to New York City? Was your dream to do theater here?
Julia Barr: When I left school I had friends who were living in Buffalo and working at the Studio Arena Theater. I wasn't quite sure I was ready to go to New York [City] yet so I thought I would just go by way of Buffalo [laughs]. I did get my Equity card there. I was working in the box office and there was a package tour of "A Girl in My Soup" with Van Johnson coming in. There was a tiny role of the Italian babysitter available which was the only character that wasn't part of the tour. I did the show at night and was in the box office during the day. I got paid the Equity rate for doing both jobs! And I got my Equity card so I was really happy.

I had gotten married in Buffalo to my first husband and he and I decided to move to New York. He was a stage manager for a long time. An actress named Lynn Thigpen had come to Buffalo to do a show, and we became friends. When I came to New York she introduced me to her agent who started to represent me. So the rest is history. I did THE ADAMS CHRONICLES, some dinner theater in Montgomery, Alabama, went back to Buffalo to do "Scapino."

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Was doing theater your goal at that point? What did you want to do?
Julia Barr: I had always done theater and always loved it, but when you're new and starting out you audition for anything and everything. A job is a job. Whatever job came up I took it.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Then you got cast in RYAN'S HOPE [as Serena 'Reenie' Szabo]. What do you remember about that stint?
Julia Barr: It was supposed to be a two year contract. But they sort of redefined what they wanted their storylines to be and I guess they didn't want a criminal element. I was brought in as the daughter of a mafia guy so they ended that story after six months. We all went out as a group including Michael Fairman (Nick) who played my father. My first love on the show was played by Justin Deas (Bucky).

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: It actually worked out for the best for you because you landed on ALL MY CHILDREN shortly after that.
Julia Barr: Right. They were replacing and aging up the current actress who was playing Brooke (Elissa Leeds). But I didn't know I was auditioning for that role at first. I auditioned with Daren Kelly who played the boy next door, Dan Kennicott, who my character abused and teased regularly. I didn't know who I was playing except some girl, and I thought I gave a very bad audition. I didn't expect to hear from them but I think they had already seen me on air on RYAN'S HOPE, so the bad audition didn't count that much against me.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Brooke was a bit of a wild child back then. In your wildest dreams did you think you would play this character for so long?
Julia Barr: I think in any profession you can go into a job and think in terms of how it's going to fulfill your needs, but not in terms of time, not at all. Part of it is you keep continuing because you like what you do, and it satisfies you on some level, but this one turned out to be 30 years. When you're young, I don't think doing anything for 30 years computes.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Brooke was the niece of Phoebe, played by the legendary Ruth Warrick. What was it like working with her?
Julia Barr: It was very interesting. We fairly quickly developed a real bond. She was a character, no doubt about it. She had a reputation of being a film star and a television star. I think I was somewhat in awe of her starting out. The roles were written really well together and we fit them well, and then our own personal dynamic filled that out. I loved working with Ruth.

She would come in every morning and look one way and you didn't know what would come together when we started taping. But there she would be in all her glory, and know her lines, and she was Phoebe.

My mother was so excited when I got the role on ALL MY CHILDREN because she watched AS THE WORLD TURNS and knew Ruth from that [as Edith Hughes]. I didn't know much about her when I started and then found out about Citizen Kane and all the other work she had done. She was a true professional. I don't think I could have been at the knee of anybody much better to get started.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: ALL MY CHILDREN had such a great older cast for so long. That helped draw me to the show having the older generation advising the younger characters. I think that's been missing in the past decade.
Julia Barr: I don't think we were the only soap that was multi-generational but it definitely was part of the fabric. You would have the middle-aged married couples, and in the summer they would bring on one or two teenagers.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: When I think about the success of Erica Kane, I can't imagine that would have happened without Mona. Or Cliff and Nina without Palmer and Daisy and Myra. Somewhere along the way network executives kind of lost their sense of what soaps are all about.
Julia Barr: It's a combination of losing the sense of it or not giving the genre the due it deserves and respecting why it has maintained for so long. I think they thought they could change things up and make it more hip and current and all kinds of other things, and that's fine because you have to stay with the times. I think our show did that especially with sociological or cultural issues like dealing with AIDS or drug intervention or Mothers Against Drunk Driving. It spoke to people on a lot of levels, and one of those reasons was it was multi-generational. It had a fabric people related to.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Early on Brooke and Erica formed a rivalry over Tom Cudahy. What do you think it was about those two characters that made fans love to see them battle it out over the years?
Julia Barr: I don't know [laughs]!

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: When Brooke returned last year, more than anything I wanted to see her have some type of conflict with Erica.
Julia Barr: They did write as much as they could within the time constraints of what other storylines they were accommodating when I was there. We did have some nice scenes. I particularly liked how we sort of thawed for a moment when I wanted her to help Adam because I was leaving.

What I think is when two people who are opposites are equal, when they're balanced, they are the most fun to watch. If you ever saw The Fugitive with Tommy Lee Jones and Harrison Ford, they were evenly matched. They gave as good as they got. With Erica and Brooke, they have similarities. They're forceful women. They're dynamic and have a certain energy. But they look at the world very differently. You have all those other things that match them in a certain way but the humor comes from the fact that they deal with the world very differently.

It was always great to have scenes with Susan [Lucci]. We would talk about our children or something to do with our families, and then it would be time to go "rawr."

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Your portrayal of Brooke was critically acclaimed as well. You received eight Emmy nominations and won two Emmys. What do you think was your best work on ALL MY CHILDREN?
Julia Barr: I happen to look at some old tapes recently online on YouTube and it was all the fallout after the death of Brooke and Tom's daughter, Laura. That storyline, and I feel it's true of most of the storylines that dealt with serious issues, was really covered on multiple levels. They examined the complexity of what this does to people and their relationships--how Tom was affected and Adam was affected, and it was great writing. If you have good writing like that, there's nothing you can't do. I think that was some of my best work.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: It really stands the test of time too.
Julia Barr: I completely agree. This is something I don't think I had even seen back then after they were done. I was looking at them and thinking how good they were. They got to the core of what a horrible thing had happened. It was like dancing. Good writing has an emotional rhythm.

And I had good storylines after that since that was a long time ago. I loved all the stuff with David Canary and John Callahan. All the stuff they did with David and I because he and I are equal partners also. But I think I did my best stuff when the writing was really strong. You need the writing underneath you.

Continue reading...

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. I am more excited about Brooke's return than anyone else.

  2. Loving this interview!

  3. Wonderful interview! I can't wait to see her this September! AMC is lost without her!
    Julia Rocks!!

  4. Trivia - Drake Hogestyn also was born and grew up in Fort Wayne, Ind.

    Nice to hear from Julia. Was so upset the way AMC fired her back then. Glad the show asked her back a few times.