Why Are Big Soap Stars Taking On Small Roles?

by | January 15, 2011 at 12:27 PM | Deep Soap

A Martinez is The Latest Soap Star Taking on a Short Term Role

This week, Daytime Emmy winner A Martinez, who will always be best known as Cruz on “Santa Barbara” but also played major roles on “General Hospital” and “One Life To Live,“  signed on to appear as a doctor named Ramon Montgomery for four episodes of “The Bold & the Beautiful.”  Bill (Don Diamont) will hire Ramon to conduct a paternity test because he doubts Amber’s  (Adrienne Frantz) claims that Liam (Scott Clifton) is the father of her baby. 

Real Andrews, who played contract roles on “General Hospital” and “As The World Turns” was just cast in a short term role as an FBI agent on “All My Children.”

Another Daytime Emmy winner, Melissa Hayden, just did two episodes of “The Young & the Restless.” Kimberlin Brown played a judge on ‘All My Children’ – the ultimate throwaway role on daytime.

While the appearances of former primetime and film stars in small daytime roles is generating a lot of press, casting big stars as dayplayers is a new trend.

It’s a product of the new economic realities of the entertainment industry in general and daytime in particular.  Actors who would have only considered starring roles in daytime find that their opportunities have diminished in the six soap era.  There simply are not as many parts.  Soaps welcome the chance to get a highly skilled actor for a small role who might have a few fans who will watch just to see them.

Soap salaries have also fallen.  That means that when an actor’s contract role comes to an end, they might not have that much money socked away.  Younger actors have a good shot at making the leap to primetime, as shown by the recent example of Tika Sumpter, who landed a juicy recurring role on “Gossip Girl” almost immediately after leaving “One Life To Live,” and Thad Luckinbill, who did the same as on “Nikita.”  But older actors do not have as many opportunities to make the transition, and are left scrambling for whatever parts are available, even roles that would have been considered a step down for them even three years ago.

I always have mixed feelings about seeing an actor I love in a smaller role.  On one hand, I’m thrilled to see them again and happy that are able to continue doing the work that they love.  On the other, it feels wrong to see them as something other than the center of the action.  It’s like they have been demoted.  It is a show biz cliché that there are no small roles, only small actors.  Given that every soap star that I have seen in a supporting role – unlike some primetime and film performers – gives their all to the part, it seems that they agree.  But that still does not mitigate the strangeness of seeing Martinez playing such a tiny part.  I hope Brad Bell’s claims that this could just be a way of introducing the character, who is an old friend of Bill’s, turn out to be true.

A Defense of Soap Stripping

First, a brief “General Hospital” sidebar:  Olivia (Lisa LoCicero) still does her nearly 30-year-old son Dante’s (Dominic Zamprogna) laundry?  Was that supposed to be funny or charming?  It makes me annoyed at Dante for being a lazy Mama’s boy and annoyed at Olivia for enabling him. A man who does not clean up after himself is the opposite of sexy.

And now to the GH main event, which also has to do with clothing, or the removal of it.  Earlier this week, Michael (Chad Duell) watched in horror as his stripper girlfriend stripped.  Abby had repeatedly told Michael she did not want him to see her perform.  Because Michael, despite being an overall sweet guy, was raised by Sonny (Maurice Benard) and therefore believes that he has the right to disregard women’s wishes because men always know best, he went anyway.  There he saw Abby, wearing more clothes than most women wear to the beach, dancing languidly.  He was shocked that the club patrons – men who pay to ogle naked women – were leering at her.  What really upset him was that Abby did not seem to be having the time of her life, that it was clearly something she did not particularly enjoy but was doing for money.  Given that for the past few months the majority of her dialogue has been, “Stripping is something I don’t particularly enjoy, but I do it for money,” I don’t know why he was so shocked and enraged, but it triggered Michael’s PTSD anger.  He equated Abby’s chosen profession to his still alleged – maybe, the show still hasn’t decided – sexual assault in prison.

The scenes made me realize what was bothering me about this storyline.  Why does the fact that Abby dislikes stripping make her a better person?  I think it would be interesting if she were the caring, compassionate person the audience has come to like, and she found stripping an enjoyable way to earn a living.  It’s not something I would want to do, but unlike being a hit man or a mobster – socially acceptable occupations in Port Charles – it is a completely legal occupation that does not hurt anybody.  There are plenty of strippers in high end clubs who make six figures for working less than 40 hours a week.   That’s more than paralegals – Abby’s eventual career goal — make.  Some of them undoubtedly find it preferable to working in an office, waitressing or retail, which all have plenty of their own humiliations and frustrations. If Abby were someone who enjoyed performing and was not self-conscious about being nude in public, would that make her an unsuitable love interest for Michael?  If Michael accepted her career even if he didn’t understand it, would that make him less heroic?  They do have one of the most potentially interesting relationships on the show.  They invert a lot of the soap gender clichés.  He’s barely legal, she’s a few years older.  She’s sexually experienced.  He’s a virgin. It would be nice if GH could throw out the cliché of the stripper with a heart of gold who needs to be rescued by a knight in shining armor.