Wow, that went fast!” laughs Judi Evans of the nearly 30 years that have passed since she made her DAYS debut in 1987. “Back then, being kind of young, I didn’t really think about much further than what I was going to do that weekend! I’m just amazed that I’m still here and kicking. It’s pretty awesome.”
Evans, who spent her formative years in a traveling circus, realized as a teenager that acting was her calling. “When I was 15, I was a sophomore in high school, with plans of becoming a doctor,” she recalls. “My girlfriend convinced me to audition for the spring play, because she was auditioning. I got the part, and she didn’t. So I lost a friend. I took my junior and senior year together, and I graduated from high school at 16. I was in Northern College when I was about 16. I knew acting was what I wanted to do, so I said, ‘Let me get this high school thing over with and move on.’ ”
She got her big break in 1983, playing GUIDING LIGHT’s Beth, a role that earned her a Supporting Actress Emmy the following year. Despite all her years in the business, “I have nerves every single day,” Evans admits. “Since I started on GUIDING LIGHT, not a day goes by that I don’t have butterflies in my stomach. At the end of every day, I fully expect that I’m going to get a pink slip. I think they’re going to catch on that I really don’t know what I’m doing [laughs].”
Evans moved to Salem during the heyday of its supercouple era, and her pairing with Wally Kurth’s Justin proved to be an instant hit with the audience. “It was so wonderful,” she reflects. “We had a rapport right from the beginning. It was very unexpected for me. I think originally Wally was brought on for Melissa Horton. It blew me away that the story took off and grew into a 30-year marriage.” Her early scene partners also included Stephen Nichols (Steve) and Mary Beth Evans (Kayla), who are still in the cast today. “There are no better people that you could start your career at a show with than Stephen or Mary Beth,” she praises. “Right from the beginning, they set the bar pretty high. They’re both really wonderful. That’s what I really remember about the first few months is Mary Beth and Stephen, and of course, [the late] Joy Garrett [ex-Jo], as well.”
While she still feels the family vibe at the show — “It’s a great group of people” — Evans says that since the passing of Frances Reid (ex-Alice) in 2010, “There is a big hole. It’s like when the matriarch of a family passes away. It takes a long time to kind of get your legs again. Even though the cast is very close, and everybody is very supportive of each other, there certainly is a huge part that is missing since Frances passed.”
These days, she is especially close to Lauren Koslow (Kate) — “Lauren and I share a very special bond. I have two of her horses and a puppy” — as well as Kurth and Bryan R. Dattilo (Lucas). “We have a lot in common. We’re all married, we’ve all got boys. They’re just two wonderful guys.”
At home, her “wonderful guy” is Michael Luciano, who she wed in 1993. “We started out as very good friends, and our friendship has strengthened and deepened,” she says of her lasting union. “Of course, we now have a lot of history to share. We have a lot of humor. The only thing I wish is that we had more time to spend together. Unfortunately, with my two jobs, I’m not home a lot. But I think we’ve grown and matured as people.”
The couple still finds time for romance, though Evans has a pretty packed work week with her other job at Rose Hills Memorial Park, where she has been toiling since 2008, helping people arrange funeral services and cemetery properties. “He makes dinner for me a lot,” she smiles. “I come home late, and a lot of times, on my way home, I’ll phone Michael, and he’ll be ready for bed, but he’ll grill me a steak. There are times when I’m getting off of work and he’ll saddle both horses for us, so we can go out riding together.”
Despite the late nights and schedule juggling, Evans says she is happy to find herself back in the thick of things in Salem, and says her story will heat up in the months to come. “There is an interesting turn that it will take,” she teases. “So I’m excited to see how people will react to it.”
Though she may not be in touch with any of her Bay City cohorts — “It’s been so long. It’s kind of like college. You get on with your careers and lives” — she was happy to see GL love interest Vincent Irizarry (Deimos; ex-Lujack, below r.) pop up in Salem. “I was so excited when I heard. What a great character he’s playing, a very multifaceted, bad guy/good guy that you love and hate. He’s the perfect actor to play the role.” They had a Springfield reunion of sorts when Grant Aleksander (ex-Phillip, GL) visited the set one day. “That was so funny. I saw Grant out of the corner of my eye. It was really cool that Vincent, Grant and I all got to catch up. Grant looks exactly the same. He’s exactly the same.”
Did You Know?
• Her parents were both trapeze artists.
• Her son, Austin, played her on-screen son, Dante, on ANOTHER WORLD.
• Evans, her parents and three older brothers lived in a 15-foot trailer until the actress was 8.
JUST THE FACTS
Birthday: July 12
Hails From: “I was born in Montebello, California, but I grew up in Monterey Park. It has changed a lot. I’ve gone by to see family, and the hospital where I was born doesn’t look the way it did 52 years ago [laughs].”
Family Way: Evans married Michael Luciano on November 20, 1993. They have one son, Austin, 20. “Now that he’s an adult and living away at school, I don’t yell at him about cleaning his room,” she jokes.
Otherwise Known As: Beth Raines, GUIDING LIGHT 1983-86; Paulina Cory, ANOTHER WORLD, 1991-99; Bonnie Lockhart, DAYS, 2003-07
Trophy Case: “They’re in my living room,” she says of her Emmy and Soap Opera Digest Awards. “I have a big picture window. They’re right next to it, on the top shelf.”
Pet Set: “We have a yellow Amazon parrot that was my mother’s, and we just call the bird ‘The Bird’. We have a German Shepherd, Sadie, a Labradoodle, Bruce, and Lauren [Koslow, Kate] gave us an Australian Shepherd, Joey.”
Recent Binge-Watch: “I binge-watched all of SIX FEET UNDER, for obvious reasons, and lately I’ve been binge-watching LAW & ORDER, season 3 to season 10. I have them all on DVR, and so when I have a down hour or so, I watch another episode of LAW & ORDER. For years, I had a secret crush on Sam Waterston.”