Judi Evans on the Art of Living Dangerously
From Circus Clown to Emmy-Award Winning Actress, Judi Finds Peril in Performing — and Loves it!
Some people like to take a walk on the wild side every now and then. Others just kind of hum a few bars and fake it. But “Guiding Light’s” Judi Evans (Beth Raines) is one cool lady who knows firsthand how to live on the edge — literally. When you grow up under the big top’s bright lights, the daughter of two trapeze artists, that’s not surprising. Although Judi never got into her parents’s act, Evans did, on occasion, sail through the air, and she was also known to tiptoe across a tightrope when the spirit moved her. Was it dangerous? Not when you’re a five-year-old who knows the ropes. “Actually, they put a mechanic around my waist and two ropes over it and people on the ground held on so I didn’t fall,” Judi admits. “It was really great fun; just like flying.”
Judi Evans is a vivacious, naturally pretty young woman who does not need makeup to enhance her looks. This day she’s dressed plainly in white slacks and a matching white top. Her un-made-up face is framed by long blonde hair followed by falling past her shoulders and highlighting her deep blue eyes. Between mouthfuls of chicken at a cozy Italian restaurant in Manhattan, Evans speaks fluidly and openly about her life. When she wasn’t playing high wire, young Judi was hard at work, romping around the ring as a clown, delighting audiences with crazy antics while living out what is clearly every child’s fantasy. Imagine having the lion tamer for a next door neighbor and the bearded lady as a frequent guest, not to mention entertaining the likes of snake charmers and fire-eaters. “Well, it was pretty neat,” says Judi, who recalls of her childhood, “I felt I had something different from anyone else. I felt like I was almost privileged.” The circus is like one big family where everyone takes care of everyone else. It’s like a big urban housing project. Everyone knows your life in detail because you’re with them all the time — especially your family.
In the circus, the term “close-ness” takes on a whole new meaning, the actress laughs. But living in a 15-foot trailer with her parents and three older brothers was also a great character builder. “You really got to know each other and learned to accept things and to relax,” Judi explains. However, it wasn’t all play for the Evans kids. For several hours each day, their father made sure they studied books. Consequently, when Judi was eight and the family traded in their trailer for a house in the suburbs, Evans and her brothers were way ahead of the other children in school. Was it difficult to adjust to the humdrum if normal life after spending her early years amidst the magic of the circus? Not at all, Evans answers without hesitating, though she believes that her experience made her more outgoing that the rest of the children in her class.
It’s hardly surprising that Judi later chose acting as a career. Although she originally wanted to become a doctor, Evans changed her mind after appearing in a high school play. “I was performing with a lot of friends and we had fun. And it was the applause, too. You know, that’s very exciting.” However, it was college theater which really propelled Evans toward her goal and soon she was taking workshops in Hollywood, where she credits her excellent teachers with making her appreciate the essence, as well as the ultimate danger of acting. “They made acting very exciting, very dangerous, and that’s what I think is the most exciting thing about it. Acting is dangerous,” she stresses, her eyes suddenly full of fire and the kind of exuberance generated by the willingness to take the risk. And Judi Evans, looking every bit the picture of an Ivory Soap Girl, is a risk-taker from way back. “In acting the only thing you have to sell is yourself. It’s an emotional danger more than a physical one. I can be working today and then tomorrow be out on the street. That makes it dangerous and exciting. What you rely on is that danger.”
Working on a soap opera, however, does lessen the risk. “It’s a very safe life. It’s 9-5, and you do it and go home and you know, or are pretty sure the next day you’re going to be there. So it almost takes the danger out and you have to keep putting it in. In fact, I audition for commercials and that keeps the danger there and alive.”
Spontaneity is the one reason the California born and bred Judi finds New York more to her liking than Los Angeles. “L.A. is great but it’s more of a vacation there. It’s so much faster here because the electricity the electricity is on the streets.” Although it took Evans awhile to get accustomed to some of the city’s finer aspects, such as the infamous subway system, now the actress rides the trains all the time — especially during rush hour. But one thing Judi hasn’t adjusted to entirely is her new celebrity and Evans confesses that when fans approach her, she’s often at a loss for words. “I have this thing in my head that I don’t look the same on T.V. — that I’m not the same person.” To millions of viewers Judi Evans is indeed Beth Raines, but as the actress explains, when she leaves the studio, she also leaves her character behind. “I can’t be Beth when I’m not there. My father always told me that the minute you walk through those stage doors, you’ve got to be that person. So, when I walk on set, she’s there and that’s it. When they say ‘cut,’ then it’s back to being me. I just don’t know how it happens. It just does.”
Still, Judi admits her character is a part of her, and one of the things she most admires about Beth is her strength. “She’s going to live her own life and if a guy likes it, fine; if he doesn’t, fine too.” Though Beth went through some traumatic times, particularly after Philip married Mindy, now the character has begun to mature emotionally, Judi feels, and that makes her more interesting to play. “She grew up a lot and wants a more physical, substantial and spiritual love now. Philip’s love was a fantasy. He was the man she knew she could never have. Now all of a sudden, everything is real. Lujack doesn’t want to just take care of her; he wants her to take care of herself, too. He says, ‘Grow up.’ In a sense it’s a much more mature and a more mature adult love.”
Like her character, Judi Evans has matured as an actress since landing her first soap opera role for which she recently won a daytime Emmy for best supporting actress. Evans is justifiably proud of her achievement and she’s also proud to be associated with a show she feels is easily the most well-rounded drama on daytime television. “The show isn’t based only on young characters like Rick, Mindy, Philip and Beth. It’s also based on Reva, Josh, H.B., Nola, Quint, Bea and Burt. It’s pretty much an even distribution. The lines that are written are filled with emotion and we have a wonderful cast. You get the feeling of a lot of different collections of people. And I think that’s why we moved up in the ratings. We’re not just focusing on the young kids. It’s gotten a lot more romantic and soft.”
With all the success Judi has attained in so short a time, it would be easy for her to take it easy. However, Evans has a keen eye on the future. “I think soaps are great to start with, but I will want to move on. I want to do theater and films and maybe nighttime. Basically, it all depends on what role comes up next. But I don’t think I should stay on a soap,” she says candidly. “It would be too easy for me to fall into a pattern and I can’t do that or thirty years down the line I’m going to say, ‘Well what have I done? Nothing.’ ”
Still in her early twenties. Judi is adamantly about what comes first in her life: her career. In ten years, who knows? “I think my life will need children. Not need them, but really want them,” she corrects. “I want them now, but I’m not ready.” Noting all the other things going on in her life, Judi doesn’t believe people should have children until they are emotionally ready to assume the responsibility of child rearing and marriage. “I think marriage comes from the warmth of kids. But other than that, I’m changing my views. I’m not really sure what marriage is or what that kind of a relationship is. I guess I just want to work right now.”
Although she’s a busy and dedicated actress, Judi does find some time for a social life — but even that’s job related. Her steady is “Guiding Light” director, John Whitesell. “We have a great friendship. I’m personally progressing and that’s what I want. Now, I may change my mind tomorrow.”
Judi and John are both competitive and ambitious but that doesn’t interfere with their relationship. “We compete differently. We compete over ideas rather than for the same job.” What’s particularly nice, Judi thinks, is that they can talk shop without running the risk of boring each other. “In fact, that’s probably 90% of our conversation.” Judi’s face wrinkles to a semi-frown. “No, about 50%. But we both understand how much passion and drive it takes. He is also very supportive of my career and I’m very supportive of his.” Any conflicts they have, Judi insists, are positive rather than negative and usually revolve around how each thinks a scene should go. But they always resolve those differences before they get to the set. What’s especially good about the relationship, Judi feels, is that she and John started out as friends. “Director, actor, and it stayed that way until the friendship really bloomed.”
Romance aside, the actress thinks the most important thing right now for her is to advance as far as she can both as an actress and a person. Ultimately, Evans wants to feel confident about herself. “I’ve found a lot of security in the last year. When I got this job, I had it, but then all of a sudden, I lost it. It was like false security. When you have a job, you don’t have to worry because you’re stable. But I really wasn’t. And it took a year to restabilize and find true security. Now I’m pretty secure. I feel that I was afraid in the beginning that people wouldn’t think I was a good actress — and I really wasn’t. But I think I’ve gotten better.”
Judi’s shiny Emmy is proof positive of that, but the modest actress insists, “I’m not better than anybody else. It’s not a contest because everyone in their own capacity is good.” Unline everybody else though, Judi Evans the actress and young woman is relentlessly driving herself to go farther than anyone else has gone before. “I want to keep adding that danger. I don’t want it to ever get easy!”