Soap Opera Digest: You grew up in Indianapolis. How would you describe yourself as a kid?
Brook Kerr: I was pretty much to myself. I was an only child and my dad was, you know — he was pretty out there, kind of a free spirit. My middle name is X, after Malcolm X, if that tells you anything! So my parents were very, you know, hippie-dippy, free-spirited type of people. I went to private schools and things like that and I just was very, I don’t know, independent.
Digest: You made the move to Los Angeles after high school…. Were you kind of fearless about jumping into Hollywood?
Kerr: When you’re younger, you are fearless, you know? [I] was supporting myself already at that point. I was like, “Let’s give it a shot and go out there!” [It] was just this adventure. I was waiting tables at the time for income. I was like, “Well, I can wait tables anywhere!” So I came out here, got a place, and then started doing, like, music videos and things like that to make money. [These] are the moments that the people back home love more than anything. I could be in a Scorsese movie, but if I’m in a music video or I’m next to Montell Jordan [on an episode of MOESHA]? That’s everything! [I] was in a Tupac music video, I was in Biggie’s music video, [a] Warren G video!
Digest: Before [the role of Whitney Russell on] PASSIONS came along, do you remember if you were feeling good about the progression of your career at the time, or were you feeling like you weren’t making the kind of progress that you wanted to make?
Kerr: I was getting frustrated. That was the time I was working at the Skybar waiting tables. When you’re in [acting] class, as well, you feel so good because your whole class, everybody’s rooting for you and you’re having great scenes every week and you’re putting in all this work, but nobody sees it but your classmates, [and] there’s no paycheck at the end of the day, you know what I mean? And then you’re still working, waiting tables, coming home smelling like cigarettes. It was frustrating [and] I would talk about it with my boss at the end of the night when we were counting our cash, our tips, and I would just go home, like, dejected, because clubs close at 2, you get home at 3 in the morning, I have a son, he has to go to school at 7. It’s just a grind, you know? But when PASSIONS came along, I auditioned for it, and [they] had already been looking for the character, apparently, and literally the next day, I screen-tested…. When I finally got the call that I booked it, I remember I called my boss and I was like, “I’m not coming in, I booked it!” He was so happy for me, even though I was not showing up for my shift.
Digest: You’d grown up in a soap-watching family. Do you remember what shows your mom and your grandma were into?
Kerr: Oh, of course — YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS, BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL, all day, every day! My ex’s [family] watched CBS, too, and PASSIONS was NBC and they were like, “Oh, gosh, it’s on at the same time.” I could see the pause in their face and I was like, “Wait a minute, what? You’re not going to watch me [laughs]?!” [My] grandma, she called them the stories, and when I’d visit back home she was like, “You have to come to church so that everybody can see you and talk about the stories,” and everything. Those are great memories.
Digest: Whitney’s friendship with Theresa was a mainstay of her life on the show, and Lindsay Hartley, her portrayer, became and remains a dear friend of yours. What do you think drew you together to become more than just co-workers?
Kerr: [We] just always had this understanding of each other and respect for one another, I think. I respect her and think she’s super-talented and she respects me and thinks I’m super-talented. [I] can talk to her about the weather, I can talk to her about my father passing away, I can talk to her about anything…. We get busy in life, but that girl has never not checked up on me, you know what I mean? And I just respect that — ups and downs, all through life, she is always checking up on me, making sure that I’m okay, and that’s a huge deal, to show up. Showing up is huge. Some families don’t even do that!
Digest: What does it mean to you that there is still so much affection for [Whitney], a character you created two-plus decades ago?
Kerr: Well, it means everything … When you take on a role, it does become a part of you and the choices you make as far as the material you’re given. Those choices are personal [and] the fact that people can identify with the human element that I was trying to communicate means everything to me, because it means that I was on the right track of communicating what I thought Whitney was going through. And also, too, I think about when we get a script, the words on the page are dead, you know what I mean? They’re not brought to life until you put you on them. So the fact that that material, that role, I got to put my view on it and people still have affection for it, it’s really touching.
Digest: There was a 13-year gap before you joined GH. Had you, in that time, ever thought about coming back to daytime or auditioned for a different soap?
Kerr: I auditioned a little bit. I was going through some personal issues for a while, some family issues, [and] when I’m going through things it’s hard for me to audition and put on another character on top of that if I’m not feeling good. It was just too difficult for me. So I kind of stepped away for a little while. [GH Casting Director] Mark Teschner and I had met; I had been auditioning for him since before I booked PASSIONS. I auditioned for GENERAL HOSPITAL before PASSIONS for another role, years ago, but I didn’t get it. And then this role, for Portia, came up, and it was just so interesting because I was older, this character was older, this character’s a mom — I’ve never, ever got to play a mom because I’ve always looked young — and I was just at this completely different place in my life … It just really seemed like the perfect timing and the perfect role.
Digest: What has it been like to work with [Tabyana Ali, who recently assumed the role of Kerr’s on-screen daughter, Trina]?
Kerr: I’m really enjoying it and it was the perfect time [in the plot because] of the arrest and the tape. It was all hands on deck and it was all about her, and we got to dive into us again and her and her story, so it was an immediate introduction to her with a huge circumstance.
Digest: Talk to us about your relationship with your leading man, Donnell Turner (Curtis).
Kerr: He’s amazing and I really love our relationship because I [don’t] think they write Portia as mean or vindictive or a man-stealer or anything like that, but the fact that we had history was just a huge thing because when you have history with someone, it takes away a whole layer of introduction that might be needed and that history, I think, was nice for me to know to justify how fast we’re moving now. I love working with Donnell. He’s hysterical [and] we get along really, really well.
Digest: I love how their mutual love of Trina has created this kind of interesting and unexpected bond between Portia and Ava. Tell us about working with Maura West (Ava).
Kerr: Maura’s amazing. I have to tell you, [when we shot Trina’s first hearing], during rehearsal, the judge was going to have the bail at $250,000 or whatever and Maura looked at me and she’s like, “We can pay it. We got it.” So, that’s just so her! Like, “We got Trina. No worries. Money’s no object! No problem.” I absolutely love working with her.
Digest: There has been a dangling question, right, hanging over Portia’s storyline for a good long while now, which [is], “Has she been lying about Trina’s paternity?” … How would it make sense to you that she would keep this kind of secret for such a long time?
Kerr: I’ve had to ask myself that a few times, especially moving forward with Curtis the way I have — you know, freely! [I] think I’ve kind of been trying to add a bit of extra “happy, happy” to it, like, “Oh, let’s not think about it, let’s not think about that doubt.” That’s what I call it, the doubt that, you know, Portia has as far as whatever that secret is. [I] feel like I had to make a choice of, Portia’s clearly doubling down and putting that deeper in the history books and moving forward. And I’m daily trying to justify it, daily! [But] I also understand life circumstances, too. Think about it — I must have been in medical school when she was born, family stuff going on, affairs going on, you know what I mean? Not knowing your future, wanting stability.
Digest: Not wanting to hurt Taggert, I feel like would be in there.
Kerr: Correct. Absolutely. So these are the things that I’m kind of stewing on in my mind about what could have been happening at the time to justify a blatant lie, you know? I’m daily working on that. But I do respect the fact that she’s trying! And I don’t think she wants to hurt anyone and in this case, this situation, there is no way somebody’s not going to get hurt.
Digest: Your son, Chris Warren, is also in the business [and] now he’s a husband and a father. What has it been like for you to see him sort of just go through his career and step into this new stage of life?
Kerr: It’s been so interesting — and odd. Because it’s like, I had him so young, it just feels like I’m always missing something, like, “Where’s Chris? What’s going on?” Like, “Oh, that’s right. He has his own life. He’s an adult.” It’s the weirdest thing, but I’m so happy for him because he’s so happy and that’s the only thing a parent ever wants, is for their kid to be happy. He’s a wonderful family man and it’s just been a beautiful thing to watch. And it makes me want to have more kids! [Being a grandmother] is fun. It’s the best thing ever.
Digest: You have two years in Port Charles under your belt and of course, your run on PASSIONS prior to that. Before we let you go, can you sum up what being part of the daytime community has meant to you over the course of your career?
Kerr: Gosh, I really, really love it and it’s interesting because we are really in people’s homes every day more than a lot of actors, because five days a week, we are seen by people and it’s new every day [and] we just get to play pretend for a living and it’s never a dull moment! I respect this genre. I love it. I absolutely love it.