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Catching Up With Lesley-Anne Down

Did you audition for the role of Olivia or was it offered to you? “I was sitting in my house in Malibu and Aaron [Spelling, executive producer] called me. We had a lovely conversation and I said, ‘Yeah, okay, I’ll do it.’ The only thing I wanted changed was the name of the character. She was originally called Sheila and I told him, ‘I can’t be a Shelia, that’s a derogatory term for a woman in Australia.’ He didn’t know that and changed it.”

Why did you decide to work on a soap? “I was around 42 at the time and I had 22 years of being vaguely well-known and I certainly had done my share of traveling for my career since I was 16. I was so ready to have some kind of normality, and working on SUNSET BEACH was something really perfect for me. It gave me the opportunity to have [my son] George because he was an accident.”

Didn’t they make Olivia pregnant as well? “Yeah. I first got up the spout — that’s British for pregnant, so they decided to write my pregnancy in. Olivia was boffing Eddie Cibrian [ex-Cole], who was her daughter’s boyfriend. I spent five episodes where I was literally in the bathroom taking pregnancy tests as people kept knocking on the door and I was freaking out. It was ridiculous. Later, Sarah Buxton’s character [Annie] kidnapped Olivia and took her to a cabin to give birth so Annie could take the baby. I believe I was less than a week of having George and I had to go through all the machinations of having the baby [on camera]. I was doing all of the real-life grunting and pushing and I almost passed out.”

What’s your earliest memory of working on the show? “The thing I remember is that Olivia was supposed to be drunk and have an affair with this young guy, Cole, who Eddie eventually played. Ashley Hamilton was the first Cole, but there was a recast, which I was so thankful for. I had known Ashley since he was a little boy and I remember after one of our love scenes, he said, ‘I hope Mom never sees this.’ And I said, ‘Believe me, Ash, me too.’ It was a little tricky.”

What other storylines stick out in your mind? “They were all very odd and silly but fun. I suppose the fantasies were the most ludicrous of them all. I liked being Cruella de Vil. Then there was quite a fun fantasy that I did with that nice talk show host, Jerry Springer.”

Who were your favorite co-stars? “I have to say, I really enjoyed working with Sam [Behrens, ex-Gregory]. He was such a nice man and he was so easy to work with, which I hope he found the same with me. We got on, so it was very simple and a really pleasant three years with him. Anything I ever did with Sarah was always fun because she was, and is, such a good actress and very professional and not too bad to look at. That always helps.”

You recently moved to Atlanta. What’s your life like there? “It’s a good life. I have a lovely ranch house with a swimming pool. It’s kind of weird; we live in a kind of a forest-y setting but we’re 10 minutes from Home Depot, Target, Trader Joe’s and Costco. I’m actually looking at a lovely deer and her baby across the little creek right now. Within two months of living here, we’ve made lots and lots of friends. I love my house but it was a nightmare when we got here because we bought it sight unseen. I mean, we saw it virtually and bought it, but it turned out to be a complete disaster. It took about five months to make it better and it’s now very pretty. I’m extremely happy.”

Are you working? “No. I don’t want to work. I don’t want to get up at the crack of dawn, I don’t want to have to put makeup on and I don’t want to have to think about my hair. I’ve done my 55 years or whatever it is and I never got my damn gold watch!”

You do have a movie in post-production called Reagan where you play Margaret Thatcher. “Oh, that. That wasn’t work and it was silly. I was retired and no one knew how to get in contact with me, so [my husband] Don got this email asking me to read for a part in a movie about Ronald Reagan starring Dennis Quaid. I asked for what part and Don said, ‘Margaret Thatcher.’ I almost gagged on my tea and said, ‘Seriously? Oh, my God!’ There isn’t one solitary thing about me that’s even reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher. What I look like, my personality, my voice — there is nothing that anyone could possibly think, ‘Oh, wouldn’t that be good casting?’ Needless to say, I didn’t take it seriously, but I still said I’d give it a try. When I got the sides, I took one of my wigs that I had from BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL [where she played Jackie], smooshed it down and rolled the sides like I had two fat sausages on the sides of my face and I used my eyebrow pencil to draw on a few wrinkly things. I propped up my iPad in the kitchen and recorded myself going, ‘Well, hello, this is Margaret Thatcher,’ and I read the sides. I sent it off and forgot about it — but two weeks later, I was offered the role [laughs].”

Were you surprised? “Oh, yes! Then it completely hit me what I’ve done and I screamed, ‘Noooooooooooo!’ So, I flew to Oklahoma and did it. It was a huge crew for a movie with a big budget and it was actually a divine experience doing it. They even let me rewrite some of my lines. I really don’t know when it comes out.”