Interviews

Catching Up With The Original Cast Of PASSIONS

Juliet

PASSIONS debuted 20 years ago today. Here, some of its original cast looks back on their Harmony experience. 

 

Mckenzie

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McKenzie Westmore (Sheridan Crane) 

Tell us your casting story. “I originally was called in to audition for the role of Gwen. After the first audition, the executive producers could tell I wasn’t a fit but luckily had creative minds to see me as Sheridan Crane. The audition process started in late 1998. About seven auditions later and a test with Galen Gering [Luis], I was cast as Sheridan. It was especially meaningful as I learned the news on my birthday, April 26, 1999!”

How was the character of Sheridan explained to you? “I was told she was the American princess. The sweetheart that unfortunately always loses out in the end but never gives up.”

What did you think of the story point that she was besties with Princess Di and still mourning her death? “Filming it, it didn’t strike me that it could be an issue. I was just so excited to be on a big, new show! I do remember watching those episodes with my family and thinking, ‘This is the beginning and the end of my career. People are going to hate me!’ Little did I know at that time, the show would end up becoming such a cult classic for so many.”

What was most memorable about your first day/week? “Paris, France! I couldn’t believe I was flown to Paris to film my first scenes as Sheridan! The only tough part of filming was driving in Paris. I broke out in hives from my nerves!”

What do you remember about the critical response? “I remember people finding it in poor taste to film the Princess Diana scenes so soon after her death. I also recall PASSIONS being called a guilty pleasure.”

Was there a moment or story that made you realize, “This is not like the other shows in daytime”? “Oh, my God, yes! Pretty much the entire show! Everything from a 300-year-old witch, a talking doll, the past lives of Sheridan and Luis; I knew this wasn’t your average soap. I always felt it was ahead of its time and still hold hope it can be revived on something like Netflix.”

Sheridan and Luis were groomed to be one of the show’s supercouples. What do you remember about first meeting Galen, and when did you feel that you both had on-screen chemistry? “Galen was a sweetheart and goofball from the very beginning. The day I knew we were going to be a supercouple of the show was the day we filmed the very first tango. From that moment on, I knew we’d be stuck together.”

Did you ever fight against a storyline? “I never did. I always did what I was told. The only one that was rough for me was after suffering a miscarriage, my storyline was as a pregnant Sheridan, who was held captive in a pit by Beth for the baby. I remember filming scenes where I was to have a potential miscarriage. I’d go to my dressing room every day after filming and cry for hours. It wasn’t until my character gave birth shortly after losing my own child in real life that I really had a tough time mentally and had to seek therapy to help me through the loss.”

As you reflect on the show now, what was the impact on you personally of your time there? “It really was a wild ride for a 20-year-old. I basically grew up on that show. I wish I had it to do all over again.”

 

Galen

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Galen Gering (Luis Lopez-Fitzgerald) 

Is it wild to you that it’s been 20 years? “Yeah, it’s incredible. It seems like 10, maybe 12, certainly not 20. And also that people are still talking about it and celebrating it. Whenever I go on a signing, I mean, nine out of 10 people are asking me about PASSIONS. A lot of people evidently watched it. It’s obviously got that kind of cult-y staying power because of its, to a certain degree, absurdity, much in the same way people would be like, ‘Oh, that’s like [DAYS’s] Marlena levitating.’ They’re like, ‘Oh, is that the one with the witch and the doll?’ And I’m like, ‘Yep.’ ”

What do you remember about that first week? “I remember it just being very hectic. Out of boredom, I handcuffed Jesse Metcalfe [Miguel] to a bench because I wanted to practice my cop skills. When they were ready to shoot, he was still handcuffed to the bench and there was no key to be found. They were like, ‘We’re ready for you!’ And I was like, ‘Uh-oh.’ Jesse’s like, ‘He handcuffed me!’ And then when we finally found the key, it was like 10 minutes, but seemed like a freakin’ eternity.”

At what point did you realize the show was developing a passionate fan base? “When McKenzie and I went to New York for a signing. It was our first signing and there were thousands of people there. That was for the PASSIONS book [Hidden Passions: Secrets from the Diaries of Tabitha Lenox]. And then the book was on The New York Times Bestseller List. I was like, ‘What is even happening right now?’ And then we were in People magazine’s ‘50 Most Beautiful’ issue. And we were on the cover of TV Guide. It was pretty wild.”

Was it ever hard for you to embrace the tone of the show? “Well, I loved the surreal; some of the storylines I thought were truly amazing and genius and highly entertaining. I always wanted the character to be a little less Dudley Do-Right, even though I know you need that guy. My character was always a big part of the relationship story, not so much the witchcraft story or these other far-out stories. So yeah, I think the hardest thing as an actor is that the pacing was so slow. Like, one day could literally be 100 shooting days. I would wear clothes out ’cause we’d be wearing them day in and day out. There were long, long scenes. I used to say that we would talk about what we were going to do, and then we would talk about what we were doing while we did it, and then we would talk about what we just did. That was basically how they wrote the show. I was like, ‘We’re doing a TV show. They can see it. We don’t need to explain everything in detail.’ We worked long hours. It was a lot of work, truly. That was the biggest challenge.”

Did you ever have a moment of thinking the show was different from any other in daytime? “People saw us as like this jokey show, but there was also some real quality work, not just from the actors, by the way. The lighting department, special effects, cinematography, wardrobe, all of those people probably didn’t get the accolades that I feel they deserved. There was truly some incredible work going on there because a) they could write it, and b) they had the money and the time to do it, so I think that plays a part.”

When you reflect on the show now, what’s the impact on you personally on your time there? “A lot of great memories and friendships. Such an interesting, life-changing journey than I would have otherwise expected. It afforded me a good life, for sure. It kind of feels like a dream.”

Juliet

NBC

Juliet Mills (Tabitha Lenox) 

Did you have any hesitation about signing on to the show? “Well, the first time you sign on it’s for three years. I didn’t have any hesitation to sign on for three years because to have a regular job as an actress is quite amazing these days. I was very excited about it and it was a very wonderful part. It wasn’t just sort of somebody’s aunt or secretary or grandmother or something; it was a 300-year-old witch! It was different and challenging, and a regular paycheck just sounded like good news to me.”

What stands out to you about your first week on the show? “Our first week, actually, we were on location in the harbor, which, of course, we never were again. It was all fun, really, except during that time I was a real witch in a tent in a fairground and so I had extensive makeup, prosthetic makeup, which they’d taken a cast of and all of that before we started. That was quite the shock to the system. That took about two hours to put on and two hours to take off. But it sort of got me ready for what was to come because I did a lot of those sort of makeups, you know. I mean, I played all sorts of parts in that soap. I even played Colonel Sanders! And I looked just like him, too. It was amazing.”

There was probably nothing outrageous for Tabitha to do because she was a witch. “Yes! Anything goes. The first few years, when NBC was really spending a fortune on the show, the production values were extraordinary. We worked very hard and very long hours. There was nothing else in life at that time but PASSIONS because it was so demanding. I suppose the hardest thing for me was learning enormous amounts of dialogue. I’d go home at the end of the week with five scripts under my arm and just study over the weekend to get some kind of smattering of it and then start sort of nailing down each one. But the thing about my part was that I was very often talking to inanimate objects. I had these long monologues and I’m talking to a bowl or talking to a tree or talking to Satan or even talking to a doll. Before Josh [Ryan Evans, Timmy] came to life, he was a doll, so I was talking to myself a lot of the time and I did find that quite challenging!”

What stands out to you about working with Josh? “Well, I fell in love with him. We had a wonderful relationship. He was a little fairy person and so courageous and brave and funny and naughty and magic. He was a magical little character. He was very, very special and we were very, very close. Our relationship off camera was as close as it was on camera. It broke my heart when he died. It was such extraordinary circumstances the way he died and the timing of him dying since we’d shot this scene where he does die in PASSIONS. And it’s written into the script that he’s in heaven and he comes back and all of that. But we had a break after we’d shot that. We were on vacation for two or three weeks. The day that him dying on the show aired was the day that he died in real life. I’ll never forget the call from Lisa de Cazotte, who was the executive producer and has remained one of my very closest friends. She called me in the evening to tell me. I can remember right now how heartbroken I was. It was very, very hard going back to work without him.”

The show really became a cult sensation. What do you remember about the fan response and the critical response to it? “People were addicted to it. I mean, I suppose they always get addicted to soaps, but they were passionate about PASSIONS. I remember one of the things that I was most proud of was that we heard that a lot of journalists at The Washington Post were taking their lunch an hour early or an hour late so that they could watch PASSIONS. I always thought that was rather a feather in our cap. And then, of course, I had a bestseller on The New York Times Bestseller List, a book that I hardly wrote. But anyway, I got all the credit! I thought that was just brilliant.”

When you look back on the experience, what do you think about? “It was the hardest work I’ve ever done in my acting life. It was a very happy, positive experience. I loved the character. And I loved working for nine years getting a regular paycheck. That was really quite a new experience. But it’s all positive. I don’t have any bad memories about PASSIONS whatsoever, only good ones. I think it’s the same for most of us; the producers, the actors and everybody involved. I think we all felt it was special. It was different and we were part of something that would be remembered as being different.”

Rodney

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Rodney Van Johnson (T.C. Russell) 

Can you believe it’s been 20 years? “I can’t believe it. It was a great thing to be a part of. I still have great friends from it.”

What did you know about your character when you went into read? “I knew nothing about T.C. I just knew that he was an ex-tennis star with two kids. And I knew the parallels with Serena and Venus [Williams] were there and I could tell that’s where they were going because that’s what [Head Writer/Creator] James E. Reilly did. He was very good at taking current events and making them now, and that’s what he adapted that from. I had an idea of where he was going with that. I could also see that they wanted me to be the angry black man. I played the role well.”

What was your first day/week like? “Oh, my goodness. I was going through a whole lot because we were close to my son’s birth at the time. We actually started shooting in May, so I was going through all the pregnancy and everything. We had to shoot this crazy scene and my son was being born that day, June 16th. I had to leave and they freaked out. I’m like, ‘My son is being born!’ ‘Well you need to have that baby and come back.’ And as soon as he was born I came back. The first day, we shot up in Oxnard [CA] to give it a beach feel. It was great. We were there for two weeks. A ton of dialogue, a ton of young actors and actresses; it was crazy, crazy mayhem. We were getting on set at 7 a.m., we were leaving at 2 a.m. sometimes, coming back and sleeping in our dressing rooms because we had to get a month’s worth of shows done before we aired on July 5th. It was very, very stressful and crazy, fun because of all the special effects and the stunts that we were doing. It was a really, really great time.”

What do you remember about the criticism the show was getting at first? “The criticism was very, very harsh. We made fun of pretty much everything that was there. We had parodies. It got to be where people were like, ‘I’m gonna watch this crazy show about this witch and a doll and angry black people in this family that’s kicking people’s butts for everything that happens.’ It was a great ride. It was so much fun to do. At the same time, I had to completely detox every day when I came home, because T.C. had these major anger issues. I had to literally drive for a couple hours before I came home to detox from it because I had to play angry all of the time. That’s the only thing that I didn’t like about the job, but it paid the bills.”

Was there ever a storyline you didn’t like that you fought against? “I really wasn’t sure where I was going with the whole shed thing. I just wish there had been more about what was in the shed. For me to harbor this car and cry over this car was kind of anticlimactic for me. I wanted more out of that.”

When did you realize PASSIONS was not like any other soap? “I realized it when we weren’t getting the credit that we deserved as actors. We had some great actors on our show: Ben Masters, Tracey Ross [Eve]…. We were doing things that were innovative and we didn’t get recognized for it.”

Who are you still in touch with? “James Hyde [Sam], that’s my boy. We are like the best friends. We were best friends on the show and we’ve become best friends in life. We talk a lot. Every other day we’re laughing and joking with each other. Chrystee Pharris [Simone], I also stay in contact with her. And Brook [Kerr, Whitney], I’ve stayed in contact with her. I see everybody around.”

Eva

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Eva Tamargo (Pilar Lopez-Fitzgerald) 

Any idea what you were in for on this ride? “I have to be honest. I don’t think anybody did. I think with the whole supernatural storyline, we were ahead of our time with it on soaps. And I think we embraced it because we knew it was pioneering and it was going to be something different, but I don’t think that anybody knew that it was going to be what it was. Some of the stuff on the show, as an actor, you have to buy it yourself because it’s the only way to sell it, and that was the challenge for all of us, to believe it ourselves —and if we can do that, then the audience will believe it. So we were pioneers in that sense.”

What was your reaction when you got your scripts? “I was surprised for the first year of the show but then you got used to it, because then you understood what our show was about. But of course, your primary reaction is like, ‘What? What are we doing again?’ And I was one of the characters who had a more normal existence throughout the supernatural storyline; it really didn’t touch me as much, so I think I had an easier time seeing it because I just kept it real for myself. But let me tell you, I’d hear from Juliet Mills and Molly Stanton [Charity] what they would have to do, and I was like, ‘What?!’ Even walking through the hallways, you’d see people in costumes and do a double take. We went all out on this show, full-on, and then I’d be like, ‘Hey why can’t I be in that scene? I want to do that.’ But, my character brought normalcy to the show through her and her family, so that’s where they kept us, which is understandable because it gave the show a great balance.”

Are you still stopped by PASSIONS fans? “Oh, my God, I was just in Paris, France, and I got recognized from PASSIONS 20 years later. Yep. Yep. Honestly, most of my fans on social media, a good majority of them, are PASSIONS fans. I’m always amazed at what a huge impact it had and how it was really international.”

Who have you kept in touch with? “I’m very close with Lindsay [Hartley, Theresa]. Lindsay was a baby when we started. She was like 20 years old and I tell her today, ‘You’re older than I was when I got the show [laughs].’ I’m very close with Galen [Gering], and James Hyde. I’m friends with James’s wife. I’m godmother to their son, so he’s like my brother. Those are the three I’ve stayed closest to, and Jesse [Metcalfe] a bit but not as much.”

Favorite storyline? “In terms of the craziness? Miguel was pulled into the portal of hell and I remember, I’m laughing now because I remember it vividly, in the scene, he was going through the portal to hell through a bedroom closet. Father Lonigan was there and he was trying to get them out, and I was crying, and I was like, ‘Wait, what am I doing again? My son is in the portal of hell?’ That was one of the crazier stories for me.”

 Where do you think Pilar would be now? “Well, I wish she would’ve moved on from Martin and married somebody, and I say this as a woman in her 50s, at the very least to have found herself. I feel like Pilar lost herself to her children and her husband so I would hope that we could have brought her into a more modern situation where she’s emancipated herself from her children and rescuing her marriage. That’s what I would love.”

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