Cynthia Watros Is Thrilled To Be Replanting Her Daytime Roots.
Soap operas were on Cynthia Watros’s radar long before she became an actress. Growing up in a small town in Michigan, “I was an amazing GUIDING LIGHT fan. When Josh and Reva had a good day, I had a good day.”
While her passion for soaps was a constant, “I was sort of a lost child,” she says. “We didn’t have a lot of money, so it wasn’t like I had extracurricular activities or anything like that.” When she was 15, the course of her life changed dramatically when she was diagnosed with a rare, life-threatening blood disease called thrombocytopenia. The experience made her at once appreciate being alive and take life less seriously: “I found the comedian inside of me.”
But it was on somewhat of a whim that she put that comedian to work. While attending a community college, she saw a poster about auditions for a production of Auntie Mame. “I thought, ‘Well, why not try out?’ I could make some friends.’ ” She was cast in the comic-relief role of Agnes Gooch, and the director was so impressed that she allowed Watros to audit her theater classes for free. Acting, she says, “was the first thing in my life that I felt like I clicked with.” Before long, Watros was accepted into Boston University’s well-regarded theater conservatory. “I wasn’t great,” she insists. “By no means was I great. I still don’t think I’m an amazing talent. But I think I try my best, and I’m not afraid to show the sort of not-so-pretty parts inside of me.”
A year after graduation, she landed the role of Annie on her favorite show, GL. “I thought I hit the lottery!” she recalls. “They told me that I was going to be with Josh, Robert Newman, and I was like, ‘What?!’ And then Kim [Zimmer, ex-Reva] came back and I was in between this couple that I loved! In the rehearsal room, I would look to my right and to my left and there they were — and I was smack-dab in between them! It was bizarre and lovely and weird and wonderful all at the same time.”
Though Watros adored her GL experience, she opted to leave when her three-year contract expired. “I’d always heard about L.A. and how cool it was to go out there and be an actor,” she explains. “And I was young, and I was like, ‘I have to do this now!’ I went and told [then-Executive Producer] Paul Rauch, ‘I’m going to leave,’ and he took me out to dinner and he was like, ‘Don’t leave!’ and I was like, ‘I must!’ Very dramatic, you know? ‘I must go to L.A.!’ And I packed up all my stuff and moved out to California.”
Watros quickly began landing prime-time work, and was a series regular on the sitcoms TITUS (“It was brilliant and I loved the three-and-a-half years I spent there”) and THE DREW CAREY SHOW (“One of the best experiences I ever had. I feel like I never worked a day on that show; it was all just fun”), then on the cult-hit drama LOST. “I went in and auditioned, and I thought I kind of bombed it because it wasn’t funny and I was just off of years of trying to be funny on these sitcoms,” she says. “I was still in the car driving home when I got the call that I’d gotten the part. It was a whirlwind. They said, ‘Be in Hawaii in two weeks! Grab all your stuff, you’re living in Hawaii now!’ ”
At the time, her children, twins Emma and Sadie, were “almost in kindergarten, and they came along with me.” After her LOST alter ego, Libby, was killed, the family moved back to L.A., and Watros would go back and forth solo for subsequent flashback appearances. But being separated from her daughters was not ideal. “At least in my career, it seemed like the jobs were in other states, and that made it very difficult,” Watros notes. “I would turn down a lot of things. I mean, your kids need you and they’re only kids for 18 years, you know? It means a lot to me to be there for my girls, so that did change my relationship with the industry.”
It also made the idea of returning to soaps more appealing — so in 2013, she accepted the role of Y&R’s Kelly … only to be forced to exit a few months later when a pilot she had done, for the MTV drama FINDING CARTER, was picked up to go to series. “I felt really bad having to leave that show, but I was under contract with FINDING CARTER, so I had to leave. I ended up going to Atlanta, so it was another relocation.” For three years, she commuted back and forth. Her girls visited occasionally, “But there was a lot of times that I wasn’t with them and I was really depressed,” she admits.
Earlier this year, when Michelle Stafford exited the role of Nina to return to Y&R as Phyllis, GH reached out to her agent to suss out her interest in taking on the part. Watros warmed to the idea straight away. “GH has such a great reputation, and I could be home, and soaps are this really safe place that I feel like I connect to. Daytime always sort of feels like home. It’s always been in my life, from when I started watching GL. So I felt, like, this instant pull when my agent called.”
She is glad she signed on the dotted line (“I’m so happy where I’m at now. I feel like I can sort of dig in and find roots here”), but freely cops to ongoing growing pains as she navigates the role. “I love Nina, but this is one of the most challenging jobs that I’ve ever had, because Michelle is so amazing and I have never taken over a role before. I still watch my scenes with one eye closed because I don’t think I’ve gotten her completely.”
Watros is confident that she’ll find her footing. “I feel like Nina’s comin’,” she declares. “I feel like every time I work and I get to be her, it feels more and more organic. It’s going to happen! I will be able to say, ‘I watched a scene with both eyes open and I was happy with what I saw.’ ”
Just The Facts
Birthday: September 2
Hometown: Lake Orion, MI
Daytime History: Annie Dutton, GUIDING LIGHT, 1994-98; a temporary Vicky Hudson on ANOTHER WORLD in 1998; Kelly Andrews, Y&R, 2013-14.
Still The One: Watros wed Curt Gilliland in 1996. “Being married, there are ups and downs,” she acknowledges. “But I think for Curt and I, it’s just about having that respect for each other, having that love, and also liking each other. When we were dating, I always liked hanging out with him, being in his company, having him around. And that hasn’t changed.”
Girl Crazy: Watros is a devoted mom to twins Emma and Sadie, born on July 14, 2001. “They love each other. When they would fight as little girls, sometimes I would intervene, but most times, I would say, ‘You have to talk to your sister about that.’ I think they sort of grew up knowing, ‘We have to talk this out, we have to communicate.’ ”
Ham It Up: Watros’s 19-year-old dog “can hardly see, he can’t really hear, but he’s joyful.” When she got him as a 1-year-old, “He came with a name, Hambone, and I felt bad about changing it, so we just call him Hammy or Hamsters.”
Golden Girl: Her 1998 Lead Actress Daytime Emmy for her GL work “is on my desk, and it always makes me very appreciative that I had that night. It was a beautiful night.”
Watros started out on GL as a background player, then recurred as Annie before being offered a contract as the naughty nurse who caused mucho trouble for Reva and Josh in the mid-1990s — and though she’s loath to take credit, a bit of on-set initiative may have inspired the upgrade. “Annie started off very nice, looking after [Josh and Reva’s kids] Marah and Shayne,” Watros. “I remember looking at my script and thinking, ‘I would love to have something a little bit meatier.’ One day, because Marah was missing, I ad-libbed, ‘God, I have a headache.’ And I don’t know how long it was, but at some point, they wrote in, ‘Annie has a headache, and she takes a pill,’ ” kicking off the storyline of Annie’s addiction.
“Not to say that I’m the inspiration, but I think when you get hired as an actor on a job, yes, you have to be true to the words and you have to do what the director wants, but you also have to find that fire,” she muses. “You have to find that thing that only you, as how you do it, will make that character alive. Because if you don’t, you’re boring, and if you don’t, you might get fired, because who wants to watch someone who just says words and just does what the director wants? You should do those things, but also, you need to find that something special. And I think that’s what happened [with Annie].”