The story of how James DePaiva, well-known to soap fans for his decade-plus run as ONE LIFE TO LIVE’s Max Holden, ended up playing a doctor on GH is a deceptively simple one. In April, the actor accompanied his wife, Kassie DePaiva (Eve, DAYS; ex-Blair, OLTL), to the Daytime Emmys and ran into Frank Valentini, GH’s EP, who had been their boss back in New York as OLTL’s show runner. “He said, ‘Are you here [in California]?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Are you acting again?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Do you want to come work on my show?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ ”
But probe a little deeper, and the picture quickly becomes more complex. “I’ll be honest,” he says. “At ONE LIFE TO LIVE, I was a s–t.” So much so that a part of him “absolutely” thought Valentini was nuts to think of hiring him again. “Frank was on the bad end of my misbehavior several times,” he acknowledges. “I’m waiting for a chance to sit down with him and apologize for what a bad person I was, for what a hard person I was to work with for a long time.”
To hear DePaiva characterized this way is not altogether surprising; in his OLTL days, “to the horror of many a publicist,” as Digest put it in a 1997 feature, he freely copped in interviews both to backstage battles with the powers-that-be and to on set losses of composure (ranging from shouting matches to the occasional throwing of furniture). That he is characterizing himself this way is the result of the significant personal work he has done over the past several years.
DePaiva can trace this back to 2008, when, thanks to his good friend Nathan Purdee (ex-Hank, OLTL), he was introduced to Tracy Goss, a corporate transformational expert. He went through her program and found it life-changing — life-saving, even — and now works for the company himself, helping others conquer their personal demons. “I was angry and shut-down and enraged for a long time,” he says. “I wasn’t just hostile at work. I was hostile everywhere. Part of [the program] is understanding what manipulates you in the world, which is something you don’t have control of until you’re aware of it. As soon as I became aware of it and was working on it, I was able to get perspective. It turned my life around. It’s been good for my relationship with my children, my wife, everybody.”
To hear him tell it, he was “screaming” for just the type of intervention the program offered. “It was like I was in a hole and couldn’t find my way out of it — almost like a clinical depression, if I’d actually sought help for it,” he muses. “My daughter, probably 10 years ago, said, ‘Dad, I’ve never seen you smile.’ Well, that’s not a good thing. God bless my wife for sticking around. I was not a pleasant person.”
DePaiva’s memories of being that person aren’t particularly pleasant ones. And they were, for him, wrapped up with OLTL and with acting itself. “ONE LIFE TO LIVE just happened to be what I was doing at the time,” he clarifies. “It wasn’t ONE LIFE TO LIVE, it was me. It probably would have been better for everyone if I had left earlier, but I was unable to at that time. And as much as I needed to go away from ONE LIFE TO LIVE, I still felt very hurt about being let go. I’m grateful I was, in retrospect. But acting was so tied up in this horrid person I’d become, by the time I left, I never wanted to act again.” Which, for DePaiva, was a big deal. “To lose something that was the main focus and drive in your life and never want anything to do with it again is crushing.”
Happily, his personal reinvention reawakened his joy for performing (“Without that, I wouldn’t be acting today”), and in recent years, he began dipping his toe back in to the industry, doing some theater and two web soaps, TAINTED DREAMS and THE BAY, which he took as opportunities “to test where I was as a human being. But the real test was, ‘Could I go back and do a soap?’ The call from Frank for GENERAL HOSPITAL was the ultimate test to find out if those old mechanisms had been completely disassembled. And I’m happy to say they have been.
“I’m there to do my job and have a good time, and that’s a major, major victory for me,” he continues. “If Frank got the old James DePaiva from the Max years, hopefully he would have fired him after the first show [laughs]. But I’m no longer fighting for air time or to have my character be the big kahuna of the show or any of that stuff. The ego’s gone.”
To be playing a doctor about whom little is known (so far), who is a supporting player rather than a front-burning figure, suits him just fine. “At GENERAL HOSPITAL, I’m a journeyman,” he concludes. “The show’s not resting on my shoulders. I am there to facilitate changes in the main characters’ stories, to help move the story along or to cause a change in other characters. I’m out here with Kassie and it’s wonderful to work and see old friends [on the GH set]. I’ve got no complaints. Everything’s working out great.”
When James DePaiva thinks about his behavior back in the day on the OLTL set, “I feel like I need to send out about a thousand apology letters,” he groans. “I remember the first day Crystal Chappell [ex-Maggie et al] came on. They brought her down and go, ‘This is Crystal, she’s going to be your new love interest’ and I said, ‘So I’ve been told,’ and I walked by. Well, that was a great first impression, wasn’t it? I was so set in my ways, and anything that went against it or was out of my control or power was just an attack, and I lashed out. Crystal’s great; you couldn’t ask for a better actress to work with. It was my issue. I’m glad she called me out on it years later — ‘Do you know what you did?’ I went, ‘Oh God, I’m so sorry!’ And I’ve got a whole lot of, ‘Oh God, I’m sorrys’ out there. [Later on when] I would do shows with people, I’d relate stories of what I’d been like on the soap, and they would say, ‘Well, that doesn’t sound like you at all. That’s not the person I’ve experienced.’ And I’d say, ‘Well, I’ve been working on it! Thank you for letting me know I’m on the right track.”
Did You Know?
In 1984, when he was first starting out in show biz, he played a waiter on GH and was eventually allowed to speak on camera. “The casting director made me read three times just to play the same character, but have 17 pages of dialogue with Emma Samms [ex-Holly].”
When he lived next door to Mariska Hargitay in the early 1990s, she named her dog Max after his OLTL alter.
Just The Facts
Birthday: October 8
Hometown: Livermore, CA
Daytime History: DePaiva played ONE LIFE TO LIVE’s Max Holden from 1987-90, 1991-2003 and briefly in 2007. “I fell into a great role that really put me on the map.”
Family Valued: Married to Kassie DePaiva (Eve, DAYS; ex-Blair, OLTL) since May 31, 1996; the actor has a son with DePaiva, James Quentin (J.Q.), born May 12, 1997, and a daughter from a previous marriage, Dreama Marie, born July 2, 1992. “I’m a big-time empty-nester, because my daughter moved to Tokyo about two months ago to teach English, and J.Q. is off at college. So, this is the time for Mom and Dad to move into leisure world and play golf all day [laughs].”
The Play’s The Thing: He’s been in New York for the last month workshopping a new play, Chasing Jack, in which he plays the titular character. “The performances are October 5th through the 8th, and the 8th is my 60th birthday, so that makes it extra special.”
Pals Of Mine: He names OLTL alumni Wortham Krimmer (ex-Andrew), who was his dressing room roommate, and Nathan Purdee (ex-Hank) as his closest friends from his Llanview days.