ICYMI: Judith Chapman Interview

Credit: JPI

When it comes to living life to its eccentric best, Y&R’s Gloria Bardwell has nothing on her portrayer, Judith Chapman. “People have been calling me Norma Desmond, that wonderful character from Sunset Boulevard, for decades,” announces Chapman with a laugh. “I think a lot of my eccentricities come from the fact that I’ve lived all over the world. My father is a retired Air Force general, so I’ve had the good fortune of being educated in Europe. I’ve been to Mass at probably every great cathedral in Europe from Notre Dame to Cologne Cathedral to St. Peter’s. I saw my first Shakespearean play in London. I saw the great French mime, Marcel Marceau, in Paris. I saw my first opera, Verdi’s Aida, in Rome. That’s pretty impressionable stuff for a teenage girl.”

Chapman admits she took it all in stride at the time. “Doesn’t everybody live like this? Wasn’t it a way of life?” she remembers musing as a teen. “I give my parents so much credit, because they were both so artistic.”

The adventurous and culturally rich life experience molded the woman Chapman eventually became — bold, fearless and a far cry from the norm. “I remember years ago, I was taking a break from Hollywood and teaching acting at College of the Desert,” recounts Chapman. “A student came up to me and said, ‘I want to do a production of Equus. Would you direct it for me?’ I was like, ‘Equus? How can I direct Equus?’ It’s a highly intense play with horses. After about 10 minutes, I said, ‘Yeah. Why not? I can direct it, and I can produce it.’

“It was the same thing with Vivien,” continues Chapman, referring to the stage production she toured with in 2014. “People said, ‘What do you mean you’re going to do a one-woman show about Vivien Leigh?’ Well, why not? That’s where my eccentricities come in. It’s facing my fears and going forward.”

Judith Chapman An Evening to Celebrate Judith Chapman and Her Performance as Vivian Leigh The Hollywood Towers Hollywood, CA. 08/04/11 ©Jill Johnson/ 310-657-9661


Chapman points out that her Y&R alter ego, Gloria, “is very much the same way with her insecurities. The highs she’s had; the lows she’s had. She’s had to pick herself up and carry on. That is one of our main similarities. Gloria shoots for the mountains, and sometimes she doesn’t make it, but she lives without fear.”

It’s a character Chapman has embraced from her first day on set in 2005 as the estranged mother of Christian J. LeBlanc’s Michael and Greg Rikaart’s Kevin. “Some of my most memorable times were the earlier days with Gloria making peace, especially with Michael,” says Chapman. “She had a lot of issues to sort out with her children. They didn’t like her. There was a lot of high drama and a lot of emotion.”

Judith Chapman, Greg Rikaart, Christian LeBlanc "The Young and the Restless" Set CBS Television City Los Angeles, Ca. 2/23/05 ©Aaron Montgomery/ 310-657-9661 Episode #8099


That drama, interspersed with Gloria’s “wonderful relationship” with John Abbott, ultimately “saying good-bye to him” when he passed away, and “working so closely with Jack and Ashley and the oil and water friction between them” are among Chapman’s Y&R highlights. “It’s been such great stuff, such beautiful writing,” smiles the actress. “And then there’s the wonderful crazy, zany antics of Jeffrey and Gloria.”

Of course, it all went away nearly two years ago, when Chapman was abruptly written off the show, a move she calls “a little bit of a shock.” And the timing couldn’t have been worse. “I lost my ‘husband’ at the same time Gloria ended,” shares Chapman, referring to the late James Offord, with whom she’d shared a 23-year relationship. “He was truly that wind beneath my wings and all that sentimental stuff. He gave me the wings to fly. That’s why it lasted so long. He was not threatened by my independence, by my eccentricities, if you will, because he was pretty eccentric, too. So I was grieving James and making peace with [leaving] a career I’d had for so long at the same time. Fortunately, I did a lot of theater, which was very therapeutic. To express everything onstage, regurgitate my emotions out…. It
was a long process.”

Through it all, Chapman never allowed herself to think “poor pitiful me or maybe the phone will ring. That’s never been my attitude,” she proclaims. “It’s, ‘What’s next? Make peace.’ I’m a big girl, and I’d been let go from shows before. It happens to all of us. But to make peace with losing so much…. When you’ve lost everything, you have everything to gain.”

These days, Chapman’s happily winning again, having been called back to resurrect Gloria. It’s a move Y&R fans were cheering the moment they heard about it. “I can’t tell you what it means,” says Chapman. “It’s making me well up now. When Y&R called, it was wonderful. And then this reaction of being invited back into such welcoming open arms, I call it manna from heaven.”

The outpouring of love continued when Chapman reported to CBS Television City studio for work. “It was so familiar, so comfortable. It was like, ‘Hey baby! Let’s shoot this thing.’ And the instant intimacy of being onstage with everybody…. There’s such an affection between ‘my sons’ and me and Tracey Bregman [Lauren]. That was the thing coming back to the show that I realized I missed most; these intimate relationships I had with the actors I work with and the entire cast.”

Chrsitian LeBlanc, Judith Chapman, Greg Rikaart, Tracey Bregman, Elizabeth Hendrickson "The Young and the Restless" Set Christmas CBS television City Los Angeles 11/04/16 © Howard Wise/ 310-657-9661

The only thing Chapman had to reacclimate to was Gloria’s sexy, body conscious wardrobe, which is a far cry from her own. “I usually wander around in yoga clothes, wearing very little makeup, with my hair pulled back and a beret on,” confesses Chapman. “I’m not nearly as eccentric in my wardrobe as Gloria is. It would never occur to me to try to squeeze my rear end into some of her tiny dresses. But they’re fabulous to wear, and she is my alter ego. She gets to play out that fantasy for me with the big poofy hair and too much makeup.”

Just the Facts

Birthday: November 15

Also Known As: Natalie Bannon Hughes, AS THE WORLD TURNS, 1975-78; Charlotte Greer, RYAN’S HOPE, 1983; Ginny Blake, GH, 1984-86; Sandra Montaigne, ONE LIFE TO LIVE, 1987; Anjelica Deveraux, DAYS, 1989-91

Past Perfect: “I’m a history buff. I can revisit anything on the History Channel. A couple of days ago, I watched ANCIENT ASSASSINS. I just got all caught up in VIKINGS, too. Anything historical I love.”

Rock Stars: “I went to Oldchella in October. I was at that three-day concert. The Stones were there, Bob Dylan, Neil Young…. It was like seeing my life flash before my eyes.”

Career Shift: “Had I not been an actor, I would have been an archaeologist digging around in ruins and doing research in libraries.”

Green Acres: “I grow my own vegetables. A lot of them. I have three raised beds in the front of my house. One of them is filled with herbs. I planted tomatoes in August and had a wonderful crop. Now it’s coming into time for arugula and spinach and kale. At the end of the season, I will make pesto out of all of it.”

Meeting the Master

During her long, illustrious career that’s spanned 40 years, several soaps, prime-time and film, Chapman has met some all-time greats and has an array of stories to tell. Her favorite centers on a commercial she made for Paul Masson champagne with Orson Welles.

“There were two principals, a young man and me, who got to stand next to Orson,” recounts Chapman. “The rest were just party people. Everybody was told to take a break and go out onto the lawn. We were shooting at this palatial home in Brentwood. We were told not to talk to Mr. Welles or get in his eyesight. Rules, rules, rules. The hair on the back of my neck was starting to bristle.”

Chapman decided not to follow the rules and sat at the end of a long sofa in the living room, flipping through a magazine. At the other end, Welles decided to take a seat and put his feet up on a footstool.

“All of a sudden, I heard this voice go, ‘It’s nice to be beautiful, isn’t it?’ ” recounts Chapman. “I ignored him. Ten seconds later, this booming voice said, ‘It’s nice to be beautiful, isn’t it?’ I looked up and said, ‘Yes, Mr. Welles, and it’s even nicer to be told.’ That was my cue. He was looking over at me, so I approached him.”

Welles took his feet off the footstool, and Chapman took a seat on it and introduced herself. When he asked how things were going in the business, she didn’t hesitate. “I was so young and green,” she laughs. “I started rambling, ‘Well, you know, it’s really hard sometimes to get an agent or an audition….’ He was staring at me. In the back of my head I thought, I’m talking to one of the greatest minds and artistic forces of the 20th century. He talked to me, and he shared. Then, he made some kind of subtle gesture, and I knew it was my cue to leave.”

Chapman admits her knees “were buckling” as she walked away. “I knew it was one of the high points of my life and it happened because I didn’t follow the rules. I didn’t go outside with everybody. I sat there and was summoned to the feet of the master.”

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE RUSSIAN DANCE FESTIVAL -- Pictured: Host, Orson Welles -- (Photo by: NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)