Before she became soaps’ most memorable baby switcher, Kimberlin Brown aspired to be an architect but put her plans on hold to try her hand at modeling and acting. After two brief stints in daytime, as CAPITOL’s Danny in 1987 and SANTA BARBARA’s Candace in 1990, she landed the role of a lifetime.
Soap Opera Digest: Life as you knew it changed in 1990 when you were called in to audition for YOUNG AND RESTLESS. Walk us through getting the role of Sheila.
Kimberlin Brown: Being able to audition for the YOUNG AND RESTLESS was a dream come true. That’s the one show I grew up watching with my mom, that and AS THE WORLD TURNS. She was a CBS soap watcher, so telling my mom that I was going in to audition for that show, just the look on her face and the twinkle in her eye, it was quite special. Going in, I was auditioning for the part of Cassandra Rawlins. It was an awesome experience. I gave a great reading, and the one thing I have found out about [Creator/then-Executive Producer and Head Writer] Bill Bell is that if you are not right for that part, he doesn’t forget about you for something else that comes along.
Digest: What happened after you didn’t get the role?
Brown: I was at a point in my career where I’m starting to think of long-term career goals: “What do I want to do?” I decided to go back to school and become that architect. I was going to sell real estate to make my way through school and I got a phone call from Jill Newton, who was the casting director at Y&R. I said, “Jill, I’m going to school. I’m going to become that architect I always wanted to be,” and she said, “Well, this would help you pay for school and it’s only three months,” and I said okay. I went in for the reading. I was excited but nervous. Peter Barton [ex-Scott] was reading with me. I finished, got in my car and headed home — and realized I’d left out an entire page of the reading and I was horrified! I called Gail Camacho, who was handling the reading, and I apologized profusely for 20 minutes — and then she told me I got the job.
Digest: What do you remember about those early months as Sheila?
Brown: Ed Scott [then-executive producer] said, “There is no wrong. Think Kathy Bates in Misery, where you are breaking somebody’s ankles one minute and then kissing on them the next and saying how much you love them,” so it made my character choices a lot of fun because I was never afraid to push the envelope. Sometimes I would try things that I thought, “They are never going to go for this,” and Ed would come on the loudspeaker and go, “That was awesome,” so I was really blessed to have a lot of creative input to my character. If I got notes from Ed, it would be, do it even bigger, take it even farther. I can’t begin to explain how lucky I am as an actress to not have somebody curb Sheila. They really gave me free reign. That kept it interesting and vibrant and kept people [tuning] in to see what was going to happen next. I attribute the opportunity that Bill and his family gave me to being [able] to do things in life I otherwise would have never been able to do on my own.
Digest: Talk to us about working with Tracy E. Bregman (Lauren).
Brown: Let’s be honest here, okay? It didn’t get nasty and evil until Lauren decided she wanted Scott. She didn’t want him until Sheila started showing interest in him and he actually started showing interest in her. Working with Tracey was great. We had a chemistry that was necessary for the storyline to be pulled off, and she is the tiniest thing you’ve ever seen and with the physicality of our roles, there was a definite trust that was created because I had to protect her. I had to keep her unscratched and unharmed through all of the things that we did, so it was a great relationship … It was the first time she had to deal with crazy [laughs].
Digest: In 1992, the show made a bold choice to faux-kill Sheila in a fire, and have her pop up to wreak havoc on a whole new community of characters on B&B in what is arguably the most successful crossover in soap history. What were your feelings going to a new show?
Brown: I was on set and I got a call from Bill Bell. I had never received a call from him on set before, and I thought, “Okay, this is it. It’s been a good run. Three months turned into several years. I can’t be disappointed.” I got him on the phone and he said, “Sheila has had a phenomenal run. I’ve written her, unfortunately, into a position that I can’t get her out of, so how about if Sheila went to Los Angeles? I’d like to take Sheila to BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL. What do you think?” He said absolutely no one can know for us to pull this off. I said okay, and I hung up the phone and people in the booth said, “What’s up? What’s going on?” I said “Nothing. He just wanted to tell me that he liked the way I was playing this scene and gave me a couple of notes,” and they said, “Oh, okay.” … And I kept my mouth shut.
Digest: How would you describe the dynamic of working with a new cast?
Brown: It was great. Susan Flannery [ex-Stephanie] is one of the strongest actresses I’ve ever worked with, and Stephanie was somebody who did not want to see [Sheila] be happy with her ex-husband, so a lot of that Tracey dynamic was there. She didn’t want Eric and once somebody else did, she was damned and determined to make sure she didn’t have him, either.
Digest: You left B&B in 1998. Did you think you were done playing Sheila?
Brown: I never say never, and that whole, “She just disappears” is an opportunity down the road to come back. Sheila is my baby.
Digest: In 2002 to 2003 you returned to B&B. Sheila shot Taylor. She kidnapped Ridge and Brooke, leaving Ridge presumed dead. Was it fun for you to be back?
Brown: Absolutely, and nobody would have gotten shot if Taylor hadn’t reached for the gun, okay [laughs]? I was there to celebrate and get rid of a few people and I’m sure if they would have just fed me a martini, things would have been fine. But hey, what are the odds of getting two people with one shot though? That’s pretty good I think, right? The thing about my character, even though she hasn’t been a mainstay for the show, she’s the one they bring back when they need to stir things up.
Digest: In 2005-06, you crossed back to Y&R. How was that?
Brown: Wonderful. That’s my birthing place. The cast was excited to have me. Eric Braeden [Victor] was always [imitating Braeden], “We need a storyline together.” So, I had a lot of great support going back there to stir the pot.
Digest: Prior to that, you were working on ONE LIFE TO LIVE (ex-Paige) when you got a call to come back to your Sheila roots.
Brown: I wasn’t under contract; I was recurring, and going back and forth [between L.A. and New York]. I was willing to move to New York, that’s how much fun I was having with this character and how much I really enjoyed working with Bobby Woods [ex-Bo]. Then, I got the call asking me if I would be interested in coming back. They wanted to put me under contract, and I went to my show in New York and told them the scenario and I don’t think they were willing to make the decision at that time and because of that, I did say yes. Right after, New York came back and said, “We want you. We’re going to put you under contract,” and I said, “It’s too late. I’m so sorry.” My part didn’t last long. They signed me to a ridiculously long contract and I think I was finished within maybe six months to a year. I started regretting not doing the one in New York but everything happens in life for a reason. I’m a firm believer in that and to me, it was a smart business move.
Digest: After you left, Michelle Stafford (Phyllis, Y&R) became Sheila later that year. What was that like?
Brown: I’ll never forget getting that call from Michelle Stafford saying, “Kimberlin, are you okay with this?” And I thought, “You’re asking me? Seriously?” And she said, “Yeah, I’m gonna give it my best shot but I just wanted to let you know, I will do my best with your character,” and I said, “Thank you for that.” Those are storylines that, thankfully for me, didn’t last terribly long and I kept getting that call to come back as Sheila, and I’m thrilled.
Digest: You came back to B&B in 2017, and here we are again in 2021. How’d this latest move come about?
Brown: I got a call asking me if I would come in to tape a segment for a special that they were doing for Australia. During my time there, I took a photograph of my drive-on pass and I took a selfie of me in the dressing room, and I got home and the next day I posted this [online] saying, “At CBS today doing a fun little project. Tell you more later,” and my Instagram blew up … I got a call about three weeks later from Casey [Kasprzyk, supervising producer] saying, “I don’t know what you did and what you’ve been posting but Brad [Bell, executive producer/head writer] has been noticing,” and that’s where it started. I’m sure Brad had something in his mind already and I just kept pulling the trigger on Instagram and he was seeing the responses and liked what he saw. So, maybe my pulling the trigger on my Instagram helped him pull the trigger on bringing Sheila back.
Digest: And now, as Finn’s mother, Sheila has a direct tie to the Forresters. What does it mean to you to be back as Sheila 31 years after her introduction?
Brown: I’m very blessed that the writers have stayed incredibly creative pushing that envelope … I truly believe that I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for my fans … I could not be happier that three months turned into 31 years.