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Laura Wright reflects on her early days in soaps

Soap Opera Digest: You made your television debut, remarkably, 30 years ago when you were cast as Ally Rescott on LOVING in 1991. So there’s this story that you were discovered at your family’s gas station, but that’s a little more folkloric than fact. So tell us the real story of how you were quote-unquote discovered.

Laura Wright: I had, like, four jobs [at the time] and then I would do local modeling things on the side and this woman who had a talent agency in Washington, D.C., asked me to be put on videotape with like 20 other girls to audition for this role on a soap opera. And I was really busy; I think I had a date that night. I was like, “I don’t have time for this!” And she really talked me into it and I auditioned on videotape. A week later, they called me in for a screen test. I had no idea what that was. So I went and I auditioned, which is a crazy story in itself. I carried around a disposable camera taking pictures with everyone. Even Susan Lucci [ex-Erica, ALL MY CHILDREN], I stalked her down the hallways because I was a fan! I watched LOVING every day. So I went to the audition, a screen test in New York City, took tons of pictures — I think the audition itself was like the second on my list because I was so excited to meet, like, Lisa Peluso, you know, watching [her as] Ava every day. Noelle Beck [ex-Trisha], oh, my God! She was from Maryland, too! I was going crazy…. I had a girlfriend go with me, we took the train up from D.C., [and] I told her on the ride home, “I really think I’m gonna get this part.” And she looked at me like, “Are you crazy?! You’ve never done anything like this in your life!” And I said, “No, I really think those people are going to be my friends! I really think these people are going to be a part of my life.” And she was like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” So I get home; I think that was a Tuesday, and Thursday, they called me. I was working at the gas station. I was, like, I don’t know, sweeping the floor or stocking something; it was a convenience store/gas station. And I was working there and they called and when I answered the phone, they asked to speak to Ally Rescott, and that was the name of the character. And I was like, “What?!” And she was like, “Pack your bags right now! You have to be in New York by 5 o’clock tonight, you start work tomorrow morning.” [And] here’s another great story: My doorman was [future NYPD BLUE star] Nick Turturro at [the hotel ABC put her up in]. He said, “I’ll get your taxi.” He totally took care of me. I was 20 years old, had no idea, never even been away from home, never been to college.

Digest: Having been a fan of LOVING, and then suddenly you’re inside The Matrix, did you have to fight through being starstruck by people?

Wright: Well, the first night, after I worked, Rena Sofer [ex-Rocky, now B&B’s Quinn] saw me wandering the hallways. She goes, “Do you know where you are or what’s happened to your life?” And I’m like, “No!” She said, “Well, is there anyone you want to meet?” and I was like, “Hayley from ALL MY CHILDREN!” [So] she calls Kelly [Ripa] and she’s like, “Hey, a fan got a job and let’s take her out tonight.” So we go to some diner [and] I’ll never forget, they got, like, salads and water and I got a Coke and a cheeseburger and french fries and they were like, “She’ll learn,” — and boy, were they right! I gained, like, you know, 50 pounds, I think, immediately! And then that night we just hung out and went back to Rena’s place and had a good time…. And that was 30 years ago. My first night in New York City, after work, on that Friday night, was with Kelly and Rena Sofer.

Digest: Can you put into words just how fast [your] life changed now that you’re starring on a soap opera?

Wright: Oh, it was — you know, when I look back now, it was some rough times. I sat alone a lot in my apartment and was sad a lot because I left this life that I knew … Even though life is amazing and it changed, I had no idea how to act! I mean, God bless Nada Rowand [ex-Kate, LOVING] and Eric Woodall [ex-Matt, LOVING] and Lisa Peluso that worked me with me and taught me how to do what I do. That they kept me on the show is mind-boggling, it really is, because I had no training and no idea what I was doing. [I] went through the transition of being alone a lot…. When I think back, we were all just trying to figure it out, right, even though I was the newest person. But Kelly came from a similar background, which is why I think we still connect on a certain level. And I just remember going to fan events and everyone checking everyone out, and everyone trying to figure out everyone, and then you’re trying to smile for the cameras and put on this air like you knew what the hell you were doing, but none of us really did…. Trying to find some sense of groundedness in who you are is still a challenge after 30 years, I’m just more clear about it. But I certainly had no idea what that looked like at 20 and 21 and 22!

Digest: In 1995, LOVING underwent the transition from LOVING to THE CITY…. What stands out to you about that era, and also your experience, then, on THE CITY?

Wright: If I lived it now, I think I would feel it very differently. [I] was very young and I was one [of the LOVING cast members] they were keeping, and I was getting married; I got married the weekend of the switch…. So I had a lot going on in my life, so I was not as emotionally affected as I would be now…. I just assumed that everyone was going to get amazing jobs. I saw it very differently. And I was really overwhelmed with the fact that they were taking me. I didn’t understand why I was going over to THE CITY. Outside of Randy Mantooth [ex-Alex], I was the longest-running character that was going and I was like, “What?” There was a lot of guilt, which is probably why I didn’t know how to process that at the time, I didn’t really get so emotional about it. [And] the transition was very different, the shooting was very different….. Another big thing was that ABC really started paying attention. You know, when you were the lowest-rated soap but you were trudging along and doing okay, you kind of had a really easy job on a half-hour show! But when it became THE CITY and ABC invested a lot of money, and everyone had an opinion, then all of a sudden, they were cracking the whip and it became a very different work environment…. LOVING was the little show that could. We were always done by 4 o’clock at the latest every day, we played practical jokes and we did Secret Santa Christmases. It was just so easy! And now if we tried to do that it would be like, “What? Who has time for this?”

Digest: In August of [1997] you made your GUIDING LIGHT debut as Cassie Layne. So, how did that job come about?

Wright: I called my agents and they were like, “You’ve got to come in here, you’ve been doing daytime for so long, our prime-time people don’t know you.” So I booked a pilot, and I went to Vancouver and I shot it and they picked up BUFFY THE VAMPIRE [SLAYER] instead, which they should have! And clearly, it worked out for Buffy, and Sarah Michelle Gellar [ex-Kendall, AMC]! And I came home and I told my agents, “You know, I’d love to stay in daytime. I do it well and I really like New York,” [and] a week later I had a screen test offer from ALL MY CHILDREN and GUIDING LIGHT. And I didn’t want to do the whole bidding [war] thing. I just said, “What’s the parts?” And [AMC] was a doctor, and [GL] was a stripper with a heart of gold. I was like, “Say no more [laughs]!” I mean, [GL] was known — and this is not to take away from any other shows — but [GL] was known to be an actors’ show, like it was — like, they scared me, you know? WORLD TURNS and GUIDING LIGHT, you were like, “God, you really have to know what you’re doing to work there,” and just seemed to have a different energy, and I wanted to experience that. I wouldn’t have even changed where I went to work if I’d [chosen] ALL MY CHILDREN, which was amazing, to even be offered a screen test, but I wanted a new experience and the character seemed so fun, and then to play Kim Zimmer’s [ex-Reva] sister, who is just a powerhouse of an actor and energy, and it terrified me, and I had to go for it! So that’s why I said, “Okay, let’s do this!” [I] remember them telling me my first scene was going to be a stripper pole all the way down to bikini bottoms and just a cowboy hat covering my boobs and so I immediately went into kickboxing mode and working out like crazy. I had a month before I had to start and it was amazing, it was definitely another life-changing experience, for sure…. I think I cried every day in my dressing room for like the first three months, because it was hard and a different vibe. Kim was amazing, Robert [Newman, ex-Josh] was amazing and Jordan Clarke [ex-Billy], oh, he was just incredible. It was an experience that changed everything for acting with me and for me…. I mean, I learned every day from them. I learned not just acting, but I learned how you act on a set, I learned how you respect your fellow actors. And not that we didn’t do it on LOVING; we didn’t have to! It wasn’t as much material, it was easier, we ran it all day long because we had all day long. On GUIDING LIGHT — an hour show is way more than a half-hour show. It’s so much more dialogue. They cared about every performance being the top of the game, you know? And everyone showed up knowing their dialogue and emotionally prepared to kill it in every scene. The bar was so high and I was raised by a father that second place was first loser, so I was going to hit that bar or die trying! It was the most incredible experience working on GUIDING LIGHT…. I loved every second of it. I never cried harder than when I left GUIDING LIGHT to go to GENERAL HOSPITAL. Those eight years were life-changing for me.

Digest: You did come in with now years of soap experience under your belt. Did you feel you had to prove yourself because it was a new show?

Wright: Oddly enough, I did not … I felt coming onto [GH], “Look out, here I come!” I had so much — not arrogance, but excitement and confidence. I felt like I couldn’t wait to play Carly, like all the characters I had before were there because I was going to play Carly.