Next year marks the 25th anniversary of Roger Howarth’s soap debut, a few inauspicious days of work on GUIDING LIGHT. He quickly landed on LOVING, staying for a few months as snotty frat boy Kent before being cast in his breakout, Emmy-winning role of ONE LIFE TO LIVE’s Todd, which he reprised in 2011 after an eight-year AS THE WORLD TURNS run as Paul. Howarth, now in his fourth year at GH (his third as Franco), chatted with Digest about his life in daytime.
Soap Opera Digest: When you hit the scene on ONE LIFE, you made a splash in a way that was pretty rare.
Roger Howarth: I was pretty lucky. It was pretty great.
Digest: Does it feel now like that whole experience happened to a different person, or does it exist way in the recesses of your mind?
Howarth: I mean, I was a totally different person and it was a long time ago. If I’m truthful, I have only vague recollections of it.
Digest: But you feel lucky to have had an impact on viewers, and on the show?
Digest: When you were starting out there, did anyone help show you the ropes?
Howarth: Oh, sure! Yeah, absolutely. I got a lot of help. I think the biggest help I got from another actor was definitely Erika [Slezak, ex-Viki], just watching somebody who was totally committed and totally prepared and had a great sense of humor. Erika was a champ. I don’t think in all the days that I worked with her that she ever had a dark cloud over her. She was just positive and committed and she’s a terrific actor. And also, her endorsement … I had a process that was sometimes misunderstood. I would just kind of keep to myself; that was the only way I could manage to learn that much material, because in that day, there really was a lot more to learn, a lot more to say, and so I had to practice it, you know? So her stamp of approval kept me employed there; the fact that she enjoyed working with me probably encouraged them to keep me around [laughs]. I’m kind of grateful for that from her, too!
Digest: That’s definitely the impression I had of you, that you kept to yourself.
Howarth: Yeah, I still do. I still do. I think you only have so much energy. Just as a life thing, it’s like, you have to figure out where you put your attention. And I think when I was in my 20s and 30s, all of my energy went into trying to tell the story. If people thought I wasn’t friendly, it didn’t bother me.
Digest: Several of your GH castmates have singled you out to me as someone who was really helpful to them when they first started. Is it typical of you to take an interest in the newbies and try to help them get acclimated?
Howarth: Um, I don’t know. The answer to that might be yes, somehow, inadvertently! I mean, I think we’re supposed to help one another. I think that’s nice. But I don’t know how it happened, that I got to be the veteran. The other day I was talking to Matt Cohen [Griffin], who is super-cool, just a sweet, sweet guy, and Hayley Erin [Kiki], who is also terrific. We were talking about how much we loved the show RUGRATS and we agreed that “Pigeon Man” was the best episode of HEY ARNOLD, and might be the best episode of television that has ever been made. And then I realized that I was talking about a TV show that I had watched with my son and that they had actually watched, themselves, as children. And I went from being, like, one of the cool kids to being one of the cool kids’ dads [chuckles heartily].
Digest: If it’s any consolation, I don’t think that they see you as a grandpa figure quite yet.
Howarth: Well, I am the guy that’s got to put the glasses on before blocking. That happened! But I like being the age I am, so it doesn’t bother me.
Digest: On-screen these days, Franco is pursuing a relationship with Liz, but has some unfinished emotional business with Nina, I think.
Howarth: Yeah, I think there’s a really rich history between Nina and Franco, and I think that everybody is really hopeful that the writers will pay attention to that and mine that and not just kind of toss it aside because I think as soon as those two characters are in the same room, something will happen, given the volatility of both of their emotional lives.
Digest: What is it that you like about working with Michelle Stafford (Nina)?
Howarth: Her spontaneity and her commitment. I think some of the stuff we did was really good, and I don’t say that a lot.
Digest: What do you like about working with Rebecca Herbst (Elizabeth)?
Howarth: There’s an intelligence to her choices and I think she’s really interested in finding deeper emotional levels in things. Both of those things are true of both of those people. I have seen stuff in Michelle’s performances when I saw it on-screen that I hadn’t noticed when we were doing it, and that was pretty cool.
Digest: Wait, I know you don’t watch your work, so what do you mean you saw it on-screen? By accident?
Howarth: Yeah, totally by accident! In the makeup room, I saw the scene where Franco is explaining to Nina, “I don’t want to have kids with you.” The reactions she had that were without dialogue, they had real value.
Digest: But there is stuff you’ve done where you can say, “I’m proud of that,” or “That was good”?
Howarth: Yeah, but it’s funny for me. What I’m hunting for, what I’m looking for, is the experience of leaving the set knowing we all did a great job together. I don’t need to watch the show to confirm that it happened. When it does, it’s great. To watch the show and sit in judgment and try to figure out whether it was good or bad is a trap.
Digest: Since you don’t watch the show and you’re not on social media, I’m curious to what extent you get a sense of whether or not something is working, like a new romantic pairing, say.
Howarth: Well, we actually do have an audience when we work and I do take cues from people in the studio. Like, if I get to the set and Sonny and Carly are in the Metro Court having a conversation and everything is completely quiet, I know it’s because they’re doing really well, that the writing is coming together with these two actors and the actors are committed. You can kind of sense that as soon as you walk on set, when there’s a guy standing 10 feet away from the scene that they’re shooting with a panel of lights and he’s watching. There’s this kind of breathlessness to the studio and when it happens, it’s really exciting. And that’s how you know.
Digest: Do your kids ever watch the show?
Howarth: No, they’ve never seen any of it. I mean, they’ve been on set while I was working. But my dad is a teacher and I didn’t go watch him teach class, you know what I mean?
Digest: Yeah, but his classes weren’t televised, I’m presuming [Howarth laughs]. They would have easier access if they were curious, is all I’m saying.
Howarth: Well, if they’re curious, they’ll let me know.
Digest: You came to GH after living through the cancellations of both AS THE WORLD TURNS and ONE LIFE TO LIVE. What was that experience like?
Howarth: It makes me sad because there were hundreds of people who worked for those shows. I do think there must have been a reason. I just don’t know what it is. You know, they canceled WILL & GRACE, too, and that was a pretty good show. They must have had a reason to do it. I suspect that it wasn’t making as much money as they needed it to make.
Digest: For you as an actor on those shows, was it like, “Oh, well, the gig ended and that’s what acting jobs do”?
Howarth: Yes. Yes, 100 percent.
Digest: Has that experience given you a different perspective on your job at GH?
Howarth: Are you asking me if I’m appreciative of having a job? Yeah, I’m totally grateful to have a job! In my life, I have had years where I worked and years where I worked less, and working is better than not working.
On OLTL, Howarth got a seal of approval from on-screen sister Erika Slezak (Viki). (Steve Fenn/ABC)
Howarth praises GH ex Michelle Stafford (Nina) for her “spontaneity and her commitment.” (Steven Bergman)
JUST THE FACTS
Birthday: September 13
Hometown: Hastings-on-Hudson, NY
Connected Four: The New York City-based actor and his wife of 25 years, Cari Stahler, are parents to a son, Julian, 24, and a daughter, Langston, 14.
Soap History: Jory, GUIDING LIGHT, 1992; Kent, LOVING, 1992; Todd, ONE LIFE TO LIVE, 1992-95, 1996-98, 2000-03, 2011-12, 2013; Prof. Hetson, DAWSON’S CREEK, 2002-03; Paul, AS THE WORLD TURNS, 2003-10; Todd, GENERAL HOSPITAL, 2012-13
Girl Power: Toby, a 6-month-old female puppy, is a new addition to Howarth’s family. “She’s awesome — mischievous and strong-willed and complicated.”
High Visibility: “For years, the only TV that I really watched was the TV I watched with my kids. Everybody else was watching MAD MEN and I was watching THE WIZARDS OF WAVERLY PLACE! I became a big fan of Spencer [Jerry Trainor] from iCARLY. I think he’s a genius.” Nowadays, “I’m watching sports, pretty much exclusively. It’s a great summer for soccer.” His team of choice? “Arsenal.”
Play List: “I’ve been listening to The National and Kendrick Lamar. I think he’s awesome. And I listen to Chopin almost every day. The preludes, that’s my jam.”
Dawson’s Peek: The actor enjoyed catching up with former ATWT half brother/stepfather Trent Dawson (ex-Henry) when he popped in to GH as Huxley. “I’m happy for him; he seems to be enjoying his family life. I hope they bring him back.”
THE LONG AND THE SHORT OF IT
Franco’s been rocking longer hair these days, and the impetus for the switch came from Howarth’s boss, Executive Producer Frank Valentini. “Frank made a comment like, ‘Don’t cut your hair, because Jake is going to want to grow his hair to look like you.’ But, you know, he said that months ago, so I think it would already have been in a script if we were going to do that! So now I’m just kind of like, ‘Here I am!’ I am sure there was truth to it in the moment, but I think they might have changed their idea. It may just be a product of laziness at this point, because the woman who for 25 years has cut my hair and my family’s hair lives in New York, and I work in Los Angeles. It could just be that!”
At the same time, Howarth thinks Franco’s new look makes sense in the context of his current storyline as he transitions between romantic interests. “I do think that characters should have different looks with different stories, that it helps to separate them visually. [OLTL’s] Todd with Rebecca should look different than Todd with Blair or Todd with Téa, because those were all kind of different ideas.”
DID YOU KNOW?
*GH’s casting director, Mark Teschner, attended a music and arts camp as a teen where Howarth’s father was directing a play, and according to Teschner, he babysat for a then-6-year-old Howarth. Howarth remembers it slightly differently: “He was dating my sister. He did very little babysitting!”
*He has “absolutely not” done anything to decorate or personalize his dressing room. “It’s a storage space,” he shrugs.