This interview originally appeared in the November 25, 1997 issue of Soap Opera Digest
Back in the spring of 1996, Maura West, then six months pregnant, decided she wanted to quit AS THE WORLD TURNS for good to focus on motherhood. “What you have to understand is, I was having a baby and I was told I would only get six weeks maternity leave,” she begins. “My son was nine days late! I would have had a month before I had to go back to work.” She pauses, then sums up her whole state of mind in a nutshell. “My husband and I made this child. I had to do right by him, and that meant being there for him and nursing him. And I was in a situation where I could be financially and emotionally supported to do that full-time.”
Financially and emotionally, sure, but not legally. At the time, West was one-third of the way through a three-year contract playing snarling Carly Tenney, one of the only new ATWT characters to jell with fans in years. Meanwhile, he co-stars were defecting en masse, and so was the audience; the show couldn’t really afford another nail in the coffin. Given that pregnancies are easily accommodated on daytime, then Executive Producer John Valente could have — and for the show’s sake, maybe should have — made her stay. But going into her meeting with him, West felt she would get her way. “What are you going to say? ‘No, I won’t let you be a mom. I’m going to make you come to work?’ ”
Still, she admits, Valente had the right to feel “a little ticked,” especially since her decision came after she was already visibly pregnant and the condition had been incorporated in Carly’s storyline. “I was fortunate,” she finally concedes. “There are a lot of people who would have said, ‘Look, lady, you signed a contract — you have to honor it, no matter what.’ When [Valente] allowed me to go, I was slightly surprised. Just slightly.”
On May 30, 1996 — the day after her final air date — West and her husband, Director Jonathan Knight, welcomed their baby boy: Benjamin Crawford West Knight. With occupational deadlines no longer an issue, the actress could devote all her time to Ben’s care — and she believes it made him a better baby.
“Ben doesn’t cry a lot; he’s a happy kid,” she explains. “Part of that is just his nature, but I also think part of it is that I was there for him day and night for so long. After all that time, he trusts that he’ll be well taken care of. He’s a very trusting boy.”
For the first 14 months of his life, Ben and his parents lived in Irvine, CA, where Jonathan worked on various projects while West focused on the demands of her new life: nurturing the boy, losing weight she had gained during pregnancy (“I ain’t no Pamela Lee, you know”), watching SESAME STREET, learning to take temperatures and just being a mom. After a year, the actress realized that returning to work was, once again, both an option and a temptation. “To be honest, it was time for me to get out of the house and not be a full-time mother anymore,” she sighs. “I was getting to the point where I didn’t even enjoy it, doing it all the time.”
She won’t say who called whom (“It’s very complex”), but somebody called somebody, and West came back to ATWT last August. Her return shocked soap insiders, but she insists she never closed the door on Carly — and the show had never closed the door on her. “[My departure] was extremely amicable,” she says, not that it mattered anyway: “If anybody who was here before was angry, they’re gone. The powers-that-be have changed since I was here last time.”
And so have the circumstances of Carly’s life. With love interest Shawn Christian (ex-Mike) in absentia, Carly’s starting from scratch, history-wise — and West likes that. “I think it would have been weird to come back doing the same storyline,” she muses. “I’m not saying I wouldn’t want Shawn to come back; I’d be thrilled. But they’ve been giving me great scenes with Michael Park [Jack] and Benjamin Hendrickson [Hal], and that’s fabulous.” As is being back at work, period. “I was getting burnt out before,” she admits. “Now, I enjoy every minute with Ben, whereas before, I was like, ‘Oh, it’s just us.’ This [arrangement] is infinitely easier than staying at home all of the time.”
Especially now, since she and Ben are living in Westchester County, NY, while Jonathan continues working in California. Fortunately, West’s mom is just two hours away in Springfield, MA. “I go to her place on the weekends for relaxation,” she grins. “Being the only parent out here, I don’t really get a day off, so when I’m at my mother’s, I can catch up on some sleep while she watches Ben.” West vocally praises her mom’s parenting skills; throughout her childhood, a close relationship with her three siblings was emphasized, and in that sense, it’s not surprising that she chose caring for her son over a lucrative career in the limelight.
Which is not to say that she’ll do everything the same way the second time around. “There’s going to be a time when I have another child. Will the same [work issues] come up? No, I don’t think so. Ben was my first child,” West smiles “and I had no idea what I was doing.”
Separated At Birth?
Though they play cousins on ATWT, a lot of people think West and Lesli Kay Sterling (Molly) actually look more like sisters. “I’ve heard that, and I can see it a little bit,” West admits. “Maybe I’d see it more if my hair were [longer, like it used to be].” Sterling, meanwhile, doesn’t see the resemblance at all (“I’m just glad to have a relative”), but admits that everybody around her has mentioned it.
“When I came in for my audition, Frank, who was doing my hair, said, ‘You really look like Maura West,’ ” Sterling recalls. “And people tell me I look like Michelle Pfeiffer! It’s funny. Felicia [Minei Behr, executive producer] said to me at one point that she thought we looked so similar, there was no way to bring Maura back on and not make her my cousin or something.”
Just The Facts
Birthdate: April 27
Hails From: Springfield, MA
On Her New, Short Haircut: “It’s my mother-of-toddler look.”
She Roots For: The New York Yankees
Middle Name: Jo, after the spirited Little Women heroine
Alma Mater: Boston University