This interview originally appeared in the September 11, 2001 issue of Soap Opera Digest.
Sarah. It was the name Tamara Braun heard time and again while auditioning for the highly coveted recast role of GENERAL HOSPITAL’s Carly earlier this year. And why not? After all, it was the first name of the actress — Sarah Brown — who was leaving the party after five years, much to fans’ rather vocal dismay.
But while Braun was peripherally aware that Brown was vacating the role, the Sarah she was more concerned with was the one of the pages of her audition script. “I was certain that I wasn’t [trying out for the part of] Carly,” confides the ebullient actress over a sunny lunch at Pinot Hollywood. “My mom’s friends, who are big GH fans, were like, ‘Oh, my God, Sarah Brown is leaving and she plays Carly.’ But on the audition material, it said, ‘Sarah.’ That was the character’s name. So I said, ‘No, I’m reading for a character named Sarah.’ ”
Further convincing Braun that the shoes she was auditioning to fill weren’t Carly’s was the fact that, “Everyone said, ‘Oh, Sarah [Webber]! She was Elizabeth’s [Rebecca Herbst] sister.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I can see that. I could totally play her sister,’ ” she grins. “I was told that Sarah had been on and she could certainly come back, so that’s what I was sitting there thinking. I was a little naive [laughs].”
So much so, admits Braun, that she didn’t even know exactly which character she’d be playing until days after landing the job. “I went in for the final audition on a Wednesday and found out I got it on Monday,” she recalls. “I got on the phone with my manager and [Casting Director] Mark Teschner and he was like, ‘This is very hush-hush. If people contact you, you don’t know anything.’ And I said, ‘Well, I don’t know anything [laughs]!’ It was driving me bonkers! About a week-and-a-half before I started, I talked to Mark and he said, ‘So you wanna know who you’re playing?’ I said, ‘I’m playing someone’s sister,’ like, Miss Smarty Pants [laughs]. And he goes, ‘You’re so cute … no. Have you tuned in to the show in the last six months?’ I said, ‘Well, I’ve turned it on….’ He said, ‘Do you know the character Carly?’ I was like — deer in the headlights — ‘Yes.’ Then he said, ‘That’s the character you’ll be playing. How do you feel?’ And I went, ‘Um … frightened [laughs]?’ ”
With good reason. To begin with, there’s a tremendous workload that goes along with a front-burner character like Carly. “I had 23 pages of dialogue on day one and day two, and it just continued from there,” notes the actress, whose previous experience included guest spots on such prime-time shows as THE PRETENDER, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and PARTY OF FIVE, as well as film roles in Soul Food, Molly and The Opposite of Sex (“Unfortunately, that one ended up on the cutting-room floor”). “I was so terrified because I’d never worked on a soap, even as a recurring [character] or a day player or anything. And I had some speeches! So, I just worked hardest on those.”
Braun also found herself smack in the middle of the whirlwind over the recasting of Carly. “I didn’t really know about the uproar, which was good,” she relates. “But I was informed about it before I started working. I thought to myself, ‘Holy guacamole … I’m going into something here. But all I can do is the best that I can.”
That philosophy still braces Braun, now five months into the job. “I think on some level, a lot of people were waiting for me to fail,” she muses. “But I knew I couldn’t pay attention to that. I didn’t go into it knowing it was the Carly character, so I didn’t really watch [GH]. I couldn’t, because then I would just have been thinking about what Sarah Brown does and how she is Carly to everyone out there. They hired me without my knowing anything [about the part I was really auditioning for], so I must have a similar enough essence. But yeah, it was terrifying and I knew there was pressure.”
Easing that transition was the mail that Braun began receiving shortly after joining the show. “I’ve gotten letters from people saying, ‘We didn’t want to like you, but we do. We’re giving you a chance,’ ” shares the grateful actress. “I’ve only received one negative letter, and I didn’t read past the first line. Everyone else said, ‘Welcome. We’re huge Sarah [Brown] fans, but we like what you’re doing and we’re looking forward to becoming Tamara fans because we are Carly fans.’ That means so much to me.”
As does the support she’s gotten from on-screen mate Maurice Benard (Sonny). “He has been a dream to work with,” she enthuses. “We were fortunate to have that weird chemistry that just happens between people. You don’t know where it comes from. It just is. I mean, I’m not going to say I was cool and collected when I first started. I was like a serious ad for Sure [deodorant] — keep your arms down!
“But I do feel more part of the show now,” she nods. “Actually, the other day, they had to stop tape and they said, ‘Okay, we’re going back and starting at….’ And I said [cringing], ‘Oh, it’s me. It’s the new girl!’ Stuart Damon [Alan] goes, ‘Honey, you’re not the new girl anymore.’ And I was like, ‘Ah, thank you.’ ”
Just The Facts
Birthday: April 18
State Of Mine: Born and raised in Illinois
Party Lines: “My junior year in high school, I auditioned for this show that everyone got in to, no matter what. You could be a tree or a stump, but it was okay because you got to go to the parties [laughs]! So I was like, ‘Who cares? I’ll just in the chorus.’ But the next year, I thought, “I really want to audition.’ I did, and I got the lead.”
Royal Treatment: “I went to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London for a summer session in Shakespeare. It was an incredible experience.”
Daze: “About six months before I knew I was going to move to L.A. [from Chicago in 1995], I came out and visited. It was February, the sun was shining, it was 70-some-odd degrees. I was like, ‘Okay, I can live here.’ ”
Picture Perfect: She has a boyfriend, but prefers to keep his identity private.
There’s The Rub: “I have gone to school for massage therapy. I love the healing arts.”
“Right before I booked this job, I had vowed to quit acting and just re-evaluate,” reveals Braun. “The day after I left my third audition at GENERAL HOSPITAL, I went home and just got into bed and was like, ‘I’m done.’ As any actor will tell you, there are highs and there are lows. It’s a very unstable [career]. But after years and years of it, you get to a point where you’re like, ‘I don’t know how much more of this I can take.’ All of a sudden, I started taking the rejection personally. It really wasn’t about [GH]; I was just done. So when my manager called to tell me that [GH] wanted to [screen] test me, I was like, [pretends to cry], ‘Ohhhhhhh.’ She said, ‘What? You don’t want to go on the test?’ And I said, ‘Okay, one more time, so I can be told ‘no.’ ”
Which, as we all know, is not how this fairy tale ends. “When I booked this, I was like, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you!’ ” exclaims Braun. “You hear about those actors who vow to quit and their managers or agents say, ‘Just go out on this one last audition. It’s so perfect for you.’ And that’s what did happen. It’s weird, isn’t it?”