On June 7, Vernee Watson hit the GH canvas as Stella Ashford, Curtis’s no-nonsense, Jordan-disapproving aunt. The actress, who is perhaps best known for her stints on WELCOME BACK, KOTTER and THE FRESH PRINCE OF BEL-AIR, also appeared on Y&R as Birdie, DAYS as Ella Kraft, and AS THE WORLD TURNS in a role she can’t remember (“It was so long ago!”) — but if her first few days in Port Charles are any indication, Stella is shaping up to be her most memorable soap character yet. She chatted with Soap Opera Digest about her GH experience.
By Mara Levinsky
Soap Opera Digest: Welcome to GH! How did the gig come about?
Vernee Watson: Well, I auditioned, like I unfortunately still have to do sometimes [laughs]. Because it’s a soap opera, there is so much dialogue and I decided that I was really going to try to go for this and I really worked hard on [the audition]. The scene, the emotion she was going through, was very defined and clear, so it was a lot to work with. And I had a ball! Donnell [Turner, Curtis] was there and he read with us. That was really cool, to audition with him, and all the producers were in there. It was a good session.
Digest: Were you excited to get the news?
Watson: Actually, I didn’t know if I had gotten it or not and I had just resigned myself to the fact that, “I did a good audition and I am moving on.” My agent had called to tell me on my home line, which they never do, and I didn’t get the message until the next week! But I was very excited. To me, soap operas are like acting aerobics. You get in there and you go to work. I mean, you could just go in there and say the lines and get through it, but that’s not how I work. I actually hired somebody to read with me so I can hear the other people’s lines and so I am truly reacting and not just saying my stuff.
Digest: Is that something you’ve done in the past?
Watson: Nope! I was trying to beg my daughter to read with me, but it was like pulling teeth! So I said, “Okay. I can’t go through this with this soap, because I have too many lines.” So I hired my friend that I grew up with in New York and we go over it and she is hard. On. Me. Do you hear me? She is hard! “Let’s take it back. You don’t say ‘so’, it’s an ‘and’!” You can just know your lines and not know what the other person is saying. But soap operas, a lot of times, are about that look, that reaction. They cut to you and you’ve gotta be thinking about something, not just your next line! And I am not playing. Tequan [Richmond, T.J.] told his mother, “Ma, she makes me rehearse!” He is really sweet.
Digest: Have you enjoyed your past dips into daytime TV?
Watson: Yeah, well, I played a homeless alcoholic on YOUNG AND RESTLESS, Birdie, and I had fun doing that. It was just quiet around there. There just seems to be more energy on this set, I don’t know. Everybody is so nice and Donnell is really a gentleman, he is so sweet and caring and willing to work. You don’t get people who are willing to work all the time. So I am having a ball. And I’m working at ABC, where I did WELCOME BACK, KOTTER in the ’70s! I have run into the boom operator that was on WELCOME BACK, KOTTER! Isn’t that crazy?
Digest: Well, I look at your credits and think, where can you go in Los Angeles where you haven’t worked with somebody?
Watson: I know, right? I’ve had about 47 years of this [business] out here, so it’s a good thing. I’m glad that I’m still around. I’ve never really become a big star, you know? But that’s not important to me. What’s important is to make the money that I need to get by in life and then to do my art, and this is a perfect opportunity to do it. It’s not like I’m just going in and saying a couple of lines. I have to learn it. I have to study. I have to work. I have to be on point. And it’s wonderful! I love it. I’m trying to keep up with it.
Digest: Stella came in just asserting her personality all over the place — and I love it! What is your take on her?
Watson: I think there are things that we as adults want to say to the young people sometimes — and Stella don’t hold her tongue! I love that about her! It’s an opportunity for me to speak my mind and to make points that a lot of young people just need to hear, because there is just so much immortality going on. I think she dwells on a whole lot! But that’s her character. I have to understand that about her and her concern for Donnell’s character. She really helped raise him so she feels responsible for his life and wants him to do well.
Digest: Well, I’m looking forward to seeing more of Stella in Port Charles, and I’ll say a little prayer for Jordan.
Watson: Ooh, Lord, yes [laughs]! It’s going to get deep!