There are so many storylines going into the presentation of the 39th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards on June 23rd that could give an emotional wallop to the proceedings. One is that of the final nomination for a performance so rich and with so much history, that you almost want to hand this woman an Emmy for her body of work. We are talking about previous Daytime Emmy winner, Debbi Morgan.
In the final year of the canceled All My Children, Morgan was handed another storyline worthy of her talents in her role as Dr Angie Hubbard, and because of that, her name was called last week when this year’s Daytime Emmy nominees for Lead Actress were announced. In a heartfelt interview with On-Air On-Soaps, Debbi discusses her Emmy nominated work, the disappointment of AMC leaving network television and not finding a new home, her last conversation with Agnes Nixon, and what it has been like for her taking on her latest role as Harmony on The Young and the Restless. A true daytime gem, here’s Debbi!
What a nice button on an amazing run as Dr. Angie Hubbard on All My Children. On the heels of the cancellation of the iconic show, you scored a Lead Actress nomination. How do you feel about getting the nod? And, what scenes did you submit that got you into the final round?
DEBBIE: It is so bittersweet getting the nomination. What I submitted was the episode of when Angie finds out that her baby died and Jesse takes her to the grave site where he has buried her.
Was the decision to go with that episode a “no-brainer” for you?
DEBBIE: You know what? All I remember was those scenes were so gut-wrenching and difficult, because those are the scenes where you just have to hope that they get it on the first take. Because to repeat all of that again is difficult, and you just want it to be fresh and be in the moment. Whenever you are outside and dealing with the elements and not in that controlled environment, like you are when you are in the studio, things happen. And we had to do that scene two or three times. It was tortuous! So I said, “Well, damn. I deserve an Emmy for this!” (Laughs) I may not get one, but I damn well deserve one! (Laughs)
When you have those big emotional knockout moments on the soaps, I call it “Doing a Debbi Morgan!” We watch your whole body get into those huge pay-off revelations in your storylines. It is so gut-wrenching to see you do that, but amazing! You know, you have done that many times over throughout your career.
DEBBIE: (Laughs) Yeah, but the thing about it was that Lorraine Broderick was back and she was writing All My Children at that time with Agnes Nixon. And those scenes were just so beautifully written. It just makes me so sad, because I think we would be in a different place here if she had been on board much, much earlier. There were so many variables involved, but towards the end of AMC’s run, the writing was just really wonderful.
And then we had the final episodes of All My Children, which unfortunately left things hanging, when in the end Pine Valley would not find a new home on the web.
DEBBIE: Yes. Even our send-off could have been so much better. At the very end, there were so many stories that could have been tied up in a great and special way, but I guess with all the talk looking like All My Children was going to move online, it really tied their hands. It was just heartbreaking!
It was really disconcerting, Debbi, attending the final press junkets of All My Children and One Life to Live and speaking with the cast members, who were thinking, or were led to believe, their shows would be continuing online within months! If only everyone knew the real story, we could have had some even more meaningful moments between the press and the actors to deliver to the fans. Something with closure and a special bow on it, instead of it being left open only for it all to evaporate!
DEBBIE: That was really awful. I remember the day we finished the show on August 30th of last year. A month later, I gave Agnes Nixon a call to just say “Hello” and to see how she was doing. Agnes said, “I am glad you did not call me a week or so ago. I am barely getting myself out of bed.” I thought to myself, “Oh, my God.” But she then went on to say, “I am finally getting it together. I am writing a book about my whole experience at All My Children.” She said that she finally had something to get up for.
Have you talked to Darnell Williams and congratulated him on his nomination for Lead Actor for his work on AMC?
DEBBIE: As a matter of fact, we just finished having a scene together. He just left work here at Y&R as he finished early for the day. We gave each other big hugs. I had not seen Darnell in a while. It was good to see him and I am thrilled that he was nominated.
Jesse and Angie were the perfect storm! Everyone in the viewing audience loved Jesse and Angie. Why do you think they became such an iconic couple?
DEBBIE: It started off on day one. You had this guy from the wrong side of the tracks and the good girl, and she just saw qualities in him that nobody else did. She saw his heart, instead of all of the exteriors. So because he had felt so unloved and had gone through so much, it was like his outward demeanor was his protection. Angie saw through that. She penetrated through to his heart. Even though when they were teenagers, her parents did not want to her to have anything to do with him. It was like the fans saw this true love and were supporting and fighting along with them to be together. Then, they finally get together and they have this beautiful love story, and then Jesse is killed! I think for Darnell and I, it’s so hard to believe that this existed for so long. On the one hand, I feel very proud that Darnell and I became this hugely successful couple with the fans, and as an African-American couple. You didn’t have a lot of us. That was another reason why we stood out. You had some others on other show, but I don’t think they really struck a chord the same way as Jesse and Angie did. I have had people tell me that when the show went off the air, and when Jesse got killed, and then Jesse came back, they just wept. I have a girlfriend of my mine, the talented actress, Lynn Moody. And one day, I came home. This is after Jesse had come back and we had that whole epic train sequence. That could have been like a film, it was done so well! So, when I get home, I get this message. All I hear on the message is somebody sobbing and sobbing and sobbing. I could not even make out who it was, and finally I heard her saying, “It’s Lynn. Debbie, I am an actress. I know this is make believe. But I could not believe I am friggin’ acting like this, but oh, my God!” And so I called her right back when I heard that, and I said, “Lynn, that was the biggest applause I could have ever gotten.” (Laughs) But you know, people really, really were touched on such a deep level with this couple.
So now that you and Darnell are both at Y&R, it is my hope that they won’t try to capture lighting in a bottle twice! Many times on soaps, when actors who have worked together for years as a romantic pairing go to a different soap and are playing totally different characters, the powers-that-be try to pair them together for ratings and familiarity to the audience. And 99.9% time it doesn’t work!
DEBBIE: The only thing I can say is; I really hope they do not try to resurrect that on Y&R. The only thing with us, as actors, is you can go up and express how you feel about certain stories, but in the final hours we are paid to do a job. It is a very dangerous slope trying to create that kind of magic again. If these characters become platonic friends it would be good, anything but them becoming lovers. I would be really disappointed if something like that happened.
When we last spoke at the AMC final press junket you were on your way to being at The Young and the Restless and to take on your new role as Harmony. You were really looking forward to it. Now having been at Y&R for several months, are you digging Harmony? Was it all that you thought it would be coming over to the number soap?
DEBBIE: I miss Angie in a sentimental kind of way. I miss my All My Children family. Angie is so endearing to me and will always have a special place in my heart. But with that being said, I played her for so many years that it is so wonderful to step into a new pair of shoes. I would not have wanted to do a character that was close to Angie, either. Harmony is so different. From an actress’s standpoint, I am loving it and having a great time.
Look at Harmony now! She is sleeping with all sorts of gents. She is a player! (Laughs)
DEBBIE: I know! That would have never happened with Saint Angie, no! (Laughs) I love Stephen Nichols (Tucker). He is such a doll, and so is Kristoff St. John (Neil)! I feel like I am having my cake and eating it too. They are fantastic and fabulous. I am like, “OK, I don’t care who I jump into bed with! (Laughs) It’s fine with me.”
I know that the character of Neil is a recovering alcoholic, and Harmony has her addictions. Do you foresee Y&R handing you the ball and letting you play an addiction storyline, or a descent back into it?
DEBBIE: They do have that connection from the bad side. She is not so much alcoholic, but I think it’s the same with her as they said about Whitney Houston. What happens is when you have any kind of those certain addictions, any time you started drinking or smoking weed or something like that, those things are triggers. It’s not necessarily that you had a problem with that, but you do something that sort of gradually leads you back into the thing that you did have a problem with. For Harmony, hers was the crack pipe! I wish they would let me play that history as an actress. I don’t know if Maria Arena Bell (executive producer and head writer, Y&R) would want to go down that road, but as an actress, “Oh, I would love that.” The thing about it is, even if Harmony makes it all the way up to the top, it doesn’t matter, because once an addict, always an addict. I have known people in my life who have been off drugs for fifteen to twenty years, and then something happens in their life, and bam! They are right back there.
What do you think of the group of ladies you were nominated with for the Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series category? All deserving, I think.
DEBBIE: I can say, if Erika Slezak and Laura Wright are in my category, I can go, “Wow! I am in a great group of women.” I don’t know. I don’t’ think this is mine. I think I had a wonderful story, but I have seen some of those actresses when I was looking at the reels. I saw Crystal Chappell’s work, and the scene she submitted where she is in the hospital bed detoxing, and I went “Oh, my God.” It’s amazing!
So now you have to pick out a dress for Emmy night. Is that something you get on right away? Or, are you a last minute shopper?
DEBBIE: So many thing start happening beforehand, and when I pick out a dress it’s always towards the last minute. But I guess, I will go shopping soon, though. (Laughs) I have a very dear friend of my mine who designed my wedding dress. I might have her throw something together for me. (Laughs) Whatever the case, I will enjoy the evening and am thrilled to be a part of it.