What will happen when one powerhouse actress reunites almost 20 years later with some of her beloved and former co-stars of the long running Guiding Light, but this time live on-stage in a new play? Audiences, and soap fans are about to find out the weekend of August 13th-14th, when Daytime Emmy winner Cynthia Watros (Annie) joins Grant Aleksander (Phillip), Tina Sloan (Lillian), and Michael O’Leary (Rick) in Michael’s award-winning play, Breathing Under Dirt as they hit the stage in Maryland. The Lower Shore Performing Arts Company is staging the play as its inaugural event, (Click here for ticket info) and it’s sure to be a memorable one.
Breathing Under Dirt explores the poisonous legacy that generational lack of forgiveness has on families. The war-scarred 1950s serves as the backdrop, as a mother and daughter grapple with their deep resentments of each other, and their roles in the lives of their family. Grant Alexsander directs the drama which has hope as its ultimate message. The hope that we can reach reconciliation and forgiveness with loved ones while we still have life.
On-Air On-Soaps caught up and chatted exclusively with the one and only Watros to find out what made her decide to jump in with both feet in the lead role in O’Leary’s play. And in an intriguing twist, having her own daughter Emma performing in the play with her! We also go back in time, and talk with Cynthia about her time on Guiding Light, where she made Annie Dutton one of the most memorable characters and forces that the soaps had ever seen. She shares some behind the scenes anedotes, her decision to depart the soap at the time she did, and takes the opportunity to clear up those long-running and persistent rumors that she and legacy GL co-star Kim Zimmer (Reva) had a backstage feud.
Back in 2013, Y&R fans were elated that Watros was coming back to the soaps after seeing her work in ABC’s Lost, and other primetime roles, in the newly created part as Kelly, only to have to see her exit the series to star in MTV’s Finding Carter. We get her thoughts on both shows and roles, and if she would ever consider a run on daytime drama again. To say we had a blast chatting with Cynthia is an understatement. You can’t get much better than an actress who is candid with heart, and humor. Here’s what she had to say as she prepares to be one of the GL All-Stars that are about to take the stage.
Michael O’Leary is very excited to have you on board and performing Breathing Under Dirt with him and the cast. How did it all come about that you agreed to be a part of the Maryland production?
CYNTHIA: Michael reached out to me on facebook messenger, and he was telling me he had this script, and he had won an award for it. I said, “Good for you. I am so proud of you!” He said, “Would you like to read it?” I said, “Yeah, I love reading plays.” And so I read it, and read it like in an hour, and told him it was so great. I loved the character of Patience, and the part has so many levels. I went on about it, not thinking anything like I was doing the part. Then Michael goes, “Well, Beth Chamberlin (Ex-Beth, GL) can’t do this weekend when we are performing the play in Maryland. I was wondering if you could be the understudy.” I said, “Let me give it some thought.” I looked at the script again, and I just saw the enormity of it. It’s a lot of lines, and she is in the whole play, and she speaks quite a bit. I sat with myself, and I had some free time, because summer is typically slow. This summer I have been lucky enough to be able to spend time with my daughters. I thought the only reason I wouldn’t do the play, because I love this character, is that I’m just being lazy, and I don’t want to put the work in. (Laughs) I hate that as an excuse, and so I told Michael that I would love to do it, and here we are!
This must be a fun throwback to your Springfield days, and to see and work with Grant, Michael, and Tina again!
CYNTHIA: It’s so nice, and they are all people that Annie was involved with during the three years I was on Guiding Light. I had storylines with all of them, so I got to know them all through that, and now to be able to play with them onstage, it’s a joy! So, I am going to have a lot of fun.
Tell me about the character you play, Patience Malarky?
CYNTHIA: Right off the bat, you can tell something is wrong with her, because Patience shows up at this Baptist church, and she comes in and sort of says, “I’m Presbyterian and I need to find God, but God is not here.” Obviously, she has some inner turmoil, because she isn’t making the best decisions. I mean to walk into a church filled with people who believe, and tell them that they are foolish, and God is not here is something, and then you find out after that she has a very complicated relationship with her mother. She struggled at finding relationships. She has some sort of dependency which is revealed later in the play. What I really like about it is she has layers. Patience is a good person, but she has a lot of heartache in her life and a lot of pain. She is trying to navigate through all of that to get to the other side. It’s very dramatic. There are funny parts in it, but there is a lot of darkness, too.
Your daughter Emma has been cast in the play, as well. What do you think it will be like working with her on-stage?
CYNTHIA: My daughter Emma is playing my sister Lynn. I know! She put herself on tape here in Los Angeles and sent it out there. She is just finding her love of acting through her high school. I said, “Do you want to audition for this?” She said “Yes”, so I sort of advised her saying: “These are all the steps that I go through as an actor, putting yourself on tape, and reading the script.” So she did and got the part. I’m thrilled I get to do these shows with my daughter, and it will be our first time acting together. I am actually nervous, because she doesn’t see me as an actor. To her, I’m mom. She doesn’t even watch me in the shows I’m in! (Laughs). She loses interest quite quickly. (Laughs) Emma is now going into the tenth grade. She is very excited, and nervous to do the play. But I am there, and I will walk her through it. There’s no cure for nervousness. I still get nervous. She is going to be great!
So, it’s the Watros Mother/Daughter road show hitting Maryland!
CYNTHIA: Yes, it is! Emma is a twin, and it’s rare that I get to spend time with just one daughter. So, this is our opportunity. We are there in Maryland for a week. It’s a very dramatic scene that we have together. For Emma to see me in that sort of vulnerable, emotional place will be interesting, but I’m just going to tell her, “When I am on stage, I have to be the part.” So, I have been talking to her a lot going, “When you see me onstage, this isn’t your mommy. I may be crying, or whatever I’m going to be doing. You have to see me as the character I’m playing.” It will be interesting to see what happens on stage.
Guiding Light fans will love to see you and there is a meet and greet following the performances for those who purchase a certain tier ticket ($75). I don’t think anybody will ever forget Annie Dutton. It was one of those classic roles and performances in soaps of all-time. I think back to those courtroom scenes and her confession, and then her miscarrying. Playing Annie was such an amazing catalyst for your career.
CYNTHIA: Oh, yes. I had such love for the character of Annie on Guiding Light. I watched the show when I was a kid, and if Reva and Josh (Robert Newman) had a good day, then I felt I was going to have a good day! (Laughs) And then to be in between the two when I got older, it was so weird for me at first. I grew up on Guiding Light, and I started my career there. I was heartbroken when it was canceled. I have such love for that, and I can hardly wait to see some of the fans again. I haven’t been in that world for a while, so it will be nice to revisit it and see everyone. Annie was actually the first character that I experienced. I don’t have a word for it, but when I did those courtroom scenes it was one of the only times I went off-script a bit. In that moment I felt like I was Annie. There have been a couple of experiences in my acting career where it sort of meshes all together, and it becomes so real, and powerful for me. A couple of those scenes in the courtroom I felt like that. In addition, I felt that when I was in the airplane with Kim Zimmer, and Annie goes, “I’m going to leave Springfield …” Next thing you know, she parachutes out of the plane! So, it truly was the first time I felt that elevated acting experience.
Over my career I have interviewed many actors, who also have noted to me those kinds of moments you are referring to, where it’s almost like an out-of-body experience where they become one with the character for a moment in time. Isn’t that the ultimate of what you strive for to happen as an actor?
CYNTHIA: You will always hope for that experience, and it’s nice to hear that other people have that experience, too. You kind of feel like this is such a bizarre feeling I am having, but then it becomes like a drug, where you always want to have that feeling back.
So it was 1998, and Days of our Lives Kristian Alfonso (Hope) and Joseph Masoclo (Stefano) presented you with the Outstanding Lead Actress Emmy for your performance. Where is that Daytime Emmy now?
CYNTHIA: My Emmy is on my desk with the SAG Award, but I have sad news … the Emmy wing broke! But, I have her there and the Emmy wing is in one of my drawers. But she is still lovely. She is like perfect in her imperfection! (Laughs)
She’s your one-armed Emmy gal!
CYNTHIA: She is! (Laughs) It’s funny. I play such imperfect characters that I consider it now to be even more endearing to me. I find it’s good luck.
You appeared on the MTV series Finding Carter for two seasons, before it was ultimately canceled back in January of this year. What was that like taking on the role of a detective on the show, and that experience?
CYNTHIA: It was shot in Atlanta, and I live in Los Angeles, and so that was a bit difficult with my girls being in school. But, the cast was so great, and I loved playing a detective on the show. I also loved playing with cops, lawyers, and all of those types of characters. I got to be a mom, and show my tough side, but also show my loving side, and I liked that. At first, the audience didn’t like me, because I was the hardest character and I had to set the rules. Then they kind of softened me up, and then I think more people could understand that you can’t always be the favorite mom. But I will say, the mom’s that set the rules are very important. I was sorry to see that show end.
Daytime fans were thrilled to have you back on their screens, and on The Young and the Restless as Kelly. After you made the decision to depart the series, they took the character on a very dark path, and wound up making her completely whacko! Did you know of the fate of the character last played by Cady McClain?
CYNTHIA: I heard little snippets of what happened, and that Kelly sort of went insane. I was so sorry to have to leave Y&R. However, to be able to do that show for the couple of months that I did, reminded me about how lovely it is to go to work, and see the same people, and have a dressing room, and know where you’re going, and to be able to play this character. I loved the whole thing. But then I went to go do Finding Carter. But as far as the character of Kelly taking a left turn, I will say you have to be careful when you play bonkers, and also how they write bonkers, and not that the actress playing her did anything wrong. When you play bonkers you have to show the audience that the character has vulnerability, and a reason, even if it’s not in the words. It could be a look, or it could be a tear rolling down your eyes as you are tying someone one up, so that there is a softer side in you, and that because you are being misunderstood, you are doing this craziness. When the audience sees there is a vulnerable side to you, even when you are playing crazy, that is what they can connect to.
When you were playing Kelly, at that point there was a mystery to her. The audience questioned: was she going to end up being an “obsessed bitch on wheels”, or not? It was intriguing.
CYNTHIA: Jill Farren Phelps (former executive producer, Y&R) was very sweet to me, and I am indebted to her for bringing me on to Y&R for the role.
Would you go back and do another daytime soap?
CYNTHIA: Oh yeah! For me I love that, and I feel like I have a home when I am on one. For 20 years now I have been going to perform on different shows, and shooting in different cities and states, and going all over the place. When I feel like I have a place to go to, it feels really comfortable to me. So, I have no problem going back to soaps. Unfortunately, there are less and less soaps to be on, but I will always have a love for them. Also, if I didn’t have the girls, it might be a different story. I love traveling, but they need stability, and they need to know you are going to be there, and make lunches, and do the mom stuff. Now when they go off to college, I am going to go live in a tent in the Appalachian trails. (Laughs)
Let me get your off-the-top-of-your-head remarks about your Breathing Under Dirt and former Guiding Light co-stars. Let’s start with Grant Aleksander!
CYNTHIA: Grant has always been so intelligent, put together, and professional. So when I heard he was going to direct this play, it just made sense to me. I didn’t spend a lot of time with Grant on Guiding Light, but I always thought Annie and Phillip should have had something going on. I think they even talked about that at one time for like a second. I always liked Grant, and how he always came to work ready, and how he knew his lines.
And, Michael O’Leary?
CYNTHIA: Michael is the kind of guy that you want to have around all the time. You want him to be your best friend. He is so funny, kind, and he is just a sweet, sweet man, and if ever he hurts your feeling it’s not intentional. He will say, “It must be some mistake,” because he doesn’t mean to hurt anybody. Michael is just a lovely person all the way through. Pure love, and he is hilarious!
And last, Tina Sloan?
CYNTHIA: Tina is the most beautiful lady. She is so great at what she does. Tina is very approachable, and yet there is something so majestic about her. Lillian and Annie didn’t spend a lot of time together on-screen, because Annie went nuts, and Lillian was like, “Ugh. I don’t want you around me!” (Laughs) I have such a soft spot for Tina.
Have you talked to, or stayed in touch with Kim Zimmer at all?
CYNTHIA: No! I saw Kim in Wicked in L.A, and she is so good! She is always good. I haven’t talked to her in years, and I just want to set the record straight. I left GL and I was stunned, because there was some article that surfaced that said, “Kim Zimmer and Cynthia Watros had a real fight!” That is so not true, unless Kim remembers something I don’t remember! (Laughs) There was never, ever a fight. We had to bicker so much as our characters on-screen, but I respected Kim. I admired her, and I was in awe of her, and her talent. I have nothing but good feelings for this woman. I was honored to have worked with her, and blessed that she left me do the things I did to her on-camera. She was so patient with me. When I first started at GL, I was a super enthusiastic actress who would go into rehearsal, and would know my lines, and would be screaming at her. It was six o’clock in the morning, and I would be screaming at her as Annie. Kim would just take it (laughs) and I just love her for that. I think I spit on her a couple of times on-camera and she didn’t say anything; because this was about the characters we had to play. Kim was a professional, and she loved me through it. So when I read that stuff, and I see sometimes it randomly appears, I just want to clarify, once and for all … it did not happen.
When you made the decision to leave Guiding Light after 3 years, it seemed like the perfect time to go out … on a high note. Was that the case?
CYNTHIA: I always knew that I was not going to stay for more than 3 years on Guiding Light. I knew it in my head, because I was young, and I knew I wanted to experience other things. Guiding Light, and the people there made it extremely difficult for me to keep with my plan, because it was so great. I loved Annie. She was so much fun to play. But I was on a track, and I knew that I wanted to go out to L.A. and experience life there. So yes, I left at that point, because that was what my then 20-something-year-old person did.
I don’t think you could have topped the story that you had for Annie, if you had continued. It was a day in and day out a page-turner storyline, and performance.
CYNTHIA: I loved the story. One of the lessons I learned on Guiding Light was when I came on and Annie was this nice nurse. I was washing Marah’s sweaters, and then I would kiss Josh on the cheek, and I was always wearing white dresses all of the time. I remember thinking, “Ah, I have to do something, because she needs to get kind of gritty.” I recall going off script just a little going, “Oh, Marah. Come in for dinner!” And I kind of looked down and I grabbed my head, and said, “I have such a headache.” And “I have such a headache” was not in the script! After that, I just said my lines again, “Marah, there’s meatloaf!” Well, the writers watch the show, and I knew that. So, the next couple of scripts I got said, “Annie reaches for an aspirin.” (Laughs) And then they had her reaching for morphine, and then she became addicted to drugs! (Laughs) And that’s when everything happened.
Ya see! The actor has to bring some ideas to the writers! (Laughs)
CYNTHIA: You got it! (Laughs) You have got to do what they want, but sometimes you have to put your own spin on it, because they hired you for a reason. That’s what I tell actors: they hired you, not only because you can say their words, but you can say them in your way.
You became very familiar to primetime audiences when you joined the hit ABC drama Lost, where you played Libby. But that was not your first gig after Guiding Light.
CYNTHIA: First I was on Titus, and then I was on the Drew Carey Show, and then I went to Lost. Lost was so great with the elongated death that Libby had! (Laughs)
And you shot that in Hawaii for Lost! Nice!
CYTNHIA: When they told me I got the part they told me I had to move to Hawaii in two weeks. Now I had never gone to Hawaii, nor did I know much about it, but there I was! I’m telling you, it was one of those dream jobs that you thank whatever is up there, or whatever you believe, you thank that person, that thing, and say, “I’m so blessed to be here.”
I’m sure you will have a fantastic time in Maryland with your GL buds, and performing Breathing Under Dirt. I would urge anyone who is in the area to come on out and see this fab foursome!
CYNTHIA: You should check back in with me after, and I will say, “Yeah, I lost consciousness.” (Laughs) But yes, I will let you know how it goes, but I am very excited to perform this play, and to see everyone!
For further ticket and show information for the August 13-14th performances of Breathing Under Dirt, please visit www. lowershowpac.org for more details. Performances will be held at The Ella Fitzgerald Performing Arts Center on the campus of UMES in Princess Anne, Md!
So, does thinking about getting to see Cynthia, Michael, Grant, and Tina all together make you miss Guiding Light as much as we do? What do you think of Michael’s new play starring Cynthia in the Maryland production? Did you enjoy the Reva and Annie scenes back in the between dynamos Watros and Zimmer? Would you like to see Cynthia back on daytime? And if so, which soap should try to nab her? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!