Alicia Coppola first burst into daytime drama fans consciousness when she played the troubled Lorna Devon on the beloved Another World back in the early 90’s. After winning critics and the audience praise and raves for her gutsy and raw performance, Coppola departed AW after only a few years. What followed was an endless string of fantastic primetime roles over decades on hit series such as Jericho, Teen Wolf, NCIS: Los Angeles, Cold Feet, and CSI, Crossing Jordan, and more.
But in 2016, soap fans were delighted with the news that Coppola was returning to her daytime roots in a recurring role on CBS Daytime’s The Young and the Restless. And it was not just any role that brought her back to the genre that she has great admiration and appreciation for; it was that of the mysterious Dr. Meredith Gates, the prison physician who is overseeing the care of in-the-slammer billionaire, the ruthless Victor Newman (Eric Braeden).
On-Air On-Soaps sat down with Coppola to get her insights on: working with daytime icon Braeden, what she thinks is going on with Dr. Gates that has landed her as the infirmary doc, and what it has been like visiting the world of soaps years later. Then, Alicia opens up about her decision to leave Another World, the shocking cancellation of the series, Lorna’s controversial rape storyline, and working with soap legends: Linda Dano (Ex-Felicia), the late Charles Keating (Ex-Carl), Victoria Wyndham (Ex-Rachel), and more. During our chat Alicia was as you’d expect: direct, funny, heartfelt, effervescent, and as sharp as they come. Here’s what she shared.
You shared your first scenes on Y&R with Eric Braeden. Obviously, you knew who he was. What was your first meeting like?
ALICIA: I knew who he was, as I had watched the show from time to time, and I had the good fortune to read with him as a chemistry read. I knew immediately that we were going to get along very well. He is so elegant, but he has this bawdy sense of humor, as do I. So I knew we were going to be just fine together.
What did you get, or learn about Eric in that chemistry read?
ALICIA: Working with Eric is like playing jazz. You have to listen carefully and just go with the vibe. Thankfully, I’m pretty good at that. I’m quick on my feet. So, I just think the chemistry was there. Eric is a lot of fun. In the chemistry read, I walked away thinking he is a gentleman, and he is fully present, and he truly listens, and when he looks at you he is looking at you and not double-parked looking all around the room. That’s really rare for an actor of his stature and experience.
In your first scenes, Victor is in prison and meets the prison doctor, Meredith, and there you are on set with him. How did that go?
ALICIA: When I did the first four or five scenes with him, I thought that’s it? Because we did really good, strong scenes in a matter of 50 minutes, and anywhere else that would have taken me 12 hours. I had forgotten the hours from my days on the soap, because I had been doing primetime and movies, and a 13-hour day to me was normal. When I was on Teen Wolf, my call time was at 10:45 pm, and my day ended at 8AM. Also, Eric just draws you in so quickly. Together we were able to create something in that short time.
We don’t know a lot about Meredith’s background.
ALICIA: Neither do I! (Laughs)
What do you do in that case, as an actress, when not much is known about the character you are playing? Do you develop your own back-story for her?
ALICIA: I am pretty much a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants girl. I have some secrets for every character I do, and I have a soundtrack in my head for every character I do, but for the most part I just show up. I think if you show up and make yourself present, then you are open to whatever is going to happen. I will follow you wherever you go, or I might take a path and make you follow me. That’s the beauty of it. It’s kind of like falling in love. There’s no real explanation for it, it just happens. That’s kind of my method.
On Another World, you brilliantly played Lorna Devon, and burst on to the soap scene. Lorna was far from a nice girl and very raw, and yet you commanded the screen, and the fans ate it up. What do you recall about that time?
ALICIA: It was actually a difficult time in my life when I got the role. My father had died in January of 1991 after a ten year battle with brain cancer. I actually remembered going to the audition for Lorna, and I was kind of bitchy. I actually was to the people there. When they hired me, I remember them asking me, (laughs) “Are you kind of a bitch? Are we going to have a problem?” I said, “No, I’m really lovely, but I have just been through hell.” So Lorna was the perfect storm. I honestly believe my father gave me that role so I could get out all that I was feeling. I was also different looking, and was one of the first actresses back then … myself and Melina Kanakaredes (Ex-Marina, Guiding Light), that weren’t black, Hispanic, Asian, or Caucasian. We are Italian and Greek. I think why both characters worked, and were so popular, was because we represented the person that is not always represented on the soaps. I remember during Lorna’s rape story I was walking around Lincoln Center. This young woman came up to me and handed me an angel pin. She said, “I just want to tell you I was raped, and your storyline helped me so much. You helped me to not be a victim.” If you can touch someone like that, that is was it’s all about right there.
Lorna’s rape story was so powerful. How was going through that experience as an actress?
ALICIA: It was very draining, and also controversial. Alina Adams, an Entertainment Weekly Contributor, a wonderful writer, wrote a compelling article on Rape in Soaps. She highlights the message that soaps, intentionally or otherwise send, that women being raped instantly makes them better people; the notion that rape tames and subdues “difficult” women to make them likeable and softer. All of this I completely disagreed with. In her piece, she writes of Lorna’s rape. I wrote to Alina and said (I am paraphrasing, of course…) “First of all, Lorna was always a bitch. She was raw, and she was damaged. She didn’t all of sudden become Mary, mother of Christ, because she was raped. That’s nonsense. She was a force to be reckoned with. She was a badass, before the rape and after the rape. So you can’t say rape tamed her, because that is what you are implying.” Alina, as an amazing journalist, was so open to this dialogue and we did an interview addressing this. Speaking from experience, I can promise you rape tames no woman, no one…quite the opposite in fact. This was a very important storyline to me.
You made a decision to leave Another World after only a few years. Was it because you did not want to get stuck on a soap … or that you felt you had done everything with the character that you wanted to?
ALICIA: I felt as though (a) I wanted to get on with my career, and (b) I didn’t know how much more I was interested in playing that character. I felt like I had done the whole thing: I had taken her from Carl’s henchwoman to finding out she was Felicia’s daughter through to Felicia’s alcoholism, to Lorna’s rape. I felt like I completed it. I had taken Lorna 180 degrees, and I wasn’t particularly interested in the remaining 180. I wanted to go out on a high note. So I decided to leave, and when I did I went to a Shakespeare and Company Intensive in Massachusetts that Charles Keating helped me prepare my audition monologue for. It was a hard decision for me to leave Another World, because I loved those people. After my dad died, they were like my family, because I was with them all the time.
Then there is the incredible Linda Dano, who played your on-screen mother. What can you say about working and knowing Linda?
ALICIA: “Grandma Linda”, that is what my kids call her. I love her. Linda is amazing, and in the alcoholism storyline she brought the anger, frustration, and shame to it, and was never sloppy. She never played a sloppy drunk, because she is too smart for that. Linda is a very smart actress, and again, look at who I got to learn from: Linda, Vicky Wyndham, Charles Keating, Constance Ford (Ex-Ada), Mark Pinter (Ex-Grant), and Jensen Buchanan (Ex Vicky/Marley). You don’t get any better than those people. I often feel people look down on soaps. I know some Oscar winners who I am friends with, who would crumble, cry, and be shaking on the floor doing what these people do every day. The amount of dialogue? Fuggetaboutit! We do a full play every day on soap.
Now you have come full circle and have come back to daytime for this role. Was there any hesitation returning to this genre, since it had been since 1994 that you last appeared on Another World? I have to say, the fans went crazy when I, and other journalists, announced the news that you would be back on their daytime screens.
ALICIA: I am so fortunate. One person tweeted, “Who is this newbie?” (Laughs) I tweeted back, “Newbie? Give me your address!” (Laughs) Other soaps have called, and it was not something I wanted to do at the time. I have been raising three daughters. My eldest is going to high school in the fall, and then I have a seven and a six-year-old. I remember my eldest one saying to my two little ones: ‘You don’t know how lucky you are that mommy has been around, because I never saw her.’ I thought, “Wow! Maybe it’s time to think about this. I am a wife, I am mother, and I am an actress, so when my manager Leslie Allan Rice told me about this role and that it would be opposite Eric Braeden, I said, “Sign me up.” It was the right time.
What are your hopes for Meredith?
ALICIA: I think it’s obvious I relate to damage spirits, and I think I am one, and I am a very emotional person. I could get passionate about tying my shoes. Unfortunately, I have three children who are just like me. Now I see what I put everybody else through. I am drawn to playing people whose inner life may not always be what one tries to portray on the outside. I think Meredith is a little fringy … I think she could become very unhinged. She works in a prison. But, why does she? How many people would choose to work in a prison? She could be at Cedar/Sinai. They have also let me wear my tattoo, and I also have two others, to which they have said “not yet” on showing. I believe perhaps working in the prison infirmary might be her penance, and she is helping those that helped her in order to be forgiven, and to perhaps forgive herself.
Could you see Meredith falling in love with Victor … or wanting to hurt him?
ALICIA: I don’t know. It would depend on how they write it. I could be with him … or someone else!
We are all looking forward to Nikki (Melody Thomas Scott) and Meredith having a drunken catfight, if Meredith were to be the other woman in Victor’s life! (Laughs)
ALICIA: Well, that just sounds like Monday. (Laughs) I have met Melody and the woman doesn’t age. She is beautiful, and so kind. The genetic mother lode of beauty is here at Y&R and they are lovely, and that is so rare. I have to say, I have been very lucky in my career in that I rarely work with jerks, where I have to say, “OK, I don’t need to do that again.” But there isn’t one in the bunch here at Y&R. They are fantastic!
When Another World ended, what went through your mind?
ALICIA: I thought “Well there goes that, if I decided to ever go back!” Right after I left, I was working all the time, and I was traveling a lot, and I thought, “Maybe, I should go back as Lorna, and have that community again.” I was out here in L.A. and working, but I missed it. I don’t like the feeling of having my make-up bag, and just going around and around to different places with it. Even when I did Cold Feet, I had to move to Canada for a couple of months, and that was hard. So then when they ended Another World, I was like “There goes that, they have cut the cord.” (Laughs)
I was at the last tape day of Another World. When they yelled “cut” for the final time, the cast all came out on to the set and cried, and hugged, and Vicky Wyndham and Linda Dano made speeches and toasts. It was heartbreaking.
ALICIA: Another World was a time for me, not just another gig. I fell in love on that show; I met Linda Dano, and got through a difficult time with the death of my father, etc. That is what I carry with me: That time, not the work. It was so much more than that for me.
When you look at the incredible beginning of your career on Another World, it has to be a pinch-yourself-moment. Is it?
ALICIA: The best gift I ever got was working with the people on Another World. I don’t think I would have gotten as far in my career if it were not for them, and that experience. I learned valuable lessons on Another World that have been with me my entire career: know my lines, always come prepared, be open, embrace it, shut up, say nothing terrible, smile, be gracious, and most important…always leave having people want to work with you again. There were no better lessons learned. Living by this code of conduct is why I believe my career has been as successful as it has been.
You have been in so many fantastic primetime shows, is there one favorite that stands out to you?
ALICIA: Jericho was akin to Another World, where we were very much a family. We are all so tight. I made some wonderful friends. And again on that show, Mimi was a damaged character, but she was funny. That was the first time anybody (Jon Turtletaub, bless him!) let me have my sense of a humor on a show, and let me be the funny girl in a drama.
Since you are now playing Dr. Meredith Gates on Y&R, have you ever played a doctor before in any of your primetime roles, and struggled with the medical jargon?
ALICIA: I played a coroner on Common Law, and I had a hard time saying, “carotid artery.” (Laughs) I don’t know that I could have been on ER. On Y&R I don’t have lots of medical jargon. I have been very lucky in my career. I have had the opportunity to play most everything, and have been in over 600 hours of television. Here at Y&R it’s been another chapter. I hope everyone is enjoying what I am doing, because I have been having a lot of fun doing it.
So, are you enjoying having Alicia Coppola back on the soaps as Y&R’s Dr. Meredith Gates? Why do you think she is a doctor who is working with prisoners and criminals within the confines of a penitentiary? If you watched Another World like we did, did you love Alicia’s performance as Lorna? Did her speaking about the end of the soap bring up memories of the beloved daytime drama series for you? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!