Erika Slezak talks how she landed the role of Viki Lord, why she stayed in daytime, when she realized she was a legend and and so much more here--->>
It's not every day you get to speak to a living legend. We got that chance. We spoke to "the" Erika Slezak. Wow, huh? This multi-winning Emmy award winner was so down to earth and we chatted so easily. Ms. Slezak would be an awesome storyteller. She's engrossing, animated and we were amazed at her ability to remember specific details. I can't remember what I did yesterday at times! LOL. She took us on the journey of her beginnings, her storied career and what she has been doing since One Life to Live's final curtain call. We really savored this one.
The stars were written in the sky for Erika from the very beginning. Her daddy was in the business, on Broadway and on television. Erika from a young age looked at her daddy and thought being an actor was the best thing in the world. Erika performed in a few productions, but not many in high school. In her senior year, her father sensed Erika's interest in the entertainment industry was more than a "passing fancy". He sat his daughter down for a candid daddy daughter discussion. Erika's father told her not to expect it to be easy for her just because of his success for mainly two reasons; she was a woman and she was young. Her name might get her in the front door but there were no guarantees beyond that. He also gave her the unfiltered truth about the darker side of the business; the heartache, the depression, the rejection, the misery and the high probability of going through long periods with no money. After twenty minutes, Erika's father asked his daughter if she still wanted to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. Erika was not dissuaded. Her reply was a resounding; "yes."
Erika's father told her the first step was training. A sixteen-year-old high school graduate, Erika, auditioned for RADA, Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. She wasn't accepted her first go round. Six months later she was. Erika described the next two years, her time there as "some of the happiest times of my life." After graduation, Erika hired an agent and began auditioning. The Milwaukee Repertory Theater had lost their lead actress and they were looking for someone twenty-eight or twenty-nine years old with a lot of experience. A twenty-one-year-old Erika with next to no experience auditioned and was offered the position. When the people at The Milwaukee Repertory Theater discovered Erika didn't quite fill their criteria, they still hired her but reduced her salary a bit. But Erika was not deterred or fazed one single bit. "I was able to pay my rent and buy food. For the next three years, I played some of the best parts ever written for women." Next Erika worked in The Alley Theatre in Houston and then she stayed with her parents in Switzerland the following summer.
Erika returned to New York the next fall. Her agent set up a meeting for Erika with the casting director at ABC for All My Children and One Life to Live, Joan D’Incecco. There were two upcoming roles. One was a role on All My Children and the other one for One Life to Live. Ironically, Erika wasn't able to watch soap operas growing up and then when she was grown enough to watch she was always working. Erika hadn't ever watched soaps! Joan asked Erika if she wanted to do a soap. Erika asked the magic question, "Does it pay?" LOL. It did of course so Erika was game.
Joan told Erika the role for All My Children she wasn't quite right for. But Joan wanted the producers to see Erika on camera. Erika auditioned. Joan was right. Erika didn't get the role. Then Erika went to Buffalo for work and when she returned Joan told her about a new role on One Life to Live. "I went in. It was a Monday and met with the director, David Pressman. They gave me the scene. I learned it. He said, 'I just want to rehearse with you.' It was a scene between Viki and Steve. He told me this isn't the character you are reading for. This is Viki and Steve but we want to see you do it. On Tuesday I did the audition with Bernie Grant who played Steve on the show. I didn't do the audition on camera. I didn't do it on stage. I did it in a room at ABC. When I was finished all they said was, 'Thank you very much.'"
Her agent had been away and returned the morning of her audition. Erika called to tell him about the audition and he told her to come to his office for them to talk about it. "I went down to the office and we were chatting and his phone rang. He picked it up and all I heard was his end, 'Yeah, I see. Okay. Okay. Okay.' Then there was a pause and he said, 'No. No. Flat out no. That's your job.' He hung up the phone and we continued our conversation. After a minute or two, he said, 'Oh by the way that was One Life to Live you got the job.' In my mind, I'm thinking, I got a job. I got a job." She sure did. And then her agent told her, "You start tomorrow."
Erika was like, tomorrow?! Her agent went on to explain she would be starting the next day playing Viki the lead role. The show had an actress they weren't happy with. They were letting her go and they needed an instant replacement for her. Erika asked her agent what was the, "No, no, no" at the end (we wanted to know too). Erika's agent told her, "I'm her agent and they want me to fire her." The show told the actress at the end of that day that it was her last day. Goodness.
Erika met the actress she replaced years later. She was very nice and gracious and told Erika she knew that Erika didn't know what was going on. Nobody knew. Those were the kinds of things Erika's dad had talked to her about. So, that was how Erika's career at One Life to Live started! Wow. Her dad was "over the bloody moon" when she told him about the part on One Life to Live. He told her, "What a job. What a job. Don't give this job up no matter what." Erika never did.
We asked Erika why she never left. "I was very happy. What an actor wants to do is work. Now you don't want to do the same thing every single day. Playing Vicki it was something different every single day. There was a new script, new actors, new emotions, new costumes, new everything every day. So it was like being a new character every day. As I learned, I grew. Eventually, I was making obviously a very nice salary. Not at all what the papers said I was making. But a nice salary. Laughter. I met my husband two years into the show. We got married. Once I had my children I wanted to be home every day. Because as much as I love being an actress my number one job in the world is mom. The job afforded me the ability to come home every night. Most of the time I was home to make dinner. I made arrangements with ABC every fall that I would have certain days off for things like the school's fall fair, school concerts, school plays. Being mom that was the greatest joy of my life."
A little over forty-five years later the series finale of One Life to Live aired. Erika took a couple of years off just because I mean after forty-five years there is no explanation needed as to why. It took Erica about a year to adjust to life without the show to adjust to just being home and not waking up and going to the show. In 2006, she and her husband moved out of the family home where they lived for twenty-five years and raised their kids to Canaan, Connecticut, where they live with their three dogs and two cats. They also have a house in Vermont where it is, "quiet, peaceful, beautiful and low-key."
Erika got a new agent. It wasn't easy to get started all over again. But now Erika loves her very comfortable post soap life. She has worked on The Resident (Fox), Blue Bloods (CBS) and she had a part in the movie, Guest Artist also starring Jeff Daniels. It was Erika's first film! "Everything is kind of new and an adventure for me now. And I'm up for anything. Absolutely anything."
We asked Erika looking back at what point did she realize she was a legend. Side note; we asked her not to be humble. LOL. We really wanted to know. "Well, I guess when I won my sixth Emmy. The announcer at Radio City said, 'And she has just broken her own record.' I held the record at five and then I won my sixth. That was astonishing because there were eight of us and every single one of them was a superstar; Susan Flannery, Michelle Stafford, Martha Byrne, Juliet Mills, Kim Zimmer, Kassie DePaiva and Nancy Lee Grahn. And the fact that I won was very humbling because they are all awesome." Erika's six Emmy's are displayed in her library at home along with her father's Tony Award. Nice.
Winning her sixth Emmy was a special moment for Erika. But what was also special about that weekend was what happened the day before the awards show. Susan Flannery had contacted all of the nominees for leading actress and told everyone, "What don't we all just get over all the crap of being in contention with each other and just have lunch together the day before the Emmy's." They all met and had lunch at the Water Club in New York City. "It was the best lunch. And oh, the hilarious laughter, the stories, and the fun. They literally had to throw us out to set up for dinner. It was just fabulous and when I got up to accept the award that's the first thing I said, 'I have to tell you that this is the most extraordinary group of women. We all had lunch together yesterday and I can't tell you how much I admire them all.'"
Before we concluded, we had to ask Erika the million dollar question. Did she think we will ever see the One Life to Live reboot we've all been praying for? Erika like us has heard the rumors. Erik thinks a reboot could be difficult because everybody has gone their separate ways. But more than anything she is extremely grateful for Viki Lord. "It was the most wonderful job. I had the best time. Every two years or four years when they would renew my contract I would think I'm just the luckiest person on earth. I know where I'm going every day. I know where to park my car. I know the names of the guards. I know everybody. I'm friends with everybody. It's just the best thing on earth for me. I was making a salary. My husband had the time to go and work in California. I got to raise my kids which was the most important thing. My kids turned out to be two awesome human beings. It all worked out beautifully."
What a wonderful journey! It was our distinct pleasure to talk to Erika! We spoke to Viki Lord!
Thank you so much, Erika!
I AM KP Smith