BWW EXCLUSIVE: Susan Lucci Talks New Book, Broadway, Hollywood, DWTS & More
Holding a world's record for playing one of the longest-running roles in entertainment history, Erica Kane on ABC‘S ALL MY CHILDREN, is just one mere jewel amongst the scores in the fifty-year career crown tiara of television icon Susan Lucci. Having appeared on Broadway in ANNIE GET YOUR GUN and performed in nightclubs across the country with Regis Philbin, she is certainly no stranger to the stage - and what could better define working actor than memorizing scripts for a new hour-long drama every day, five days a week, for forty-one years? Commitment to her craft, an intense love of performance, and an affinity for the expression of human emotion - as well as an instant likeability and irrepressible allure - are just a few of the many features that make up the impressive journey of two women - Erica, included - over the course of Lucci's compelling and personally revealing new autobiography ALL MY LIFE, in stores today - as well as our warm and candid discussion about it. From Broadway to Hollywood; New York to LA to Vienna; from Broadway stages, concert stages, cabarets, to screens large and small - and, also, to some of the strongest television films of all time (plus, some starry stories and DANCING WITH THE STARS tidbits, too) - see some of the reasons why she is simply known as La Lucci, just as any grand opera diva (soaps, stage or otherwise) should undoubtedly be.
PC: You've got to be A real BROADWAY baby to play THE SOUND OF MUSIC at your wedding, as I read in your book - in a cathedral in Vienna, no less, and played on the pipe organ!
SL: Yes! Oh, yes, I am! (Big Laugh.) You do your homework!
PC: Before we get to Broadway, I have to ask you what it was like to do DALLAS in its last seasons? It was such a juggernaut.
SL: Yes, I played a double-role, actually!
PC: What do you think about the reboot coming up with Patrick Duffy, Linda Grey and Larry Hagman?
SL: I think that's fantastic. I am so happy to hear you tell me they will be a part of it - I think that's gonna make such a huge difference to its success. I think that's perfect. I think the audience is ready for it - I think it's great.
PC: Would you revisit Erica Kane - or ever leave her?
SL: Well, so far, obviously, I've had a very hard time walking away from Erica Kane. She's a great part. But, also, I've really had the opportunity to continue playing the part that I love and do the other things - like Broadway. I'm sure that it's because of people loving Erica Kane that they embraced me and, then, they came to Broadway - and I got to have that great opportunity as a result. So, as long as I can do both things I am happy.
PC: That's my favorite part of your book - when you are coming out of the stage door of the Marriot Marquis on your opening night in ANNIE GET YOUR GUN and there are mobs of people and you say to your PR rep, "Is there a fire or something?" and she says, "No, it's all for you!"
SL: Oh, that was just... oh, my goodness. So amazing. So, so amazing that those people were standing on top of cars and crawling over barricades and everything. There were barricades everywhere. I really thought there was something really newsworthy going on - like a fire - outside. But, it was just incredible to witness.
PC: And, it was all for you. Plus, your father was a designer of the Marriot Marquis, correct?
SL: Yes! And, he was in the audience, as well, that night.
PC: Destiny! You were born to do it.
SL: Yes! Aww.
PC: Did you see Bernadette Peters in the show first?
SL: See Bernadette?! We went to see it five times! Here I was, offered this incredible opportunity, but I needed to see the production to see if I could feel like I could do it.
PC: What did you think at first?
SL: About halfway through the first act, my husband turned to me and he said, "You could do this, you know. You could really do this." It took me having to hear Marvin Hamlisch's professional opinion that I could do it in order for me to actually do it, though!
PC: A comment from one of the very best - and a fellow participant in this column!
SL: He is an incredible and incredibly generous man - and so, so funny!
PC: What was it like getting his professional advice for ANNIE GET YOUR GUN?
SL: He is just incredibly talented. Genius.
PC: How did you come to audition - so to speak - with him?
SL: He was so generous with me - I mean, I talked to him and asked him and he got off the plane from Scotland and said, "Come to my apartment and sing for me and I'll let you know if you can really do this."
PC: He's so, so busy on tour with Idina Menzel right now, etc. - and what past accomplishments.
SL: Yes, he's a very busy guy! He doesn't stop for a minute. He's got Tonys and Oscars and Emmys and everything!
SL: We had it sung to her at her wedding, actually. Her husband took her in his arms and danced with her while Michael Amanti sang it to them. Yes, I love that song and my Liza is a spectacular, spectacular girl.
PC: What beautiful pictures of you two with your mother in the book.
SL: Yes, she is a beautiful girl. I am so lucky to have her. And, actually, since you just mentioned her, I have to say that Liza Minnelli and I have crossed paths a number of times and she is just so wonderful.
PC: Was Judy Garland a big inspiration to you growing up?
SL: Yes. Yes. Her movies! I watched her movies all the time. You have to remember, Pat, that when I was growing up, there was something called: The Early Show; The Late Show; The Million Dollar Movie; The Late Late Show. I would sneak up at night and turn the TV on, or lay in the hallway outside my parents' bedroom and watch what my parents were watching. But, mostly, I was watching old movies on TV. So, yes, to see MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS and THE WIZARD OF OZ as a child - of course it affected me. Of course!
PC: How could it not, right?
SL: Yes. But, also, I became a fan of Liza Minnelli. I was so thrilled to meet her - and have her tell me how much she liked me on ALL MY CHILDREN. That was so, so thrilling to hear! When I opened at Feinstein's, Liza Minnelli came to opening night!
PC: Wow! That's edification that you made it in cabaret - literally.
SL: Oh, my goodness. I just couldn't believe it!
PC: What was she like?
SL: So, so warm. Easy to talk to. Lovely. Great girl.
PC: And one of her father's films made your favorite movie list at the end of your book - AN AMERICAN IN PARIS.
SL: Oh, yes. One of my absolute favorite films. So perfect in every way.
PC: Are there any films that really effected you as an actress growing up - particularly, since you eventually acted with her: Olivia de Havilland?
SL: Yes, certainly GONE WITH THE WIND. I remember just beginning and reading my audition script for ALL MY CHILDREN - remember, this was before the Brat Pack; this was before kids had major storylines - and Erica was a fifteen-year-old high school girl. I remember thinking, "To me, this has all the earmarks of a young Scarlett O'Hara." I didn't know that anybody else would see that - you know, she was the naughty girl in town - but, she was very much self-efficient and had her dreams and had her goals and nothing else was going to stop her - and, my goodness, very soon, that's the comparison the audience was making. They were saying, "She's a modern-day Scarlett O'Hara!"
PC: What do you think your list of favorite films says about you as a person?
SL: Well, of course, I think you can probably tell from my list of movies that there is a lot of romance in me.
PC: I would be greatly disappointed otherwise.
SL: (Laughs.) Yes, so DR. ZHIVAGO and A MAN AND A WOMAN. I just love A MAN AND A WOMAN - that French film. And, THE EASY LIFE. GOD CREATED WOMAN. I love all those European films that gave me a glimpse of life in the big, wide world when I was growing up.
PC: You have done four exceptional television films that are finding yet another new life on Netflix now, so let me start with: INVITATION TO HELL directed by Wes Craven. Do you remember what filming that was like? How did you get involved?
SL: I sure do! That was my first opportunity to do a television feature. I don't know if someone else dropped out - I will never know. All I know is that the call came and I was thrilled to have that chance. Wes Craven directed and Robert Urich played opposite me in that movie.
SL: Well, first of all, he is so aristocratic looking! I just knew about his horror films and what they were like and I didn't know what to expect.
PC: So he caught you by surprise?
SL: He is such a gentleman - and I mean that in the best way; not only as a person, but also as a director.
PC: Can you give me an onset anecdote? That's a wild movie.
SL: I remember, at one point - I was playing the devil in the form of a woman - and I was standing in something that was simulating fire. It was my first chance to do a movie for TV, so I didn't want to stop the take - I'm still not the type to stop a take, ever - but, finally, they were really burning and I said, "I have to stop, I have to stop, I am so sorry! My ankles are burning!" So, Wes Craven came over and he saw that they, indeed, were. Then, he said, "Please don't ever feel like you have to continue if you are in pain. I would never want you to do that." Subsequent to that, there were scenes on a platform that was thirty feet high - and there was also more fire involved and so on - and he walked that platform before they called me up. Then, he walked it with me.
PC: So considerate.
SL: So nice. So considerate. Robert Urich was also involved on that high platform, and Wes said, "I'm not gonna let any actors do anything I wouldn't do myself." He was such a gem.
PC: BRIDE IN BLACK? With Melissa Leo - who just won the Oscar.
SL: Yes, yes! It was kind of a remake of THE BRIDE WORE BLACK - the Truffaut film. David Soul was in that as well.
PC: What was it like working with Starsky from STARSKY & HUTCH himself?
SL: Oh, he was wonderful. Just terrific.
PC: What did you think of the film and your role at the time?
SL: For me as an actress, it was a great opportunity. I played a girl who worked in a deli, which was a great departure from Erica Kane!
PC: You can say that again.
SL: (Laughs.) For the first two weeks, this Italian family took me under their wing - we shot in Pittsburgh - and taught me how to make bocachini, this kind of mozzarella cheese. I didn't even know people made mozzarella cheese - even though I'm half Italian. I thought, "Aww, this is fantastic!" And it was so fun to make!
PC: What was the shooting schedule like on the film?
SL: After that part of the movie was over, actually, I would finish shooting and then I would take boxing lessons. After the David Soul character was killed, the character I played was determined to find the murderer. So, she infiltrates the boxing world and all that. Anyway, Danny Aiello, Jr. gave me the boxing lessons.
PC: What was that like?
SL: We would work in the gym, sometimes late at night - skip rope and do all the training - and he taught me a right hook and left cross and all those things. It was so fun.
PC: I can't even imagine you doing all that stuff.
SL: Oh, gosh, it was really, really fun. So fun. Also, before I left for Pittsburgh, I remember working out at Gold's Gym in Brooklyn. We finished shooting late at night on the Brooklyn Bridge - about four o'clock in the morning - and I was going to Gold's Gym there, too. It was the original bridge, too! (Laughs.)
PC: Right around the same time you did that you did James Goldman's quite riveting ANASTASIA: THE MYSTERY OF ANNA. What a screenplay! A truly great television film.
SL: (Sighs.) Yes.
SL: I didn't. We shot it in chunks. My storyline was really supposed to take place in New York. I played Princess Darya Romanoff, part of the Romanoff family that got out of Russia right before the revolution and went to New York - so, after Anastasia came to New York, that's who she came to. But, they found locations in Vienna that looked more like New York at the time than New York actually did.
PC: How funny. The city that never stays the same!
SL: Indeed. When I arrived in Vienna, Rex Harrison had just finished. I was so sad! I so wanted to work with him. Of course, in retrospect, I'm sorry that I didn't get to work with Christian Bale, either. But, Amy and I had many scenes together.
PC: She's become quite an accomplished stage actress.
PC: A new script everyday - just like you!
SL: Yes! Which I love! But, she was so great to work with. I have to say, across the board, the people who are great are the people who are doing the work. They want to run lines. They want to make it good. They care. No one seems to be hanging around in their trailers for hours. You know what I mean?
SL: That's been my experience - and I've been lucky in that I've worked with so many people that are the real deal.
PC: You've seen television change completely in the forty years plus that you've continuously been on it - can you tell me what it is like to experience such seismic changes?
SL: I must say that the product looks different and there is much more editing done now. We were never live - ALL MY CHILDREN was never live. We started in January, 1970, but we always shot live on tape. Even so, we all thought of it more like doing a play. It's a medium that allows you to play a scene from beginning to end - much like a play. Almost everybody on set had that theatre background anyway. You never stopped - you just play the scene. That was basically it. So, the product looks different to the audience more than it does to those of us working on it.
PC: So, as an actress, it hasn't changed that dramatically process-wise?
SL: For the cast, it's similar. I mean, we used to have rehearsals the day before - we used to do a table read. We used to have an apartment near Lincoln Center and even if you weren't on that day, you had to come in in the afternoon for rehearsal. It's always been like a play rehearsal in that respect - but, very, very protracted!
PC: Do you get rehearsal still, if not a table read?
SL: Yes, we do have a blocking rehearsal, run-through and dress rehearsal - but, it's all very quick.
PC: What has changed?
SL: It's done in a film manner now - where we shoot set-by-set, rather than beginning-to-end. For a long time, maybe the first fifteen years, we shot the show from beginning to end, in sequence, and we rehearsed it from beginning-to-end, in sequence.
PC: What a privilege for a young actress to have.
SL: Yes! Oh, my goodness, yes! I felt so lucky as a young actress to work with Ruth Warrick and Eileen Herlie. We would all receive our red chairs - which were our times to get our notes when we were told how bad or good we were. So, we got our notes as a group, sitting as an ensemble. It was just so eye-opening.
PC: I bet! You never see that on film or TV sets.
SL: I know! We were so lucky. So, first, you saw everyone's work out there on the studio floor and, then, you got to sit there, all together, and hear the criticisms. To hear the criticisms of all the seasoned actors, I could learn so much - and, also, how they took the criticism and how the critique was given to the particular actor to get the best performance out of them he could.
PC: It must have been fascinating - especially with someone there like Ruth Warrick, from the Mercury Theater.
SL: As a young actor: what an opportunity! And, I never left the set, since - and I am so lucky in that way - Erica was very involved in a lot of scenes. So, I would stay put, usually on Ruth Warrick's set, actually, and hear her talk about Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater and CITIZEN KANE.
PC: To be a fly on the wall!
SL: Yes, I know! To hear these incredible, sophisticated, seasoned actors talk first hand about these things was incredibly exciting for an actress.
PC: Ruth Warrick was so well-loved for CITIZEN KANE - and she will never be forgotten.
SL: Absolutely. Absolutely.
PC: Your MAFIA PRINCESS co-star Tony Curtis just passed away last year, could you tell me about working with him on that? In your book you point out that it is one of your favorite films that you've done - and I agree. Have you seen it again since he passed away?
SL: I haven't. I must say that I was flipping around the channels, and it was on last year and I caught a little bit of it. I think MAFIA PRINCESS was my favorite. Just to have the chance to work with Tony Curtis and the fact that he played my dad - and we had a lot of scenes together.
PC: What was he like onset?
SL: He was the real deal. He was present in every take - whether it was his close-up or mine. He was always there, working on it.
PC: And EBBIE - perhaps your most-beloved non-Erica role?
SL: Yes, I love EBBIE and we are so lucky it has become a Christmas tradition, shown every year on the Hallmark Channel.
PC: What have been your fondest onset memories, or a performer you adored working with in a special way?
SL: Well... (Pause.) Eileen Hurley. I talk about this in the book, when my mother took me as a little girl to see Richard Burton's HAMLET and Eileen played Gertrude, his mother, in that production. I mean, again, I had no idea that years later I would be working with Eileen on ALL MY CHILDREN.
PC: What perfect syllogism! Some of the best character anecdotes in your book are the ones involving Rosie O'Donnell - who, of course has participated in this column.
SL: Oh, yes! She is just... well...
PC: So many great stories!
SL: Oh, yes, there absolutely are. Gosh, on her very first show, as her first guests, she had George Clooney, Toni Braxton and me on. We were her very first guests. She, of course, also figures prominently into my Emmy story...
PC: We won't ruin it here - they'll have to read the book!
SL: (Laughs.) It's really what happened! She was so great about that - and then she came and did ALL MY CHILDREN. She's always been just a generous, funny, present performer - everything you'd want her to be.
PC: Are you going to be on her OWN show to kick it off in a similar fashion to her first talk show?
SL: You know, she has not contacted me about that - but, I'd love to, of course, revisit her on her new show on Oprah's new network. I was so thrilled to appear on Oprah's show a few weeks ago with the whole ALL MY CHILDREN cast.
PC: Tell me about your relationship with Oprah and that great moment when you won the Emmy with Oprah congratulating you onstage and Ingo bowing to you in the aisle and Rosie whispering it in your ear.
SL: Oh, Ingo is so adorable! Oprah has always been really passionate, warm, vocal supporter of ALL MY CHILDREN. Carol Burnett was the first to come out in support, I believe. Oprah, as well - and she never, ever forgot. It's so incredible that she remembered us - as she said, "I am only having the people on this season that I really, personally, want to speak to and share with the audience," so we felt really honored and really thrilled to be included in that.
PC: What moment in your career do you look back on and say, "Wow, I finally made it."
SL: (Big Laugh.) Oh, you know, I felt like I made it even before the Emmy. Winning the Emmy was thrilling, but there were so many great things I learned just simply from playing Erica Kane - of course, winning is better! Having said all that, winning is definitely better! (Laughs.)
PC: That's another of your records besides longest-running character - most nominations! So, what was that one moment you felt like you were where you were destined to be, coming into your own?
PC: That is my favorite Strouse/Adams score.
SL: Aww, what a fantastic show.
PC: His "Night Song" is one of the best Broadway moments of that era.
SL: Aww, amazing. And, he performed it - and everything in GOLDEN BOY - so, so well.
PC: What did he say to you when he approached you?
SL: He walked all the way across the room and came towards me and I couldn't believe it - I looked behind myself, thinking he must be going for someone else because I was just thrilled to be there to watch this - but he came right to me and told me how much he loved my work. (Pause.) That was really something. That was certainly a time where I thought, "Wow! A, I can't believe Sammy Davis is telling me he likes my work and, B, I guess I must be making it all right!"
PC: What do you think the next ten years will bring on the entertainment landscape - particularly television? You did DANCING WITH THE STARS, so you are undoubtedly part of the reality show firmament, it seems - for better or worse.
SL: I am a big fan of Simon Cowell, so I am sure whatever he does is going to be a big success. If he is reinventing the reality show [with X FACTOR], then I think that reinvention is probably in very good hands with him. I think it's always important to think outside of the box and have fresh ideas - that's terrific. I think when it comes to scripted TV - like daytime TV or sitcom TV or whatever - all shows are not created equal and some are better than others. So, I hate to discount reality TV across the board just because I tend to like scripted drama and scripted comedies and scripted romantic comedies; I just like to see talented people employed and entertaining people. And, I know people like to be really entertained. I think some reality shows are not as good as others - that being said, I think AMERICAN IDOL is great right now and I think it's the best it's ever been.
PC: Simon Cowell just did this column about X FACTOR - what do you think about the new Simon-less season of IDOL? I stopped watching when he left, myself.
SL: You know, I thought I was going to! But, it's so great because: A, they have such great talent - I think it is the most talented group ever - and, B, I love Steven Tyler and I think Jennifer Lopez is doing a terrific job. It has taken on a different life - but a really great one.
PC: What do you think of GLEE?
SL: You know, I wish I could watch GLEE more often. Somehow, I don't get to see it as much as I would like to. I am never in the same place at the same time; and since we work such long hours at ALL MY CHILDREN, my schedule is different every day of every week. Certainly, it speaks to any of us who grew up with our dreams of being on Broadway. Musical theatre awareness. I'm thrilled it has such a big audience.
PC: What dramatic shows do you enjoy on TV right now? DAMAGES, MAD MEN, BOARDWALK EMPIRE?
SL: Well, I'm a big Martin Scorsese fan so, yes, I really love BOARDWALK EMPIRE. I thought that really raised the bar - it looks like a film. It's really spectacular.
PC: Any others?
SL: I do still watch DANCING WITH THE STARS. I am a huge fan. I watched it before I was on it and I still watch it.
PC: You and all of America!
SL: Yes, me and all of America! Exactly. I also love THE GOOD WIFE - those performances are just fantastic. Such craft and commitment.
PC: Most of the best acting is happening on television these days.
SL: Yes, yes, I agree. Except, I have to say - and I put this in the book - THE KING'S SPEECH really spoke to me and that's one of the best movies I've ever seen.
PC: Was that your favorite film of last year?
SL: Yes. Without a doubt!
PC: Any ALL MY CHILDREN news? When is your current contract up?
SL: I have another year to go on my contract. And, I can say to you that I have just begun - just begun - shooting material such as I have never done before as an actress. Things Erica Kane has never done before. It's very exciting material and that story arc is a long arc that is written to at least next Fall. That much I can tell you! Of course, the show is not just my storyline, it's all the people there - and that's what we're hearing from all the executives at ABC, is how enthusiastic and excited they are by the writing. We had a head writer who was let go a year and half ago - he was just not the right match for our show.
PC: You can say that again. Can you tell me what happened and what you anticipate the future of the show will be?
SL: While he was there the show went to a place that it hadn't ever been before and it takes awhile to recover from that. We have new head writers now and we have some fantastic writers who know our characters and know about character-driven storylines. The show is coming back! While the ratings were down two weeks ago, it was not appreciably down - just a couple thousand viewers; which is almost immeasurable. So, the cancellation rumors are not coming from the network. I think that sometimes people write things in blogs and they aren't held accountable for it.
PC: Plus, it can't always be on top. Ebb and flow.
SL: That's true, too. Five original hours of content a week - that's a big nut to crack!
PC: You're the hardest working woman in show business. How many thousands of hours have you been onscreen?
SL: (Laughs.) You know, I don't know! That makes me exhausted, just to think of that!
PC: Regis Philbin is the male with the most television hours clocked. You must be the female. You certainly have been playing the same character longer than anyone, ever, you know.
SL: I don't even know if I'm officially it, but, yes, I have.
PC: What's coming up? Book tour? Press appearances?
SL: Yes, I am going to be on many of the national shows. I am also going to be traveling - to Chicago and Atlanta and Cincinnati and Minneapolis and Washington. I am starting in New York at Barnes & Noble on 5th Avenue - which is so thrilling to see, with the poster and the banner and everything.
PC: What fabulous photography for the ads and the cover - or is it great genetics, too? Are you 62 or 26 and what's your secret?
SL: (Big Laugh.) Thank you! We took those shots in New York on the day before Thanksgiving. Yolanda Perez. I requested her and I love her work. I think she did a great job.
PC: Any movies or guest appearances coming up?
SL: Let me see, I've done three episodes of HOT IN CLEVELAND as Wendy Malick's character's arch nemesis, and I am going to be coming back, I believe! I love doing it. It's a great set.
PC: Define collaboration.
SL: Well, I think that the most collaboration that I have experienced is really what's on the page. For many, many years - until really quite recently - I had words written by Agnes Nixon, who created ALL MY CHILDREN. Inside I would just sing! I was so inspired. So, for me, collaboration occurred in the printed words in Agnes's script with me.
PC: She was one of the great innovators on television - and you were her muse.
SL: Absolutely, and what an intelligent woman. Thank you so much for recognizing her and what she accomplished.
PC: What does Broadway mean to you?
SL: Broadway is where I dreamed my dreams. I grew up in New York and I was raised on the original cast albums that my parents had.
PC: What were your favorites growing up?
SL: It was whatever my parents had around, so a lot of Rodgers & Hammerstein. Also, I remember - and I write about this in my book - when I was three years old I sang "Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets"! (Laughs.)
PC: How apropos! Always Erica - from the womb!
PC: What else did you really enjoy listening to?
SL: I remember there was this upstairs bathroom with white curtains around the mirror and I would wrap the white curtains around my hair and my head and I could be anything I wanted to be. I remember singing "Bubbles, Bangles and Beads" from KISMET. (Laughs.)
PC: What have been your favorite stage performances recently?
SL: Oh, just before Kelsey Grammar left we saw LA CAGE. We loved it. We also saw MEMPHIS right after it opened and I thought that had some really great, dynamic performances.
PC: What about dramatic performances that have left an impact on you recently?
SL: The revival of A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE was one of the best productions of any play I have ever seen. It made me want to see everything Arthur Miller has ever written. I was just completely blown away by Scarlett Johansson and Liev Schreiber. The level of performances was just what it should be - it sets the bar so high and is everything we should aspire to achieve as actors.
PC: Both of them have done this column, of course, and Liev is unquestionably one of the great actors working today.
SL: I want to see everything he ever does or has ever done. Wow. And, Scarlett was just astonishing. I had never seen her onstage before. She so deserved the Tony - what an impressive performance. And for her debut, no less!
PC: I agree completely. So, that production had the best acting you've seen in any medium of late?
SL: It was unforgettable. It was, I think, one of the best productions of a play I have seen. I really mean that.
PC: Thank you so much for this, Susan. You are so kind and generous. Break a leg with your five new scripts this week, your new book, and everything else you have coming up!
SL: Thank you, thank you, thank you. You are fabulous, Pat. You are a doll. Thank you so much. Bye.
Photo Credit: Monica Simoes
From This Author Pat Cerasaro