Catching up with Erika Slezak

Posted Sunday, January 19, 2014 1:21:57 PM
Catching up with Erika Slezak

One Life to Live's Erika Slezak reflects on her time as Victoria Lord on One Life to Live, a role she auditioned for one day and started the next, a role that has won her six Daytime Emmys, a role that has earned her millions of fans.

Erika Slezak (Viki Buchanan) was hoping the show she had worked on for over forty years had two lives to live. It did have one and a half. For that, Slezak is grateful. "Everyone connected with the reboot of the show did everything they could to make it work," she said. Slezak is not ready to say it is over. "The door is not completely shut. I still think it is wait and see," she offers.

Slezak recalls her first day on the OLTL set. "I auditioned one day and was hired the next. I was replacing another actress. I had never done television. I was a theater actress. I came early," she recalls. "Really early. I beat the security guard by a few hours."

"If it had not been for Ernest Graves, who played my father, and Lynn Benesh, who played my sister, Meredith, I do not think I would have lasted a day. They were welcoming and generous," Slezak states.

It is a trait that she has passed on. Erin Torpey, who played Viki's daughter Jessica from the time she was eight years old, recalls her first day working with Erica. "I had worked on Broadway, so I knew something about acting. I was still nervous. She was warm and respectful. She taught me so much. I knew from that day I better know my lines."

Slezak is infamous for insisting her cast mates know their lines. "If you do not know your lines, you cannot relate to the other actor. A major part of acting is reaction. Once you know your lines the fun begins," she says.

Slezak had some fun and not-so-fun times with her leading men. Lee Patterson played Viki's editor and love her life, Joe Riley. "Lee was wonderful. We had this chemistry. Sometimes Viki could be uptight. Joe had a way of loosening her up. Lee did that for me. He was fun, kind, great to work with." As with any good soap opera character, Joe died many times. Slezak recalls the last time Joe was killed off. "This time, we knew it was for real. Lee had a bucket placed at his head. As Joe took his last breath, Lee literally kicked the bucket."

Slezak admits that working with Clint Ritchie could be wonderful and exasperating. "He'd come back from lunch, usually one he had drunk, and was so happy. Then would we would be getting notes from the director, and the booze started to wear off. He could get so mean. In my 40 years, I have only stopped scenes five times. I remember stopping a scene with Clint. In the scene, he was to pick up a chair and toss it. The chair hit me. My husband Brian was at the studio that day. He was furious. I told Clint that scene was not about hitting me with the chair. He did not say anything. Later, he apologized."

"He also did one of the kindest things. I have always had back problems. One day Clint saw me laying on the floor. When he negotiated his next contract he said I had to be given a director's chair to sit in. It was so sweet," Slezak remembers.

Slezak has won six best daytime actress Emmys. The first time she got the award at Radio City Music Hall, it was the most gratifying.

"I cannot believe I just won this and at the Radio City Music Hall. My dad would be so happy," she said at the time.

Dad was famed actor Walter Slezak, who appeared in over one hundred films and won a best actor Tony.

"I got such wonderful advice from my father," she recalls. "One time he and I were walking, and I was recognized by a viewer. He wanted me to know that did not make me a star."

Slezak admits she can be a perfectionist. "During one dinner, my father asked me if it was difficult to always be right. I told him 'not really.'"

Over the years, Viki has seen and done it all. One of Slezak's favorite storylines was one of the times Viki went to heaven. She went three times. One time, she was reunited with her gone-to-the-great-beyond loved ones. She got to spend time with Victor, Meredith, Eugenia, Tony, Irene, Samantha, Harry, and Vinnie. "It was so great to be able to work with so many of those wonderful actors again."

Slezak even appreciated bad storylines. "If a plot was really bad, all of us used laughter to get through it." She also loved the Paris, Texas, plot. "It was a different Viki, and not because of her split personality issues."

Over the years, Slezak had some storylines that were very hard to play. "I would ask questions, but there were only two times when I said 'I can't do this.' When I signed on to the show, I was hired to act. Not to make demands, to bitch, or write. As an actress, my job is always the same: make the audience believe. If I do that, I have done my job."

As for life after One Life to Live, Slezak is catching up on sleep, selling her Manhattan apartment, and seeing what else is on the acting horizon.

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