INTERVIEW: Stephen Schnetzer shares memories of Another World and details about his film, A Case of Blue

Posted Tuesday, August 09, 2022 12:57:16 PM
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Take a walk down memory lane with classic soap star Stephen Schnetzer (ex-Cass Winthrop, AW; ex-Steven Olson, Days of our Lives), who gets real about life, death, soap salaries, and more during a conversation about his gripping film A Case of Blue, now available on Tubi.

Some daytime characters are so transcendent, they just can't be contained on one show. Such is the case of Stephen Schnetzer's famous alter ego, Cass Winthrop. The fictional smooth-talking lawyer first appeared on Another World in 1982, and when the CBS soap opera went off the air nearly two decades later, Cass played into storylines on both As the World Turns and Guiding Light. Cass even jumped out of the soap genre in 2013, when Schnetzer made guest appearances as a character named Dr. Cass Winthrop in a couple of episodes of Homeland.

With such a long life following the show where he was created, it would make sense for Cass to pop up again on one of the existing soaps. But is that even a possibility? Portrayer Stephen Schnetzer is the star of the currently streaming emotional film A Case of Blue, so Soap Central caught up with the Massachusetts native to talk all about that as well as his illustrious soap opera career (which also includes the roles of Days of our Lives' Steven Olson and One Life to Live's Marcello Salta).

A Case of Blue is a thought-provoking romantic drama that follows the actor as recent retiree Richard Flicker, who attends a life drawing class in New York and encounters a free-spirited model (Annapurna Sriram) who is the spitting image of a long-lost love from decades ago. Grappling with mounting issues at home, Richard must decide between facing the cold reality of an uncertain future or escaping into the past to grasp a second chance at romance.

Schnetzer is heartbreaking in the film, which became available for paid streaming last fall and recently debuted on Tubi for fans to watch for free. Keep reading to find out why the actor knew this was the role for him, and for his surprising answer to the question of whether or not soap fans will see him return to daytime.

Soap Central: Thank you so much for talking with me about your film A Case of Blue. How did you initially get connected to the project? Was it a straightforward audition process?

Stephen Schnetzer: Yeah, it was just a regular audition. I went in and read for Dana [Glazer, writer/director], and we hit it off really well. He seemed interested and he had me come back in to read with various women to play opposite, and yeah, it seemed like a very interesting challenge to me, so I jumped into it.

Soap Central: Was there anything specific about the script or the character that spoke to you or made you really excited to take on the project?

Schnetzer: Well, age-wise and career-wise and life-wise, I really related strongly to it. Approaching 70 and winding down career-wise -- though not retiring, as the character does -- but dealing with mortality, dealing with the later chapters in one's life, those kinds of issues that come up. Again, mortality, retirement, grief, loss -- those were all things that I was happy to explore. It sounds like I'm a masochist, because I'm listing all these depressing things, and I'm cheerful about exploring them! [Laughs] But I'm serious, though. It's really good grist for acting; it's stuff you can sink your teeth into. So, it was a nice challenge that I accepted.

Soap Central: Those aren't themes that we get to see on our screens very often, and, I imagine, as an actor that you get to play very often, either. But it's part of being a human, it's part of life, and as you said, it's probably a specific kind of challenge to play when you yourself are also facing those things at the same time.

Schnetzer: It is a niche audience that is going to hopefully appreciate this. It's not a blockbuster, it's not an escapist piece, it's not about superheroes or comedy. It's about life, and a lot of people can relate.

Soap Central: Do you think that the process of aging and becoming more mature and thoughtful in life has affected your performances or your craft as an actor?

Schnetzer: Yes. I'm not sure how, but it has to inform it. There's a series of barriers. When you're a kid, you're immortal. It's just not in your consciousness [to think about death]. And once in a while, maybe in high school, a tragedy will happen to a classmate, or you start to get introduced to mortality with the loss of a grandparent. And then, if you're on track, you become a professional, a young adult or an adult, and oftentimes, people start a family, and then it's your parent's generation, and whoa, that hits closer to home when you lose a parent. And then, when you get to where I am, my peers are dying; people younger than me are dying. And it's hard to quantify how, but if you're sentient, if you're conscious, it has to inform you. It's provocative.

Soap Central: Your longtime Another World co-star Linda Dano [ex-Felicia Gallant; ex-Rae Cummings, OLTL] called your performance in this film your "finest work yet."

Schnetzer: She's a woman of discriminating taste! [Laughs] She's got a great eye.

Soap Central: She saw you do years and years of really great work on Another World, so, it is quite the compliment.

Schnetzer: It is, and I was kidding around, but she really is a good judge. Whenever she says, "That one is good and that one is not," she's always been bang-on in her assessment. So, I was very flattered for her to say that.

Soap Central: In the film, your character gets to re-explore an important part of his past. Is there a period of time from your own life that you would love to live again or reexplore if you ever got the chance?

Schnetzer: Oh, gosh! I wouldn't know where to begin; there's probably a number of places that I'd like to start off again, but it's a little overwhelming to choose just one. I'd certainly stay away from the early years! [Laughs] It felt very awkward to me as a kid, and even through high school, those were awkward years. There's a quote from "Night Moves," a Bob Segar tune, the says "working on mysteries without any clues," and I felt a little bit like that was what I was doing all through high school, and even into college. So, I certainly wouldn't go back then. I might try to strike out differently in my career... But no, actually, now that I [said that], I wouldn't!

Soap Central: It's hard because if you changed anything, then you're not where you are today, and you're probably a happy person with a wonderful family and really great memories. If you bugger around with the past, you never know what you might get!

Schnetzer: It's funny that we're talking about this, because about a week ago, I started writing down my life.

Soap Central: Oh, really? Are you thinking about writing a book?

Schnetzer: I don't know what it's going to end up being. I think it's pretentious of me to think I could write a book that would be interesting to people, but oftentimes, I tell stories to friends, and someone will say, or I think to myself, "I should write that down. That's a good anecdote," or, "I was really lucky and blessed to have the career that I had, and the way that it unfolded, I was extremely lucky. And then, whenever a door would open, I would work hard and capitalize on that." So, anyway, it might just be for family, but we'll see.

Soap Central: I feel like I'm safe to assume that your soap opera fans would absolutely eat this up and love it if you eventually wrote a book about your life. After so many years of watching you, they feel like you're a family member, which I'm sure you felt over the years.

Schnetzer: Absolutely. I had a wonderful relationship with our fans through my whole daytime career. I felt a real sense of community with them, always. And they were always super kind and super enthusiastic. Those are great memories.

Soap Central: You have achieved many other things in your career, but the soap opera stuff stands out. Did you set out to be on soap operas, or did you accidentally stumble into them?

Schnetzer: No, I was enamored with the idea of being an "actor in the theater." I approached it from training and speech, and the first eight years of my career, I did a lot of Shakespeare, regional theater companies, and it was overall theater. I had been working with the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco for about four years, and after a while, I went down to Los Angeles. I wanted to branch out, jump into a bigger pond, I guess. So, I went to Los Angeles, and the first success I had was landing Days of our Lives for a couple of years in a recurring role, and then I was off and running.

Soap Central: Yes, because right after that, you went to One to Life to Live, right?

Schnetzer: Yes, those two years at Days of our Lives led to a couple of years on One Life to Live, and then when they wanted to renew my contract there, I asked if I could have more responsibility and more of a challenge, in terms of storyline, and the producer said he couldn't promise me that, and he didn't want a disgruntled actor on his hands. So, I said, "Well, thanks for the offer, but let me take my chances elsewhere. I think I can do better." And a month later, I landed this great part for 17 years on Another World. But there were times when I seriously considered not locking into these contracts in daytime, and I was aware of where daytime was back then in the 80s. It was a poor relative in the career spectrum. You had film acting, then you had serious nighttime acting, and then you had comedy TV, and then there was soap opera -- Luke and Laura, and people levitating, and that sort of thing. So, for a while, I thought, "I need to give it a shot to have a more 'serious' major career," but I found that I didn't like being out of work. I didn't like "between times," and what the soap offered me was a place to go week in and week out, for years, with a group of people that I grew to love very deeply, and it allowed me to raise two sons in one place. So, that was a conscious decision I made, and it was the right one for me. I like to work; I'm a workaholic.

Soap Central: And soap operas will work ya, that's for sure!

Schnetzer: They did! I did 3,000 episodes and probably 36,000 pages of dialogue that I memorized; that's my rough estimation.

Soap Central: When you were on Another World, it was the heyday of soaps. I know you mentioned that soaps were the poor cousin in the entertainment world, but that was still a time when fans went wild for you, you were on the cover of magazines, and soaps were just huge. Do you remember that experience and what it was like?

Schnetzer: Yeah, I absolutely remember it. It was a lot of fun. We had a great time. Linda Dano and I went to Paducah, Kentucky, and the streets were lined with people. They heard we were coming to town for an appearance, and a couple of thousand people came out, and they were lining the streets of Paducah. Linda turned to me and said, "Is the pope coming today?" [Laughs] But that was the kind of reception that we had. Another World was extremely popular coast to coast in Canada, so I'd go up there a lot, as well. It was a great time. When I talk about the prestige or pecking order of soaps, it's more within the industry than outside. You're right -- it was the heyday of soap opera. We had Liberace on our show, we had Morgan Freeman, and on and on and on. Elizabeth Taylor was on General Hospital. I mean, it was huge at that time, absolutely. But when I tried to audition outside of soap opera, for a role in a movie or a nighttime series regular, I think there was a stigma attached to the soap actor. And after 1999, when Another World went under, it took me a number of years to redefine and re-establish my career.

Soap Central: Do you feel like it's worked, that now you can go into an audition and people are seeing more than just Cass?

Schnetzer: Oh, absolutely. For quite some time now. Probably for 16 of the last 23 years, people are looking at me, knowing about the guest roles I've played on different episodic shows, they know me as a theater actor. So, yeah, I turned a corner. But I didn't work for a half a dozen years.

Soap Central: That being said, do you still get recognized from fans for your work on soap operas?

Schnetzer: Yeah. And it's always fun.

Soap Central: At the time when you landed the role, did you know that it was so dramatically going to change your life?

Schnetzer: No. You never know what the part is going to be. Even if they tell you, "This is a big part, this is a great part," they can fire you every thirteen weeks for a year and a half, and then after that year and a half, at least at that time, contractually, they could fire you every six months. I think finally, they would have to give me a year's notice when we renegotiated a new contract. But you never knew. So, I never took anything for granted. I kept my head down, did my work, and found a character that I could develop with a sense of fun and irreverence. And the writers loved writing for that and continued to write for that. The writers and producers and I sort of nonverbally, just through our actions -- the way I would act and then they would write, and then I would portray what they wrote -- created Cass. And then they would say, "Let's do a Tootsie storyline. Do you want to cross-dress for a month because you're into a loan shark for $100,000?" "Sure, I'll do that!" And just we created these wonderful characters, Felicia and Cass, and on and on.

Soap Central: Do you recall it being quite easy to develop the character, or did you have any challenges in those earlier years?

Schnetzer: It was surprisingly easy in that it was intuitive. I wouldn't rewrite scripts or go to [the higher-ups] and say, "What are you doing?" There was none of that in my evolution. I know a lot of people do that and need more of a sense of control, but I would just perform; things would trigger my imagination, and I would perform, and they would see that, see what I brought to it, and they would encourage that with their further story development. And it was the easiest thing in the world. Not generally, but for me and my experience. And I think Linda's, also. Linda had that same chemistry dynamic with story creators and what she brought to it.

Soap Central: Do you remember anything about your audition or your first day?

Schnetzer: I remember Linda's audition more than mine. I auditioned Linda as Felicia, but mine, I don't have much of a recollection, nor of my first day. I was with Nancy Frangione, who played Cecile de Poulignac, and right off the bat, she and I had great chemistry; it was like watching a tennis match with the repartee. But Linda was one of a half a dozen people auditioning for Felicia, and I knew Linda from One Life to Live; we were on there together, and we were buddies. So, she came in, and she said, "I don't know who this character is!" And I grabbed her by the shoulders, and I said, "Linda, you are Felicia Gallant." She retells that story all the time. [Laughs] I do remember my first days on my first soap, Days of our Lives. I do remember after eight years of theater and Shakespeare and projecting to the back wall of 1,2000 seat theaters that I was uncomfortable in front of the camera. It took me longer than any actor I've ever seen to get comfortable in front of a camera. [Laughs] It's a miracle they hung in there with me.

Soap Central: You got to work with some really great people at Days of our Lives. Do you remember meeting and working with Bill and Susan Hayes [Doug and Julie Williams]?

Schnetzer: They were so kind to me. I remember them vividly, them and Jed Allan [ex-Don Craig] and Robert Clary [ex-Robert LeClair] and Barbara Stanger [ex-Mary Anderson] that I played opposite for a while. It was a good group there, but I worked a lot with Susan and Bill, because I was Susan's long-lost rogue brother, who was kind of a precursor to Cass Winthrop, actually, kind of a bad boy. But I got to play Cass long enough that the writers rehabilitated the character, and he became one of the heroes of the show. But yeah, Susan and Bill were great people for an actor and for a young actor entering into the world of soap opera. They were very supportive and gentle and kind.

Soap Central: Was there ever a moment in your career where DAYS reached out to you to reprise that role?

Schnetzer: No, never. And I'm surprised, actually!

Soap Central: Maybe they were like, "He's a big deal on Another World now, so we won't even try our luck?"

Schnetzer: But since Another World went off in '99, I still have not been seriously approached by them. And I have writers on that staff who would pitch me all the time, and that's why that whole thing is rather mystifying. I'm surprised. I did stunt cast when Another World was canceled -- I played Cass for a year and a half on As the World Turns because our producer, Chris Goutman, was moved over to As the World Turns, and that was a good job. It was respectful, and I got to represent Hunt Block's character [Craig Montgomery]; he was kind of a nefarious character, and it was fun to be his lawyer and try to keep the character out of trouble. But after that, soap opera never knocked on my door again, and I was a little surprised, after the success I had had on Another World. Does that sound obnoxious? I don't mean for it to.

Soap Central: No, I don't think it sounds obnoxious. You're an audience favorite and come with a built-in fan base, so it would make sense for them to approach you and get a feel for the waters. But you never know what opportunities might come knocking, and if that were to happen, is it something you'd be willing to explore?

Schnetzer: I don't think there's a chance for that now because the genre has shrunk so much, and I'm also on such a different career path right now. I think the money is gone. Like you said, [when I was on], it was the heyday in popularity, and it was also the heyday in terms of salaries and stuff like that. Plus, all of the soaps are on the West Coast, and everybody wants to hire you as a local hire. I actually was considered for one job on Days of our Lives, actually, now that I remember, and it was for a limited-run character for three to six months. And not only did they want me to be a local hire and pay me a fairly minimal wage, but they wouldn't let me fly back and forth from the East Coast to the West Coast in my downtime, because if flights got canceled or delayed, they'd have to delay production, and that would be extremely expensive, to have me arrive a day or two late when I was scheduled to record. So, that was a deal breaker for me, that I couldn't [travel home in my downtime]. And again, that wasn't even an offer; that was just a, "Will you screen test under these circumstances."

Soap Central: When you think back to your years and years of storyline as Cass, are there any that stand out as your favorite?

Schnetzer: Well, definitely the Tootsie storyline stands out. That was great fun, to owe a loan shark named Tony the Tuna $100,000 and have to go out in public dressed up in Felicia's clothes so as not to have my knees broken and try to scare up the money to pay him off. That was great fun. And also to have Tony the Tuna develop a crush on the female persona of Krystal Lake, we just had a great time with that. There was also a manic-depressive storyline that really stood out. We took that really seriously. Mental health touches everybody, including my family, and it was something that I was happy to invest in. And we ended up getting an award from the National Institutes of Health for raising awareness about those serious issues. Also, there was one particular episode that won a Directors Guild Award. It was a black-and-white episode in which, at the start of it, I trip on the stairs and am knocked unconscious, and I went into a reverie, or a dream, where I'm a sleuth, trying to find Frankie [Alice Barrett] in a 1940's film noir setting, and all of our characters, David Forsyth [ex-Dr. John Hudson], Anna Stuart [ex-Donna Love], Alice Barrett, all their characters, we were all dressed up in '40s attire, and they intercut it with car chase scenes from old 40s movies. It was great fun. That was an 87-page script that I had to memorize. I was on every page! [Laughs]

Soap Central: Sometimes the storylines on soaps can get a bit outlandish. How did you approach some of those over-the-top storylines? Did you lean into them, did you try to take them very seriously, or...?

Schnetzer: Totally leaned into them! Go all the way, full bore, 110 percent, full steam ahead! [Laughs] And I just remembered, I even played a dual character. It was the reverse of what they usually do. I left the show for six months, and when I came back, I appeared to be Cass, but as the storyline went on, it turned out that this look-alike was holding Cass hostage, and you only started to see chinks in his armor or in his fašade, you started to see strange idiosyncrasies, or tics, or something, and then the audience grew aware that this wasn't really Cass. I even ended up having to fight myself! I had a fist fight with myself so I could escape captivity. [Laughs]

Soap Central: That's amazing. Did they bring in a double for that?

Schnetzer: They had a double with a stunt wig that was curly like my hair, and they used split screen. We'd shoot the bad guy's half of the scene, and they'd have a line where they'd split, and then we would rehearse, I would go change into the wardrobe and whatever makeup difference there was for Cass, and then, say I was at a table, and the bad guy was on the right as you look at the screen, there would be a double on the left of the screen doing lines with me, and then we would reshoot, and I'd have to sit on the left side of the screen, and the double would take the place on the right, and then they would superimpose the two through the miracle of technology. And with the fight, I had to learn both sides of the fight!

Soap Central: So, double the work!

Schnetzer: Yeah! But they paid me extra for it -- I got time and a half. [Laughs]

Soap Central: Is there anything that you didn't get the chance to do during your run on soaps that you would have loved to have done?

Schnetzer: No. They had me do so much, I was completely satisfied. I would do my own stunts, I would jump off moving boats, I did car driving stunts in Mallorca, we did location shoots to various places. Gosh, playing with all kinds of wonderful actors. I couldn't have asked for more.

Soap Central: Sounds like it truly was an amazing career. Is there anything else that you'd like to add? Maybe any other memories that you've unearthed now that you've started writing about your life?

Schnetzer: Well, I've only gotten to age twelve, so not into soap operas just yet! [Laughs]

Soap Central: Well then, we'll have to speak again! Is there anything else about A Case of Blue that you'd like to add?

Schnetzer: All I would ask is that the audience be gentle; it's an extremely low-budget film, so some of the technical aspects are not what we hoped they would be, but the performances are lovely, and it's a heartfelt story. We've won some awards at a couple of film festivals, so I hope people will see it and enjoy it. I tried to create a character that people could really identify with and relate to, which has always been my goal as an actor. Somebody once said the sign of good acting is, "When you look at it, do you believe that person?" And I will always try to do that.

What do you think about our interview with Stephen Schnetzer? What are your favorite moments from his time as Another World's Cass Winthrop? Would you welcome him to daytime again on another soap opera? If so, which show and what kind of role do you think he'd be good in? We want to hear from you -- and there are many ways you can share your thoughts.

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