Soap opera alum Sonia Satra has played some pretty spectacular roles in her lifetime. Soap fans know her as Guiding Light's Lucy Cooper, the motherless youngster whose father had a secret second family and whose rapist came back as a woman to torture her, and as One Life to Live's Barbara Graham, the lunatic, gun-wielding nurse who went on a shooting spree in Llanview. And she has just added Gloria Steinem, real-life feminist and political activist, to her résumé.
Satra stepped into the shoes of Steinem for American Playboy: The Hugh Hefner Story, Amazon's ten-episode docu-series chronicling the life and career of Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner. And she tells Soap Central that playing the iconic feminist -- and archenemy of Hefner -- was quite an exciting and eye-opening experience.
But that's not all Satra shared with us; we got her to open up about her first encounter with a Playboy magazine, whether or not she would ever have considered posing for the provocative publication, how she feels about her daytime television experiences, and more.
soapcentral.com: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. And what an exciting project, playing Gloria Steinem in a series about Hugh Hefner!
Sonia Satra: Yeah, it really was an exciting project. It was amazing to do, and I had so much fun. I mean Gloria Steinem? She's an icon! So that was really excellent.
soapcentral.com: So we know it's about Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, but can you give readers a better idea of the feel of the series, how it tells his story, etc.?
Satra: I would say it really tells the Hugh Hefner story through his eyes, as he remembers. So it's his perspective on his life. And Hugh Hefner actually holds the world record for the most amount of archive material. He literally has a 12,000 square foot vault where he has kept track of everything; he has videos and pictures and journals and newspaper clippings, just an unbelievable amount of stuff that he's been collecting, I believe since the early 1950s. So there's this massive amount of information that he's kept, and they were able to use and integrate a lot of it into the series. It's done in a docu-series kind of way, so there's re-creation and real people being interviewed and telling what they remember or what their perspective was or how he had impacted certain things.
soapcentral.com: Did you get to see any of the archived stuff or the Playboy mansion in person?
Satra: I got to go to the Playboy mansion! I went to a party at the mansion, and that was so fun, to just be in this iconic place, because I will probably never go back to the Playboy mansion in my life! So to be there and to see all these things that you've heard of, like the grotto, and the pool, and his zoo of monkeys. He actually has a zoo with monkeys and a couple of other different animals on the premises. We weren't able to go very much into the house; a lot of it was off-limits. Although, I was able to get into the library, the screening room, and sort of the main entrance way to the house, and also the game room where they have the Playboy pinball machine, and they have a "back of the van" room with literally squishy, jumpy floors. [Laughs] There are showers and bedrooms off every little nook and cranny. It was really bizarre and amazing at the same time.
soapcentral.com: Were you able to meet Hugh Hefner at any point?
Satra: I didn't. He really doesn't come out much these days, except in his immediate circle. But he was incredibly lucid. He was giving notes throughout this entire project. He knew exactly what he wanted, and he is very clear. I think he just had his 91st birthday, so he's on top of it mentally. But I think he's just getting a little bit older, and he doesn't perhaps want to be seen that way? I'm not really sure, but it's his choice to kind of stay put.
soapcentral.com: Can you reveal how your version of Gloria fits into the series?
Satra: Those two kind of really hate each other [in real life]. Well, she definitely hates him! She was actually asked to be involved and to interview as one of the talking heads in the project, and she said no. She wanted absolutely nothing to do with it. [Laughs] But her sort of claim to fame with the Playboy mansion was she was going to write an article, and she got dressed up as a bunny and applied for a job, because she really was trying to be on the inside of the mansion so that she could get an inside scoop and really see what it was like and talk about what it was like and experience it. So she actually was a bunny for about a week and didn't necessarily love that experience, so that certainly colored her view. And as such a woman, such a female activist, I think she thought anything that was in any way remotely degrading was just not good. She definitely had her things to say, so she printed a fairly scathing article, and that definitely started a bit of feud with them. But this one, this particular scene that I was doing, was years later. She was doing another interview, and I think at that point, he thought he would be able to, I don't know, soften [the situation], befriend her, come to common ground with her, and that didn't happen at all. She was pretty ruthless [laughs]. There was no giving on her part. But he viewed himself as an activist for the underdog. He was really active with black rights. He was good friends with Martin Luther King and he and his bunnies in the plane would go off to all these sit-ins and stuff like that. And in his mind, he actually thought he was helping women. I know it seems hard to kind of understand. On the other hand, in some backhanded way, it probably did bring out women's ability to express themselves -- unfortunately, not necessarily in the most helpful way. But it probably did start the women's revolution, if you will. In many ways, he said that he gave women the power that they used him against him. And the day they all marched outside his mansion, he was stunned. He just didn't understand why. He was like, "Why are they doing this? I'm helping them!" So there definitely was a different interpretation of how that went down.
soapcentral.com: I've had a few friends pose for Playboy and have heard their side of things. And posing in the magazine has launched and heightened many celebrities' careers, even some soap stars. So I can understand that point of view, even though it's controversial.
Satra: It's weird, because I kind of do, too. You just wish it had been done differently. On the other hand, I think to some extent, it did sort of [help with the women's revolution]. And interestingly, Playboy is doing really well in countries in Asia and in India and in some of the Arab countries right now where women have been suppressed and haven't really had a voice. I think there's a lot going on in the world that will hopefully give those women a voice, too, but this is a piece of it in some strange way.
soapcentral.com: So I remember the first time I saw a Playboy magazine. I found one at my dad's house, and I was like, "Ooohhh, what's this?!" Do you remember your first Playboy experience?
Satra: I was a little later with that, because my dad wasn't around. He pretty much left when I was born, and... [it} was my mom and three girls, so there really weren't a lot of Playboys sitting around the house [laughs]. But my boyfriend in college certainly had his stack of Playboys that he "read for the articles." [Laughs]
soapcentral.com: I'm pretty sure that's the only reason my dad had Playboy, as well! Of course, the magazine doesn't do nude spreads anymore, but at any time in your career, would you have considered posing nude for the magazine?
Satra: Well, I'm not sure I have the Playboy measurements, so that makes that decision really easily! [Laughs] It just wouldn't have worked out. But I probably wouldn't have. I don't think I'm as necessarily secure enough in my body as one would need to be in order to place it on the cover of a magazine. I have such a mixed view on how I feel about it, though. Women just badger their bodies; we're constantly critiquing them and constantly thinking there's something wrong, or we're ugly or fat. [Our bodies] are never right. I feel so strongly about the idea of being free and loving your body, so to be able to do something like that is a great thing. So that's the positive side of it. But the negative side of it is... sex trafficking stuff and all those things. Things like that are horrible, and there are some awful stories that come from doing things like that, from objectifying women. So it's a weird double-edged sword. I think there are some positives that can come out of it, and then I think there's a whole lot of dark, seedy, negative stuff that also comes with it. So we might need to find our way without it, because I think the dark is darker than the light.
soapcentral.com: Even though you wouldn't pose nude, you seem to be quite a daring and adventurous person: you've climbed mountains in Norway, bungee-jumped in New Zealand, flown the trapeze in Mexico, and now you're currently training to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in October?!
Satra: Yes, I definitely love adventure! And they actually started as women empowerment adventures, because I do find adventures to be incredibly empowering, and I do find that embodying those life lessons by doing certain things like that can be incredibly powerful experiences that translate into other parts of your life. So I guess I've gone in that direction as opposed to taking off my clothes! [Laughs] But I think the body is an amazing thing, and with every one of those things you just mentioned, I've come away with some sort of life lesson.
soapcentral.com: When did you first get involved in health and fitness adventures? Or were you always just sort of into it?
Satra: I think I've always been involved. I remember when I was about thirteen, there was a little women-only gym that opened in the neighborhood, and I went and I really, really wanted to join. I had a newspaper route, so my mom said, "If you want, I can pay half, and you can pay the other half." And I used the gym all the time! So I think that was probably the beginning of fitness being such a huge, huge part of my life. Plus, my mom is really active. She's not a gym rat, but she was always like, "Let's go out and take a walk," or, "Let's go on a hike," or, "Let's go do something." So we were brought up doing activities at an early age: skiing, ice-skating, all kinds of things. So I was always sort of involved in sports. And if you get into acting, then you do it not only from a mental standpoint and an emotional standpoint, but because you need to look good -- or at least good enough -- so I just kind of kept going.
soapcentral.com: And I heard that you're now running a new wellness program called Moticise. What can you tell us about that, because it sounds like such an interesting concept: movement mixed with life motivation.
Satra: Exercise has always been important to me, and after I had my daughter, it seemed like there was even less of it, so I would power into the gym for a half hour or so on the treadmill or with a lifting machine or whatever. And [the idea for Moticise] happened on one of those mornings when I was running, and you know, you're just bombarded with TV screens, at that hour, it was all just bad news. And I thought, "Gosh, this is so uninspiring!" And I thought, "Wouldn't it be great if you could have your vision board here or you could use this time to really get into your goals?" I mean, if I was running outside, I would always come up with the best ideas, so I thought, what if you were guided to do that, so it was even more structured? It would be so helpful, because visualization and goal setting, all those things, they're all things that I use in my life a lot, but I was finding that especially on the visualization end, I wasn't sitting for a half an hour and visualizing in detail about everything that I wanted. But when I did, it was really effective. So I thought, "If I could just put that into exercise, that would be a really efficient way to do it!" And then, as we started to research the concept, we found that [working out] is actually a very incredible time to do [visualization and goal setting], because your brain is wide open. There's a protein that gets released, and it actually creates new neural pathways. I think they coined it "the miracle growth of the brain." So when you're exercising, when you get your heart rate up, you're particularly receptive to new ideas, to learning, to creativity, to focusing. Anybody who has worked out would probably say, "Yeah, I feel that." But it's more than just the endorphins; there's a whole other chemical reaction going on at the same time. And so to insert these life goals and these life visions and really break it down into a step-by-step process so that when you're done working out, you actually have an actual item that you actually visualized, and you go off and do it, it's a pretty compelling way to make major shifts in your life. It's like, you get what you want in life and you get fit.
soapcentral.com: Okay, you've convinced me! Sign me up!
Satra: [Laughs] It's a fitness program, but as time has gone on, I really feel in my heart, and maybe because in my heart that's the piece that speaks to me the most, it really is about knowing what it is that you dream about, what you really, really want. And can be whatever; it could be small, it could be knitting something or cooking a beautiful meal, or it could be changing your career and going for your dreams. Whatever it is that is important to you -- a relationship or financial goals --whatever it is that you want for yourself, you can get if you go for it. It just takes the whole mind, body, and soul effort to go for it, and this is a really great way of doing that.
Editor's Note: For more information on Moticise, visit the wellness program's official website.
soapcentral.com: I love that you just mentioned relationships and career, because I saw that you host a weekly Twitter chat called Better Life Chat every week where you all sort of talk about life issues and how to get through them, which I think it really great.
Satra: Yes, it's called #BetterLifeChat, and we discuss all kinds of things that will give you a "hashtag better life!" That does encompass all kinds of things. We've talked about happiness, success, dealing with difficult people, gratitude, goal setting, relationships, so many things. I think we've done 53 topics now. We've done a lot. And it's really a growing community of active supporters who've come, and they've got some great thoughts. And I really love that. It's become a special community there.
soapcentral.com: So I'm wondering, how would you counsel a woman who's part of this chat who tells you her mother left her at a young age, her father had a secret second family, and her ex-rapist came back disguised as a woman to torture her? Any advice for that particular situation?
Satra: [Really long pause, followed by laughter] Lucy! Oh, my gosh, for a minute, I was like, "Oh, my God, who is that person? That's horrible." [Laughs]
soapcentral.com: I'm sorry, but I had to slip that in there! Her history is just over the top.
Satra: It was horrible, that poor thing. I actually did a speech once where I started introducing myself as if I was Lucy, and people in the audience were just [stunned], especially after I said, "And then I was raped." And then as I continued and said, "And then, as the angel came down," they were like, "What?!" Finally I would say, "If that were my real life..." [Laughs]
soapcentral.com: Honestly, though, you had so many great moments on that soap where you could really show your skills as an actor. Are there any scenes that really stand out that you're most proud of?
Satra: That rape storyline definitely was a very intense period. I think that was probably the piece that I was the most proud of. And there was a day that I got a card from a young lady who said she was raped the same day that Lucy was raped, and the day that Lucy got help, she went to get help. And I just thought, "Holy crap." That's how much of an impact you can really make, and thank God, Lucy went to get help so this woman did, too.
soapcentral.com: Wow. What an emotional story.
Satra: It was. It really, really was. It was an incredibly moving and eye-opening experience for me. It made me appreciate the medium. And not that I didn't take it seriously before, but it made me really value and honor the work that we did. Sometimes you make fun of soaps, but it's not that to some people. And that was important.
soapcentral.com: Have you kept in touch with any of your former soap opera costars?
Satra: I see people from time to time, but a lot of people have moved to L.A., so there are a lot of people out there. I've stayed in touch with Marj Dusay (ex-Alexandra Spaulding, GL; ex-Vanessa Bennett, All My Children) [and talk with her] every once in a while. And I always go to the bowling event every year, so that's fun to reconnect. But you know, everybody's lives are so big, and if you're not in the same room with them, it's amazing how the intentions are there, and my heart is there, and I'd love to see so many of them, but it just doesn't happen.
soapcentral.com: That's understandable. But how would you feel about reconnecting with some of them on a soap today? Would you consider a soap opera role if one came up, or is that world kind of off your radar now?
Satra: I would totally, absolutely think about it. I never say never to anything, and if a role came up that I was right for, and the stars aligned, I would follow. Sure! But not necessarily if it would limit what I'm doing, because I love what I'm doing. My passion is definitely here, but I love that, too, and I think they could work together.
American Playboy: The Hugh Hefner Story is available now for streaming on Amazon. (If you're not an Amazon Prime member, click here to get a free 30-day trial.)
Photo credit: Sonia Satra/Management
What did you think about our interview with Satra? Does the premise for her Hugh Hefner series sound intriguing? What was your first experience with Playboy magazine, and how do you feel about the publication? What is your favorite Lucy moment? We want to hear from you -- and there are many ways you can share your thoughts.