Since 1971, Erika Slezak has reigned as the complicated, compelling and regal Victoria Lord on One Life to Live, a role that has defined her acting career. For fans of Erika, one of the best chances to get to meet her up close is coming this month. The very last Super Soap Weekend, November 15th and 16th, will take place at Disney's Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista. Florida, and Erika will be there.
In Part One of this exclusive interview, Erika talked about the show, the controversies in the writing staff back in 2007, and how she stays so committed to the work and yet grounded and normal in her personal life. In this final segment, Erika shares some amazing stories about her father, the great actor Walter Slezak, and acting in general and on One Life to Live.
Soap Central: You mentioned how much you enjoy meeting fans at the Super Soap Weekend, but I read a funny story about how you were once signing autographs on the street, when you saw the great British stage and film actor, John Gielgud (Arthur), walking by and he wasn't recognized while you were surrounded. Do you remember that?
Erika Slezak: I was so embarrassed I didn't know where to look. It was outside what was then TV 19. We were actually across the street from the studio and a whole bunch of people were asking for my autograph and I looked and he was walking on the other side of the street, directly in front of our studio. I thought, 'Oh my God, that's John Gielgud.' I stopped. And I said to somebody, 'Look over there, look over there.' And they went, 'Oh, yeah, all right.' Well, I was mortified, because I wanted to run over and fall on my knees in front of him. It was truly a very weird experience. I was glad that he was not on the same side of the street. The work that he did, primarily on the stage in England, was wonderful. He was a star, but in a different way.
Soap Central: Somebody like your father, who did amazing work in film, but a lot of people remember him from Batman. I loved him in The Pirate with Judy Garland and Gene Kelly.
Erika Slezak: Yes, yes, that was such a great movie. I'll say this, because I can, he was an incredibly clever and talented actor and he was naturally very funny as a human being. He was very warm, very funny, and a lot of that came from him. Harkening back to the Batman episode - he played the Clock King -- when they asked him to do it, he had never seen the show. So he said, 'Let me have a look at it.' He watched one and then he called back and said, 'It's ridiculous. It's overacting anonymous.' They answered, yes, but assured him he would have a good time doing it. So he went and after his first day of rehearsal he had played the scenes and he thought the director was going to come over and tell him to knock it off because he was overacting and hamming it up. Then the director walked to him and said, 'That was good, but listen, could you do a lot more,' that was the style. He was a very smart actor, too.
Soap Central: I read that he was determined that if you became an actor, you must get the proper training…
Erika Slezak: I had always said I wanted to be an actress since I was a little girl and nobody paid much attention to me. When I was about 13, he said are you serious about this? And I said yes. Then he literally sat me down and told me everything bad he could think of about the business, and there's a lot. He said you have to be prepared for total rejection and the awful embarrassments, you know, all the awful things that can happen to you in this business. He said, 'One out of five people are a little bit lucky; and one out of 100 make it, so you have to be prepared for total rejection.' I said that I still wanted to do it.
Soap Central: What was his response?
Erika Slezak: He said if you're going to do it, you're not just going to say you're an actor's daughter so you can act. You're going to learn it properly. He had always had a thing about his accent because he was from Vienna, and he always had a slight German accent and he felt like he didn't speak English properly. He said, 'I want you to learn properly.' He helped me to be properly trained. He was the one who encouraged me to apply at the Royal Academy and helped me with auditions and stuff. He didn't coach me, but he advised me, and I was lucky enough to get in. He was very proud of that, very proud. It was wonderful for him to see that I had succeeded. I wish he had lived long enough to see how well I've succeeded in this particular field.
Soap Central: Recently, the stories for Viki have been quite good. I think the Paris, Texas storyline was really wonderful.
Erika Slezak: It was like Viki's mid-life crisis. She just had to get away from everything. She wanted to go somewhere to be anonymous. She wanted to get up and go to work and not have to think, just be happy. I loved that story. It was so simple and so sweet, and the characters that he brought in Noel and Gigi and Mo were so real and so different from everybody else. It wasn't just written for me. It was a lovely story.
Soap Central: That storyline is still playing dividends with Charlie and Gigi. I think Farah Fath as Gigi has become a real asset to the show.
Erika Slezak: Yes, isn't she good? I never saw her on Days of Our Lives, but I'll tell you one thing, when she came on One Life, I took one look at her and I thought, 'This girl has a completely different energy than everyone on the show. You have to watch her.' She makes you want to watch. She's delightful, just darling. I think she's so good. I so enjoy working with her.
Soap Central: I also like the way Jerry ver Dorn has taken over the role of Clint, which wasn't easy filling Clint Ritchie's shoes…
Erika Slezak: No it wasn't. I could talk for about 17 hours about how wonderful Jerry ver Dorn is as a person, as an actor, as a delightful human being. He has made that character totally into his own. He's a very interesting, well-rounded character and the fact that they're having him be a little bit more Asa-like now I think is wonderful.
Soap Central: It's interesting because he was such a different character on Guiding Light, Ross Marler.
Erika Slezak: Yes, yes. I just love that man.
Soap Central: Speaking of dynamic actors, anytime you and Robin Strasser work together it's like clash of the titans…
Erika Slezak: That's like the best marriage on the show. I've always said the strongest relationship on the show is between Viki and Dorian because they don't get it. They don't know why and they just don't get it. It's fire forever.
Soap Central: In 1973, you said something really interesting about women's liberation. "It's a destroying thing in a marriage when a wife is more successful. Earning more money is bad, I think. When they start saying, 'Erika Slezak's husband, what was his name again?' - then you know it's bad. A woman doesn't have the false pride, the ego of a man. I'm not a woman's liberation advocate. I like when a man lights my cigarette, helps me with my coat, stand up when I enter a room. I was brought up that way, and I like it. I'm glad there are still men who are polite and that they also turn around and talk to you because they realize the intellectual level is there too."
Erika Slezak: Wow! Was I stupid or what!
Soap Central: I think what you said was a reflection of the times.
Erika Slezak: Well, yes. But of course I'm for women's lib. Look at my life; I have the most equal life of anyone in the whole world. I do think it's nice when people are polite to each other. I think it's very nice when somebody holds the door open for someone else. But I am not a person who likes to be coddled or taken care of or sucked up to. I hate it as a matter of fact. So a lot of that has changed. I don't want people fawning over me. Anyone at work will tell you that. The producers know not to come and suck up to me because I don't like it. But women should be equal. We're just as strong and I don't think women making more money than men can destroy marriage, it's about personalities and the security of the people involved. In that way I have changed.
Soap Central: A woman can hold the door for a man, it works both ways…
Erika Slezak: Exactly. I think what I have heard in all these years is that we are all basically the same. Men are built differently; they look a little different, but inside we're pretty much the same. We do have different reactions and strengths, and that's fine. That's how we balance each other out.
Soap Central: You also said, "mother was a spectacular cook. I'd much rather eat at home than go out."
Erika Slezak: My mother was an awesome cook.
Soap Central: Do you remember saying, "I love to cook for my father. Once, I made a fabulous meal and put it down in front of him, a bit afraid of his reaction. He tasted it, looked pleased, called to the next room, 'Mommy, this is very good!' "When Mr. Slezak realized that it was his little "Ricci" who had prepared the goodies, he went ahead and treated her to a two-year subscription to Gourmet Magazine.
Erika Slezak: He did as a matter of fact. That was a disaster. I would look at the recipes in Gourmet and say, 'I give up.' You know, take one venison carcass…
Soap Central: Do you still enjoy cooking?
Erika Slezak: Yes, I do. There are days when I say, 'Let's do takeout.' But I usually cook every day.
Soap Central: Finally, Erika, many people look up to you as an actor. Who do you consider your acting idols, if you have any?
Erika Slezak: Okay, I think the best actress in the world is Judi Dench. I could watch that woman read a phone book. And my totally favorite male actor is Alan Rickman. I just adore him. There's kind of a list of others. I love Johnny Depp. He's adorable and so smart, so clever, so interesting. There are a lot of people I admire because I know how difficult it is.
RELATED ARTICLEClick here to read the first part of our two-part interview.