If you thought ringing in 2018 with overflowing glasses of champagne was fun, wait until you read soapcentral.com's first interview of the year with the inimitable Marla Adams, famous for her role as The Young and the Restless' Dina Mergeron.
The quick-witted actress took time out of her busy schedule to share her thoughts on playing Dina's heartbreaking Alzheimer's story, which has been one of the most emotional and challenging storylines of her career.
Just as Dina and other Alzheimer's patients have their up moments and down moments, so too does Adams, albeit in very different ways. So grab a cocktail, honey, (as she would say) and get ready to ride the ups and downs of this very touching storyline given to the celebrated actress.
...On being UP for a serious challenge
"I feel a tremendous responsibility for the authenticity of this daunting disease. Hundreds of people have written in, and I just weep," Adams admits of viewer response to Dina's Alzheimer's story. "Everybody has been touched by Alzheimer's in some way, from William Bell, the founder of this iconic soap opera that has been number one for so many years, who died of Alzheimer's, to the dear darling [former Y&R head writer] Sally Sussman, whom I believe lost her father [to the disease], to Mal Young, our current executive producer. I went to him, and I said, 'Mal, do you know anyone who's had this disease? Why do you want to continue to write this story?' And he said, 'Me mum.' Just like that. So I feel a tremendous duty to all the people who I want to lift up who are the survivors of this horrendous disease. I'm so touched because I know so many people that are close [to Alzheimer's in some way]. So many actors on this show have mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, lovers, whatever, that have this disease. And it's a privilege to be able to play this part the best I can."
...On the DOWNside of soap opera work
"I am just loving doing this storyline, but I get scared because I have trouble with my lines. We don't have cue cards anymore, so you've got to memorize every dawg-gone thing!" she says with a laugh. "But we have great directors... and the editing is fabulous; you can't really tell where and when we go up on our lines. Although some days, I just sail right through. It just depends on the day. And you know, dear heart, I'm no spring chicken! With no work done! Even my hair is natural! [Laughs] But anyway, everybody on the show goes up on their lines. Except Eileen [Davidson, Ashley Abbott]: she's like a machine! She remembers everything, and Peter [Bergman, Jack Abbott], too."
...On Dina's unpredictable UProarious moments
"Oh my God, I'm hilarious!" she jokes. "And I'm a naughty girl -- not in real life, but I'm a great tease, and it's more fun than anything. I always use [her comedic bitchy side], as it's something Dina had before she had Alzheimer's, but now she has the Alzheimer's on top. But what is so wonderful is I love working with Peter Bergman and Eileen Davison and Beth Maitland, who plays Traci, the common denominator in that whole family who tries to keep the peace with all the Abbott nuts that we are, running around! They have been so wonderfully helpful, especially Peter, from the very first day when I walked in. So supportive. I remember going into the makeup room, and there was [makeup artist] Patti Denny, and she took me into her arms and said, 'Welcome home, Marla.' Not welcome back, but welcome home. And that's how they have made me feel. And every time I go into the Abbott living room, they may have changed the pillows or something like that, but it feels very close and comfortable and homey to me, and that's where most of my scenes are played. I had one scene where Dina is lucid, and I may be paraphrasing because it was several shows ago, but Dina says to Jack, while they're standing by the Christmas tree and putting on ornaments, 'My memory may come and go -- mostly go -- and when it does, I just want you to know when I become too difficult for you to handle that I love you, now and always.' And then there are hilarious scenes that I have with Judith [Chapman, Gloria Abbott] and Melody Thomas Scott [Nikki Newman] -- whom Dina calls strumpets and bitches! I am very, very awful to them, and they deserve it! Of course, they give it right back to me. But I love to be funny in those scenes, because at times, it really is hilarious, some of the horrible things she says. And to keep that humor in all the tragedy is very important, I think, in any storyline; it gives it depth."
... On Dina's DOWN moments with her children
"Jack and Dina have always been joined at the hip. He was the one that she loved the most, quite clearly," she surmises. "And then what she did with this Davis guy, my God, it was just unbelievable for Ashley to not be an Abbott, that her father was this guy. And I think Eileen is doing a brilliant job trying to love me but having so much animosity and not hatred but disappointment that her mother left the family. And as a mother [in real life, I can say], I would never, ever leave my children. So that is hard for me to play, but you know, they give you the script and you have to do it. That's all there is to it. But I think she's coming around. Jack loves her, and the business part of it, I don't think he would ever push her out. But the hatred for Graham - - which is coming to fruition now, because some very exciting things will be happening - - I don't think it's because I willed money to Graham, because they're both independently wealthy, but more because Graham is bad, bad, bad for Dina. So Jack has always loved his mother very deeply, and I think Ashley will come around, and we'll just have to see. There is no cure for Alzheimer's, so I don't know how long I'll be on the show. But Mal said we're going to [continue] it as long as we can, because the feedback has been really, really phenomenal."
...On being able to UPlift viewers
"The feedback from fans on this emotional story is beyond measure," Adams shares. "This story gives them a reason to feel hope and joy, even though there has been no cure for Alzheimer's. The story gives them comfort, and if I can supply that and touch people just a little bit... [pauses] I'm going to start crying now because I can't believe that out of all the parts I've ever played -- and I was on Broadway when I was eighteen with Peter Brook, who directed me in The Visit, which is a very wonderful play starring [Alfred Lund and Lynn Fontanne], who were the quintessential couple in the American theater, and I worked with [Elia] Kazan in Splendor in the Grass, so many great people in movies and films -- but I've never, ever had a part like this. And that means so much to me."
...On stepping UP Alzheimer's research donations
"I made a contribution recently to the John Douglas French Alzheimer's Foundation," Adams says. "The foundation was founded by John's wife, Dorothy Kirsten, the great diva of opera, because he had it and died. I've been to several of her luncheons and... I made a contribution this year, because every penny that you donate to the John Douglas French Alzheimer's Foundation goes for research. 100% goes for research, and that's a comfort for me to be able to know that I can make a little, tiny bit of difference."
...On perhaps going DOWN in Emmy history
"I submitted myself for an Emmy, which you have to do, and I'm getting tremendous feedback from my fans," she shares. "Time will tell, but that would be the nice icing on the cake. And if that should happen, I would dedicate it to all the caregivers that are still alive, and I would look at [our late show creator's wife] Lee Bell in the audience and know that even though her husband is up in heaven, romping around with Jeanne Cooper [Katherine Chancellor], I would lift her up, and I would lift all those up that are left desolate and yet understanding what really happened... the hero in all of this is not the dementia patient, it's those who have to deal, to comfort and be their caregivers, and to get through all of that, all of the ups and downs, and to continue on with those memories after that loved one dies."
...On when Dina's DOWNward spiral will take her off the canvas
"I don't know how much longer I'm going to be aboard. I know Mal wants to milk it as long as he can, and I certainly want that, too," she says. "I will dedicate whatever it is, all my time and love, for the privilege of playing this character. I read the scripts, and I just weep. Sadly, people who don't watch daytime don't give daytime people much credit. But we are absolute innovators in attacking and starting storylines that have never been done before."
...On the UPside of Dina's eventual end
"When I was on The Secret Storm fifty years ago, I played Belle the Bitch, and I remember... I was supposed to have a fatal disease on the show, only to play for six months," she recalls. "Well, what happened was the disease was nephritis. Well honey, Marla Adams had nephritis when she was a child, a tiny little baby, and guess who's still alive? So I stayed until the show went off the air. But what was so wonderful about it was to play that character. And that had always been my favorite character until this Alzheimer's story. So it's kind of neat. I feel like my book ends here. After Dina is gone, I can go off into the sunset with not a heavy heart, but a joyful one."
How do you feel about the way Dina's battle with Alzheimer's has been written? Do you think it's possible for Y&R to keep Adams around long-term? How would you like to see the rest of Dina's storyline play out? We want to hear from you -- and there are many ways you can share your thoughts.