Ava Lazar : «Santana was always the most interesting character for an actress to play !»

 By Nicolas, exclusively for Santa Barbara : le site Francais, April 2013

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On last April 12, Ava Lazar agreed to take on her time to answer exclusively the questions of Santa Barbara : le site Francais. The actress talks about her beginnings, of her time on Santa Barbara as the first interpreter of Santana Andrade, and at last about her career since her departure of the show.

The beginnings before Santa Barbara

At first, can you tell us a little about you : how old are you today ? Where do you live ? Do you live in couple or have children ?

First of all I would like to say that I am a woman of a certain age. Putting a number to it is not relevant for me... You are French,  so you can understand this I'm sure ! Having said this I feel very blessed to be at a point in my life where I am healthy, fit and I feel great ! I live now in Venice California close to the beach with my two dogs Skoshi and Genevieve, a multi-poo and a Sanador. I have a beautiful daughter Jessica Claire who is in college now and lives with me part time. I was married for a long time and have been single now for the past few years.

To know you better, what did you brought from yourself in the character of Santana Andrade in Santa Barbara ?

Well, looking back now I think the writers liked me because I had a vivacious personality and they felt that would contribute to the role. I think to that degree I brought a lot of my life experiences to the role.

When did you know you wanted to be an actress and how did you start your career ?

I acted as a child in theater in Germany where I grew up. I always felt I wanted to express myself creatively, I don't think I always clear that it would be acting. I guess my early twenties was when my career in acting began. I had been modeling before that.

 

The time of Santa Barbara

How did you start in Santa Barbara ?

I had several auditions for the casting people, NBC and the writers and producer.

How did Santana was presented to you at first ?

Again the head writers and creators of the show loved the part of Santana. She was sort of a cross pollination of cultures, since she was from a Latin background, yet grew up with this wealthy Santa Barbara family.  She was beautiful and strong and didn't let anything hold her back. It was the first time a Latin family was presented in daytime television. And it was a big deal. I think with my European background and yet living in America for so many years I represented that kind of amalgam of cultures that could give the character that dimensionality. Unfortunately the writing didn't quite maintain that level of depth.

Santana was a strong character, but with many personal wounds. You marked the part for being the first actress to have played her, but especially because you put a lot of sensibility and determination playing her. Are you agree with this description of Santana and the way you were received by the fans ?

I have to be honest that I was not that aware at the time of how Santana was received by the audience, except to say that she was a very popular character on the show. She was complex and had a level of challenges that made her more real that the other characters didn't initially have. Especially since a big part of the theme of the show was centered around the Latin family aspect and she was breaking the mold.

You changed the color of your hair during your first weeks of the show. I know many fans noticed it. What was the reason for that ? Was it the producers' choice to make Santana more "hispanic-looking"?

Yes, I started out as blond on the show and one day the producers decided that everyone on the show was blond so I should be a brunette. So from one day to the next I had to color my hair. First with spray dye which was not very pleasant and then with real color. It would have been fine if I could have remained a chestnut brown however they insisted that it was not dark enough so they made my hair black, which I felt was way too harsh. Not to mention that I felt it was a cliché because I was playing Latin on the show that I would have to have dark hair ! If you notice now most Latina's have blond hair. Look at Jennifer Lopez ! I really felt they had a great opportunity with the Latin theme on the show to do something unique but instead they went with the safer and more cliché storyline. I still feel they missed a wonderful opportunity !

You were some of the first actresses to play in Santa Barbara when it began. How was it to start such a new adventure like this ? Was there some stress or excitement ?

I had no idea what I was getting into in the beginning of the show. Unlike some of the other actors I had never worked a regular on a soap opera. I had only worked as a semi recurring part on Days of Our Lives once. So for me it as was all a new experience and a new way of working. And while it was really fun in the beginning of the show it eventually became very stressful for me. Since my character was one of the most popular I worked a six day a week schedule. Usually I had to memorize 40 pages a day and my work days on average were around 18 hours per day. That was too much for anyone. The excitement of the beginning quickly wore thin as it became physically more and more demanding. Most soap operas began as a half hour show, ours began as an hour show. We also had life size sets which presented shooting  problems and made it hard to get the cameras around the sets. All this was only an issue in the first 26 episodes. And a lot of people were fired as a result including the head writers and creators of the show along with the original producers. Who by the way were all great people to work with !

What were your favorite male and female acting partners as Santana ?

My favorite male actor would have to be A Martinez. First because he is a great actor and secondly because he was one of the kindest and most generous actors to work with on the show ! As for the woman I loved working with Margarita Cordova ! She played my mother on the show and we definitely formed a bond working together. It was always easy since my character changed emotional directions at least 5 times per show ! She was also a consummate actress who made working with her effortless.

You left the show before the end of 1984. What were the reasons of your departure ? With time, did you have any regret about it ?

When the producers on the original show were all fired and new producers came in from New York they maintained primarily those actors they had worked with in New York. It was really not up to me to stay. Sadly I wish I could have remained on the show. By that point it was becoming fun again.

What are your best remembrances from the show, on a relational and on a professional level ?

Wow, that was so long ago now... I guess the best memories I had of the show was when I got to express some of the more juicy parts of my character. When I got to sing and when I finally found my child. I enjoyed all the people that were my co-stars on the show. Especially the ones that were on in the beginning. They were all great. And I am actually still friend with some such as A Martinez and Leigh McCloskey.

If you hadn't play Santana, what character would you have liked to play ?

I'm not sure I would have wanted to play any other part because I thought Santana was always the most interesting character for an actress to play !

 

These 28 last years after Santa Barbara and now

After Santa Barbara, we saw you in a few movies and TV series until the beginning of the 90s. What happened to you after that ? What are your new occupations ?

Well I got married and had my daughter ! I wanted to focus on my home and my family especially when Jessy was small. I always thought I would one day go back into acting but instead worked my way into producing and I produced five feature length films along with a short. I also worked with my ex-husband at the time doing a lot of voice over work. Then eventually I went back to school and got a masters in Spiritual psychology with a third year emphasis in Consciousness, health and healing. And while I was finishing that in 2004 I began a major renovation on our 1927 Spanish home in Laurel Canyon. So that got me into the design bug. Overall I have always pursued a variety of creative endeavors. I now have an Intuitive Coaching practice along with developing some television and film projects, and I may be doing some acting soon as well. You never know what life has in store ! So stay tuned.

Do you have upcoming professional projects for this year ?

I am working on a few projects, however, too soon to talk about yet. My main focus for now is the Intuitive Life Coaching Practice. I am very excited about this and I will soon have a website so you will be able to see what I am doing there.

It seems you know Europe very well, and even lived in Italia for a while. Can you tell us more about your links with Europe, and especially with France ?

Yes I lived in Rome for a short time. I also lived in Paris, London and Germany. I go back and forth regularly to visit my father and sister and her family. Or go back to attend the Berlin Film festival or Cannes. I consider Europe my second home !

Is there something you'd like to say to all the Santa Barbara fans all over the world who didn't forget you as Santana ?

I would just like to say that I had no idea how popular it was and that it would remain in the hearts of its followers for so long. Thank you for all your support!  And for appreciation of my work. It has meant a lot to me over the years. Thank you !

Once again all my thanks to Ava Lazar for her kindness and her availability.