July 11, 2009 - 10 years of Santa Barbara : le site Francais
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2009 - 25 years of Santa Barbara

Harley Jane Kozak : «It was an amazing year for me on that show.»

 By Nicolas, exclusively for Santa Barbara : le site Francais, September 2009

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On last September 12, Harley Jane Kozak agreed to take on her time to answer exclusively to the questions of Santa Barbara : le site Francais. The actress talks about her debuts, the Santa Barbara years as Mary DuVall, and at last about her career since her departure of the show.

The beginnings before Santa Barbara

At first, I'd like you to tell us a little about you : How old are you today ? Where do you live ? How old are your children now ?

I'm 52 years old, I live in California's Conejo Valley, and my children are 9, 7 and 7.

I always thought that, especially with a long time part, the personality of an actor always shows through. So, could you be described as a very kind, sweet and patient person just like Mary DuVall was ?

My mother would describe me just exactly that way ! Unfortunately, my mother's dead. The people still living who know me well will tell you that on a good day, I'm as kind, sweet and patient as Mary. My children will tell you that I'm crabby, weird, and get mad over the stupidest things. So you really must consider the source.

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

I knew when I was about 9 that I wanted to act. I started by acting in plays in school, then at the community playhouse, then in the Nebraska Repertory Theatre, while still in high school, then summer theater in Kentucky, then college production, then NYU's (New York University) professional acting training program, a lot of plays, and then the soaps.

 

The time of Santa Barbara

How did you start in Santa Barbara ?

I had already acted in a soap called Texas, and another called Guiding Light, and when I'd finished 2 years on Guiding Light, I thought I'd leave soaps and try film and nighttime television. But I couldn't resist Santa Barbara, which would not only get me from New York to Los Angeles, where the weather was very nice, but would let me play Mary, whom I loved from the start.

Mary was introduced as Christie's sister, but after a few months she became the only DuVall family member on the show and one of the main characters. How did Mary was presented to you at first ?

Exactly as she was introduced to the audience : as Christie's sister, a nun who was leaving the convent.

How did you consider to play the religious side of Mary ? Were you afraid to play a character involved in such a sensible subject ?

No, not at all. I'm a "cradle Catholic" - baptized, went to Catholic school, although I eventually fell away from strict Catholicism and tried a little of everything. I'm still trying a little of everything. I love studying religions. And as a child, I enjoyed the Mass in Latin (less when it went into English). And I've had a few peak experiences that I would describe as spiritual, and some of them happened in church. It was very easy to take my own feelings about God and give them to Mary, although for Mary, religious was a more formal affair. Also, I felt that for Mary, joining the church as a professional (so to speak) was probably a way out of a strange home life.

In many fan's opinion, the love-story between Mary and Mason is one of the strongest of all Santa Barbara. Even Lane Davies told me that he never made Mason completely available emotionally after Mary's death. Can you tell us how you approached this love-story as an actress and maybe the acting relations you had with Lane Davies at the time ?

Clearly, Mason was the love of Mary's life (unless you count Jesus). It was ridiculously easy to play - I just opened myself up to Lane's charm and charisma and good looks and slightly wicked character. What could be simpler ? Also, in my life that year, my best friend was dying, and many things were unraveling for me, and Lane was a deeply sympathetic friend. He is still my friend - how lucky am I ?

Mary knew two men on Santa Barbara, a marriage with her old friend Mark McCormick, a rape, at last a terrible death... What were your favourite storylines and the ones you particularly disliked during your time on the show ?

Strange as it seems, the rape and my death were my favourites. I don't remember the rape, but I remember scenes afterward, the hysteria. And the hysteria before my death I remember well. There is something very liberating about screaming, using your whole voice and body, possessed by a strong emotion. We call it chewing up the scenery. It's like howling at the moon. It's socially taboo, and so much fun. I also recall being humbled by the very touching work the other actors did over my dying/dead body. Like Tom Sawyer watching his own funeral. I actually don't remember any part of the story I didn't like. It was an amazing year for me on that show.

What were your favorite male and female acting partners as Mary DuVall ?

I loved Lane and I loved Robin Mattson, who played Gina, and Grace Zabriskie, who played Mary's mother, and A Martinez, who played Cruz Castillo... But there are so many "favorites" - very hard to pick one.

A Martinez said once that Mary's death was the most serious error ever made by the producers of Santa Barbara. What were the reasons of your departure ? Can you tell us how you dealt with it at the time ?

What I was told was that it was a financial decision, as my first year was coming to an end and that meant an automatic pay raise and the new owners of the show wanted to cut costs. I was pretty calm. I'm a very easygoing person. I've always felt that my destiny is my destiny, and that if Mary's number was up, there was something out there waiting for me that I was supposed to be doing instead. I recall asking my boss if I was going to have an interesting death, at least, and she said, "Well, we think so." She was right.

You made a brief comeback in February 1989, when Mason is in a coma and arrives in Heaven, where Mary turns to be his guardian angel. Can you tell us how this short comeback occurred ?

As A Martinez suggested, the producers had second thoughts and asked how I'd feel about coming back. But I realized it was time for me to move on, so I wasn't interested in a new contract. But I was very happy to come back for a few episodes, especially to help Mason get back to his life and his delightfully bad ways.

Did you keep in touch with members of the cast or the crew after your departure ? Did you continue to watch the show ?

Yes, I kept in touch with Robin Mattson, and Lane, and Nancy Grahn, and would run into Marcy Walker on occasion, and Robin Wright, and A and Jon Lindstrom (Mark McCormick) - quite a few people. Over the years I've lost track of most of them, except for Lane and Nancy, and one of my producers. But no, I never really had time to watch TV when I was on TV - one of life's great ironies.

What was your best remembrance from the show, on a relational and on a professional level ?

Mary's death, I think, and one scene after the rape.

What storyline would you have seen for Mary if she hadn't suddenly died in 1986 ?

Marriage and the baby, and then whatever conflict the writers could come up with to thwart that happy (and not dramatically interesting) fate. Probably there would've been problems with the paternity of Mary's baby. Maybe I'd have murdered Mark. That would have been fun. (Although you never want to see your friends unemployed.)

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

Somebody bad !

 

These last 23 years after Santa Barbara and now

After Santa Barbara, you played in many TV series and theater movies. Can you come back on the following years of your career after your departure from Santa Barbara ?

I acted in about 10 feature films, maybe 8 TV series, and a lot of commercials, guest star roles, and plays. One mini-series. Several TV movies. But I never went back to soaps.

Tell us about your writing activities. You already wrote four novels and won awards for your talent. How did you come to this new activity ? What comparison would you make between writing and acting ?

I was taking a class in creative writing somewhere in the 90's while still acting a lot. I realized I was using less and less of my creative self in my acting, as I approached 40. Growing older as an actress is fine if you're on stage, but in film and TV, the really wonderful roles are fewer in number. But writing used up all of me in another way altogether. I loved being judged only for the quality of my mind, for the words on the page.

Do you have projects for this year ? I saw on the IMDB a movie called The Red Queen. What is it about ?

The Red Queen was a film made by the film students at the University of Texas. My good friend David wrote and directed it and asked me to come to Texas to shoot it - he had only a handful of professionals in it. It was a fantastic experience, to watch students learn to make a film. It was the farthest thing from a Hollywood film that you can imagine, but because there was no pressure, and no money at stake, it was sheer fun. And I played a very bad person, an assassin. I wore a lot of black. She was nothing like poor Mary.

What would you like to say to all the Santa Barbara fans all over the world ?

I am honored by the affection you've shown me for more than two decades for the work I did for one year on a show that was so delightful, I'd have done it for free. I'm a very lucky girl.

 

Once again all my thanks to Harley Jane Kozak for her time and her kindness.