July 11, 2013 - 14 years of Santa Barbara : le site Francais
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2013 - 29 years of Santa Barbara

Joe Marinelli : «I get Bunny and my life changed forever.»

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

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On last August 05, Joe Marinelli agreed to take on his time to answer exclusively the questions of Santa Barbara : le site Francais. The actor talks about his debuts, the Santa Barbara years as Bunny Tagliatti, his approach of transvestism, and at last about his career since his 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 ? Do you live in couple or have children ?

I am 56, I live in Los Angeles with my wife of 22 years, and two sons 19 and 16.

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

I always try and bring a lot of myself to my characters. Bunny allowed me to bring so many things : my sense of humor, my love of creating different characters (in this case male and female), and a strong moral code. I, like a lot of people, can get my feelings hurt, and when Bunny got hurt, he would turn to Bonnie, his female ego.
The Lair became a place, for a while, where people would come and get advice. Bunny knew how to calm anxiety.

How did you start your career as an actor ?

I started acting in 7th Grade at the suggestion of my English Teacher, Stan Zalas, who also was the Drama teacher. I had professional offers right away, but put them on hold to live out my young life. Later I studied at LMU, then The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art for a one year honor's tutorial, with Jean Muir, Stella Adler, and Michael Shurtleff. My professsional career took off when I was in an acting company led by Bobby Morresco (Million Dollar Baby, Crash). One of the actors, Bobby Costanzo, brought over to Danny DeVito's house and Danny cast me in a short called, Lovely Way to Spend and Evening.

 

The time of Santa Barbara

How did you start in Santa Barbara ? How Bunny was introduced to you ?

I was working as a carpenter and doing small roles and theater, when I was cast in my first Guest Starring Role, as Gordon Bass on L.A. Law. Nearly a year later, my boss Doug Farren told me his sister needed us to work on her house. His sister being Jill Farren Phelps. While working for Jill, my episode of L.A. Law ran again. It was her favorite show. She came to greet me the next day of work and said, "I knew you were an actor, but I had never seen your work until last night. I had no idea how good you were." About a month after that, Jill said there was a role that I was perfect for, but most likely wouldn't get because they were looking for some big names. I worked very hard, as I normally do, to get Bunny to be a mobster and a transvestite.
After my final reading, Jill had tears of in her eyes.

Bunny was a character as we had never seen it before in daytime television, and maybe on whole television ! He could have been very easily ridiculous or not credible. How did you manage to make him "real" and so touching ?

Research. I research everytime, no matter how big or small the character. There wasn't much written on it (no internet then), but one book was riveting. It discussed that most transvestites are heterosexual, and need "gender relief". Homosexuals tend to move towards a sex change if they are inclined to feel like they are the opposite sex. The book told stories that horrified me, because people were so trapped, so imprisoned by societies view of their instincts. People that committed suicide, or were on the threshold. People that believed they were the only ones that felt as they did, because nothing was written on the subject. There is nothing criminal about the motives of transvestitism.
I believe because of this research I had more compassion. While I knew that Bunny was a comical element of the show, I never wanted to poke fun at transvestites. I believe really good acting always reveals the intimacy of the HUMAN. I am grateful that nobody on the show asked me to make any comments on transvestites. They liked what I was doing, and I had all the support in the world. Jill really know how to lead a team.

Were you afraid, at the beginning, to play a transvestite, disguised with all these wigs and these colorful dresses ?

I am always afraid with a new job, as are most of us. The first day of ANY job brings up questions like : Will they like me ? Will I have any friends ? Are they going to appreciate my work ? And so on.
In every part that I have done, I learn something about myself. I wondered what I would learn playing a transvestite. One thing I learned is that pants are a lot more comfortable than nylons. I also learned that other people thought I was very courageous. While getting my make up put on one day, a woman's voice whispered in my ear, "You must be very comfortable in your sexuality". When I turned, they were gone, however, that stuck with me.
I didn't think of it at the time, but after Bunny aired, there were a lot of articles about great actors that have played women. I am not comparing myself with some legends, but knowing that I did it successfully, and not just one woman, but several, makes me feel like I passed some apprenticeship.

Bunny has never been lucky in love : Gina never loved him as he hoped to, and his relationship with Annie in 1990 was far from being a standard "love story" - what is very uncommon in daytime soaps. How do you explain that ? Do you think Bunny was too much written as a comedy character to have a "true" long-time dramatic or romantic storyline ?

It is hard to answer that. I do know that when Jill Farren Phelps left and Brian Franz (head of daytime), there were no executives at NBC that connected with Bunny, so Bonnie left, and Bunny's wardrobe went from Shark Skinned suits to warm Earth tones. He lost any sense of danger and disappeared into the scenery.

In 1990, you won a Soap Opera Digest award for Outstanding comic actor. What did you feel at that time ? What did it change for you ?

It was a huge event for me. The year before I was a carpenter, and not a highly paid one. I get Bunny and my life changed forever. Oddly enough, a few weeks after that, it was decided that my contract would not be renewed. That was like a gift, because casting directors around town had me in non-stop. I would walk in a room and people would start laughing and tell me their wife or husband loved Bunny. I didn't stop working for a long time, and Lorimar and Warner Brothers, in particular were actively trying to get me my own show. The next ten years were absolute bliss.

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

I can never forget Robin Mattson. She taught me how to let the script down and let the scene out. At the beginning she would shove me into frame while the cameras were on, and only she and I knew. She was always high energy, but when it was time to be intimate, she was right there.
Denise Gentile (Vanessa) was very delightful and hardworking. She took a lot of risks and was very fun.
Sharonlee McLean (Annie). We had a strong connection. We got a lot of letters from fans, but as you stated earlier, it was unorthodox for soaps. I remember talking with a couple of producers about it, and reminding them of the amount of letters we received, but their answers were basically, "Typical good looking people is what sells".
Lane Davies was wonderful to play off. He always had a twinkle in his eye, and was ready for the unexpected.

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

That is really hard to say, there were so many things, but I would have to say my relationship with Terry Lester and Leigh McCloskey was a highlight. We called ourselves the Dead Philosophers, and met in Terry's room and discussed some beautiful ideas.
I still talk with Leigh, but not as often as either of us want, and I still talk with Terry, but as you know, he isn't here to talk back. Terry became one of my closest friends.

You left the show after two entire years. What were the reasons of your departure ? What did you think of the end which was reversed for Bunny ?

NBC wanted me to stay, but go off contract. I didn't feel that they were writing enough for me while I was on contract, so opted to leave.

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

Like I said, Leigh and I keep in contact, and Robert Naughton (props) and I keep in contact.

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

Bunny was perfect !

 

These 23 last years after Santa Barbara and now

After Santa Barbara, you played in many TV series and movies. What differences can you make between these programs ? What evolution do you see as an actor in this past twenty years ?

I did around 200 shows for Santa Barbara, and soaps have a quick turn around, and of study time. Santa Barbara prepared me for any kind of pace. As for the evolution of the actor, that is a fascinating topic, because most scripts are written about "boy wants girl" and vice versa, but as we mature there are other things that grab our attention. I don't think those things make interesting topics for most television, movies, or books unless the audience has seen, or read enough narrative of "boy wants girl." I definitely have something that I want to say than that.

Do you have projects for this year ?

I am up for some very nice projects right now, and I have a few things coming out. My fatherhood has been my focus. Actors come and go, but kids only have one father. As my sons are moving towards their independence, I will be in a more aggressive mode towards my acting.

What would you like to say to all the Santa Barbara fans all over the world who didn't forget you as Bunny ?

I am so grateful, and also ashamed. I received so many letters and still have boxes of them. I didn't toss one. I am grateful because the fans were so supportive, and I was overwhelmed at creating the role, and my lifestyle change that I barely answered a small fraction of them. I didn't take them for granted at all, but fans that wrote and never received anything would never know.

 

Once again all my thanks to Joe Marinelli for his kindness and his precious memories.