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2013 - 29 years of Santa Barbara

Judith McConnell : «I think it's wonderful that after all these years Santa Barbara is still alive and well on the internet.»

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

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On September 10 2013, Judith McConnell agreed to take on her time to answer exclusively the questions of Santa Barbara : le site Francais. The actress talks about her debuts, the Santa Barbara years as Sophia Capwell, her explanations about what caused the end of the show, and at last about her career since then.

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 is your daughter Gwendolyn today ?

I live in the Los Angeles area. Gwendolyn graduated from college in May and has a new job.

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

An actor uses their imagination to bring to life what the writers have put on the page. I would imagine how I would feel in the situation and start from there. Of course, the emotions come from what I have experienced in my own life. If the situation of the story is bizarre, as it so often was in Santa Barbara, imagination is the tool. In other words, you make it up, pretend or "act". That is the artistry.

How did you start your career as an actress ?

I started working in local theatre when I was about thirteen. I was always drawn to performing and would do plays in school, church or any opportunity. I attended one of the few colleges that one could major in acting and be awarded a Fine Arts Degree. From there I went to New York and started my professional career.


The time of Santa Barbara

How did you start in Santa Barbara ?

I auditioned by tape, as I was living in New York and the auditions were held in California. I was not cast initially as Sophia. A few months into the production I replaced the actress that was doing the role. I moved to California to do the show.

How did Sophia was introduced to you at first ? Weren't you afraid of starting on the show as this bearded Dominic ?

I certainly was ! I had no prep time to create a believable male character. I was called on a Thursday night in New York to be in Los Angeles Monday and start work that week. I thought I looked pretty silly as Dominic. The producers said I would only have to play Dominic for a few weeks but that turned into months. I never was believable as that character and I felt sorry for my fellow actors that had to look at me and pretend it was really a guy. I looked and felt ridiculous and never managed to pull it off it my estimation. I am a petite woman and I had to wear full body padding. My skin is fair and rather sensitive. The make-up artists used a type of glue to wrinkle and rough up my skin. I had a false nose and cheeks, glued on. Beard, moustache and wig. It took about two hours to get into the whole thing and that long to get it off. Taking the face pieces and false hair off was painful. They used Spirit Gum Adhesive and because we had such long days they would have to keep adding the glue. Only a strong chemical could remove it and it was nasty and hurt !

Sophia was a strong character with many facets : she was a famous actress, a loving mother, a loving wife, but she also hid many secrets (the death of her eldest son, the fact he wasn't C.C.'s but Lionel's child...). She could easily have been seen as a liar or a manipulator. How did you manage to balance all these facets and make Sophia the lovable woman we all knew ?

I think the writers, initially anyway, did a great job of writing a multifaceted character. They emphasized the passion she felt for her children and her despair at not having been with them, her deep maternal love and a lot of circumstances that kept her away. Her loving nature and kindness were established and ingrained in the character from the beginning and I tried to emphasis these aspects in my portrayal.

One of 1985 big surprises was the discovery that Sophia was the killer of Channing Junior. Was it also a surprise for you or were you aware of that secret a long time before ? Weren't you afraid it would sound the death knell for Sophia ?

I honestly don't remember when I was told about that story line. I was not concerned that would be the end of the character because I knew she didn't know it was her son she had killed. I was excited as an actress to play all of the conflict. Again, the writers gave the character reasons and justifications for the behaviour. That makes it fun for the actor to portray.

Sophia knew many intense storylines : the surprise of her being alive, the death of Channing Junior, the discovery that Brick was her son, her breath cancer, the conflicts with Gina's blackmails, her affair avec T.J., her come-back to acting with Stephen Slade... What were your favorite storylines and the ones you particularly disliked ?

I know it may seem hard to believe, but I really don't remember all of them. We go to work, learn our lines, and try to make the scenes come alive and be interesting. When the day is over, we toss that script out and go home and learn the next day. I rarely watched the show and when you are doing it, there does not seem to be an overview. Santa Barbara was on almost ten years I believe, and that's a lot of story. I know when I didn't have to wear the make-up for Dominic, Sophia disguised herself as other characters and I found that to be a lot of fun. I would go for long periods of the show with not much to do, so being in a story line where I was working a lot was great. Made me less fussy about what it was.

With Jed Allan as C.C., you formed (as Sophia) a strong couple who seemed to be able to exist forever, as all the crisis you knew always ended by a reconciliation. What were the reasons of this magic ? Your chemistry all together, the writing, your interpretation of Sophia ?

It always starts with the writing or the story. If the audience seems to like a couple the writers will continue to write for them. I like to think Jed and I were professional and talented and worked well together. It's really a combination of plotting, writing and execution.

Years after years, you saw many of your acting partners leaving the series. I think of Charles Bateman, Robin Wright, Lane Davies, Todd McKee, Carrington Garland, Marcy Walker, A Martinez... Did some of these departures affect you ? What were your favorite male and female acting partners as Sophia ?

I really did hate to see actors leave. Not only because I was fond of the person but also it can hurt the show when there are so many changes. I loved working with our core group as mentioned above and Louise and Robin Mattson and Nancy Grahn.

In her last months, Sophia fell in love with Ken Mathis and married him, to the fans' utter despair. What was your opinion about this storyline ? What did you think of the end that was reserved for Sophia at the end of the show ?

I liked to work and was glad to have a story line of my own and not just standing in the back ground saying "now, C.C...." I spent too much time not having much to do on the show and if they were writing me in I was glad no matter what the story.
If you mean the reconciliation with C.C. on the last show, I thought that was fair to our audience and a nice wrap-up. I only saw the scene for the first time a couple of weeks ago. I felt it played nicely.

You were one of the long-time Santa Barbara actresses to know the very last episode of the show. When did you learn that Santa Barbara was definitively coming to an end ? What do you think may have saved it ?

We had heard rumours for a couple of years. Also, our ratings were bad and that is a reason for cancellation. When I knew it was definitely ending was when our producer called me at home, as he did the entire regular cast, to confirm it was over. I think that was about six months in advance of the last show, but I really don't remember exactly.

Jerry and Bridget Dobson were the creators of the show and head writers. It was their vision, brilliance and quirkiness that made it so interesting and ironic and humorous. Santa Barbara was unique and great and I attribute this to them. The Dobsons were shut out of the show because of various law suites. I feel this was the early beginning of the end. A successful series is so because of many elements, writing, long term story and plotting, a strong core cast, production values etc. Consistency is very important. When a head writer is terminated and replaced, the new writer starts fresh with new characters and stories. The hope is for improvement. The result for the audience is stories ending, characters disappearing and core characters changing behaviour. If the producer is fired and replaced the look of the show may change, emphasis will be altered and eventually the head writer will be replaced and again, resulting in new actors, new stories altered personalities for core characters (even though the actors fight to keep their characters consistent) and on it goes. I believe that Bridget and Jerry Dobson had a vision and story plots for many years ahead. The constant hierarchy changes, no matter how talented people may have been, showed up on screen as jolting inconsistencies. We lost audience and that resulted in low ratings. NBC made money from Santa Barbara only if they could sell advertising time for a good profit. The network did not own the show and the foreign sale and profits did not benefit the network. So low ratings, no profit equals cancellation.

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

Santa Barbara was not my first soap. I had worked on three others before Santa Barbara. When I started Santa Barbara, I was amazed and delighted with the writing and stories. The acting was superb. We had monitors in the make-up room and could watch the scenes that were being taped. I would be arrested by the work of Marcy, A, Robin Wright, Robin Mattson, Louise, Nick, Jed, Todd, Lane, Nancy. This was a terrific cast and so many more excellent actors came on board as we went on.
The laughter and silliness that went on was great. We were very professional but had a good time. Lane was funny and Louise. I would laugh so hard with Todd when we were in rehearsal for a scene where we were not featured, but in the background. I don't remember what we were laughing at, just something silly but I laughed so hard I cried.
Our crew was so great. So professional. I did a couple of episodes on Passions (a soap that is cancelled) and some our crew was working that show. It was wonderful to see them again and they gave me a really nice welcome. Jill Farren Phelps who produced our show was superbly talented and insightful. Patrick Mulcahey would write dialogue that was sheer poetry, it was so good. Make-up so talented (I miss you Carlos !). The hair dept was great. We could get ANYTHING from props. Richard Bloore who was head of wardrobe for many years was kind, patient and so very talented.

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

I kept in touch with Louise and Nancy for a while. Jed and I would talk once in a while. I have been talking with Nick and Lane lately.

If you had been Sophia, which one would you have chosen between C.C. and Lionel ?

If Judith had to choose between them I would have managed to keep both with Mason on the side !! Ha !!


These 20 last years after Santa Barbara and now

After Santa Barbara, you played in TV shows and movies. But unfortunately you never found a long-time role again as Sophia. Can you come back on the following years of your career after the end of Santa Barbara ? What evolutions do you see as an actress in this past twenty years ?

I had the opportunity to do a soap in New York after Santa Barbara, but I had a little girl. The days of just hopping from coast to coast to take a chance is not as plausible when there is a child involved. No actor has a guarantee of continued employment even when hired on a series. The production can let the actor go after a couple of months. I was focused on good schools and everything about raising a child. I also was not as aggressive about working as I had been all my life, not because I didn't want to, but it is a very self involved profession. The majority of an actor's life is spent looking for work, for the next job. This takes an enormous amount of self-involvement and self focus. I was now sharing my desire to work with wanting to be a good Mom. A basketball and ballet Mom, directing school productions, volunteering at school, really being a hands on Mom.
Also, there is a great deal of ageism and sexism in the entertainment industry. There are not many actresses working as they get older. When I started on Santa Barbara I was forty and was playing a mother of approximately a 28 year old. Would have had to have been 12 when that baby was born ! My point is younger women are used to play older and young women are cast opposite older men. The older an actress is, the fewer the roles.

Do you have projects for this year ?

I did one episode of a very silly and funny webisode called Zombie Whisperer. Matt Fowler, who wrote, directed and stars in it as Tony Malone is writing another episode that he wants me to do. I also have been talking to Lane and Nick about a project.

You have a big community of fans on the internet. Many websites and forums dedicated to you have been created, fan-fictions about Sophia and C.C. have been written... But you stay very set back from this "virtual world". For example, I was trying for years to find your trace on the internet and to contact you. Is there a reason for that ? Or maybe you're just not a "computer fan" ?

I am grateful to all the fans and think it's wonderful that after all these years Santa Barbara is still alive and well on the internet. That is because of all of you out there. As for my lack of activity on the internet, I guess I have a tendency to be a bit private.

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

I would like to express my gratitude to our fans. I am really humbled to know there are still so many people who continue to care and watch and share episodes. It's amazing and I thank you all. And because of you I am having the opportunity to see a lot of the show I have never watched. You are all great !!


Once again all my thanks to Judith McConnell for her time, her kindness and great modesty.
And thanks again to Nicolas Coster and Elena who were a great help in the realization of this interview.