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Nicolas Coster : «It was a very creative time in my life.»

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

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On last December 13, Nicolas Coster 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 Lionel Lockridge, and his many activities and projects since the end 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 and what do they do ?

I am 65 ! No ? I lie a lot about my age. How about 75 ? Maybe. Or emotionally about 19 ? I live in Hollywood. I have two grown daughters and a son 19 who is in his second year at New York University.

To know you better, what did you brought from yourself in the character of Lionel Lockridge ?

I always "bring myself" to the character. By that I mean... It is Hamlet in a book when one approaches it. Then one must find the environment, the circumstances and well, LIFE of you in THAT time and with all those elements, which then influence you. If one is playing Romeo in the 16th Century, one HAS to be a good fencer... All Italian gentlemen were. If you are not, you learn. If you need a good range in order to speak the verse with any variation, one has to train the voice to do so. Ultimately, it is a kind of detective story... You seek out all the facts in a play, the character, the time and surroundings and make them real to yourself. The ultimate test of validity to me, is when one can improvise on the theme... Say one is asked by a member of the audience (thank God they don't do it too often), "What School did you go to ?" You can answer that question without blinking.... Now that is the extreme in preparation, but do you get the meaning. It is that kind of comfort with all the influences which make a "real" performance. Therefore, to answer your question somewhat circuitously, one so adopts the manners and habits of the time and place plus those implied by the writer that it seems like character. Ultimately, though it is the imagination which is set free by all that good preparation which propels one into the magic of believing what you are doing. All the rest is simply as I say, "detective work". Then the imagination set free, gives the performance flight.

You are born in London, England. When did you arrive in the United States and how did you start your acting career ?

I arrived as a very little boy in Canada, escaping what was to become the Second World War. My American mother brought her three children then to the USA where I stayed until 16. At 16 I went back to the UK to The Royal Acadamy of Dramatic Art and started my acting life.

 

The time of Santa Barbara

How did you start in Santa Barbara ?

I was on One Life to Live and Bridget and Jerry Dobson, who created Santa Barbara, asked me to join their great adventure, Santa Barbara. I was enchanted with them and their ideas and came back to California !

In a 1984 press article before Santa Barbara arrives on the air, Lionel was presented as the son of Minx, with whom he fights to earn her fortune. How did Lionel was presented to you at first ?

He was presented as a spoiled rich guy, who has fun, is naughty, but has his redeeming qualities. He loves his kids, loves his wife, who is also great fun, he has a shall we say, "adventurous" marriage, which gets him into trouble. He is educated and as well, they let me bring my own skills (scuba diving, Boat Captain and etc...) to the part !

The couple you formed with Louise Sorel was one of the greatest of all Santa Barbara : funny, unpredictable, but also very mature and sincere. How did you succeed such a magic chemistry between you ?

As I say, it was set up by the creators, Bridget and Jerry Dobson, and then filled by the other literate and talented writers we had at the time and then the gifted Louise Sorel and I just hit it from the beginning. I had known Louise for some time before. I knew her gifts (so to speak) and we trusted each others intelligence and wit. We also had wonderful guest stars like Ronnie Schell, who played the milkman/astronaut in the sequence which was a paraphrase of Cyrano De Bergerac (THAT is the kind of quality writing we had !).

Lionel had also great "romantic" times with Eden and Sophia. But when Augusta left him, he had to pair with Caroline, a nice but less strong character than the previous women he knew. What was your opinion about his love-story with Caroline ?

The off-stage part of this romance was one of the most tender and lovely relationships I have every had. By that I mean : I had been almost fatally injured in a car crash in November 1987. I had been in a coma... (true story, not soap-opera, though it sounds like a soap). I came back to Santa Barbara a week later with nobody knowing that I had lost my memory ! (Still true).

I told Lenore Kasdorf, who played Caroline, of my dilemma. I made little notes with my lines on them and left them all over the set. As I would walk to a spot, I would look down and see the note. I also asked Lenore to forgive me for looking at the teleprompter when I was off camera (the red light is on when one is ON camera, when it went off, I looked at the prompter), which is most distracting to the other actor. She was SO patient and forgiving and understanding... After a week or so my memory came back enough to not stumble so much... The producer, having no idea how seriously hurt I was, did ask whether I had been partying too much and would I get some rest ? I assured her I would and somehow with the magnificent help from Lenore, I got through that awful time. I will never forget that beautiful and talented woman and her genuine and unselfish nature. I, at least on camera, REALLY was in love with her.

As Lionel, you knew 3 actors as Warren, 3 as Laken, 2 as Minx... As an actor, how is it to face some new actors for a same part ?

One finds something that makes valid the relationship in that new person taking over. Example : With a son, as played by John Nelson, we had what has become a lifelong friendship. Difficult to replace, so you don't ! (replace) You find in the new person those qualities which can make a father / son relationship believable. You have to learn all over again, the character and qualities of the actor with whom you are working. Fortunately, I was blessed in all cases with lovely talents and people. Janis Page, the great Broadway actress and musical performer, was a particular treat. She was much too young to really BE my mother, but was so delightful and generous (some Broadway stars are not !) that I adored her... and still do.

After the departures of Augusta, Warren, Caroline and Brick, Lionel turned to be very lonely at the end of 1987 and it seems the writers didn't really know what to do with him anymore. Does it explain why you left the show in January 1988 ?

The new producer (who's name I don't remember. Ah, the memory fails me !) projected to me a story line in which I had to fake my death (for insurance - I was always spending too much money) then come home, attend my own funeral (in disguise) and be delighted at my own scheme ! I thought it was tasteless, disgusting and impossible. To expect Lionel to witness his own children really grieving over a fake death and not react with guilt and horror (and TELL them !) was not possible. With all Lionel's faults he was not sadistically nuts ! I told the producer so and that if he insisted on it, I would have to leave. My contract at the time enabled me to do so. He did not believe I had such a provision, but after checking, I was allowed to bow out. He was most gracious ultimately.

I went to All My Children where I, as Susan Lucci's terrorist lover, had one of the best times of my life. At the end of the run, she gave me a lavish dinner party, with Dom Perignon as table wine, which I will never forget.

Fortunately for us, you chose to come back in 1990 and found again your place in the Lockridge family with Augusta, Minx and Laken. How did that come-back occur ? What differences did you see between the Santa Barbara of 1984-1987 and this one ?

I came back because the Dobsons returned and asked me to come back. Jill Farren Phelps, the producer, was always a super creative force in my life on Santa Barbara and she remained for awhile. We also had some really good directors, the story lines improved... for awhile, and so it went.

Lionel knew so many great storylines that it would be difficult to summarize them all. But let's mention my favourite ones: the circle of truth and the champagne bath with Augusta, the Brick storyline, the fake paintings with Gina... What were your favorite storylines and the ones you particularly disliked ?

I have just told you of at least the one I disliked the most. Acting with Judith McConnell was a treat. She was so romantic and the adventures were good stuff. I need not go on about Augusta (Louise Sorel) who was the greatest... (still is !). I think some to the stuff with Gina, later on, was really creative... like having a baby delivered in a Veterinarians office ! Like getting married to her in a Shakespearean play production with a travelling troupe playing Romeo and Juliet... They, the writers, let me do an entire Shakespearean sonnet as my wedding vow !

Another time when I was playing Lionel doing my TV Host bit, I was apologising to Augusta for some indiscretion ON AIR and the writer, Frank Salisbury (wonderful man), let me quote instead of his choice of E.E. Cummins, I quoted that which I thought more apt, a verse from the First World War poet, Rupert Brooke ! WHAT OTHER soap-opera EVER had such informed and literate dialogue between writers and actors ? Not that Agnes Nixon (All My Children) or Bill Bell (Another World) would not have inspired us to do so... they would have.

What were your favorite male and female acting partners as Lionel Lockridge ?

I have already mentioned some of favorites. There were so many I liked and admired. Robin Wright and her family (brother Richard) are still friends. What a lovely career she is having ! Jack Wagner has continued to do well. Lot of other people I still see... Marie-Alise Recasner, I see at the market often !

I was asked to and joyfully fulfilled a request to be the minister at John Allen Nelson's wedding to the lovely Justine, at a 12th Century restored castle in France ! It was the grandest affair ever ! Everything about it was perfect ! I was glad to officiate in the beautiful sacred chapel on the castle grounds and to bring, I thought, some measure of community to the group at the wedding who were comprised of many religions and races. It was simply wonderful... A tribute to the humanity of John, Justine and their families.

In your last year on the show, after discovering a sister (Cassandra), Lionel confesses to Warren that he is not his biological father and at last he married Gina... What did you think of these unexpected storylines ?

I already mentioned how much I enjoyed working with Robin Matson. What a power as an actress ! And such a good partner to work with... Storylines ? I don't know. I think Pam, our head writer, was doing her best to revive the show from its decline.

You were one of the long-time Santa Barbara actors 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 sort of got wind of the imminent demise, when we lost Boston as a major market. My own feeling is that NBC took a gamble, because they thought Santa Barbara too expensive, dumped the show, then went on to produce two successive shows that were imitative and not nearly as creative. Also, I think (not alone) that ALL soaps became too wrapped up in production "values", glossy effects, and shallow story lines, full of fantasy and bull shit instead of real and basic story about families... however eccentric (the Lockridges).

One of the secrets of the best of the New York soaps and then California's was the quality of actors hired... and kept. In the glory days of Another World (NBC), almost every one of us actors had been hired from a Broadway or Off Broadway show ! Paul Rauch led that team to be number one show in the nation... on talent and adventurousness... but real stuff.

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

Rational ? Am I ? It was a terribly hard working group, from Jed Allan and the Capwells with one of my favorite guys ever, A Martinez... What a terrific human being ! Truly a man of great character.

One of the high points in Santa Barbara history : We had a big sports competition with all the other shows, day and nightime... which I coached. I also got a dear friend, Carrie Gossweiler Payton, and Olympic athlete, to help me in track and field and Tim Bottoms, one of our wonderful cast members at the time, was a first rate swimmer and coached the swim section. Well, against all odds, we won the whole thing ! The cast members made thousands of dollars and it seemed to lift Santa Barbara from an upstart daytime show to the level of international notice... At the time we also had some really good marketing people in New World Television, as well as of course, the all time great head of NBC, Brandon Tartikoff, who believed in us.

Did you keep in touch with members of the cast or the crew after the end of the show ?

Yes many, like Louise and John Allen Nelson, quite often, others, not so often, but yes.

Jed Allan told me that if he hadn't play C.C., he would have liked playing your character. And what about you : if you hadn't play Lionel, what character would you have liked to play ?

None. I have played lots of stuffy, heads of industry like C.C. and had not desire to do that part. He, Jed, did it admirably. He was preceded in that part by two other actors who were as well, really good. Jed owned that part and was great fun to watch and work with.

 

These 17 last years after Santa Barbara and now

After Santa Barbara, we saw you in France in many guest appearances on TV shows and of course on this great Coke commercial in 2007. I also discovered that you teach acting for years now. Can you come back on the following years of your career since the end of Santa Barbara ?

I did some other plays and a musical in New York, some plays in Los Angeles and Laguna Beach Playhouse (some really good stuff), did five independent films in the last four years. Just finished the feature The Barry Minkow Story. On TV this fall, was the Hallmark Channel Movie, Flower Girl, in which I had a very nice part. Have done a lot of night time guest spots on TV. Just finished a screenplay with a friend and really good writer (It has an older actor as one of the leads... I have no idea where that came from).

I teach at the University of Georgia (USA) as an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Theatre and Film Studies... I love doing that ! I just got back from one of my periodic visits. Also I've being been doing films at the University of Southern California Graduate Film School (5) and at AFI (3).

A lot of my time is spent running www.challengesfoundation.org. Check it out. Been doing that for years... Even while on Santa Barbara ! Yes, we started teaching disabled scuba divers in 1983 !

I forgot to mention that I am just finishing (today) a TV Pilot called The Ultimate Diver Challenge, a reality TV show about scuba diving competition. I am one of the original judges ! Yes! They hired me to be an "expert" advisor and judge of the competition. We went to Cozumel, Mexico, for ten days and went diving, dancing, PARTY !

You played in many daytime soap-operas, nightime dramas, movies, theater plays... What difference do you find in all these kind of programs as an actor ? Which one do you prefer ?

I once told Susan Lucci, when she asked me which I preferred, "I like 'em all when the literature is good". I do think of all, I still prefer the stage. One collaborates in the creation, then YOU do it on stage. In the movies, even when you have a grand team, it is ultimately the directors film. I have been fortunate for the most part : Redford/Pakula, All the Presidents Men, Warren Beatty, Reds, Sidney Poitier, Stir Crazy, Joe Sergeant, MacArthur and so on...

But sometimes your performance falls prey to bad editing, directing and the like. In a recent movie I watched, Tilda Swinton, that great actress, was out on a limb... She did not have the story (in my opinion) and the directing or editing to back her up, and the film, with some very good performances, some allowed to be over indulged, was ultimately unsatisfying... to me, despite her bravura performance.

We saw a lot of press articles and photos where you shared your hobby for scuba diving. Can you tell us how it turned to be such a passion for you ? Do you still practice today ?

Yes I still feel passionately about scuba diving, but more importantly about my participation in www.challengesfoundation.org. How can one not be passionate about something that affects others so positively ? And yes, this old guy still skin dives (no tank) regularly to 35 feet. We sail with the Wounded and Disabled Veterans almost weekly.

Do you have projects for the next year ?

I would love to get this screen play produced. I think it is good. I would like to raise the three million dollars (yes, we could do it for that much) and do it ourselves... One female (who plays a 39 year old) star ! That is what we need. Then as well, more work at the University of Georgia; more work on the restoration of the Emerald, the 84 year old sailing vessel we are working on for the Veterans and others with physical challenges. More time with family. Other than that... no plans.

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

I would like to thank the many fans of Santa Barbara for being so loyal and remembering so well all the times we had on Santa Barbara. It is such a pleasure to go around the world and have people greet one with the fondness of a relative... for indeed we spent a lot of time in their homes, did we not ? To all the people who remember, I thank you and assure you that it means a great deal to this actor. We do what we do because we love our work, but it is so nice to be appreciated.

When I went to Croatia last year, a woman came up to me on the streets of Dubrovnik, with tears in her eyes and said, "We watched you on Santa Barbara during the bombing .We found comfort doing that as we lay huddled in the basement in the cold." I was very touched that she remembered.

We worked hard to give good performances. It was, for the most part, a very creative time in my life. I made good friends and kept them. I thank all the people in France and all over the world who watched... and remember.

 

Once again all my thanks to Nicolas Coster for his time, his kindness and communicative energy.