July 11, 2009 - 10 years of Santa Barbara : le site Francais
July 30,
2009 - 25 years of Santa Barbara

Robert Thaler : «I saw Pearl as Santa Barbara's favorite puppy.»

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

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On last August 07, Robert Thaler agreed to take on his time to answer exclusively the questions of Santa Barbara : le site Francais. The actor talks about his debuts, about the Santa Barbara years as Pearl Bradford, his vision of the United States today, and at last about his life 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 any children ?

I'm 58 now and no I never got married. I like women too much for that sort of thing and most of the marriages in my family have ended like train wrecks so this was an influence. I have had the good fortune of having lived with different women at different points in my life and I regret none of those relationships. I do not have children of my own but not long ago was in a lovely relationship with a woman who had 2 of her own and I helped to raise them, grew a very large garden for them to play in the summer months and generally enjoyed the experience immensely. Right now I am dating a Japanese girl who speaks pretty good English but is still confusing her Ls and Rs which I find endlessly funny!

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 simple, friendly and humorous guy just like Pearl was ?

Perhaps part of me, yes. As actors we often draw on aspects of our own character to flesh out a part. But in truth I can also be moody, intense, temperamental and cynical. Pearl was a happy person and I based the character on a family house pet we once had when I was growing up. In fact I saw Pearl as Santa Barbara's favorite puppy - always curious and friendly, affectionate but troublesome too.

But then I have played Hamlet, Macbeth and some other heavies in my time and have that as well in my personality. In fact there was a time there in the early 80s when I played mostly psychotics and transvestites and murderers. Who knows? A good actor will always be able to access or imagine both the dark and the light sides I should think.

When did you know you wanted to be an actor ?

I really never had a childhood desire to be an actor and my family was not at all involved in the arts. I fell into acting because there seemed to be little else I was good at or wanted to commit to. This happened shortly after I left college and took a volunteer job as a ticket-taker in a local stage theatre. I thought what the actors were doing there was magical and I wanted to know more about it. It was certainly more appealing to me than entering law school or getting an advanced degree in economics.

How did you start your career ?

I began my "career" after seeing a small production of Hamlet done by a touring company in Lake Tahoe California. It was a full moon night in late summer and I was transfixed by the action and decided on a whim to memorize a couple of speeches from the play and audition for the Director. I found an old copy of Richard Burton Does Hamlet in the used bookstore in town, an LP. I stayed up two nights running and essentially mimicked Burton's delivery as I did not understand the words or the context of any of the monologues. Then early the following morning about a week later I summoned the courage after six cups of coffee to present myself to this director. She sat under a tree outside by the lake and said "Alright, lets see it" and then I launched into the monologues. I probably chewed thru every shrub and blade of grass and bit of scenery from there to San Francisco but when you're young you don't know this and I was lucky and got hired. That was my first semi-pro job and I did not know a thing about acting or why I was acting. I just wanted to be heard.

 

The time of Santa Barbara

How did you start in Santa Barbara ? Did you know the show before ?

I started in Santa Barbara based on a show I was doing on stage in Los Angeles at the time. It was a big hit, the stage show. Something called Tamara and was a lot of fun. The producers of Santa Barbara came one night and thought I might fit well with their new show which had only just begun. They were still looking around for stage actors who might work out well on a soap. They offered me an audition which I proceeded to flub and then they came back again and basically said, "We have this guy named Pearl we want you to play, are you interested?" I did not want to do a soap so I balked but then finally accepted and it was a very good decision.

Pearl is such a character apart in the daytime soap-operas world characters. Was he written just like that or was it you who made him such a whimsical character ?

Oh and by the way I really was unfamiliar with Santa Barbara and had only watched it once before when an actor friend had called me and told me about a beautiful girl who was featured on the show that I should check out, her name he said was Robin Wright and the guy just thought she was the 2nd Coming or something. And he was right sure enough but it was the subdued quality of her acting that appealed to me just as much or more than her looks, she was already kind of mature, like an older soul inside a young girl's body.

So Pearl was pretty much by my design. When I watched soap opera back then to get a feel for it, the genre seemed to be a lot of moaning and groaning and kvetching. I wanted to play just the opposite. That was the key. It was the only way I figured I could survive on the show and have fun. To play a guy who was up all the time and smiling and helping out like the family dog. So this was the model. Play the family house pet. The one always sniffing around, getting into the flour bowl, making a mess of things but always wagging his tail and always loyal and easily readable, a doggie that wore his emotion on his sleeve. I never really wanted to play a real person on the show or do anything naturalistic. Pearl was always intended to be the family house pet, the one loved by everyone but always in need of discipline and love.

At first, Pearl was there especially for his extravagance, his comedy scenes with Cruz, Julia, the Capwells... He became more touching when he began to fall in love with Kelly. Then he had his very own storyline when, with Courtney, he began his search for his brother, Brian. What were your favourite storylines during the time you were on screen ?

I liked doing a lot of the comedy stuff though it was the most difficult since comedy is harder to do than angst acting and requires more time and preparation and more intelligence I feel. So I liked all the stuff with Cruz since the pairing was comedy gold. The tough, straight cop being partnered with the wack job. Funny. And A Martinez was always a jewel to work with, a really good actor and a special person, kind and always compassionate and considerate. I liked the scenes with Kelly and thought that was potentially a good pairing too but I was not smart enough to see the romantic potential there and so I played against it since I did not want to become like the other soap characters and be bound by romantic clichés. This was probably a mistake since we never really got to see the sexy part of Pearl and it was there, it just was never shown.

Comedy gold would have been pairing Pearl with either C.C. Capwell or Mason. Both Jed and Lane were good comic actors and it would have been great writing to match them with Pearl in some weird and fantastically funny storyline, but that never happened. All the stuff about finding my brother was pretty much a waste. And I could have done without it as I remember. It was repetitive, predicatable and far too sentimental and I fell into its trap but by that time I was tired of doing the show as well.

Do you remember that Pearl's real name was Michael Stevenson Baldwin Bradford III ? How do you explain his transformation in Pearl, who seemed to have turned his back to his rich and powerful background ? It was not something very deepened in the show...

Pearl's transformation into Michael was interesting. I wish I had put a little more energy into it at that time and talked to the writers about that but I was always strictly traditional and so I never offered feedback to the writers or producers or suggested ideas. I figured I had my job and they had theirs. In reality we all have two or more characters in each of us and there are parts of us that we run from or try to deny. This was true of Pearl and Michael. He was hiding from and running from his past where there was some shame. He was looking for a simpler and more genuine life beyond the life of privilege and shelter that had been his rich upbringing. We all have parts of our lives that we experience shame over. It's often how we adjust to that shame that makes our character rich and interesting.

What always surprised me when I watched the episodes of Eden and Cruz's wedding was that Pearl wasn't present at the ceremony. Pearl knew so many adventures with Eden and Cruz, was working with him in his detectives agency, and then, it seemed the writers preferred to favour another character, Cain Garver, very less friendly and popular in my opinion. How do you explain that ?

Well it's pretty simple. I did not want to renew my contract on the show when it came up 2 1/2 years in. I wanted to move on and do other roles on other shows and try my hand at film. And I was unhappy with the new head writer on the show who I thought was predictable and old-fashioned. So when they realized I was not going to stay, the people running the show I think were disappointed and so basically they wrote me out without a goodbye or any follow thru. I understand. And I guess they decided they would not try and replace me since the role itself was so idiomatic. But it would have been real nice to come back on and show up at Cruz's wedding. That would have been special and the fans I think were owed that. In fact they could have started a storyline right there where I come on the day of the big wedding and kidnap Kelly away from that British guy she was with. Then I run away from her and Cruz is forced to postpone the honeymoon and begin the hunt for Pearl, his onetime friend now turned "wanted criminal". Now that would have been interesting !

Pearl disappeared suddenly in April 1988. At the time, he was the new best friend of Jake Morton's and had a crush on Rita Grant, a waitress at Johnny's Place. Do you remember your last scene on the show ?

I do have a vague recollection of the last scene. I had not prepared and I was tired and we were shooting in Pearl's second inner room, Michael's room. I don't know why I remember this. I was busy that afternoon right before camera posting notecards with my lines all over the set since I hadn't memorized the lines to that scene. I did this regularly on the show since I hated all the memorization required to work day to day on a soap. I didn't feel that that should be the essence of the work or that it should limit one's creative impulses but so often it did for many actors. Many actors on soap are just trying to get thru the scene without forgetting their lines and so they end up looking tense and nervous and wooden. Much better to just paste key words off camera as cues and then wing it like Marlon Brando used to do. Much better. And besides I will confide that when I was a young boy I had a serious fall and went into a coma which compromised the part of my brain responsible for very short term memory function. To this day I work often on rebuilding it. I have a nearly photographic long term memory and can recite the entire play of Hamlet from beginning to end for example, but it is still difficult for me to remember simple facts from new articles I have just read. So I had to deal with this problem on set and though I didn't appreciate all the kidding I got from using cue notes in long scenes I didn't want to tell others why I was doing it since I was scared of being written off for medical reasons I suppose. The good news is that today my short term memory is better than it has ever been but it has taken a lifetime of doing certain mind exercises to recondition it.

Lilian, who writes for this website a fan fiction named Santa Barbara, Acte 2 where Pearl appears, would like to ask you what storyline would you have seen for Pearl if he had stayed in the show in 1988 ?

I suppose I already answered that question. Pearl would have returned when Cruz was set to marry Eden and on that chosen day, he would appear and kidnap Kelly, profess his undying love for her and kidnap her. Cruz would then be forced to postpone the marriage yet again and hit the trail to capture Pearl, now a fugitive from justice.

Also it could have been interesting for Pear to be revealed to others as a financial whiz and hedge fund trader via his offices and fortune in Boston. This entices C.C. and Mason and some of the other rich stiffs in Santa Barbara to contract Pearl to manage their financial accounts. This would have been great comedic stuff; Pearl buying and selling stocks and options to the bewildment of all his rich clients in Santa Barbara. Late night phone calls from Jed about his positions in the Markets. Lane threatening Pearl's life in a drunken episode when the Markets are plummeting and he is losing half his inherited fortune due to a risky trade put on in oil futures by the Baldwin family.

What character of Santa Barbara would you have liked to play if you weren't Pearl ?

That's hard to say. It would have been interesting once a month to have all the actors switch roles and play someone different on that show since it was so quirky to begin with. Have Cruz play Eden and Eden play Mason and C.C. play the Capwell's house maid, etc. This would have been a non-stop riot, it would have violated all the conventions of TV and sent the ratings right thru the roof. People from everywhere including Greenland would have tuned in to see that one episode every month. People love to watch actors act because they do it themselves everyday, all day long. People love actors because they play out all that fantasy thru them. What could be more fantastic than actors switching roles with one another every single month ?

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

Favorite male partner was A Martinez and favorite female was Robin Wright. A. was extremely generous and forgiving and supportive besides being a wonderfully strong performer. Other people on the show would kind of look at me crossed eyed as if to say "Is that really how you want to do the scene", but A would always just smile and encourage me like any good mentor would.

Robin was a fresh slate you could write on. She was hard-working and open to suggestion and wanted only to get better. She knew she was headed for bigger things even back then. She used to hang around the set during rehearsals and watch me work and ask all kinds of questions. She was forever asking me who I studied acting with in New York City. And she was a funny girl and somewhat of a Tom-boy by nature.

Did you keep in touch with some of the actors after your departure ?

I really lost touch with most of the actors on Santa Barbara once I left. A and I write emails back and forth on occasion and I love hearing about his kids and all of their performance careers. Robin brought her then-to-be-husband Sean to a show I was doing in theatre way back in around 1990. That was the last time I saw her but she is still most certainly in my thoughts. I even got an audition for Sean Penn's first movie The Indian Runner from the play he saw me in but unfortunately I was never very good at auditioning and I bombed in the interview process and never got the role. C'est la vie as they say in your lovely language.

Did you continue to watch the show after you left it ?

No I did not watch the show after leaving. I really just wanted to move on and try on new challenges. But after all these years I have finally seen some episodes of the wedding and such and it brings a big smile to my face to see all those people acting together and having so much fun. It was a very cohesive and supportive group of free spirits on that show. A rarity in Hollywood. The Dobsons really assembled a unique group of talented people in my estimation and are to be complemented as well as Jill Farren Phelps who was the best producer on the floor that I have ever worked with, a very nice and talented human being to say the least.

What do you think of the daytime soap-opera genre today on American television ? Many have disappeared during these last years, Guiding Light is also going to an end in September... How do you explain that ?

I haven't watched much of the genre to tell the truth as I do not have television, only a monitor from which I watch documentaries and an occasional movie. I argued back then when on the show and I will argue the same today that for soap to survive it must be willing to innovate in style and story. What I viewed recently on some shows was a lot of sullen, angry acting and not much lightness, character or bravado. Certainly no comedy that I saw which is really too bad and underestimates the soap audience which is a lot more available to varieties of tone and innovations than is often imagined. We proved that before on Santa Barbara anyway. The audience is starved for quirkiness and comedy. Lane and Justin and Louise and Jed and maybe myself as well proved that. And Nancy was very good at it too.

But Soap nowadays reflects the tenor of the times which is quite dark and cynical and pregnant with violence and betrayal. The lightness of being which is inherently hopeful in all of us should not be neglected in my opinion. It's why we are here. If we don't know that or appreciate it we can certainly learn to do so, don't you think ?

What would be Pearl's opinion about today's world ?

That's a very nice question, Nicolas. Pearl would think that today's world is rather insane I should think. He would laugh at and mock much of what goes on. He would despise and do running satire on all the hate radio he hears from the likes of fascists like Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage. He would deplore the grand theft America is undergoing under the rule of a corrupt banking system and financial oligarchy. He would have hated Bush and known him to be on first recognition what so many could not figure out until he left office - a spoiled, pathetic, comically moronic little boy, strutting and fretting about and making a mess of everything he laid his hands on. Pearl would be constantly asking himself, "Who is really in charge here and why won't they come out of hiding and tell us who they are ????" And Pearl would have laughed non-stop at the deplorable state of the so-called Mass Media, a gaggle of lying clowns and millionaire bubbleheads reading teleprompters and doing their corporate master's bidding.

He wouldn't be fooled by the constant scare tactics of the Media. He would know that the real terrorists in America are not bomb throwers or Osama bin Laden but instead the five big banks which are all entirely insolvent and corrupt, the banksters stealing billions of dollars on Wall Street, Alan Greenspan and the Federal Reserve. He would laugh non-stop at the attempt by the media to scare people with pics of grocery store robbers, rapists and minorities. He would know the difference between propaganda and real news.

Pearl would have laughed till he cried watching the Bush "administration" steal two elections and start two illegal wars. He would want them all to be tried for war crimes at the Hague. He would want to know what really happened on 9/11. He would believe nothing as reported by millionaire models reading teleprompters and posing as news investigators. He would receive all of his news only after research on the Internet and he would hurl his TV off the top floor of his home and only use a monitor to watch old movies. Pearl would watch reruns of the construction demolition of World Trade Center 7 and laugh about how comically obvious it was and how easily fooled the scared and the misinformed are. Pearl's favorite movie would be V. for Vendetta.

 

These 20 last years after Santa Barbara and now

What did you do in your actor career after Santa Barbara ? Television ? Movies ? Theatre ? The IMDB only mention Starry Night, a movie in 1999...

In truth I didn't do much TV or film after leaving Santa Barbara. It was very disappointing for me. I was never that good at auditioning for roles and I went thru a long dry spell where I did other things like music, singing, finance, farming and living in a zen monastery. I did quite a bit of theatre in Los Angeles thru the 90s but then grew tired of continuing to audition for work and wanted to pursue other life callings. And of course I now regard acting as pretty much a young person's profession - that is where most of the opportunity is unless one is working in the special effects graphic, world of computers or if you are directing the projects themselves. I do not feel that TV or film is an actor's medium. Most of the creative genius is in the technical end of things nowadays and this is why they can take a model or athlete or unknown and inexperienced young actor and convert him into a film star overnight. This was not possible 25 or 30 years ago, believe me. Today I make my living trading the financial indexes based in logarithms and something I call wave regression analysis. It's very challenging and can be quite rewarding but it is just a nice way to make a living, nothing more. My life is essentially defined by the relationships I have with many friends and the people I love and by my spiritual practices and understandings.

Do you have projects for this year ? You mentioned to me a possible part in a daytime soap-opera...

I have no projects or real aspirations in acting for this year. Last year I directed a wonderful Strindberg play at a local theatre in Los Angeles and I hope to do the same this year. But beyond directing I can't say much. Certainly if a producer came along and asked me to play something quirky or dynamic on a soap I would do it but this I don't expect nor do I need it. The role of the desperate, starving actor I left behind many, many years ago and am now a much more mature and realistic person I would say. I no longer need acting or any occupation to define me but rather I would chose to define them if the occasion warranted.

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

I want to say to all fans and watchers of Santa Barbara that you have no idea to what extent we all appreciated you for tuning in to the show. I really mean this. I didn't think many people would "get it", the show I mean. It was kind of a landmark production and was quite off-beat. And many critics did not like us because we were so different. So I must say thank you and then thank you again with emphasis. I actually thought the show would be cancelled inside of the first or second year especially when the writers really took flight. But the audience had such a robust appetite for the comedy and the strangeness and the fun and that made the entire experience very, very rewarding for me and for most everyone I knew who was involved.

I take my hat off to you all and bow deeply in gratitude for your time and your sweet attention.

 

Once again all my thanks to Robert Thaler for his kindness and his availability.