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

Sydney Penny : «B.J. was a challenge to play.»

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

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On September 11 2009, Sydney Penny 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 B.J. Walker, and at last about her career 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 is your family ?

I'm 38 now. My husband, Robert Powers and I live in North Carolina with our son, Chasen who is 2 years old. We really enjoy living here. America is full of beautiful places and great people, but this is one of the best spots.

To know you better, what did you brought from yourself in the character of B.J. ?

B.J. was a challenge to play, in that her psyche was so damaged by the abuse she was subjected to by her godfather. Fortunately, that was not something I had to deal with in my own life, but I was close to some people who did, so I tried to tell their stories as I was portraying B.J.. The only way B.J. and I were similar was that she was a writer, as am I and we were both discovering how to become adults. I also met my husband on the set of Santa Barbara, just as B.J. found her husband, Warren.

You started your acting career very young and your first successes are very famous in France (The Thorn Birds, Bernadette, La Passion de Bernadette...). How did you start in the job ? Can you talk to us a little of these first big successes ?

My parents were musical entertainers and my father was also a comedian. It was natural for me to take to the stage. My early projects as an actress provided me with a great education and enabled me to work with some of our industry's great stars and directors, in America as well as Europe. I learned something from them all : how to act; how to be professional; how to enjoy what I do and balance it with my personal life;  and probably a few things I haven't realized yet !

It seemed that my early career was marked with period pieces, costumes and wigs, as well as playing young women who either fell in love with priests or preachers (Thorn Birds and Pale Rider), or who had religious experiences (the Bernadette films). It caused to me explore the motivations that were buried deep within a person (sexuality, desire, fear) as well as their aspirations (spirituality, harmony, love). Freud defined those places as the id and the superego.

You speak a perfect French ! Where and when did you learn our language so well ? Do you still practice French regularly ?

(Sydney answers in French) When Jean Delannoy, the director of Bernadette, asked me to play the leading role in his film about the Saint, I had to travel in France for the shooting, something I had dreamed about for a long time ! As soon as I arrived with my family in Paris, the producer informed me that we were going to make the film in two versions : in French and in English. So, I had to learn my lines word by word with a coach, Martha des Cars, the wife of writer Guy des Cars. As I had already studied Spanish, I learned to speak very quickly and Martha encouraged to me to continue my studies, and I did. I returned to France to make the sequel, La Passion de Bernadette, the story of her life in the convent in Nevers (quite something to spend six weeks to the convent, I assure you !), and we made the film only in French. It strengthened the courses I had taken in high school.

During two or three years I translated a site about the film industry in France, after having worked there again for the show Largo Winch that we shot in Paris and in Montreal. My accent became a mixture of these two influences ! I enjoyed so much living and working in these two magnificent cities where I still have many friends and I look forward to going back there to work again one day.


The time of Santa Barbara

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

I didn't watch Santa Barbara previously. In fact, I had never watched any soaps and swore I would never work on one. Funny how things happen.

How did B.J. was presented to you at first ?

I had originally auditioned for the role of Lily, but wasn't right for the role that Paula Irvine ended up playing. The details of B.J.'s life were kept secret, so I wasn't really sure what kind of role I was auditioning for, but it turned out well !

You had to play B.J. in the beginning as a boy, then later as a rapes victim. How did you succeed in entering the skin of a character so tortured and victim of pains ?

As I mentioned earlier, I was fortunate to have some people close to me who shared their experiences with me, so I had that knowledge, as well as information from an organization called ChildHelp. The best gift you can have as an actor, once you've done your preparation, is to have good writing and there I was fortunate. It was a huge challenge, but I enjoyed it very much.

B.J. arrived a few days after her brother Sawyer and her parents. To play family siblings on a show do create particular relationships between actors ?

We were an odd family. None of us really looked alike, which made sense since I was not really Reese and Jodie's child, but the love child of Jodie and Cruz. I still see Eric Close every now and then around town, as well as Kim Zimmer. We all enjoyed each other very much.

B.J. starts disguised as a boy in high school, turns to be victim of rapes during her childhood, refinds this terrible rapist, is later accused of his murder, and above all knows a beautiful and long love-story with Warren Lockridge. What were your favorite storylines and the ones you particularly disliked ?

I liked every bit of the story line, which is unusual ! Of course, although I was in a lot of story, I was only on the show for less that a year, so it's not hard to maintain an arc for that period of time. I do recall being a little tired wearing that orange dress for weeks on end. Remember the one I had on when I shot Frank at the hotel ? I must have worn that dress for six weeks straight !

What were your favorite male and female acting partners as B.J. Walker ?

I had some of the best actors to work with ! I've always admired Jack Wagner's great comedic ability and A Martinez's incredible emotional depth. Kim Zimmer is a real powerhouse on camera and off. 

You were one of 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 ?

Funny story. They called us all down to the set one day and said, "Thanks, you guys are great, but the network is cancelling the show." So we all went back and kept making the show every day for a couple of months and had a huge wrap party.

Fast forward several years and I was working on Sunset Beach in the very same studio. I was replacing Meg Ward who was making a movie, so I was only there for a few weeks. One day we get a call to come down to set. Everyone's there including some network people who say, "Thanks, you guys are great, but the network is cancelling the show." It was déjà vu !

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

There were a lot of young actors on the show at that time and off screen we often got together to play pool in Hollywood. The cast and crew were all very appreciative of each other and there was genuine affection. There definitely was in the case of my husband and I !

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

I did have the opportunity to work with a few members of our crew again on Sunset Beach, and I worked with Jack Wagner again on The Bold and the Beautiful. It seems everyone was on Santa Barbara at one time, so I feel like I'm always meeting alumni on sets !


These last 16 years after Santa Barbara and now

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

I've always preferred film to anything else. I enjoy the visual aspect of the medium and the time it allows you to develop a character, but soaps offer a safe place to hone your craft, to try new things and be a part of a community that's like a family. There are good aspects to all of them.

Après Santa Barbara, we saw you in France in Largo Winch and The Bold and the Beautiful, but we missed you long-duration part in All my Children. Can you come back on the following years of your career since the end of Santa Barbara ?

After Santa Barbara ended I went on to play the role of Julia Santos in All My Children. I moved to New York and spent 3 years there. It was a busy schedule and I hardly saw New York City at all, but great experience. After that I went back to Los Angeles and filmed a series called Hyperion Bay for the WB Network. It lasted one year and after that I had a role on Beverly Hills 90210 and worked on Sunset Beach for a short time, then on to Largo Winch.

Do you have projects for this year ?

I've been writing a lot and this year I directed a commercial, as well. My son has been my main project since the entertainment industry has been suffering from bad economy and labor disputes. I'll be sure to keep everyone up to date with what's next on my Facebook fan page.

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

I'm so glad to have been a part of a show that has touched so many people. I appreciate your interest and support very much and I wish you well in all your projects, too !


Once again all my thanks to Sydney Penny for her availability and her simplicity.