«Santa Barbara is stronger than Dallas

 By Joan Mac Trevor, Ciné Télé Revue, 1987

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In the triumphal functioning of Santa Barbara, the name of Judith McConnell remains related to a remarkable actress performance. This pretty fair, gracious and sexy woman in life, plays indeed several characters in the show : Sophia Capwell, Todd McKee's mother, and others, like Dominic with his beard and moustache, without forgetting other identities as that old woman she plays with the same talent. Sometimes obliged to change of face four times in a same day, Judith astounds every day the producers by this chameleon side which already brings her a great fame in the United States. But the young woman is not so unknown in the job : in Another World, another soap-opera successfully aired, she so perfectly gave life to a very malicious woman that this one brought her several memorable experiments. "One day", she tells, "at the time the show was on television, I had invited my father at the restaurant when a woman approached us and shouted me : "You make me sick !". It is much easier to meet the public when you play a nice character...". Remarkable dancer, graduate of the Carnegie Mellon University, Judith McConnell also appeared as a guest-star in TV shows like Star Trek, Doctor Marcus Welby, Mannix. But it is Santa Barbara which really enabled her to explode. Joan Mac Trevor met this delicious woman in her modern and elegant apartment in Beverly Hills.

Was the role of Sophia in Santa Barbara written for you ?

No. At the origin, Sophia was a man, and it is besides a man who played her during the first four months from July to October 1984. At this point in time I received a call in New York asking me to play the character - under a man disguise always - in the two days. The time to take a plane and to unload in Los Angeles.

To play a male character, was it very difficult for a woman as feminine as you are ?

It was undoubtedly a challenge, and I was somewhat frightened at the beginning. As of this moment, I began to observe men as I never observed them before. The step especially. It was necessary that I adopt it because the centre of gravity of a woman is lower than for a man. The voice tone also. It was necessary that I was accustomed to speak with a lower voice. The most painful was the make-up : I spent an amazing time to apply it and as many time to eliminate it. I wore a false nose, false eyebrowss, false beard and moustache, and a wig. On my skin, every day, a second skin was tightened on me and I had to withdraw it on the evening with acetone before plunging my face in water during half an hour and withdrawing piece after piece what acetone had not been able to remove.

Did you have difficulties to play the character of Sophia ?

Not really, because the scenario is well written and the characters are rich. Moreover, the Sophia's feelings are not completely foreign from me and I could all the more easily produce memories and personnel experiments to make her psychology a little more substantial.

You are surrounded by many young people in the show. Is it pleasant to work with them ?

Enormously, though I do not feel so old than that. Robin (Wright) and Marcy (Walker), my two daughters, are intelligent in addition of being mature and beautiful. Todd (McKee) has a lot of charm and seduction. The atmosphere between the shootings is very cool, very friendly. We laugh a lot. Like real kids. The fact that this show is ours, that its failure or its success depends on our work, binds us too. We feel interdependent and are all so much happy today that Santa Barbara goes better and better, in the United States and in the world.

What do you think is responsable for this success ?

The charm of the actors. Also the existence of a big concentration of good actors on the same stage. And then also the fact that the psychology of the characters takes precedence over the action. It occurs much more things in Santa Barbara than, for example, in Dallas.

Does the shooting of a soap like Santa Barbara require a lot from an actor ?

Enormously. We are completely monopolized by the show. We start at 7.30 a.m. to finish the evening between 7 and 10 p.m. according to the difficulties of the day. Then, we still have to memorize our text for the following day. Without speaking about the character of Sophia in particular and her various identities (man, old woman, Italian countess) required sometimes a different and complicated make-up. One day that he visited me on the stage, my father came to me and murmured to me in the ear : "But what is happening with you ? There are so many people who enter and who leave your room...".

You thus have an excellent memory to memorize every day tens of pages of script...

Not more or less than another actor. Often people ask me how I suceed to memorize all this in so little time. It is simple : if I do not do it, I lose my job. There are days when everything is easier when you are curious about a new situation and impassioned by the intrigue, but there are others when you have the impression to learn the phone book by heart.

You were an theatre actress before doing television. Is there a big difference in the way you work ?

Yes. At the theatre, there is a direct link between the actor and the public that you do not find of course in front of a camera. To play in front of a public, without intermediary, must give the same effect of giddiness and fright that to throw yourself from the top of a cliff. You need a lot of courage. Each time I am in backstage, before beginning a scene, I say to myself : "I must be completely insane to earn my life like this...". But, at the moment you are on scene, this stage fright which takes to you to your stomach, disappears.

Is the life in the world of the Hollywood show business harder than with theatre ?

Much more. The competition is implacable there. There are not enough roles for too many talented actors. The pressure is of this fact continual. In fact, an actor spends more time looking for a role than to really work. The easiest thing for an actor is to play. The hardest one is to wonder : "When and where will I find my next role ?". A situation which makes it possible to understand that when you have a long duration role, you hang it up.

Does the character of Sophia bring you mail or reactions from the public ?

A lot of mail. And, paradoxically, especially from mothers who ask me for consultings on how to raise children, or from children, unhappy with their family, who ask me to adopt them. It is strange how people easily identify themselves with a totally fictional character. This identification is all the more easy since the show forms a part of the everyday life of the televiewers who watch us.

If you could change things, would you choose the career of actress again ?

Probably, because I do not know to do anything else. It sometimes happens to me to regret, because there is nothing more unstable than the show business job, but does it have sense ? However, I would not advise a young person to enter the job. It is very hard and the glamour is there only to get out the job from banality. To become an actor, it is necessary to study and to train yourself. Always. I do not stop myself. An actor is like an athlete : he must constantly practise his discipline.

You are going on holidays soon. Where are you leaving ?

In Paris, but for only one week. We hardly dispose of more days off.

One week ! Isn't it too much a few ?

Yes, of course, it is very hard. But, that is just what I told you : the glamour is for the public.

And in the case you are sick during the shootings ?

It happened to me to have migraines, or not to feel well, but it is necessary to go on. Before beginning a scene you feel muddled and bad in your body. But, once you are under the projectors, the miracle takes place : you forget everything, your cold and your migraine. It is only after that you break down. Yes, to do this work, you also need a good health, from where the importance to eat healthily and to maintain you all right.

What do you like to do when you have free time ?

To swim, dance, go to the theatre, and especially to cook. I am an excellent cook but you must avoid to come in the kitchen after me : a cataclysm !