Pulling teeth...

 By Michael Logan, Soap Opera Digest, 1986

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When an actor balances his checkbook, shaves, brushes his teeth, takes off his clothes and threatens your life all in the course of an interview, you know you're not dealing with just any ordinary soap star. Emmy award-winning Justin Deas is reportedly brilliant as well as belligerent, gracious as well as grisly. In the same sixty seconds he can be warm, witty, taunting, teasing, suicidally serious and charming as hell. And when it comes to being interviewed - which Justin Deas clearly does not love - he can be as slippery as a little monkey who's escaped his cage. Just as this can simultaneously be an out and out delight for customers and a hair-pulling aggravation for the zookeeper, Deas can be a writer's dream and a writer's nightmare.

Things start off a tad haywire. When I knock on Justin's dressing room door at the appointed interview time, it's clear that he's not expecting me. No problem. Deas flashes a smile that would warm Chicago in January and welcomes me nevertheless. Before any questions can be fired, however, I sit patiently as he futzes with his bank account, adds and re-adds, stares at the balance column, scratches his head, crosses his eyes and comes to the conclusion that finances aren't funny. "I saw my tax man yesterday," Deas says. "I normally make a lot of jokes but I found out that you should make jokes at the end, not at the beginning. Not when you're paying a hundred dollars an hour."

Although the primarily east coast-based actor has been working in Los Angeles for nearly a year, he's just gotten around to finding his own apartment. In the interim, he has either house sat for vacationing friends or lived, literally, out of his pathetically beat up 1967 Dodge Palero. "I didn't want to find a place I didn't want," insists Justin. His choosiness resulted ultimately in at least one brush with the law. "A cop pulled me over for eighty-five violations," he recalls as he uncaps his toothpaste. "My tail lights didn't work, my seat belt wasn't fastened and I was listening to headphones." The officer took a gander at Justin's back seat filled with every possession he owned and several days worth of groceries. He decided to skip the citation. "He felt sorry for me," sighs Deas. "I felt like a bag man."

As he polishes up his teeth, Deas quickly summarizes his post As the World Turns career (his three-year role prior to Santa Barbara), which includes TV appearances from the silly (Tales of the Darkside) to the sublime (Foley Square). There were a few jobs he didn't take ("I turned down a couple of films because I would have been billed below the donkey") and the Big One he left As the World Turns to make. The flick, Dream Lover, is a Hitchockesque drama that had all the earmarks of a screaming success. Deas was directed by Alan Pakula, who has All the President's Men, Klute and Sophie's Choice to his credit, and photographed by Sven Nykvist, the Oscar-winning cinematographer who did so many extraordinary jobs for Ingmar Bergman. It was a king-sized flop-orama, barely lasting a week in the theaters.

Justin rinses and recalls how the role in the film kept him from accepting in person the 1984 Emmy he won for his role as Tom Hughes. He didn't mind missing out on the moment of glory as much as the fact that the Academy wouldn't let him send a message by proxy. Insists Deas, "They thought I was going to be insulting to the producers - which I wouldn't have." Has the Emmy made a difference ?  "I guess it's nice to have physical proof that I was good in something," he admits, "although the year I won, I don't think I was particularly good. I think I actually won it as a woman, to tell you the truth." Deas had been nominated and lost during his first rather powerful season on As the World Turns. The next year, when he was truly at his best, he was not even nominated. During his third and somewhat weaker year, when he occasionally played his part in drag, Justin proved a winner.

Slopping on a face full of shaving cream, he reveals, "I never wear makeup unless they force me. I hate people fussing about me. When they first put eyelashes on me, I was yelling, "Stop that !" Two days afterwards, I was asking, 'Is my bra all right ?  How's my hem ? Is my slip showing ?" I loved it ! They had to tear the clothes off my back at the end of the day." He coquettishly kicks up a heel but, minus the feminine accoutrements, the somewhat beefy Deas resembles a reject from the road company of La Cage aux Folles. The drag gag did have one other benefit, albeit a dubious one. Laughs Justin, "The spike-heels were wonderful ! I was finally as tall as the women on the show !"

It was on As the World Turns that Deas met and fell madly for Margaret (Foley Square) Colin, who played his on screen love Margo Montgomery. Brandishing his razor, Deas compliments the actors currently playing their old parts of Tom and Margo Hughes, although he's only once caught them on the tube. "They were very good. I worked with Hillary Bailey Smith - she's a wonderful gal. I don't remember his name. Karl Marx ?" Justin ponders for a second and, in the process, nicks his chin. "Oh, yes," he says, "Gregg Marx." The actor has no regrets about abandoning the long-running and award-caliber character. Well, maybe one. States Deas, "I thought they should have killed him off." Such a statement isn't as egomaniacal as it might seem. Justin towels off his face and resumes a seat in order to explain himself. "The producers expect you to, but an actor really can't replace another actor," he believes. "God, if they ever get into icing, we're all going to be in trouble !" The Deas imagination goes wild, envisioning what life would be like for a departing twenty-first century soap star. "'Uhhh, excuse me ! We want a sample of your little finger. Would you clip your nails and put them into this envelope, Justin ?"' He chuckles at the horror of the thought, not realizing he's missed a gob of shaving cream under both ears. There is a disturbing shriek from the hallway outside his dressing room door. He ignores it as if it happens regularly.

Deas has a teenaged daughter from an early, never talked about marriage. Is it particularly difficult to be a parent in this troublesome day and age ? "Well," Deas begins, obviously taken aback by the topic.  "I mean... everything... I don't really want to talk that. All situations are individual."

Miraculously, he's saved by the belle - actress Robin Mattson, that is. Santa Barbara's conniving Gina rushes into Justin's room without knocking, desperately hoping he'll rehearse the several scenes they must tape later this day. "Oh, I'm glad you're here," sighs Mattson. (Deas is renown for running endless errands during his breaks.) She spots the tape recorder and instantly blushes, realizing that she's done a no-no. "Can I come round you up in ten minutes ?" asks Justin. Mattson nods, blushes again and turns to leave. "Love your hair," says Justin. Mattson stops in her tracks. "Are you being sincere ?" she asks with scepticism written all over her face. "I'm being sincere," responds Justin. "About both." "Okay" Mattson says happily. She blushes one more time and exits.

Bizarrely, Deas gets right back on the topic he didn't want to discuss. "You-re not going to get a whole lot out of me about that" he states. "If you want   some sort of wide overview of the national problem, I'll be glad to give it to you but, then, we'll both be embarrassed. Although, you are wonderfully prepared."

Ohhhhhh-Kaaaaaay. How about Margaret ? Shall we talk about her ? Deas is happy to although, before we get to the good stuff, he takes a moment to play Siskel and Ebert. Of Colin's show biz abilities, Justin gushes. "She's a brilliant actress, an incandescent talent. I am thunderstruck by her gifts. She has a wonderful career and an obligation to fulfil her dramatic promise." If only he could keep track of her. Colin is, by all accounts, a terminal workaholic. If she's not toiling in TV, she's off in some God-forsaken little burg doing a classical role. Even as this interview took place, she was away in London making a picture. Deas had just returned from a whirlwind weekend trip to see her on the set and was still heady from the experience and the jet lag. "She's my best friend and I miss her," sighs the actor. "I've been chasing her every place. Thank God they don't have dinner theatre on Mars."

Justin strips to his underpants (for the record, they are burgundy) and ambles to the closet to don his costume for the day. A wicked look registers on his face as he realizes that the topic of Margaret could provide him with a little tongue-in-cheek revenge. "I should get back at her for the TV Guide article," he says slyly, referring to the recent profile on Colin in which she didn't fess up to their four-and-a-half-year love affair. When writer Bill O'Hallaren commented that "She doesn't admit to any serious romances," Deas reportedly hit the roof. He's cool as a cucumber now, though, and remarks quietly, "I just had the best weekend of my life. We are better and better, closer and closer friends."

Do they ever get involved in each others career choices ? Deas falls into a fit of practically uncontrollable laughter and doesn't notice that the collar on his new dress shirt keeps flipping up in the back. "I can't guess the horrific way it would be taken if I said to Margaret, 'Lookee here, I think this is what you should do next !' I can't imagine ! Just put a gun to my head..." There is a very, very long pause. "Do you know now much trouble I could get in ?" he asks imagining La Colin's probable response to seeing this in print. His features harden in a manner I have not observed since Al Pacino issued death sentences in Godfather Part II like they were so many jujubees. Says Deas kindly, "Before I get killed, you'll get killed - d'ya know what I mean ?  We will die together, you and I."

As I make a mental note to do something about that plot at Forest Lawn I've been procrastinating about, Justin wrestles with his collar. Once it's in place, he slips on his dress pants, tightens his tie, puts on his shiny black shoes and sits down like a perfect gentleman. Is he aware that people consider him difficult ? "I'm not anymore," he states simply. "I used to be." So why the reputation ? "I think if you ask around (the) Santa Barbara (set), if you ask anybody from the last two or three years, I think you'd be amazed," Deas says. "I was never difficult in the sense that I was a prima donna. I worked very hard and wanted to be the very best. A lot of people are like that." So why is he branded and others not ? "There are a lot of jerks around. I don't think I'm difficult anymore. Of course, I'm aware that I was but it never cost me a job. A lot of people think of me as flaky. I don't think of me as flaky - but I've got to get a new car before I can get any credibility !"

Suddenly, a diamond-ringed, scarlet-fingernailed hand slides along the door which was left ajar. Though it could easily be a Saturday Night Live take-off of a Sam Spade seductress, it's really Robin Mattson. She's back, dressed in slinky silk and wondering whatever happened to Justin. He leaps to his feet, grabs his script, mumbles an apology to both parties and is out the door in a flash. But, Justin !  We haven't even talked about your role on Santa Barbara yet ! Turning her back to me, Robin reveals at least a dozen hard-to-reach snaps and clasps on her skin-tight dress. She realizes an opportunity to give a befuddled writer a nice consolation prize and purrs, "Would you mind buttoning me up ?"