The real deal

 By Travis Kinsey, Soap Opera Weekly, 1999

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Anyone who thinks that actors are inaccessible, uppity egotists should chat with Marie-Alise Recasner. It would be easy for an actress, when asked how her new role on a daytime soap is going, to provide a canned reply, giving no indication that anything is less than perfect. When you consider that the actress in question also has stepped into a role originated by one of daytime's brightest stars, it is easy to imagine that the temptation to sugar-coat her response would be even greater.

This is not to say that Recasner is anywhere close to unhappy three months into playing Ellen Burgess on Port Charles, a role she assumed after Debbi Morgan (who created the role when Port Charles premiered in 1997) chose to leave the series late last year. Far from it. She loves where she works, her co-stars and the role she's been given. But her candor in admitting that things aren't perfect, that she does have insecurities about her job performance, reinforces the everywoman image.

"I'm still searching a little bit," she says of her efforts to get a handle on her character. "Wendy (Riche; Port Charles's executive producer) was really helpful. She told me what she wanted to do, and the directors have been helpful. I freaked out a little bit the other day. I thought to myself : Gosh, am I the only one who's receiving direction and everybody else has got it ? And then I thought : No, they're giving me very specific direction. People are very complimentary about my work, so I take it all as a good sign. It's a process, especially since we're taking a character who is so well-established and changing her so much. It's not like I'm an understudy stepping into a role that has been studied meticulously and we have the same lines night after night. This is something completely different : OK, where do I take this ?"

"When I had my first meeting with Wendy, before I shot, she said, "I want her softer. Make her more accessible." Ellen's more relaxed, more approachable, less hard-edged. They're even changing how the character looks. We're going quirky on some of the clothing, and I'm having a lot of fun with it. I never saw Debbi's performance, but from what I‘ve been told, that's (hard-edged) the way the character was supposed to be when she did it." Recasner (who previously played Lynn Burke on Days of Our Lives) is also excited about her triangle with Mitch Longley‘s Matt and Rodney Van Johnson's Sebastian. "I'm excited about the tension it can bring. My big fear is that I'm going to be too soft, and that's where they're keeping me on track."

The things that are important to Recasner - raising her children being at the very top of the list - are not about fame, money or awards. "It's never been about getting rich," she stresses. "It's never been about being on the cover of People Magazine. I do this publicity, and it's a lot of fun, but I am not going to be laying out my whole life like some people need to do. I always have known that it is work. Never had any illusions. I've always loved that part of it : the process of acting, the discovery. Finding new ways to say things and be things and feel things. That's what it's about. It would make me nuts if I didn't have some kind of normal life, if all I cared about was the next big moment in the spotlight."

Like many single mothers, Recasner juggles a hectic schedule trying to raise her two boys, Kirk, 10, and Rhys, 5. (Recasner split from the boys' father after a lengthy marriage.) "I don't believe in a nanny who raises your children, but boy, would it be great to have somebody who I know could help me with my son and his math, and if I needed to I could say, "Could you open up the freezer and defrost that chicken ?" I haven't dropped anything yet, except for theater. I've been able to keep up with the rest of my life. Theater is one thing I haven't been doing : it's just not the time yet."

Recasner is careful about what her kids are exposed to, and believes that people who create movies and television have "more responsibility" when portraying certain situations and facts. "When we like to pretend there's no impact made, we're just being irresponsible. I believe that video games and TV and movies have a negative impact on the young mind. My 10-year-old and I fight about it all the time. He'll say, "But it's PG-13," and I'll go, "Yeah, and you're not 13." He'll go to somebody‘s house and they‘ll let them watch something that's rated mature or even teen. We've had long discussions like, "Well, maybe you can't go there anymore," or, "I need you to stand up for yourself and say : My mom doesn't allow me to watch this. I'm going to go into the other room. He's actually done that, but it's very hard when all of your friends are watching and their parents are saying, "Sure, go ahead and watch that guy get his head split open."

"I can totally see why some parents do give up," she adds. "But my child is worth so much to me and his mind is worth so much to me. I have to remind myself to fight no matter how easy it be to say, "OK, Kirk, I'm tired of fighting; just watch it." And yeah, he gets mad sometimes. "You are so mean to me." Fine. "I'm not your mom to become your friend, I'm your mom because I'm your mom. I'm supposed to make these decisions."

"We think a lot more about the psychological effects of what we do as parents. Sometimes we think too much. I've seen people talking children into the ground about something, when you should just say, "I said no, and I am the parent. That's how it goes." But at the same time, you have to take into consideration how they are feeling at that moment. Why they've done what they've done. It's a case by case thing. You can't just strike first and then ask questions. You have to ask first, and then, « OK, maybe you need a kick in the butt." It's a toughie."

Recasner is very certain about what she wants to teach her children. "I'd like to see what I'm not seeing a lot of today : A lot of people look at life and say, "What am I going to get out of this ?" I think you can look at life and say, "I'm going to make a big, wonderful difference in the world," whether it's by planting a tree or saying hi to your neighbor. It's that or whether you're going to be completely self-absorbed. I'll feel a complete failure if that is how my boys turn out. I want them to be the other way : "What am I going to get out of life by putting into life ?" If you put in good feelings and good actions toward other people it comes back to you."