Rack'em up

 By Robyn Flans, Soap Opera Digest, 1992

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Birthdate : June 22, 1968
Personality in a nutshell : "I'm not a real spiritual type person. Give me a burger and fries and set me in front of the TV, and I'm as happy as a clam at high tide."
Watch out for : "My temper."
Best Feature : "My feet."
Ideal Date : "No lull in the conversation, and if there is, then it's fine."
Most surprising trait : "The way I dress. I am a total slob. I some to work looking like death warmed over and everyone goes. "What happened to you ?""
Career goal : "I don't think I'm a great actress now, but I want to be mind-blowing."

Paula Irvine was a little girl when she started acting; she was five when she learned to play pool. She didn't learn the game in a local pool hall, but in local theaters where there was a pool table downstairs. In between the matinee and the evening performance, she learned everything she needed to know. "It's a fun game," she says. "It's less aggravating than golf - smaller green, bigger balls."

She's so good at the game today that she recently placed third in the Los Angeles AIDS Protect Celebrity Pool Tournament, which was held at the Hollywood Athletic Club. Castmate Ria Pavia (Elaine) came in fourth. "She's tiny, but she's mighty," says Irvine.

At the two pool halls that Irvine frequents in her neighborhood, she can more than hold her own in a traditional all-male domain. "Nobody picks on me." she says. "It's the funniest thing. There might be a couple of slime-balls in there, but you give them a wisecrack back and they'll shut up. I know all the people in these places, and they know me and the owners and the bartenders. I used to work in one of them. I have protectors there."

The twenty-tour-year-old actress can more than hold her own in the topsy-turvy world of soap opera. She claims she was "surprised" to be cast in the major role of Santa Barbara's Lilly Blake (formerly Light). "I'm not the leading lady type; I'm not a young ingenue type," she says. "I think I'm more like the bridesmaid, never the bride. That's how I picture myself. It still baffles me because I would have thought they would have gone with someone who was pretty." But Santa Barbara executive producer Paul Rauch decided to hire her on the spot. "We thought she was a terrific find," he says. "We continue to think that."

Presently, Irvine is being given the full Santa Barbara treatment; characters on this show have been known to run the gamut from amnesiac to serial killer in one sweeps period. Lilly Blake may be helping her mother sell Gina Jeans, but she's already been an evangelist and a go-go dancer. Irvine has learned to be prepared for anything. Dancing in a cage, she confesses, was difficult : "They were smoking up the place with the smoke machine, and l was standing there all by myself. I said, ‘You know, you only live once. And if you don't go for it and have fun with it, you're going to look like a bigger idiot than you feel.' The curtain went up, and I did it. I didn't take it as far as I could have, but I took it further than I expected. I was really nervous."

Despite this case of the jitters, Irvine's reputation for professionalism has taken hold. Co-star Robin Mattson, who plays her mother, Gina, concurs : "One of my first impressions of Paula was that she hit the floor running. By that I mean, when she comes to work, she‘s prepared and ready to work. I was really impressed by how quickly she picked things up. I want her to do welt on the show, and I want her to get the most out of what is offered to her. I'm glad she's being given so much story. I take this motherly pride in her," she laughs.

Irvine‘s first exposure to performing came from her Scottish actress grand-mother, who used to entertain her grand-daughter by singing odd show tunes and reading plays. Supporting the artistic ambitions of Irvine and her sisters was a priority for Irvine's parents. "I was really blessed with a great family," she says. "I have great sisters and wonderful parents, who, little did I know then, let themselves go hungry on numerous occasions so we could eat. They would put off paying the phone bill so I could have my acting classes and my sisters, Deidre and Irina, could have their ballet classes."

Their sacrifice began to pay off when Irvine landed a role in a TV lm called My Dissident Mom. "The great thing about it was being able to walk up on the set and watch Annie Potts and Martin Sheen work," says Irvine. "I learned so much about conduct and etiquette, learning what to say and when to say it," she explains. "We learned a lot from every set I've ever been on."

Irvine was unable to attend her high school graduation due to another film role. "It was called Party Camp, and I learned a lot on that set, too," she laughs, with a hint of mischief in her voice.
When asked to elaborate, however, she only rolls her eyes and laughs, "That was kind of a Meatballs with T&A type of movie. I was not part of the T&A. I was a time brat in that movie, a real arrogant little rich witch."

Santa Barbara, however, is the first series Irvine has done as a regular, and for a self-confessed flake, it has added a lot of focus to her life. "I've actually got people who depend on me every day," she says, somewhat in awe. "So I need to be sure I'm there for those people and that I'm "on" every day. And that's kind of hard because sometimes you have off days. As long as you're there when the cameras roll, though, it all comes out in the wash. It can be tough, but I'm working with such great people. I've got Robin Mattson, who gives me everything. I know I can depend on her because she's invariably great."

Mattson and Irvine have become fast friends. "I feel like we're girlfriends," Mattson says. "We were taking today about our experiences with men," she laughs exasperatedly. "Our outrageous stories and histories of being dumped and..." Her voice trails off. "Without getting specific, it's hard to say. But girl stuff." But Mattson admits the roles have been reversed at times, too. "We were out one night, and I was upset about work. I was really disappointed about something, and I was crying, and she was comforting me. We don't spend a lot of time together, but we have this closeness. We trust each other. We talk about really personal things," she says.

When torrential rains stranded Los Angeles, Mattson insisted that Irvine camp out at her home. "One night, Robin's phone rang, and she said to her friend, "Can I call you back ? I have to put my daughter to bed"," Irvine laughs.