|Zen and the art of soap opera acting|
By Janet Di Lauro, Soap Opera Weekly, 1992
vu with a twist might be the best way to describe Stephen Nichols' return to
daytime television. About two years after his departure from the legendary role
of Steve "Patch" Johnson on Days
of Our Lives, Nichols once again finds himself reporting for work on the
Burbank studio lot, lunching at the NBC commissary and rubbing elbows with a few
familiar crew members.
Nichols is on a different show now - the multi-Emmy-award-winning Santa Barbara. He is
portraying Skyler Gates, a Zen therapist specializing in Eastern philosophy and
religion - a character who is the antithesis of his former Days of Our Lives alter
ago. "It's like coming home in a way, but maybe to a new addition that's been
built onto the house," the actor muses.
admits he missed certain aspects of the daytime medium. "The regular routine is
nice… to know that you're going to the same place each day," he says. "There's
something to be said for that consistency, that steadiness in daily life. That's
one of the nice things about daytime. I enjoy that. Plus, I've got kids at home,"
he continues. "It's nice to be able to get off work, drive home, and there they
are. I'm not on location in Tennessee or somewhere across the world. I'm at
casually in black jeans and a T-shirt, and surrounded by pictures of A Martinez
(Cruz) and Martinez's family, Nichols is sitting in what used to be Martinez's
dressing room, which now belongs to him. He appears relaxed and content in his
new surroundings. Although he's only been on the job for a week at the time of
this interview, Nichols has settled in quite comfortably. "My first day, they
treated me like a king," he says. "Everybody was very nice, very friendly, Pam
Long (Santa Barbara's
head writer) even gave me a beautiful floral arrangement with a bit of Asian
flavor to it."
Barbara welcome wagon and Nichols' extensive acting experience, he
admits he still experienced the usual first-day jitters. "Oh, sure," he says. "It's
like being a kid again and going to a new school. You're not quite sure where
anything is. I was kind of lost in the hallways. I had to get to know many new
people. I got over it immediately though," he says. "After I got through the
first dress rehearsal all the jitters were gone. I felt totally at home."
helped to have a few co-stars around the set whom he already knew - people like
Nancy Lee Grahn (Julia), Kim Zimmer (Jodie) and Eileen Davidson (Kelly), whom
Nichols had met at various events during his time on Days of Our Lives. It also
helped to hit the ground running with storyline co-stars Jack Wagner (Warren)
and Sydney Penny (B.J.). "Jack's a real gas. He's cracking us up all day long.
Of course, he stops just before we're ready to tape, but by then it's too late,"
laughs Nichols. "I really enjoy working with him." As for Penny, "This young
woman is a very, very fine actress, and I'm sure that I'm not saying anything
that people don't know already. She is really tuned in. It's a joy to work with
his time away from the medium, Nichols has explored a number of other projects,
fielded his share of daytime offers and endured countless "rumors" that he was
joining other soaps (among them General
Hospital) and returning to Days
of Our Lives. "Most of the rumors were just that - rumors and nothing
more," he says bluntly. Nichols concedes that he has been "approached a couple
of times" by other soaps. "I've had some talks with some people in New York," he
says. "It seemed that most people didn't understand what my needs were in coming
into a daytime situation. So none of the situations worked out."
Nichols continued working on other areas. Most recently, he completed a
recurring role in the Aaron Spelling series 2000
Malibu Road, portraying a character named Brad Dimitri opposite Sally
Kellerman. He also just finished producing a presentation pilot - a contemporary
western called Wild
Horses - in which he starred with his wife, Lisa.
explains the chain of events that led him to Santa Barbara. "The role
came up and one of my agents called and suggested me for it. The Santa
Barbara brass thought it was a good idea, called me in, and we had a
little meeting. Pam Long and Paul Rauch described me the storyline to me in
general and the type of person Skyler is. I was very intrigued by what I heard.
Skyler sounded very interesting, not run-of-the-mill."
elaborates : "Skyler's a Harvard graduate who was schooled as a
psychiatrist. During his training and his study of Eastern philosophy and
religion, he found that the disciplines and practices in meditation, when
applied to psychoanalysis, were very helpful. They brought a whole new area of
intuitiveness into his work. He has a calmness and an easiness about him that
puts other people at ease," Nichols continues. "He's easier to talk to. He's
highly intuitive. He can go beyond what someone is saying and see the truth
behind the words."
character description of Skyler, along with a few other key factors, ultimately
lured Nichols to Santa Barbara. First and foremost, the Santa Barbara brass did
not insist that Nichols sign a lengthy pact with the show. Instead, they dangled
the word "recurring" in front of him. "Because I was not obligated to sign a
contact right off the bat, this was a good opportunity for me to feel things
out," he says. "The reason that was so important to me is that I didn't want to
go on a show and get involved in a heavy contract right away, and then end up as
dead weight hanging around on a show that I wasn't happy on, where I was not
working and putting something into it."
talented cast and writers were also major factors in his decisions. "I've taken
tapes home. I spent half a day in my office watching several tapes to catch up
on storylines and characters that I'm involved with. I was very impressed. I'm
very proud to be a part of Santa
that reason, Nichols hopes he can make a statement as Skyler. Long dedicated to
children's charity organizations, particularly those involved in fighting
against child abuse, Nichols says he's putting his heart and soul into his role
as therapist to abuse victim B.J. Walker. "All the actors involved in that story
have done really a great work. The show's done a wonderful job in the writing
and execution of the story. I hope that I can contribute to that in a good way."
also wants to educate daytime television audiences to the world of Eastern
religion. "I hope to take away the sort of stigma or misconceptions people have
about it," he explains. "I hope to be able to show that there is a basic truth
in all religions and a common spirituality running through everyone's lives. I
studied Eastern religion and philosophy for many years," he says. "I've been a
member of the Self-Realization Fellowship for twenty years. I also have several
people in my family who are into psychiatry and psychology and who have known
actual Zen therapists. So I have a lot to draw from."
asked if he's ever gone through therapy, Nichols responds wryly, "Hasn't every
creative person had therapy at some time ? I don't know a person who hasn't
been through some kind of therapy or analysis at one point in their life."
Nichols believes the firsthand experience will be helpful in his portrayal of
Skyler, he isn't one to get too caught up in it. "I really believe in playing
pretend… just being like a child again," he says, describing his method of
acting. "All this heavy-handed collecting, researching, and blah, blah, blah
just gets very laborious most of the time. I believe it gets in the way. We're
all human. I think that's the most important thing in acting - to be human and
to relate to the people you're talking to. The rest of it just falls into place."
with that same ease that Nichols tackles the inevitable question : does he
feel any pressure to save Santa
Barbara, a show that's been living under the threat of cancellation for
the past year ? "No, I don't feel any pressure at all," he says bluntly. "I'm
just an actor who took a job and is willing to commit to it 100 percent. That's
as far as my commitment goes. I'm not obligated to try and keep the show on the
air or do anything beyond my job is as an actor."
Nichols is confident that Days
of our Lives fans who loved him as Patch definitely will tune in to get
to know him as Skyler. "Every single person who ever watched me on Days
of our Lives will tune into this show to see me," he says. "Since I left
Days of our Lives, I've
kept all the fans in touch with where I am and what I'm doing. They've been
following me from one project to the next," he notes. "I've always been
able to generate my fans' interest for other projects that I'm doing. I've kind
of educated people, in a way, not to be too attached to one particular character
but to tune into everything that I'm doing, because it's much more fun. So
everybody who's been following me since I left Days of our Lives is going
to be here," he stresses. "I think there's going to be a great carryover. Then
again, no pressure, right !" he adds with a laugh.
"There's some really wonderful stuff happening on this show," adds Nichols. "A lot of steam has been building up. It's just starting to gel now, and it's going to break loose. Santa Barbara is definitely something worth watching. I want people to know that."