Temple of Vanessa
At A Crossroads
Movie offers are pouring in... but that doesnt mean that Vanessa Marcil will soon be walking out
Soaps In Depth - April 1998
Vanessa Marcil didnt always live like a superstar. In fact, it wasnt too long ago that the actress was a freewheeling bachelorette, sleeping on a mattress in a room with three other girls, all of them just trying to get by. It wasnt a pretty existence, but, she recalls, it certainly was simple. "My friends and I would go buy a bag of potatoes and just figure out different ways to make them," she says. "We were just kids hanging out, living dirty and cheap.
"I used to laugh," she continues, "because, yeah, I was on tv, and the girl at the grocery store wanted my autograph, but I couldnt pay my phone bill. Bet she didnt know that!"
Cut to 1998: Six years after joining GH as Port Charles ingenue Brenda Barrett, Vanessa finally has a bed with a frame, and she can hire someone to mask her potatoes, never mind keep Ma Bell off her back. But the actress' awesome popularity hasnt swelled her head to the point where she has lost sight of her meager beginnings. "What people dont know is that for your first few years on a show like this, you dont make that much money," she says. "People think that when you're on tv, you're rich, and you're not."
"But," she adds quickly, "I'm glad that I started out like that because it kept me really humble and grateful for everything.
"I got a new car for the first time last year. It's a BMW convertible, and it's a dream come true. I walk backwards and look at it because I cant believe that it's really my car, and I bought it, and it's new."
A Legend In Her Own Time
It's not like Vanessa hasnt earned the trappings of fame. In her GH tenure, she has worked hard to make a name for herself as one of soapdom's most gifted actresses, and to transform Brenda from a spoiled little rich brat into one of the genre's most multidimensional young heroines. And in the on-screen romance department, her success is nearly unparalleled. She's clicked -- and clicked big -- with three leading men: Antonia Sabato Jr (ex-Jagger), Maurice Benard (ex-Sonny) and Ingo Rademacher (Jax). Headwriter Bob Guza explains her appeal as a leading lady thusly: "She has an extremely unique capacity to project simultaneously strength and vulnerability," he says. "So even when you see her collapsing, you see a strong woman collapsing. When she's giving herself, you see a strong, independent woman giving herself. That's very hard to find, and she does it. And I think that's the key to making those romances work."
It's Vanessa's winning combination of spirit and fragility that led Guza to hand her her most demanding storyline to date: Brenda's recent mental breakdown following her wedding-day abandonment by Sonny. Prior to filming the plot's first scene, Vanessa told Soaps In Depth in November that she was concerned that she wouldnt be able to accomplish the daunting task at hand. "I'm always afraid that I cant do stuff before I do it," she said.
Now, in her first full-length interview since Brenda took hold of a tripod and threw Port Charles into a tailspin, the actress, who recently won her second Daytime Emmy Award Nomination, admits that her insecurity has given way to a newfound confidence in her abilities. "It was definitely the most challenging storyline I've ever done," she says. "And it was the most satisfying, too. I really got to every place that I wanted to get to emotionally -- places that I was afraid that I might not be able to get to.
"I'm glad it didnt go on too long, though, because it kind of took its toll on me," she continues. "People might have a good cry one day out of every six months, and you feel so exhausted afterwards. It's like somebody has beaten you up. So doing that every day is really draining.
"It was a very irritable time for me," she admits. "I havent quite mastered how to give 100 percent one second and then five minutes later go back into normal life mode."
There's Nothing To Fear...
Although Vanessa's GH work sometimes puts her through the wringer, she wouldnt have it any other way. In fact, so devoted to the soap is she that when she is called upon to turn on the water works, the worst case scenario that she conjures up invariably involves the show. "If I have an emotional scene, I'll sit there and imagine that it's my last day on GH, and I'll be a wreck," she reveals. "That's how I make myself cry. That's how much this show has meant to me."
To Vanessa's horror, such an exit scenario almost played itself out last August when she nearly followed Maurice Benard and Sonny out of Port Charles for good. But at the last minute, the actress opted to re-sign (reportedly for a year), despite the fact that Hollywood was beckoning. After she played Nicolas Cage's girlfriend in 1996's box-office smash The Rock, her career was like a train gaining momentum, and her agents were anxious for her to jump aboard. "For the last year and a half, I've been sabotaging my career outside of GH," she concedes. "After The Rock, there were a lot of things that I got offered that I turned down."
Even Maurice was sure his on-screen armour was going to shove off. "It surprised me that she stayed," he said in August. "With everything that she's got going for her, she should go."
So, what convinced Hollywood's Next Big Thing to keep her day job? "I just wanted to be challenged in my acting, and as long as they're doing that here, I dont really care about becoming a big star. That migtht be hard to believe for some people."
Like, for instance, her agents. They nearly dropped her as a client after she re-upped with GH, she says. "They think that I could be this big movie star if I wanted to. I would literally cancel huge auditions for huge movies because I had 20 important scenes the next day on GH. My agent's like, 'This is a movie!' And I would just go, 'Yeah, but you know what? I'm in four scenes in that movie, and I could do them in my sleep. They're not even a challenge. The stuff on GH that I'm doing tomorrow is so great!' And my agent's like, 'You're so weird.' But I dont care if they think that I'm crazy for loving this show."
Love On The Set
Vanessa's fondness for one particular co-star may be partly to blame for her anxiety about possibly seperating from GH. Her one-year-plus relationship with now-fiance Tyler Christopher makes her commute to work much more enjoyable, and soon, the two will begin spending more time together onscreen as well. "We will be working together more," Vanessa reveals. To date, Brenda and Nikolas have had only one scene together -- last December, when she visited the wounded lad in the hospital. They might have had more scenes and even a storyline, had she not clicked with Ingo, Vanessa suggests. "I believe that if Brenda and Jax hadnt been such a smash hit that the writers definitely would have liked to have had Brenda and Nikolas become romantically involved."
As it is, the actors' real-life relationship has been chronicled as much as any soap plot. Each week, a new rumor is born, and courtesy of the Internet, spreads faster than a Califorian brush fire. For instance, when the couple postponed their winter wedding until spring, speculation intensified that their romance was on the rocks. The latest idle chat had it that Vanessa and Tyler were feuding with Ingo and one-time girlfriend Rebecca Herbst (Liz). "I heard that I broke up with Tyler, and he and Ingo got into a fist-fight in the parking lot, and Wendy Riche set up Becky's and my schedules so that we're not working at the same time," says Vanessa. "It's hysterical. Our lives are so boring that I guess it's disappointing to people."
"For the record," she adds, "Ingo and I have never for one second been romantically involved with each other. I mean, not for a second, in real life, outside of GH. We're great friends, but it's not like we even hung out before I got together with Tyler."
Also for the record, Vanessa and Tyler are still happily engaged, and recently even purchased a house together in the Hollywood Hills. As for their wedding, it will happen when it happens. "The reality is that we truly want to have a great honeymoon," says the bride-to-be. "It's hard with our acting schedules to both get two weeks off at the same time."
None Of Your Beeswax
The fact that everything about Vanessa is noticed and even debated by her public is not lost on her -- although she wishes that it was. "It's actually my biggest problem in acting," she sighs. "It's a very odd thing to have that many people look at you and judge you, and I dont like it. I dont know how anyone can handle that. It makes me want to hide."
The scrutiny likely will get worse. If Vanessa becomes the big deal that everyone predicts that she will, she and Tyler easily could wind up being the next Demi and Bruce. That reality ultimately may prompt Vanessa to keep her star from rising any higher. "I dont know if I want to not be able to take my kids to Disneyland," she offers. "I dont know if I'd want my kids to have to see me on the cover of all those trash magazines saying these horrible things. If I want to gain 20 pounds, I dont want to be called a fat cow in Star magazine.
"My dreams are that I want to have a family; I want to have what I never had as a little girl. Being a big movie star... I dont know if I want that."
When her GH contract expires this summer, Vanessa once again will have to answer that very question: Does she want to make movies, or does she want to stick with what she considers to be the best job in the world? "I'm kind of in the same position that I was in last year," she says. "I have a development deal with ABC like I had last year, which means they pay me a certain amount to go out on their pilots. So if I do a pilot this year that gets picked up, I have to do it. Even if I wanted to stay here, I couldnt.
"If that happens, it will probably be the most devastating thing that I've ever gone through. But I also know that you cant stagnate yourself."
If Vanessa does indeed depart this summer, she will have a tough time finding a part that's as rewarding as Brenda, and she is acutely aware of it. "My worst fear is that I'll leave to go do a primetime show because that's the thing to do -- that's the so-called more respectable place to go -- and I'll make more money and all that," she says, "and I wont be as happy as I am here. In that case, I would come back. For me, it's all about being happy with the work that I did that day when I get into bed at night.
"It's not really going to matter whether or not I get a lot of money," she concludes. "In the end, all I really need is a place to live, people I love, and a bag of potatoes." ---Michael Ausiello
Their Contracts Are Up - Will They Resign?
Soap Opera Update - May 12, 98
General Hospital's Vanessa Marcil
When her contract expires: Sometime this spring or summer.
What she wants: A movie career.
The back story: Vanessa has a lot of things going on outside of General Hospital's Port Charles. And its no secret that last spring, she was on the verge of quitting the soap to pursue a movie career. Desperate to keep her, GH got down on bended knee and promised anything if she would stay.
Vanessa told her bosses she was tired of stories about Brenda's troubled love life, but if they gave her a nervous breakdown to play, she'd reconsider. GH quickly agreed.
Now, however, almost a year has gone by and insiders say that Vanessa wants more than ever to quit GH and expand her horizons.
So will she leave?: Insiders say no one is sure what Vanessa is planning - not even the actress, who isnt talking.
Most insiders agree that career-wise, Vanessa should make her move now. TV Guide soap columnist Michael Logan says, "She is closer to 30 than she is to 20, and in Hollywood that is something to consider. I think she is an absolute fool not to leave. When she is at her best, she is one of the best actresses on daytime. She is crazy not to get out and be the incredible movie star we know she can be."
Then & Now: Stars' Hairdos
Soap Opera Update - May 12, 98
Trendy Vanessa Marcil went from wild and chic to sophisticated and sleek. This beautiful brunette caused a bit of a stir when her bosses at GH got a look at the actress' original much shorter 'do. Apparently, Vanessa did not ask permission before making the big change. In time, Vanessa's short layers grew out into her current illustrious mane. The actress also returned to her natural medium-brown color, and added a touch of red highlights for that extra lift.
Hit... TGIF on GH
In the recent evolution (revolution?) of the daytime soap, the once-sacrosanct Friday cliff-hanger has been whittled down to the less-viewer-imperative Friday tag. So it was fitting that the GH episode that aired May 15 -- the same day as the Daytime Emmy Awards telecast -- embodied the best of the soap opera storytelling elements that all too often fall by the wayside these days.
The focus was on the long-awaited romantic reunions of two enormously popular couples. That Brenda and Jax would resume their relationship was pretty much a foregone conclusion after Jax rescued her from the plane crash and whisked her away to Malibu, where they first fell in love. Vanessa Marcil and Ingo Rademacher have such evocative chemistry that they hardly need embellishment to make the Brenda/Jax pairing so inviting. But the location footage was a spectacular backdrop that evoked precisely the mood that should accompany the unfolding of so momentous a declaration of true love.
As the episode drew to a close, with each couple basking in the glow of their renewed love, Sonny, the one person who has impacted both of those relationships the most -- and who still holds the key to the future -- knocked on the door of the penthouse.
See what I mean?
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