Since 1992, fans of Guiding Light have enjoyed Elizabeth Keifer in the role of Blake Thorpe Marler. With the shooting schedule on GL incredibly tight as the show winds down its run on CBS, Liz was generous enough to set aside time to talk to me me on a Sunday afternoon. We talked about the unique perspective she brings to GL as both a long-time viewer and a key cast member, taking on an established role during a high-profile story line, working with some legends of daytime television, some exciting projects she has lined up, the internet as a networking tool for actors and fans, the unexpected shopping spree Olivia and Blake recently took together, and a few other things. I found Liz to be incredibly gracious and easygoing, and it's no wonder that she has long been a fan favorite, or that she's made Blake into a character we all root for, even though she has some pretty obvious flaws.
On being a Guiding Light fan, herself, and how she landed the role of Blake Thorpe:
I was just about ready to quit acting, because I was getting tired of the run-around, and I literally told myself that the only show I'd agree to audition for would be Guiding Light, because the show meant so much to me. I'd been a GL fan since about 1979, so I knew the characters and the story lines. I knew about Roger and Holly and Ross, and I knew about Blake. And then I was asked to audtion - but for the role of Eve Guthrie, opposite Vincent Irrizary. Now, Eve was meant to be the noble doctor, very virtuous....but I auditioned, really, very much like Blake - less noble, and more edgy. I got a call from GL saying that I wasn't right for the role of Eve, but that they were interested in having me screen test for the role of Blake, because Sherry Stringfield, who'd been in the role for several years, would be leaving. When they asked if I would do a screen test opposite Jerry Ver Dorn I jumped at the opportunity.
I was the first to test for the role, and it was just flawless, really. But they had issues with the fact that my look was so different from Sherry's - she had light, straight hair - so they continued to test other actresses. Just about every actress in NYC tested for the role of Blake. Eventually they asked Jerry what he thought and he asked them, "Are you trying to replace Sherry Stringfield, or are you casting the role of Blake Thorpe? Because, if you're trying to cast the role of Blake, Liz is the one." And so I got the role.
I mentioned that, of the three actresses who have played Blake as a grown woman, it was my personal opinion that she was the only one to really make the role own, to put her stamp on it. She talked about taking physical ownership of the role:
Even after I got the part, there was concern about the fact that I was so physically different from Sherry. They sent me to Sherry's hair dresser to get my hair done just like hers - blonde and straight. He (the hairdresser) refused. He said that I was a redhead, and that was that, but he did straighten my hair, which was a bit of a nightmare. And, anyhow, early on there was a cat fight scene where Holly pushed Blake into a swimming pool, and my hair got wet while shooting. When it dried it went back to curly, and that was that was the beginning of my sort of taking over the role, physically.
Liz moved into this role during a pivotal time - literally in the middle of Holly finding Blake in bed with Ross, her own some-time lover. We talked about what it meant to be thrust into the action during such a dramatic point in the character's development:
The shift from Sherry Stringfield as Blake to my taking over the role coincided with a shift in writing. The way the role had been written before was very one-note: the writers would have Blake say something, flash a wicked smile and then leave the room. Sherry carried it off beautifully, but there was only so much she could do with the role. It was limiting. By the time Sherry was getting ready to move on, it was clear that the character had to evolve and grow into something more substantial. I landed the role at the very time that Blake's maturation was taking place with the writers. In the past, Blake had done reckless things, such as get drunk and sleep with Alan-Michael. When I got to GL, Blake was just coming to the realization that she was falling for Ross. Going to bed with him shifted from a revenge thing against Holly, to something real and heartfelt - she was actually falling in love with Ross. This was huge for Blake, who'd never really felt in the past that she deserved the things she wanted. As a fan, myself, I had a profound understanding of what was happening - of why it was so significant that Blake had been caught in bed with Ross. I really got the whole Holly/Blake thing because I'd followed it as a viewer for so long, so I didn't have to think about it. I just eased right into it.
Readers of Red Room's Guiding Light Project are well aware of my feelings about the Holly/Roger saga and the chemistry that was shared between Maureen Garrett and the late Michael Zaslow. I asked Liz if it was daunting to suddenly find herself sharing screen time with two strong, well-established actors who shared not only amazing chemistry, but such a rich on-screen history:
It was pretty scary, my first day on the set. I remember meeting Maureen Garrett and Maeve Kinkaid in make-up on that first day, and just being tongue-tied, because, remember, I was a viewer. I knew who Holly and Vanessa were. But they were just so nice.
From the very start I understood that Blake's relationship with her parents was complicated. Any scene I had with Maureen or Michael - I always made sure that Blake came across in these scenes with her parents with love, even if she was saying that she hated them. Because that's where Blake is coming from. When Blake says she hates her parents, what she's really saying is, "I hate you. I love you. But I hate that I love you!" In a way, because I knew the history of these characters, it was just seamless when the shift was made from Sherry to me. I came into this with a unique perspective, because I was a fan before I ever got the role, and I already cared so much about the show and the characters.
Michael Zaslow was great. His style of acting, from the very beginning, was sort of like, "Ok, come out and play, let's see what you've got." I remember the first scene I ever filmed with Michael. It's the scene where Roger slaps Blake. Michael found this so difficult - he almost couldn't do it. It just went against everything that he was, and Michael knew that Roger loved Blake. Again, that dynamic - even when Blake and Roger are on opposite sides, blackmailing each other or whatever - Roger had real love for Blake, and Michael always made sure to make this clear. Michael was just so strong - I loved him. He was one of the most amazing, talented people to ever grace the Guiding Light set.
Last week I had a little Michael Zaslow moment with Maureen Garrett and the crew. We were filming a scene where Blake and Holly talk about Roger. These days, we have to speed through things - we get one shot at getting a scene, and that's it. When we were done filming this particular scene, I just wasn't satisfied with it. I thought it could be better. I said, "I think we need a second chance at this. Let us redo it. We owe it to Michael to get this down perfectly." My eyes started to well up and, when I looked up at the crew, all of them were welling up, too. It was really something. And we did end up reshooting that scene - because we really did feel that it was a good way to honor Michael's memory, to get the best possible take we could. We have a tremendous amount of heart and talent at Guiding Light. It's a great group of people to work with.
On the relationship between Ross and Blake - Blake's only real brush with true love:
The good stuff between Ross and Blake was wonderful, and I always thought there wasn't enough of it. I know people like to see intrigue and angst, but I really think it would have been worth exploring the good times in their relationship further, because being happy together doesn't have to mean being boring.
Last month Guiding Light broke daytime ground, once again, when Olivia Spencer was shown shopping for a sex toy. What started out as a clandestine, cloak-and-dagger errand turned into an out-and-proud shopping trip when she bumped into Blake who not only made recommendations, but shared some words of wisdom about women taking control of their own sexuality. I asked Liz to tell me a little about these scenes.
When they gave me the script, it had no description or explanation, whatsoever, of what was going on, so it took me a second to figure out what the scene was about. Once I got it, I laughed, and just went with it. I'm the perfect person for them to have given those scenes, to, because I shoot straight form the hip and don't get concerned about what people will think - they knew I'd go for it. And Crystal was so much fun to do those scenes with. It was great. It was a fun thing to do, and no big deal. And why not? I mean, for the longest time my "nudge,nudge, wink, wink" joke on the set was that Ross and Blake had a collection of sex toys. I liked what Blake had to say about how it was a matter of taking her sexuality into her own hands, finding a way to be satisfied without making mistakes or poor choices - both of which are things Blake has done in the past. I can't imagine anyone was offended by this, and it certainly wasn't our intention to offend anyone. It was not a big deal.
On Blake's continued evolution, and why it makes sense for her to have a role in the Otalia saga:
Blake is starting to own her own power, and actually help people - something that no one would have predicted about this character back when I started on Guiding Light. Losing Ross has had a profound effect on her. She's really come into her own. She's looking at life, and at the different types of relationships that life has to offer: crazy, insane love, comfortable love.... The fact that she's been looking at this in terms of her own life makes it natural for her to be open to all sorts of love, and that's why we're seeing her as a sort of bridge between Otalia (the Natalia and Olivia same-sex romance) and more conventional couples in Springfield. She knows about loss, and about how important love is, and she's totally open to the idea that love comes in all shapes, sizes and colors and that, really, it should be a big happy collage.
Blake also knows that there are all different kinds of families. She's a part of the Cooper family, in her own way, and you'll see this develop further. It makes sense that, of everyone in Springfield, Blake would be the most open to unconventional definitions of love and family.
On the Internet and networking with fans:
I joined Facebook as a favor to a relative who wanted to use it to keep in touch. I never imagined I'd get so many requests for Facebook "friendship." I want people to know that I keep that account primarily to communicate with family members, and that I feel awful about not adding others to my list of friends - it's nothing personal, and I hope no one's feelings have been hurt. I joined Twitter so that I'd have a way to communicate with fans, and I'm definitely going to be setting something up on Facebook in the near future - as Tina Sloan and Crystal Chappell have - where I can network with fans, and where fans will be free to post messages. The support of viewers means so much to me, and I love to hear from them, so I want to make sure no one feels slighted, because that hasn't at all been my intention.
On her upcoming projects and her thoughts about Guiding Light's future
I've got a role in a movie called Morning Glory, which stars Diane Keaton, Jeff Goldblum, Harrison Ford and Rachel McCaddams. I play Jeff Goldblum's wife. It's a small role, but it's a lot of fun and it's a great cast. Jeff and I just filmed a scene on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in NYC. Look for this in theaters next year.
What I'm really excited about right now, though, is a bit of musical theater I'll be doing in a Hudson Valley Theater production of The Secret Garden. It's especially exciting to me because my little girl, Isabella Convertino, has the role of Mary Lennox. I'm just so excited to be working with my daughter, and she's just wonderful. This will run in late October through November - I'll make sure to post an update as we get closer to the dates.
At some point, I hope to get out west to work with Crystal Chappell on her Venice project. She asked if I wanted to be involved and I'm definitely interested. (Note: Crystal Chappell, GL's Olivia Spencer, is developing a web-based seried called Venice, which she will also star in.)
As for Guiding Light, I really believe it's going to continue to exist in some way, shape or form. I expect to get a call, even months down the line, saying, "We've been picked up and we want you on board," and I fully intend to be a part of it.
© 2009 Lana M. Nieves
Limited Licensing: I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the Creative Commons Attribution license, granting distribution of my copyrighted work without making changes, with mandatory attribution to Lana M. Nieves and for non-commercial purposes only. - Lana M. Nieves