Long time viewers of Guiding Light know Tina Sloan as the actress who has played the role of Lillian Raines for 26 years. While many of the old school GL characters have long gone by the wayside, Lillian has remained and, even when she hasn't been involved in front burner story lines, she's been an integral part of Springfield. To many, Lillian Raines, R.N. is the conscience of Springfield. She says and does the things we would do, if we could. Lillian is like an old friend, and this is no accident - Tina has imparted the character with warmth, humanity, a sense of humor, and a strong backbone. She started out as a victim, but has emerged, over and over again, as a survivor.
If you've never watched Guiding Light, and haven't lived under a rock for the last 35 years or so, you've no doubt seen Tina in numerous films or television commercials.
Tina graciously agreed to talk to me about her experiences on Guiding Light, her feelings about current story lines, aging with grace in a world where youth is worshipped, and two very exciting projects: a book she's written and a one-woman show she's created and stars in, both called Changing Shoes. On a personal note, I can't let it go without saying that speaking with Tina has been a treat - I've followed her career since her days on Somerset, and have always found her to be among the strongest actors on daytime. What started out as an interview quickly turned into more of a spontaneous conversation and, as this isn't and shouldn't be about me (readers of this blog get more than enough exposure to what I have to say), I've edited myself out and present here the truly interesting part: Tina Sloan in her own words.
On how she landed the role on Guiding Light:
I'd worked on another soap - Somerset - where I played the role of Kate Cannell. That was such fun to play, because Kate was so very bad! Anyhow, Gail Kobe, who'd worked on Somerset, was producing Guiding Light. She called me and said she had a role for me. No audition or anything. I remember Gail telling me that she needed "A strong actress to play the role of a weak woman." It was supposed to be a six month stint, and here I am, 26 years later.
On soap opera as a genre, and the impact soaps have on real life:
It's by all means a legitimate genre - people have written PhD dissertations on it! I'll tell you what I told the people from 60 Minutes when they interviewed me for their feature on Guiding Light - I really feel that we're the emotional conscience of America....a time capsule of what's going on in the world.
We have a real impact on people. During my early days on Guiding Light, Lillian was, just as Gail Kobe had described, a weak woman who stood by her man even though he was abusive. She only changed when she realized that Bradley had raped her daughter, Beth. That's when she became strong and took action. It was an empowering story line for so many viewers. During that period, I had young girls come up to me on the street and hug me, because the interaction between Lillian and Beth had given them the courage to speak up and tell their own mothers about what was happening to them. It was amazing.
Lillian's breast cancer story line - do you know how that came about? One of our producers, Kathy Chambers, died at a very young age of breast cancer. Lillian's breast cancer story was written as a tribute to Kathy, and it's something I'm so proud of. Lillian had a mamogram on camera - something that hadn't been done before. After this aired, I received hundreds of phone calls and letters from women who'd decided to get breast exams and mamograms they'd been putting off. We heard from the Cancer Society that women showed up that year in record numbers to schedule mamograms.
On soap operas and social responsibility:
I have to say, Procter and Gamble (who own GL) really do care about these things - they care about people and about getting it right, when they tackle a subject such as rape or domestic violence. When we did the Bradley Raines story line, Judi (Evans, who first played Beth Raines) and I visited women at crisis centers, to get a feel for the topic and get an idea of how rape and family violence affected real women and their children. It was quite something. Meeting survivors and also getting feedback from the public as the story progressed really helped shape how it all turned out, in the end. In fact, the original story line called for Lillian to kill Bradley, but I asked the writers to reconsider. I felt that, if young girls and women really were taking their cues from Lillian and Beth's actions, there might be some girl, somewhere, who would be reluctant to speak up if she thought her father would end up dead. The decision was then made to send Bradley to prison, instead. I'm so glad it played out the way it did - it was the right decision.
On Lillian's role in Springfield:
Lillian is a care-giver. When I first started on Guiding Light, it was pretty clear that she took care of others - her husband, her patients - but she didn't take care of herself. And, really, she wasn't taking good care of Beth, either - not at first. As is so often true in the real world, Lillian was able to rationalize her husband's behavior, even when it landed her daughter in the E.R. with a broken arm. They (the Raines family) were a family who didn't really go anywhere, or interact with others. Bradley kept it this way, and kept Lillian from thinking for herself for a long time. When Lillian came to terms with the fact that Bradley was abusive to Beth, and that he'd actually raped her - that's when things really changed. Lillian stopped being a victim and became a survivor.
On tackling difficult story lines:
Jim Rebhorn used to feel just awful about some of the things he had to say and do as Bradley Raines. Jim was a devoted father, and the very idea of a father abusing his child was just so upsetting to him. I felt the same way, years later, when it came time for Lillian to write that fateful letter to Ed Bauer - the letter that would set off a series of events leading to Maureen's death. On the day we shot this, I just sat there, trying to write the letter, and found myself sobbing. I almost couldn't do it! It was very painful, because I knew what the outcome would be. In the end, Ellen Parker (who played Maureen) came over to me and said, "Tina, just do it," and, of course, I did, but it wasn't easy.
On being told that her very vocal support of the Otalia story line has meant so much to fans:
First off, the support of fans means so much to all of us - I mean that. To be on daytime television all these years has been astounding, and we all know that we wouldn't be here without the support and loyalty of the fans. I've been sent links to the LilliBuzz fan videos at Youtube, and I'm just so touched by the time and attention fans have put into them.
As for Otalia, it's just a wonderful love story - so beautifully written. I really appreciate the slow progression that the characters have taken. These two women (Natalia and Olivia) love each other so much and, because it's a daily soap opera, the viewers have had a chance to watch this beautiful love develop. I don't know if you want to call it a same-sex story line or a gay story line (I love the word "gay" because it reminds us that love is all about being happy and joyful) or whatever, but the fact is that soaps have always reflected what happens in the real world, and this is what happens in the real world - in my world, anyhow. Maybe it's because I live in New York, but I just think of same-sex or gay couples as commonplace. It's a normal part of everyday life, as far as I'm concerned, so love stories like this one should and will be on soap operas. I think it's safe to say that there's no one on the cast who doesn't feel the same way about this story - that it's a great love story and one that definitely has a place on Guiding Light. I know that Crystal (Chappell) and Jessica (Leccia) love the story, and I think they're doing a phenomenal job with it - right down to Jessica filming almost until the end of her pregnancy. She's so wonderful - she never once complained about being uncomfortable - not once. And she's already back filming, again - a real trooper. In large part because she and Crystal really want to do right by the Otalia story line, and by the fans who have been so supportive.
On how Lillian Raines would react to Olivia and Natalia as a couple:
Lillian would be the first person to support them. She'd say to Olivia and Natalia, "Go for it!" I really believe this. She's a nurturer and a champion of true love. You know, I really, really wanted Lillian to play the role of supportive friend to Natalia (which turns out to be Blake's role), but the writers had other ideas for Lillian - the current story line with Philip, which I love being a part of. I love getting to do scenes with Grant (Aleksander) and I love it that Lillian is the one person who knows the truth about his diagnosis but, before I knew about this dramatic development, I was really hoping Lillian would be the person Natalia would turn to for support and advice.
On aging gracefully, being on the backburner, and CHANGING SHOES:
It's awful to be on the backburner, which I had been for a long while. Luckily, I had work in some pretty big movies (Tina can be seen in the The Brave One with Jodie Foster, Changing Lanes with Ben Affleck, and Woody Allen's Curse of the Jade Scorpion, among others) and, most importantly, I got a book and a one-woman show out of it. What happened was I found myself feeling so diminished when younger actresses would ask me, "Did you ever play love scenes, Tina?" and I really started looking at myself and the changes that take place as we age. One day, when I was about 48 or 50, I was walking down the street with Beth Chamberlain, and it suddenly occurred to me that no one was looking at me - not the way they they always had in the past. That was the day I made a concious decision that I would not be one of those women who resents youth, while trying to hold on to it by doing things like dressing like a 20 year old.
I feel strongly that it's important to be graceful and gracious as we get older - this is how I play Lillian: she's an attractive woman who dresses appropriately and doesn't try to look 20 years old. She's not Beth's age or Lizzie's age, nor should she be. She hasn't had plastic surgery and she never will. I'm not making a value judgement on women who make other choices about surgery, by the way, because different women view this differently: I'm speaking for myself and for the character I play on Guiding Light.
These were all things I had to come to terms with and I found myself wanting to share the experience with other women...to tell them that there's nothing wrong with getting older, and that women stay interesting and attractive not by trying to be forever 20, but by staying engaged and involved. I started writing about this. My writing turned into a book, Changing Shoes, which will be out in 2010, and a one-woman show, which I'll be performing in Atlanta September 25th through October 8th. The show is great fun. It's not just for fans of Lillian Raines or Guiding Light, but for anyone who's facing the challenges that come with growing older....not just changes in our bodies or how we look but, for instance, the reality of caring for an aging parent. I really care about these issues. I've faced them, myself, and I want to impart what I've learned. There should be dialogue about this.
After October I may be performing in other East Coast cities, such as Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Nothing is set in stone, yet because no one is sure what will happen with Guiding Light. I'm still very hopeful that the show will get picked up, probably by a cable network. (Note: Bookmark Tina's official website - link below - for updates on her book and Changing Shoes touring schedule)
On some of the people she's most enjoyed working with:
There are so many. The entire cast is just so great, and we all have sincere affection for one another. Some of us have worked together for so very long. There's history there, and it's a great group of people. There are, of course, the actors I work with most often: Beth Chamberlain - we're great friends and I'm her son's godmother. Grant Aleksander. Ron Raines. I love that whole group. I shared a dressing room with Melina Kanakaredes when she played Eleni, and she was wonderful. Justin Deas is a joy. We have so much fun and are so spontaneous together - we'll throw in our own little bits of dialogue now and then, to keep things interesting. I love Crystal Chappell and Jessica Leccia - just two beautiful people. I really enjoyed Jerry ver Dorn. Jim Rebhorn , who played Bradley Raines. He was the polar opposite of his character - just a lovely man. Lisby Larsen - she played Lillian's sister who had that syphillis storyline that was reminiscent of Out of Africa - she was wonderful. But, really, the entire cast is great.
James Lipton's popular Inside the Actor's Studio series will almost certainly never feature a soap actor as a guest, even though the soap world has so many very fine actors - many of whom are, in this writer's opinion, much more deserving of a guest spot than some of the celebrities who have been interviewed by Lipton. Tina Sloan is among them, so I decided to play James Lipton, and present Tina with the Inside the Actor's Studio exit interview. She came up with some great answers.
What is your favorite word?
What is your least favorite word?
What turns you on?
Everything! Seriously - I love life, and I wake up turned on and engaged.
What turns you off?
Pettiness and cruelty.
What sound do you love?
Wind, and the sound of the ocean. I also appreciate silence.
What sound do you hate?
Loud ticking...any sort of loud, continuous ticking. Oh - and the sound of a dentist's drill!
What is your favorite cuss word?
Probably "fuck." I say that one a lot. I say it on set all the time: "Oh, fuck!" and some of the other actors, like Michael O'Leary find it amusing, because Lillian would never, ever say "fuck."
What profession, other than your own, would you like to attempt?
Writing, which I am attempting.
What profession would you not like to do?
I had an office job, once, and found it difficult to do the same thing over and over, again. An assembly line wouldn't be very nice. Or, no - actually I really, really wouldn't want to work in a smoky gambling casino.
If heaven exists, what would you want to hear God say as you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
I'd like him to turn it all over to me! He'd say, "Tina, it's all yours, now!"
© 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