Brian Kerwin shares his thoughts and feelings about his character, Charlie Banks on ABC’s “One Life to Live.”
Brian Kerwin has come full circle since his first acting gig as Greg Foster on the CBS daytime drama, “The Young and the Restless.” In 2007 he returned to daytime on the ABC daytime drama “One Life to Live,” playing Charlie Banks, a recovering alcoholic searching for his estranged son, who ends up moving to Llanview because of love.
It seemed as though Charlie was getting everything he wanted. A relationship with his son, a new love, but most importantly, a family. However, with the murder of his son Jared at the hands of cult leader Mitch Laurence, Charlie’s life has been turned upside. He became consumed with seeking revenge against his son’s murderer and planned on killing him. In an act of twisted fate, Charlie accidentally shot his step-daughter Jessica! Has Charlie’s quest for revenge destroyed the happiness he tried so hard to get back?
Kerwin received his first daytime Emmy nomination, within his first six months on the show. Having worked with everyone from Sally Field to Gregory Peck to Sissy Spacek, Kerwin has a resume that most actors would dream of having. Also an established actor on Broadway, Kerwin won the Theatre World Award in 1988 for the off-Broadway play Emily. His Broadway theatre credits include the 1997 revival of The Little Foxes and the Elaine May comedy After the Night and the Music in 2005. That same year he starred in Edward Albee’s The Goat or Who is Sylvia? at the Mark Taper Forum. He also played opposite Kathy Baker in the South Coast Repertory production of The Man from Nebraska in 2006. His most recent stage appearance was in the Tony Award/Pulitzer Prize production of August: Osage County.
In part one of our two part interview, we discussed his role on OLTL and his thoughts on his character.
Soap Opera Source: When joining OLTL you were still involved with August: Osage County. Did you find it difficult to pull double duty? Did you think at the time you might have taken on more than you were capable of handling?
BRIAN KERWIN: I guess it was a little exhausting sometimes but not difficult. I’d do it again in a second. Actually I got One Life to Live when [executive producer] Frank Valentini called me up to say “Yes, we decided to cast you for Charlie and we’ve made a deal with your agent.” It was five days later that the Steppenwolf company called and said “we’d also like you to do our play in New York. They came within 5 days of each other, and started within 3 weeks of each other. So the first year and a half I was doing double duty. Quite frankly I took a lot of naps [laughs] but I never looked back. And one thing that was very nice about it was that Erika Slezak, having been on the show for so long, was the first person on the schedule on the day and the first person out. And so often anything she did would be shot starting at 9 and be done by noon or 1:30. And so I…my wagon was virtually hitched to hers because the whole story was Charlie and Viki. So my work was very quick and concise in the morning. Usually the biggest problem was I was taking a bow on Broadway at about 11:00 at night, and I’d have to run home, eat some food quick, drink a glass of wine, force myself to go to sleep and wake up at 6 in the morning to work with Erika. It kept me jumping for a while.
TVS: What has the experience been like for you working with two daytime legends, Erika Slezak and Robin Strasser?
BRIAN: I had no experience in working with that caliber of talent in the daytime medium. The only thing I had done in daytime prior to this was in 1976, maybe 77. I think the first job I ever got paid for in front of the camera was The Young and the Restless. I did a few of those and I didn’t like it. They didn’t like me. We parted company not quite amicably. They basically fired my ass is what they did. And I never thought I would enjoy that particular medium again. So I don’t think I was prepared. I didn’t really know what a strong actor on a daytime soap did. I know what a strong actor is in other forums, but this particular medium has a lot of demands. And I was sort of blown away particularly by Erika, Bob Woods who plays Bo, also Robin.
The amount of material that they’re able to deal with so quickly but with such facility and such ability to bring something to it and quite frankly I leaned on Erika a lot. I often just…while we were doing the rehearsal or blocking, I would often ask her “Do you think I should go this way with it or go that way. Should I make more of this point or less?” Not only was she always there to help me out, but I always deferred to her better judgment. The lady knows what she’s doing up there and I was always glad. I credit her. Right off the bat, my first year, they gave me my first daytime Emmy nomination. The only reason I wanted to win that was so I could stand in front of the world and thank Erika Slezak. ‘Cause she’s really the person…when I didn’t know what I was doing, she was always the one to help me. She’s the most gracious and generous professional performer I’ve worked with.
TVS: We were disappointed to see Erika wasn’t nominated along with you that year.
BRIAN: I believe…the awards business is such a ridiculous game anyway. How they could have possibly nominated me after 5 months. There are all these other criteria bouncing around in any of the awards. But I believe, I think Erika has won 5 of them. They certainly have along the way; the television academy has honored her contribution. I think it’s like all those years West Wing kept winning, and after a while, it’s like knock it off. Let’s do something else.
TVS: The character of Charlie has suffered tragedy over the past 6 months, (shooting Jessica, loss of his son, drinking ..etc.) Why do you feel Charlie reverts back to the alcohol when he has people in his life who love and support him?
BRIAN: I think you have to look to the real prototype. Which are either alcoholics or people with addictive personalities — There’s nothing new about a person falling off the wagon. Addiction is quite a horrible thing to deal with and I think they go hand in hand (alcohol in particular) with desperation. I think the writers put together a situation that no matter how helpful and supporting Viki wanted to be to Charlie, he was still left with not only a hole in his heart, not only from the loss of his son, but it was sort of still a bleeding wound with the fact that Mitch was just walking around free without any remorse or retribution being made. And I think that sort of thing just drives a person crazy. I think like any person with an addiction or alcohol problems, you don’t have any way to process your emotions, what you’re feeling, other than what you’ve learned works so well over the years. It’s like a person who’s in physical pain and there’s a jar of pain killers right there. You can suffer through the pain or mask it with the painkillers.
As with all things in life, with love and hate and in so many elements of human behavior, “reason” and “rationale” are always trumped or always beaten by emotion and feeling. Whatever a person is feeling…that’s why a person jumps in front of a train to save a child. It’s not about what’s the smart thing to do; it’s basically that they can’t help themselves. I think it’s the same thing adversely that works with an alcoholic. It’s a matter of emotion and feelings and they win out what is the right thing to do, they beat out what would be the smart thing to do. They…emotions and feelings have the tendency to carry the day.
Luckily with Charlie…he knows well enough he has a problem that he has to overcome. So with this second round that’s going on now he kind of pulls himself out of it, but only with the knowledge that in doing so, he may have a second chance with Viki. There’s never going to be the day that he and Viki sit around the house drinking together [laughs].
TVS: Do you think Charlie & Viki will be able to overcome all of the secrets and lies and return to a place of happiness? While Charlie has been occupied with revenge, Viki and Clint seem to be growing closer. Is there a possibility of a storyline building between them?
BRIAN: Believe me…I see the same thing. Right now, again, because Charlie has such a trust in Viki, I like to think that she, Viki, the character is an extremely intelligent woman. I’d like to think she’s not going to fall into a sort of “on the rebound” thing or fall into Clint’s arms because she’s lost Charlie, but this is the backbone of soap opera writing. Which I think…our head writer, Ron, is the best at. You can’t — unless you have some conflict going and this is any drama, not just soap operas, unless you have conflict there’s no story. Living happily ever after is not going to amuse any viewers. I think you have to keep stirring it up. If god forbid, Ron and Frank feel that might be the way to go to give the richest and juiciest story for Viki and Charlie, then I think they’ll go that way. But also I don’t doubt, I think it’s pretty well established that Viki and Charlie have a very special bond that is never going to go away. That was sort of established from the start — this wasn’t just some guy she likes and he thinks she’s pretty. It’s deep abiding and special.
TVS: But then Charlie teams up with Dorian Lord of all people! What on earth would convince Charlie to align himself with Dorian, especially given the history Viki has with her?
BRIAN: The way I felt about it, it wasn’t a thing of Dorian over Viki. I felt Charlie could not live with the situation as it was prior to going after Mitch. He was going to either drink himself to death or kill himself because there was no way he could live with the pain of Mitch walking around a free man after taking away his son. That was just the emotional feelings. Charlie was never going to survive either sober or drunk. So when Dorian came along, Charlie basically knew he was going to lose Viki. She was going to be a dead issue. There was no way he was going to be drunken Charlie or suicidal Charlie and be with Viki. I think he just felt this had ended it. And when Dorian came in with a slight ray of hope, and granted she was being manipulative and exploitive, she was saying “Charlie we can kill two birds with one stone. We can take away your pain and your remorse and we can guard Viki and her family, and me, from having to suffer Mitch’s evil again, just do one thing…just take him out. Just kill the son of a bitch. Charlie you’re the man to do it. You’re motivated and you need it for your personal salvation.”
So I figured Charlie going with Dorian was the only answer to the problem, short of killing himself. And I think Charlie held a little slight hope that maybe if he did wipe out Mitch for eternity, maybe there was a way Viki would see the way clearer to understand what he did. I think he was deluding himself, and Dorian was taking advantage of him. But there’s always somewhere in Charlie the hope that Viki will love him and they’ll be together.
TVS: It seems as if Charlie’s relationships beyond Viki and Jared have been dropped. Will his ties to characters like Rex, Gigi, Roxy and others be restored anytime soon or will new relationships be formed? What did you think of Charlie pretending to be Rex’s father?
BRIAN: I think all of that was a misunderstanding, but it was actually a lie sort of based on all the wrong reasons. There were a bunch of people, and I don’t mean to make out Charlie like he’s a victim all of the time, but it was interesting that it was Roxy and others that came to Charlie and said “Let’s perpetuate this ruse.”
All Charlie ever hoped it would do was to reinforce the bond with Jared and Viki, and this happened most recently with Dorian. I had wanted in the beginning when I first started – I proposed to the head writer “Why don’t we make Charlie a person who never ever under any circumstances lies, never ever is dishonest.”
Ron said “I’ll consider that but I don’t know if it’s possible in terms of these stories.” And he followed through by writing these situations where Charlie feels forced to be dishonest.
The way I’ve always interpreted them in playing Charlie is that he, although he may be making a bad decision, feels he has no choice other than to be dishonest. I think that whole storyline with Rex mistakenly being his son has been satisfactorily resolved. I don’t think Jared was too wrapped up in many of the other relationships other than Natalie (Melissa Archer). And she’s simply heartbroken over his loss. But luckily she has the love of a lot of family and friends to support her. And I think she has the one added advantage over Charlie – we keep forgetting Charlie is under the impression that he was the reason that Jared got shot and killed. Natalie lost her husband, but it’s one thing to lose a loved one, but to lose one because of your own negligence and your own fault is hard to get over. I think Natalie will, with time, be able to move on from the loss of Jared. And I supposed Charlie will to, but I supposed there are some things that will be with you forever and leave a hole in your heart.
TVS: John Brotherton always expressed such glowing admiration for your work, and conveyed that his work with you was very special to him. Certainly Jared’s death has given you tremendous material to work with on the show, but how will his loss continue to impact Charlie’s stories moving forward?
BRIAN: First of all I should point out that the feeling is mutual. Right off the bat I connected with John. I liked who he was, I liked the way he worked and I liked what he did. I always enjoyed doing scenes with him, because you could really rehearse stuff in the dressing rooms and really get something percolating that I think usually would play well on tape. Sometimes even with all the best of intentions when you finally get up there and you start screwing up your lines or the camera angle doesn’t work. You don’t really pull it off, but I think we got pretty good results out of John and I working together.
How his loss will keep affecting the show, I’m not sure. What these writers do and how they handle it is a mystery to me. It’s an art form that I’m just in awe over. How they can handle all these storylines and how they can keep them interacting and interesting. But I know that the legacy of Brotherton will live on with me and Melissa and I think Erika, anyone who worked with him because he was just a great actor to share the stage with. He was also just a great human being to hang out with, and he’s been great through this.
I think it was a sacrifice that was made for the good of the show. It really caused a great deal of storyline that was quite compelling, but it’s a shame. My point and I think everyone agreed, is that John, short of being an adorable female, young blonde girl with a great figure, is the most marketable commodity in Hollywood. He’s a handsome young man, who is a good actor, has a sense of humor, has the chops, has the technique, can do the work – I haven’t talked to John in a month or so, but I know he’s out in Los Angeles just auditioning up a storm.
His agent, when he heard John was free, was going, “Great, get out here.” I think who he is and the talent he is – has even a better chance out there than here. He’s exactly what everyone wants.
TVS: John took the firing in a positive way. It was like he enjoyed it while it lasted, and now he can move on to bigger and better things.
BRIAN: This was exactly the way I felt when I left the Young and the Restless. They signed me up for 3 years and I believe after 6 months they cut me loose. But now I can do the kind of stuff I want to do. The two best thing that ever happened to me were getting hired by the Young and the Restless and getting fired by the Young and the Restless.
TVS: What made you decide to return to daytime?
BRIAN: 90 to 95% was Tuc Watkins. Tuc had been on OLTL for years and had left the show to do Beggars and Choosers with me for Showtime. He came back and rented an apartment near me in NYC and we’d get together and do things together and I was always envious of him, here’s Tuc working and I was struggling for peanuts. Working on a soap opera lets me do the theater work at night and it’s a steady job, and it’s working with some great people.
TVS: Do you have a say about the direction of your character or story?
BRIAN: I prefer to let it up to the writers. I am in awe of what these writers do, they have such an amazing grip on the storylines and what keeps the story going. I am humbled by that.
But no, I generally don’t go and suggest story. I don’t really know if the real veterans do that either. I think everybody tends to trust the writers; it’s my job to make the most out of what is on the paper. It’s not my job to tell them what’s to be on those pages. Anybody on the show is a small part of the big picture. It’s a big mural they put together every day and there is just this one little section that is Charlie and his problems. I don’t think writing my storyline is part of my job. On the other hand if I had a story idea, I’d go to Frank and pitch it, then let him do with it what he wants.
TVS: During the culmination of the February sweeps storyline, you and Robin Strasser had many scenes together. Was there any adlibbing between the two of you?
BRIAN: That was one thing that Frank and Erika made clear to me early on. If there is a way you find of phrasing different then the writers, feel free to do that. Given that liberty, sometimes you push the envelope, but I try not to. I refer to the pros and Robin is a pro and Robin often has very strong ideas. Often she will plant the seed to improvise or adlib but will always present it to the directors and Frank in rehearsals. Generally, if you have a good idea, and Robin’s ideas were mostly along the lines of Dorian and Charlie being at each other’s throat yet trying to work together, like an old married couple, to eventually kill Mitch. I love working with Robin, she’s high energy and she’s a pro. She can turn on a dime and do anything. You throw her a fast ball; she can knock it out of the park. If you throw her a curve, she’s there to catch it and throw it right back at you.
PART II COMING SOON….
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