Interview with Cady McClain: Actress discusses pay cuts and the future of daytime TV

Actress Cady McClain - Photo courtesy of Cady McClain
Actress Cady McClain - Photo courtesy of Cady McClain

Actress Cady McClain is best known for her roles in daytime television; Dixie on All My Children (1988-1996, 1998-2002, 2005-2007, 2008) and Rosanna on As the World Turns (2002-2005, 2007-2008, 2009-).

The escapades of Dixie Cooney on All My Children are well known in and out of soap circles. Hailing from Pigeon Hollow, West Virginia, the character has been committed to a mental institution, suffered tremendously at the hands of evil Billy Clyde Tuggle, nearly fell off of a balcony, was almost killed in a car wreck, married her soul mate three times, was hospitalized for pericardia, and died from eating poisoned pancakes.

McClain appeared on All My Children twice after “death” in ghostly form, but finally left Pine Valley for Oakdale to resume her portrayal of Rosanna Cabot on As the World Turns.

Even though she was not the originator of the role, McClain has made the character her own, returning to As the World Turns just this past May when Rosanna awoke from a coma. Now fans are wondering about Rosanna’s new romance… will she go back to Craig or Paul…or will there be someone new?

McClain was nominated twice for Outstanding Supporting Actress in 2003 and 2004, and she won the award in the latter year. Previously McClain had taken the Outstanding Younger Actress Emmy honors in 1990 for her work on All My Children.

Besides daytime, McClain has worked extensively in film, television, and theater, and in 2008 was featured in two Independent films, Soldier’s Heart and Home Movie.

McClain is also a singer/songwriter and in 2006, she released her first album of music entitled “Blue Glitter Fish.”

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Cady, when did you know you wanted to become an actress and what was your very first gig?

Cady McClain: I was acting in elementary school – I think I played a red bear in some little school play, I loved the attention, and of course, the whole dressing up in costume bit. My first professional acting gig was as a papergirl on Lou Grant, back in the early 1980’s.

I had done some commercials before that, but I’m pretty sure that was my first real acting job. I think I was 11 or so. I think I realized that I wanted to do this for a living some time a bit later, maybe when I was around 16 years old.

A few years of going to theater in Los Angeles and watching the British actors knock the ball out of the park on PBS gave me “the bug.” I knew acting could be more than sitcoms or little TV appearances. I started studying then, even though I had acted already. I never wanted to do it for the fame. I wanted to work for a lifetime and I wanted to be good.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): You’ve talked about problems with your family… are you and your sister, Molly, close?

Cady McClain: Molly is my very best friend. We are beyond close. We are Siamese twins.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): You were 19 when you landed the role of Dixie Cooney on All My Children. At that age you were still a youngster. What words of wisdom would you give to all of the young people just starting out with acting aspirations? Did other actors treat you differently because of your age?

Cady McClain: I felt pretty old at that age, honestly. I had already been through a lot and the soap, in my mind at the time, was a reprieve from the uncertainty of auditioning and a chance to prove to myself that I actually could be as good as I wanted to be.

I think the business is very different now than it was then. I think I would suggest that if you want to be an actor you should double major in theater and business, because you need a thick skin and a head that sees this as a business.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Why do you think that Tad and Dixie are one of daytime’s Top Super Couples of all time?

Cady McClain: Well, possibly because Mike and I really adored each other, as well as challenged each other intensely. Neither one of us would back down and sometimes that made things tough, but we really made each other work harder. We also had that elusive “chemistry” thing.

Mike set his goals as high as I did, but we saw things from two totally different perspectives. Lets put it this way – I wanted to be Dame Judi Dench and Mike wanted to be George Clooney! It was a case of opposites attracting! Past that, well, we were lucky, I guess. We had good writers, good producers, and an audience that invested in the show. Good timing!

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Michael E. Knight (Tad Martin on All My Children) appears to be such a nice guy on screen. What is he really like?

Cady McClain: Mike is possibly the most generous person I have ever met; self-effacing to the point of intense shyness, incredibly talented, obviously, but he doesn’t always know it. Occasionally Mike’s too smart for his own good, but he has fought hard to earn what he has.

I think he has demons that drive him nuts, like we all do, but his mind has a hard time shutting them down. When Mike is happy he makes everyone feel like they are walking on the moon. When he’s sad, we all grieve for the loss of his light.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Do you believe your exit from All My Children in 2007 was due to the fact that you were so outspoken about the shabby treatment of older actresses such as Julia Barr?

Cady McClain: I don’t think my speaking out about Julia had anything to do with my sudden exit. I think it had more to do with my conversation with the head writer about the torture story line that I was deeply opposed to. I don’t often challenge my bosses, but that story really upset me.

I was told, “You politicize everything,” but at that time Abu Ghraib was all over the news. How could a torture story line then NOT be political? I’m pretty upset about the violence in Inglourious Basterds as well. I think it reflects very poorly on us as a culture that we allow this kind of “entertainment” into our homes. It reminds me of the violence of the Roman coliseum, frankly.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): As someone who has exited two soaps, do you think that TPTB (The Powers That Be) fire popular actors sometimes too quickly, even ignoring public outcry (such as what happened when you were let go from All My Children?

Cady McClain: I think firing popular characters is always a bad idea, unless that actor is making a horrible nuisance of himself, and by that I mean not showing up for work and complaining that they aren’t paid enough. That’s bratty and unprofessional behavior and shouldn’t be tolerated, of course!

Caring about a story line if you’ve been in the business for 20 years, well, I think it’s too bad that can be taken the wrong way. There is a line between doing what you are paid for to the very best of your ability and allowing yourself to be used. You gotta know your rights, as Angelina Jolie says, and she’s nobody’s fool is she?

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): I know your character as Dixie on All My Children was different than your character of Rosanna Cabot on As the World Turns, but which gave you more gratification as an actress?

Cady McClain: I was deeply gratified in the first few years of playing Dixie, and I had a lot of fun in the late 90’s as well. There were also times when it was painful, like when my mom was dying in real life and I had to continue to show up for work 5 days a week. A lot of the gratification depends on outside factors – the writing, the actors I am working with, and what is going on in my personal life.

I loved playing Rosanna when I first started. I had something to prove and that is always an exciting time. Then I got tired and needed a break and didn’t know how to give myself one. Gratification is usually due to a team effort, and it’s good not to put too much importance on what your inner critic says because as artists we don’t always have perspective on what is good, versus what feels good.

I feel gratified when I think I have risen to the challenge of a well-written scene. I feel gratified that I am still acting after 30 years in the business and that I still have fun!

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Which Soap was harder for you to leave, All My Children or As the World Turns?

Cady McClain: Both were a deep breath and a leap into the void.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Some fans were upset that the “pre-coma Rosanna” was so much different than the “post-coma Rosanna,” saying that they were used to Rosanna being an independent woman. Did you argue with TPTB for changing her character so much? Can you give us a clue as to the name of Rosanna’s new love interest?

Cady McClain: Well the last go around on ATWT was a bit confusing, but I think that is all being remedied now. Look, sometimes they have to try something different with a character. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

I didn’t argue about the character change, but at one point I was probably clearly so pissed that I didn’t have to say anything. There was a moment that it felt like a character assassination, but then again, maybe I wasn’t rising to the challenge.

Rosanna’s new love interest and the story around it is absolutely delightful. That’s all I can say for now. I can’t wait till it starts airing because I think it’s something pretty special! It is some classic soap material and some classic relationship situations with a great big cherry on top!

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Can you think of particular instances on either Soap when drawing on your experiences of childhood abuse has aided in preparation for a scene?

Cady McClain: This is a tricky question. Those moments belong to me and live in a private place that I need to keep private. It is part of the acting magic. I can’t reveal these things or it’s ability to function without diminishing them. Suffice it to say there are times when material has touched me too deeply, and it was hard to shake it off.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): What are your thoughts about the recent shakeups on the writing team of As the World Turns… Courtney Simon let go in favor of Josh Griffith?

Cady McClain: I hate to admit it, but I really try to stay out of the politics of the writing room. I really don’t know what is going on, but I do have faith that our producer is doing what he thinks is right for the good of the show. I doubt it is about lack of talent on Simon’s part, but more about trying to shake up the mix.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): If As the World Turns moved to Los Angeles, would you move also in order to stay with the soap?

Cady McClain: As you may know, LA is the town I was born and raised in (mostly), but I left when I was 17 and have not returned to live there and there are reasons. Would I move? It’s hard to say. It would really depend on a lot of factors.

It might take me closer to my roots, but then again it’s damn hard to be a 40-year-old woman in LA. Your value in show business (which is the dominating business in LA) is so low it is really quite horrible. I’m not so sure I feel like putting myself through that. Then again, I could do with some great weather and a few more days at the beach!

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Have you heard which actors from All My Children do not wish to move to LA? One rumor is that Walt Willey (Jack) will not be moving; however, Ricky Paull Goldin (Jake) is excited about the move.

Cady McClain: I don’t know about the actors from AMC that are going, only the same rumors everybody else has heard. Walt has several successful businesses other than acting and I am sure he will be more than fine. It’s just hard for the viewers, all the changes in the last few years.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): As Guiding Light is ending in September, have there been any strong (inside) rumors about As the World Turns closing its doors also?

Cady McClain: There are always rumors. I think what is more important is the effort that is being made to keep the show on the air. There is a strong and loyal audience and they need to be seen and heard. These shows serve a vital community function, in that, at their best, they portray current social issues and the emotional sides to those issues.

They also provide a means to escape reality for many of those who are suffering. There are a lot of nighttime shows that have taken their cues from daytime serials. I still think when daytime does what it does, it is a lot more fun.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Many soap actors have taken pay cuts – has that affected you yet? Robin Strasser (One Life to Live) has just re-signed and has taken a pay cut – she has said, “Daytime is hanging on a thread.” What are your thoughts about pay cuts and do you believe that the end of daytime could be near?

Cady McClain: Sure, everyone has taken cuts. EVERYONE. I think daytime dramas will be around as long as we want them to be. I think the audience needs to be very vocal now about their desire to keep a show on the air because networks, as far as I can tell, are listening. I also think the ratings are far better than a lot of people are giving them credit for.

For example, Mad Men pulls a million viewers and is considered a big hit for the network. ATWT pulls at least twice that and it’s considered “hanging on by a thread”? That makes no sense. So ultimately it is a matter of greed, frankly.

A game show is perhaps, at first look, more cost effective than a soap opera, but I think that can and is being challenged. From what I have heard ATWT is the most cost effective soap in the business. Our executive producer, Chris Goutman, is a real innovator in that regard.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Soap critics talk about the endless sex and violence in daytime TV. But, I think soaps have a positive side and can be a voice for social issues – they also can be quite a comfort for people in different situations. Thoughts?

Cady McClain: Well that’s pretty funny. How can a soap compare in sex and violence to Law and Order SVU? The show is about sex offenders for heavens sake! ATWT is very conservative, really!

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): You seem to be so outspoken on a number of issues. Have you ever thought about entering the political arena?

Cady McClain: Well I think these days we have all woken up and realized we are involved in politics whether we like it or not. But, entering the arena as a candidate for something or other has never been a goal of mine. I feel more drawn to help people accept and empower their opinions and their own voice. We are citizens after all, not simply consumers.

Actors are involved with the human emotion in the political as well as the political in the human emotion; so being in touch with emotion is pathway to truth. With the help of a good writer, we are able to play a part in the revealing of this truth.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): How did you first get involved with the horror film, Home Movie?

Cady McClain: I worked with Andrew van den Houton on my first big role in a film, Alma Mater, which is collecting dust on some editor’s shelf somewhere. It was a beautiful film and it is a shame it got caught up in legalities.

Andrew and I shared his first screen kiss and it has been love ever since! Just kidding. No, he’s a great kid and every once in a while I keep up with a special young person or two, just to encourage them in what is no doubt a tough business. He is a born producer.

I didn’t expect Home Movie to be a horror film, although I knew it had the potential to be that. I was hoping it would lean toward “psychological thriller.” Ah, well. People still seem to love it and it is coming to IFC in the fall of this year.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): You are such a busy lady with acting, music, art, and writing. What do you do in your spare time? Can you give us a Spoiler as to who Cady McClain’s current love interest is?

Cady McClain: Spare time… well I do have a fair amount, believe it or not. I like to keep up on the news and various goings on in New York City. I like to walk my dog and keep up with friends, try new restaurants when I can. I’m kind of a NYC junkie. I just can’t get enough of this town!

I have to say for my own sanity that I can’t share any news about my love life! It has turned out to be really bad luck! So just cross your fingers and wish me well!

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Will you be doing anything special on your upcoming “milestone” birthday in October?

Cady McClain: I don’t know yet. I am thinking about just having dinner with a few friends, who will no doubt try to get me drunk. If that’s the case, I want a REALLY good bottle of wine! Getting older means for me that it’s about QUALITY not quantity.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Tell us something about yourself that we never would have guessed!

Cady McClain: I had a fibroid tumor just like my character Rosanna did, only a few years AFTER I played the story line. That was REALLY WEIRD. Life became as strange as fiction.

Interview by Melissa Parker

© 2009 Our Prattville. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the express written consent of the publisher.

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