Elizabeth Hubbard Looks Back at Her Wild Ride on As the World Turns
It's bad enough we have to say goodbye to As the World Turns next month, but the thought of not having Elizabeth Hubbard on TV is just too much to bear! A member of daytime royalty and a two-time Emmy winner, Hubbard plays Oakdale megamogul Lucinda Walsh with a fresh, freewheeling inventiveness that always makes her scenes unpredictable and a little bit dangerous. Hubbard demands that we watch her every move with rapt attention — even after 26 years in the part — and that means she doesn't always obey the producers and stick to the script. TV Guide Magazine spoke with the ballsy, irrepressible Hubbard about all things ATWT — the cancellation, her upcoming reunion with Larry Bryggman (Dr. John Dixon) and what it's like to drive her bosses batty!
TV Guide Magazine: We're not just watching the passage of ATWT here. You are one of the only stars left who truly represents the entire span of TV soaps.
Hubbard: I started on Guiding Light [in 1962] when it was live and just 15 minutes long. I replaced some actress who had flipped her lid. They just needed somebody to round out the week, but then they kept me and the rest is history. I remember a time on The Doctors when we'd do an entire episode with just four characters. So I've gone from the dawn of soaps to the demise and beyond. At least, I hope there's a beyond! I have a problem with all this reality TV. I'm really dismayed when I see Bethenny and all these other people who are what they do. It isn't acting. It isn't skill. It isn't craft. I've spent years practicing and practicing my craft. The author plus the performer, just like the composer and the singer, come together and create something!
TV Guide Magazine: As an actress, you're known for flying by the seat of your pants and taking your scene partners with you. Let's discuss.
Hubbard: I heard through the grapevine that Van Hansis [Luke] does quite an imitation of me. So I said to him, "Hey c'mon, young man! Let me see it!" And he did it for me and it was spot on! It was me always trying to do something with the script and it's true! I'm always at it! [Laughs uproariously] I've heard that one of our producers even warns the new actors who work with me. "Oh, be careful, because Liz likes to work. She likes to rehearse. She likes to try things!" Like there's something wrong with that! But I was very flattered by that warning, because I do care. And I'm not giving up.
TV Guide Magazine: Has this ever created problems on the set?
Hubbard: You mean the way Liz does things? I'm a one-take baby. So that's good. But management hasn't always appreciated my style. [Laughs] I do try to change things and, usually, it's for the better. And I always do it with good will. If they don't like it, they say, "No, Liz. Don't do that!" I always think I'm right, of course, but they have the last say. No drama is as dramatic as life, so I'm always observing people, always storing things away for a time when they might come in handy. Maybe the writers think life is smaller than it is, but I think it's pretty big and terrifying and funny out there. And sometimes less is more. I once did a scene with Charles Keating [as Niles Mason] which I thought was rather splendid. His character had caused Lucinda's daughter and his son to be killed — they blew up in a house or something — and the writers had me raving and ranting and beating him with my fists and going and on and on about it for pages. It didn't seem right, so I asked to cut all my dialogue and be allowed to spit on him. Charles was okay with it. The director was okay with it. So I used some lemon juice to work up a good supply of spit and I did it. That's when you go home feeling it's a good day! You feel you did something that had truth in it!
TV Guide Magazine: Thoughts on the cancellation?
Hubbard: What can one say? I am told ATWT has been replaced by a talk show, something along the lines of The View only all the people will be talking about their babies. Really? Not everybody wants to hear about babies, do they? I think you want to hear about that stuff when you have a problem, but people need something that takes you into a different world, which is what the soaps have always done so beautifully. I've been so lucky playing Lucinda — a character who could do anything. She could lie, break the law, she didn't have to be good and she always had that checkbook ready. Always!
TV Guide Magazine: Now everyone on the soaps has that checkbook. Everyone has the private jet.
Hubbard: Everybody's rich! Once there was a class system in Oakdale and that was fodder for a lot of great drama. Where did that go? I should think now, with our economic troubles, that conflict between the haves and have-nots would be even more interesting and relevant. We used to have a lot of fun with Lucinda's power and money. [Laughs] I remember long ago we had a story where Dr. Hung Lo Chu from China couldn't come to Oakdale because Lucinda had bought up all the tickets or closed the airport or something. I remember the days when Lucinda had all those butlers and assistants and lawyers! I loved working with Billy LeMassena [who played Ambrose Bingham]. Our first day on the set together, he wore a suit once worn by Alfred Lunt, whom he'd worked with. He worked with Noel Coward. He worked with everyone. And who was his lover? [Long pause] Oh, yes, Montgomery Clift! He was quite old when he was on ATWT — I think eighty-something — and I could listen to his fabulous stories forever.
TV Guide Magazine: How have you weathered the periods where we didn't see much of Lucinda? There were times where it seemed you'd fallen out of favor with the writers.
Hubbard: Well, I don't like it, obviously. I don't think Liz is at her best or happiest when Lucinda is going "Yes, dear, no dear." It's much more fun when there's trouble, when there's an issue. I'm grateful they kept me busy toward the end, and it was so nice to have Larry Bryggman come back. That was my idea. I ran into him on the street and asked if he'd consider returning to the show to wrap things up. [Bryggman famously took a hike from ATWT in 2004 when asked — after 35 years — to work off-contract]. I was so pleased when our executive producer, Chris Goutman, agreed to have John and Lucinda reunite because he doesn't always listen to what I say. I remember one scene Larry and I did years ago where the two of us leaned back onto a sofa and it flipped right over! We said, "Can we keep that?" Those were the days when they'd say "Yes!" Now we've been through all sorts of regimes where you're not even allowed to put your feet on the table. You're not allowed to do this. You're not allowed to do that. I always felt Lucinda would do whatever the hell she wanted. At the end [of ATWT], John and Lucinda go off to Amsterdam together, which I think the fans will like. It was nice to end all those years of drama with a little fun.
TV Guide Magazine: What's with you and Amsterdam? You're always visiting there and you recently even had a running role on a Dutch soap opera.
Hubbard: ATWT is well liked over there and I first went over to do Lucinda PR — they have talk shows everybody watches but claims they don't. And out of that came this offer to be on the soap opera there. And then when I learned that the character was a sexologist, well, I was thrilled! It was wonderful! She was an American who'd gotten knocked up as a hippie. Her daughter was one of the heroines of the show. I did my homework, reading as much as I could and visiting real sexologists. I even went to Babeland! I started going to Holland back in the Clinton administration when I was asked to present the Dutch Academy Award for soap-opera acting. ATWT didn't want me to go. But I went. It was just a weekend. I took two dresses. One was sexy but Raquel Welch was also on the show with me so I didn't wear that one. I wore the other one. For my intro, the host of the show — a Victor Borge-type man — started to play "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music. But because this was right in the middle of the Lewinsky scandal, the lyrics didn't go "Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens...." You can get away with anything on Dutch TV so, instead, the host sang, "F---ing and sucking and humping and..." Well, you get the idea. And then I came out on stage! So that was the start of my Dutch career — and I ended up as a sexologist!
TV Guide Magazine: Neither of your Emmys came for ATWT. It just seems so wrong that the show will end without you winning for Lucinda, one of the greatest characters ever — daytime, primetime, anytime.
Hubbard: I feel that, too. It's too bad. But there it is. I think the cancer story might have done it for me, but it wasn't comprehensive enough. Lucinda toyed with the idea of alternative medicine and I would have loved to have gone the distance on that. That story was hard for me. How do you come out of a mastectomy and ask some guy you barely know to marry you? And then get married within the same episode! And on top of that he turns out to be gay! The whole point of that story was so that Brian Wheatley [Laurence Lau] could get close to Lucinda's grandson, Luke, and kiss the boy. As an actress, how do you maintain a course through that? Luckily, Larry Lau was a lovely, charming guy so I could make it work. [Laughs] If he had been a s--t, it would have been very difficult.
TV Guide Magazine: I hope you know how much you'll be missed.
Hubbard: Oh, thank you. I've been very lucky in this thing called daytime, first with Dr. Althea on The Doctors and then with Lucinda — two smart career women, both of them ladies who made their own way in the world, and I'm very proud to have put that out there. Now I don't know quite what's in store for me. I love the idea of being a grandmother. I'm not one yet but I'm all for that! So let's get the next thing going! [Laughs] I've got to have an alter ego to play or else I'll spend my time messing with myself! I've been at ATWT over a quarter of a century — that's a lot of time to spend thinking about somebody else, So I'm just hoping that the flow continues, and that maybe there's another great character in store for me.
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