Robin Strasser Says Goodbye to One Life to Live
There's been nothing in soap history like the harmonic convergence known as One Life to Live's Dorian Lord — the perfect creation played by the perfect actress at just the perfect time — and we're pretty damn sure we will never seen anything like this again! So let's enjoy Ms. Robin Strasser while we can. The Emmy Award-winning actress will last be seen on OLTL August 25, though it's not exactly by choice. Last May, Strasser told ABC she'd need to exit the series to deal with a severely bad back that's plagued her for years. She had hoped to stay working through most of August — meaning she'd air well into the fall — but she claims the network abruptly cut her loose as part of a major summer cast purge. TV Guide Magazine spoke with Strasser about her imminent departure, what really went down between her and ABC (the network denies her version of things, but more on that later), and her plans for the future. Will the unsinkable Strasser make the move with OLTL to the internet?
TV Guide Magazine: First off and most important, how's your health?
Strasser: It ebbs with the stress and what I ask my back to do, but I'm doing fine. My big concern was that I was risking a 10 on the back-pain scale, which basically means I slide onto the floor and can't get up, and anyone who has severe back issues knows what I'm talking about. Sometimes I'm in that condition for as long as three days and you can't do that on a soap schedule. But most times I'm walking around in the 3 to 4 to 5 range, which is really achy and creaky but manageable. It had gotten to the point where I would watch my scenes and see in my eyes that the constant pain had exhausted me. I like watching Strasser with some oomph! I didn't feel I was giving the fans everything I am capable of. I don't want to sound like an incapacitated victim here. By the grace of God, when I'm ready to perform, whenever I'm needed, I get an adrenaline hit that defies jet fuel. I'm so graced by that, and so grateful for it. I feel I have so much left in me. It just doesn't feel like it's over. [Laughs] Whatever "it" is.
TV Guide Magazine: Let's straighten out this scenario once and for all, because there is much confusion out there in Twitter Land. You asked to exit OLTL because you believed that you needed back surgery, then that changed. Correct?
Strasser: That was the plan. I had imagined they'd bring an ambulance to the studio at the end of my last day, put me on a gurney and say, "Off you go!" But ultimately both of my doctors — I had consulted Erika Slezak's back doctor in New York and Tuc Watkins' doctor in L.A. — recommended that we slow down and not rush into surgery and instead try an intense program of physical therapy and exercise and various repetitive modalities. Suddenly I was, like, "Uhh...what just happened?" It took me about 48 hours to realize I should be doing the Whoop-Dee-Doo dance. So I'm letting them pull me, stick me, rock me in a cradle, whatever. I don't care. I'll do past life regression! [Laughs] And now I have the luxury of time to deal with it!
TV Guide Magazine: As it turned out, ABC gave you a much earlier exit than you had requested. Let's talk about that. [Note: After my earlier report on Strasser in TV Guide Magazine, an ABC spokesperson contacted me with this statement: "The network did not 'cut her loose.' We planned her exit according to her wishes and timeline she provided." As you will see, the actress disputes that.]
Strasser: I went prepared to a meeting with [OLTL exec producer] Frank Valentini and took notes. I gave him August 19 as the likely last tape date for me before departing for what I expected to be at least eight weeks for surgery and recuperation. I don't go to the well without being respectful of Frank's time so we were talking in shorthand and lo and behold he told me I'd be out by July 1. I said, "That soon? You don't even want to say August 1?" "No," he said. "July 1." This was prior to the announcement that there were a number of other actors also being written out on July 1. He put me into the exiting herd, and that is the situation to the best of my recollection and according to the notes I made at the time. I went in to talk about working through the end of August.
TV Guide Magazine: And you were willing to come back after your health leave? You made that clear?
Strasser: Yes, with Frank! I did discuss coming back. I even joked that Tuc could roll me back to the show in a wheelchair and the fans would love him even more! I hope that my story doesn't sound like, "Wait a minute! I didn't want to leave! They forced me out early!" I think I just got caught up in a juggernaut. They had to have less cast and operate on a smaller budget and then move on to a big finish, and they would not have said, "Okay, goodbye," if they truly needed me. [Laughs] I admit that the term "high maintenance" might apply to me here, but only in the same way it would apply to a Rolls Royce or fine wines or anything else that retains its value and is worth some extra attention.
TV Guide Magazine: So, to clarify, if OLTL called you to come back today, or to shoot some sort of farewell appearance to air when the show goes off in January, you're up for it?
Strasser: Since I am not going to be having an immediate surgery, if the show needed me and I can walk, I'd run to Llanview! If they want, they can consider me part of the recurring group. It's a badge of honor as far as I'm concerned — that would put me in the company of the fabulous Ilene Kristen [Roxie] and Patricia Elliott [Renee]. I would have been fine about becoming Great Aunt Dorian with the hair and the clothes just getting flashier and crazier as the years go on. I really would! I just love that whole Cramer family of female energy and being a part of it. Just thinking about it, I get all crushy for it! I call myself "the team-playing diva" — an anomaly in some circles but not in my universe. There was a point, about a year and a half ago, where I even volunteered to go off contract and become recurring.
TV Guide Magazine: Why? What was in that for you?
Strasser: Freedom. Freedom to maybe do some theater. I would be fine being called into work two or three times a month. But I was told they wanted me in the stable. They didn't want me going anywhere. But I saw that Dorian was dwindling and dawdling — words that should not ever be applied to Dorian. No way! Dorian is hot! Sure there are times when story slows, but my feeling was that we were trying to push that thing way uphill and that's exhausting. I know that people — whether they be fans or the network — are very hungry to find the blame point here. "She was unpleaseable." "She didn't think she was being used well." The point I'm trying to make is this: If they only needed Dorian once a week, why not make me recurring? I would have been okay with that. Who wants to be one of those women who is hot for a guy who ain't into her? Who wants to be running to the phone going, "Is it him? Is it him?" The depth and breadth of my devotion to daytime speaks for itself, damn it! There are no small parts. Dorian is no longer a leading player on this show and I am proud to be a supporting actress. I even submitted myself in the supporting category for the Emmy this last time, but then I looked for material and I had nothing.
TV Guide Magazine: If it's any consolation, that's an across-the-boards problem at ABC. I view the Daytime Emmy reels each year and it's obvious why CBS wins so many acting awards. There is real meat to their submissions. The ABC nominees tend to have reels that are choppy and disjointed, reels that build no momentum because few scenes are allowed to run longer than a minute.
Strasser: That's the A.D.D. philosophy that rules the ABC shows. Dare I say that the people making those decisions are bored with daytime storytelling? And that they were bored back when they were given the job? [ABC Daytime chief] Brian Frons sits in meetings and says the viewers have no attention span and proceeds to structure the shows to suit that. Let me assure you, the daytime audience is diverse and discriminating and intelligent, and anybody who says different should not be working in daytime drama! But that would be my unasked-for big-ass opinion. And, by the way, many of us tried to draw ABC's attention to the CBS Emmy reels and said, "Look at how they do it!"
TV Guide Magazine: How was it to finally let go of this legendary role? Does it feel real?
Strasser: This drama queen has been through all the Kubler-Ross stages of grief — denial, anger, you name it — but now I'm doing well. I have created quite a serious bucket list. [Laughs] And you can feel free to change the first consonant on that! I always wanted to make a list like that and what's stopping me now? Nothing. Nothing at all. I'm not in a relationship so I have no one else to consider. And that's not me having a pity party. [Laughs] The good thing about not being in a relationship is that I'm not in a bad one!
TV Guide Magazine: Tell us about your last day on the set.
Strasser: I lit a few candles and prayed that the day would go the way I would want to remember it and that I would leave the way I'd want to be remembered by others. I really prayed on that. I went in an hour early, put up signs inviting everyone to lunch in the large greenroom that's used for The View. I brought in a lot of rotisserie chicken, sweet potato fries, six-foot heroes and these super-size brownie cookies that make your knees buckle because they're so dizzyingly delicious. The best possible present on my last day was working with Tuc Watkins, who was so dear to me. We have such a great comfort together, such great rhythm, like two musicians who love to play together. And they were very, very good scenes, and I couldn't help thinking that if this was Robin Strasser's last day playing Dorian, then I'm feeling pretty good about it.
TV Guide Magazine: How was everybody else's mood that day?
Strasser: I'd be totally a liar if I said I noticed how anybody else was reacting. [Laughs] My normally co-dependent antenna was firmly down and not operating that day. Anybody who started to get weepy I just cut it off. I so could not go there. At the lunch I fell into some arms. It would have been selfish not to get in some good hugging time. But people picked up that it was important for me to keep things light.
TV Guide Magazine: How does Mayor Dorian leave Llanview?
Strasser: She's going to become a United States senator. They have her being appointed by the governor and going to Washington to replace the current senator who is caught in a scandal. They wanted to do the old thing about the men's room and the tapping foot and I said, "I will not!" It was in the middle of the Weiner thing, so I said, "Make it a sexting scandal." I just wasn't going to do the bathroom thing. [Laughs] I think they were, like, "She's on her way out. We're not going to argue with her." So it was changed. They also say Dorian will be running for the dethroned senator's seat in November... apparently without a primary. Hey, I just say the words! Mine was not to question why, mine was to do it and die! [Laughs] It's okay. It's nice to know that, at least forensically, Dorian is still alive. Did I ever tell you about the time [former OLTL executive producer] Paul Rauch thought Elaine Princi was practically my lookalike twin and told me to my face — to my face! — "They are going to forget all about you, Robin! I have found a woman to replace you!"
TV Guide Magazine: That's our Paul! So your swansong ends with David and Dorian still having a future together?
Strasser: David has his agenda and Dorian has her agenda and they actually meet with a beguiling compromise. Now that's progress for those two!
TV Guide Magazine: If this is indeed the last we see of Dorian, will your followers be okay with the way it ends?
Strasser: That's not in my control. It's not my job!
TV Guide Magazine: Nobody said you wrote the damn thing. Take a guess at how your fans will feel about it.
Strasser: No! I am not going to go there! You go there if you want to.
TV Guide Magazine: Yikes, you're testy! You waxed rhapsodic over your scenes with Tuc, so I'm guessing the writers must have done a good job with it.
Strasser: Well, I don't think it's satisfactory in the least! I was doing the glass-is-half-full thing. I'm following my spiritual guidelines. I'm not going to whine at this point.
TV Guide Magazine: Are we having regrets about any of this?
Strasser: I do get a bit touchy when people say, "If you'd stayed they would have written this great stuff for you!" But, pardon me, where would be the indicator that at the finish line they'd say, "Yo, Strasser! Put on the uniform?" I've been marginalized and this is not the first time it's happened. I am extremely popular with a certain number of viewers. I'm not saying it's the hugest number. But the people that I have are fiercely loyal and really get me. I leave a big footprint. My work is not little. My choices are not little. [Laughs] As a human being I am a very strong cup of tea. And you either get me or you don't.
TV Guide Magazine: You're famous for your no-holds-barred hotline and sizzling tweets. Do you think you were punished for being too honest?
Strasser: If I don't go softly into that good night, that's okay with me. My career has never had a safety net under it, so all of a sudden I should start being appropriate and safe? Just do the gentle walkaway? There's something very right about really feeling my new freedom. For a while there I was carrying around so much sadness and denial. "My role is still vital! I'm still important! They're going to call me! Things are gonna change!" [Laughs] Anybody's back would hurt carrying that around!
TV Guide Magazine: What are your thoughts about OLTL moving to the web? Will you take part if invited?
Strasser: If the announced internet licensing deal helps keep jobs and create new ones then it is a great innovative and progressive step in a brand new direction. Not much has been revealed about the specifics of how it's going to work. If asked? That's a big if. I doubt based on how the character was used the past four to five years that Dorian would be perceived of as being "needed" for this new enterprise. Plus, to put it mildly, I've become one of the Faces of Feisty Opposition. But, like I said, if I can walk, I'll run back to Llanview to the beauteous bosoms of my Cramer women and the hoped-for-by-fans big face off with Viki. Or perhaps a quick impeachment trial? [Laughs] Dorian's so unsuited for the Senate, no matter how many Nancy Pelosi suits she buys herself!
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