All My Children

All My Children has spent months percolating a romance between Erica Kane (Susan Lucci) and her crusty mountain man Caleb (Michael Nouri) and so far her fiancé Jack — played by the marvelous Walt Willey — has remained pretty clueless. But he's about to wake up and smell the triangle. This week, David (Vincent Irizarry) comes out of his coma and remembers it was Kendall (Alicia Minshew) who shot him, and that finds an emotionally frazzled Erica leaning on Caleb, rather than Jack. On February 1, Jack catches the two of them in an embrace. TV Guide Magazine had a chat with Willey who — just like a whole lotta Jack and Erica fans — ain't too wild about this turn of events!

TV Guide Magazine: Your character has certainly taken his sweet time figuring out what's going on.
Willey: Hey, watch out there! [Laughs] Jack may be dumb but he's definitely slow. Most people, even unconscious ones, would have seen something's up with Caleb and Erica a hell of a long time before this.

TV Guide Magazine: How do you feel about this triangle? From the get-go it seemed like Jack would end up the odd-man out.
Willey: Well, it ain't over yet! And, actually, now that Krystal [Bobbie Eakes] is involved, it's really more like a big, sloppy, sharply pointed quadrangle. If you look at any of the polls, the fans really want to see Jack and Erica together but the writers don't seem to come up with a story for them as a couple. They're Moonlighting, they're Nick and Nora, as clever and funny as can be, but it's always the Sturm und Drang that carries us away.

TV Guide Magazine: Yet Jack and Erica always seem to come back to each other. Without their romance ever becoming really, truly epic, they're still each other's soulmate. Don't you think?
Willey: You're not wrong. They've been in each other's lives for over 20 years in an interesting kind of dichotomy — let's not make them too happy but let's keep them together forever. I choose to see it as a compliment that this couple has enough zip and staying power and palpable attraction to one another that the show can afford to split them up. I think it reflects well on Susan and me that people are still interested and enthusiastic. You just don't want to push the audience too far.

TV Guide Magazine: It's refreshing that there's no villain here.
Willey: I like that they don't have Mike Nouri and me bumping chests like we're 20 years old. That's just not interesting. Besides, I'm not sure I can even remember how to do it! [Laughs] Actually, I'm not sure that I ever did it! That's never been Jack. So to the writers' credit, they've avoided that and kept this situation very adult. We just shot an episode where we find out Caleb put in a good word for Jack with the bar association and they've suddenly reinstated Jack's law license. And Caleb did it without telling Jack. I'm not sure if he's doing it because he's a nice guy or because he's feeling guilty. [Laughs] I'm going with guilty. At least they're using our history and not making it up out of whole cloth and then accelerating it at 120 miles per hour, as we have in the not-too-distant past.

TV Guide Magazine: For instance?
Willey: Like when they had Jack chasing Carmen the maid. I said, "So we'll have a little bit of a journey with this storyline?" And everyone was like, "Oh, yes!" And in the very next script, if not the one after, Jack had already taken Carmen back to the house he built for Erica, slept in their bed with her, and there she is coming down the stairs wearing Jack's shirt just as Erica comes to the front door. And this is all in the space of four episodes! Jack wouldn't have done any of this, but what do you do? It's not a matter of taking a few lines out of the script. It's more, like, "Can we please take these past four days out of the show?" None of us knew what to do with all that. It cost poor Elizabeth Rodriguez [who played Carmen] her job, and down the line I was out of there, too.

TV Guide Magazine: That's right. You didn't fare too well under the Chuck Pratt writing regime. Weren't you off the show for almost half a year?
Willey: He wasn't going to write for me anymore because I couldn't figure out how to do what he wrote. I'm sure there was a certain amount of, "Well, gee, I think what I wrote is interesting, why didn't you play it?" [Laughs] So that led to my six-month "retirement." But it was all good. I'm glad it happened.

TV Guide Magazine: How so?
Willey: I used the time well. I started a community theatre in my hometown during that time. I toured in a couple of plays. It reminded me why I got into this business to begin with — because I love the process of acting. There hasn't been time for that in soaps for quite a while. Now we're hit-and-run TV. We're setting new land speed records for what's possible. We've accelerated our pace and we're turning out the same amount of shows in maybe 65 percent of the time. A big shooting day on the set used to be 28 items. Now on any given day it's 46 or even 52 or 54. It's a lot of material. It's tough on actors but much worse on the crew, who are now doing 14-hour shifts. It's a monumental task, but it's helping us buy time and stay on the air. [Laughs] Of course, I still ask questions, like, "How come we need HD for a love story?" It's so unforgiving and relentless. It's the most harsh and brutal thing that's ever happened to soaps. [Laughs] And I look like s--t.

TV Guide Magazine: Not to rub it in, but aren't you part of the AMC "old guard" now? With David Canary [Adam] and Ray MacDonnell [Joe] retired, and the death of James Mitchell [Palmer], there's been a seismic generation shift in Pine Valley this past year.
Willey: It's true, and it seemed to happen all at once. Like Abraham, Martin and John, they were there and then they were gone.

TV Guide Magazine: Which makes you all the more valuable, yes?
Willey: Damn right, which is why you should get on the goddamn phone with [ABC Daytime chief] Brian Frons and tell him.

TV Guide Magazine: Yeah, right, that'll be my next call. Hey, at least they gave you prominent placement in the new AMC opening credits. You're at the very end right before Lucci and her girls.
Willey: Yeah, I guess coming right before the queen is a good place to be. [Laughs] I'm like the kettledrum just before the big splash!

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