When you have this much talent, you just have to spread it around. This fall, Emmy-winning soap sensation Eileen Davidson will find herself in the enviable and unprecedented position of playing juicy, front-burner roles on both NBC's Days of Our Lives and CBS's The Young and the Restless. Why such generosity of spirit on the part of rival networks? It's all about survival — and we don't mean Davidson's.
"This kind of acting opportunity would never have happened back when the daytime-drama world was really healthy," says Davidson. "Now times have changed. Soaps are trying to stay relevant. They want to stay on the air. They're willing to set aside that old competitiveness to help each other out." Besides, audiences can't possibly be confused, Davidson says. "My characters are 180 degrees apart — from the way they look to the level of their sanity."
And how. The actress recently returned to Days for a four-month run as Kristen DiMera, a psycho sexpot who is facing criminal charges for drugging and raping a Roman Catholic priest — every scandalous moment of it caught on video. (How will she redeem herself? By saving the life of one of Salem's most beloved citizens!) Davidson's double duty officially begins September 3, when she returns to Y&R with a two-year deal to play good-hearted Ashley Abbott, a brilliant cosmetics chemist with the absolute worst luck in men.
If that's not enough Davidson for you, this mother of three — married to former actor/tennis pro Vince Van Patten — has also signed on to the next season of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills for a reported $750,000, the highest salary ever paid to a new hausfrau in the Bravo franchise. "I don't know what you are talking about," says a not very convincing Davidson when asked about the reality-show gig. "I'm not paying much attention to anything that's been written." Maybe not, but sources say a Bravo crew has already followed Davidson to work at Y&R, with her costars asked to sign confidentiality agreements to keep it all hush-hush.
"Eileen is a phenomenal talent, and no one wants to lose her," says Y&R executive producer Jill Farren Phelps. "We fought hard to bring her back on contract because she is a huge part of our history." Adds Peter Bergman, who plays Ashley's brother, Jack. "It's just not the Abbott family without her. Who could blame Days for loving Eileen — she has a showcase there that's off the f---ing charts — but we really need her over here."
Word is Ashley will return to Genoa City having developed an erotic wonder fragrance that'll drive the world mad and, for a piece of the action, she wants to share CEO duties at Jabot Cosmetics with Jack. The soap will also toy with a romantic quadrangle involving Ashley; her daughter, Abby; hunky Stitch; and pregnant Victoria.
But let's get real here. Davidson originated her role on Y&R in 1982, moved to Days in 1993, and has been back and forth a few times, not always with the best results. She consistently scores awesome material on Days — at one point, she was playing five wildly different roles, one male — while Y&R has often failed to write well for her. In fact, she was twice dropped by the CBS show, most recently in 2012. Why take the chance it'll happen again?
"It's always a crapshoot, and I'm OK with that," says Davidson, whose new agreement with Y&R stipulates that she can still appear on Days on a limited basis. "There's a big burnout factor with Kristen, who is always full-throttle. How many times can she be horribly vile and get away with it?" Ashley, on the other hand, is "more rooted, more real, someone I can play on a daily basis. Y&R said they have a great story for me. I assume it's the truth."
If not, no big deal. "I've had really good times in this business and really slow times, and it all works out," she says. "I've had a fantastic career, but I came to a big, wonderful realization a long time ago: None of this defines me."