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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Deeper Dish with Ilene Kristen

Yesterday I got to chat with Delia Reid Ryan Ryan Coleridge Crane Coleridge, whom - if you're a soap opera fan like myself - you will fondly remember from the beloved ABC serial, Ryan's Hope. Delia was one of the best characters ever in daytime drama, and the fabulous Ilene Kristen played her off and on from the show's first episode in 1975 until the its final one in 1989. These days Ilene is best known for her Emmy-nominated performance as One Life to Live's Roxy Balsom, who's been entertaining us since 2001. The actress is also a singer/songwriter who appeared as cheerleader Patty Simcox in the original 1972 Broadway production of Grease, and she now performs regularly at The Triad in New York City as well as doing theater during her non-Roxy hours. I am so thrilled to have Ilene Kristen here on the Dish to discuss her career and answer a few pop culture questions.

Let's begin with the delightful Ms. Balsom. If you had to choose one favorite Roxy scene, what would it be?
I had some great scenes with James DePaiva that were fun. There was one where we were splitting up the bar when Roxy took over half of it. We had a great time doing it. And all my scenes with Sylvia Miles, who played my mother - I loved working with her.

Last fall I asked actress Jackie Hoffman about her appearance on One Life to Live, in which Roxy kissed her bigoted character on the gay wedding episode. She described your kiss as "a little rough, but I like it that way." How would you describe your kiss?
It was very rough – Roxy was fucking pissed off by those protesting bigots – but maybe I should've made the kiss more romantic to drive her character crazy. It was pretty funny. Jackie is great to work with. And what an amazing and brave storyline – it was a first.

What would you like to see happen to Roxy this year?
I would love to see her become involved with someone again. It might be weird but fun if Kyle's married father came to town and I had an affair with him. That could be interesting since Kyle and Roxy have such a special relationship. I just want to have a love interest. I do like our upcoming St. Patrick's Day show, in which Roxy gets drunk as a skunk. It's very funny.

If Roxy and Delia wanted the same man, who would get him?
Delia – she was much more manipulative and knew how to play to a guy's strengths and weaknesses. She was not as honest as Roxy – and somehow she always got the guy she wanted. But Roxy could probably physically fight her and win.

What was your favorite Delia storyline?
When Delia went on the cruise ship with Pat while faking her blindness. Everyone remembers that great scene when he throws the hairbrush at me and I catch it and he realizes he's been duped. And my storyline with actor Joe Bova on the ship - his character had a foot fetish and was obsessed with my feet. When I was little, Joe Bova had a children's show which I always watched, so working with him was kind of like working with Captain Kangaroo. But it's always great when you get a chance to work with people you admire – like Snoop Dogg, whom I got to dance with on One Life to Live.

Are you or have you ever been a soap fan?
Not really. When I was in college, I would sometimes come home for lunch and watch Bernie Barrow on The Secret Storm. His character was kind of good and bad, which I found interesting, and Bernie wasn't your typical soap opera person. And I did Grease with Meg Bennett, so I would occasionally watch her on Search for Tomorrow. But I was never much of a soap watcher – I was more into comedies like I Love Lucy and Dick Van Dyke.

With CBS's recent cancellations of Guiding Light and As the World Turns, what is your gut feeling about the future of daytime soap operas?
It's really been a scary year, but ABC has invested in us since they own their shows. When I did Ryan's Hope, the scenes were longer and more about the characters. Today's soaps need a little less flash - and less snowstorms - and a little more character study - and longer scenes so we can understand what's going on with the characters better. Since MTV came along, it's get in and get out. Our scenes are only 2 to 3 pages long, but on Ryan's Hope, a scene would often be 11 or 12 pages – and we didn't stop taping. We had a lot of rehearsal time, and by the final take, it was like doing a play. I loved it. I was watching the show yesterday, and in one scene, Kyle put his hand on Roxy's knee to show his concern – and this is something I do myself. It was a real moment – something soaps need more of.

If you could star on Broadway in any role in any musical or play, what role would you choose?
I think I would make a very good Lola in Damn Yankees. And I would love to be Velma in Chicago. Walter Bobbie [who directed the Broadway revival of Chicago] told me that soap opera actresses don't sell tickets - but that's bullshit. And I don't think I'm too old for the role – although my dancing is pretty rusty.

What's one of your favorite songs to sing?
I write my own material, and my favorite song at the moment is "Lion's Den", which was a birthday song to myself – with a funky kind of Motown sound. It's a confirmation about getting older and getting better.

In high school I was:
Extremely sophisticated, jazzy and bohemian.

My favorite comfort food is:
Popcorn with flax seed oil on it. Pathetic – but it makes me feel good.

The last good book I read was:
Eat, Pray, Love. I was in Rome when I read it – and I enjoyed it. I also read Andre Agassi's book, which was eye-opening. Right now I'm reading Patti Smith's book.

When I was growing up, I never missed a television episode of:
Dick Van Dyke.

Today I never miss a television episode of:
I always watched The Sopranos when it was on.

The very first record album that I purchased with my own money was:
Probably by Laura Nyro, who was the voice of my generation of women.

If I was stranded on a desert island for a year, I would want to listen to:
Kenny Rankin. Loved him.

A few of my favorite movies are:
To Kill a Mockingbird, Goodfellas, The Godfather Part II and Flirting with Disaster.

If I could have anyone in the world - living or dead - be a guest at my dinner party, I would invite the following three people:
Paul Rudd, Oprah Winfrey and Tracey Ullman.

What's next for Ilene Kristen?
I'm doing a lot of theater. I'm in a staged reading of a play about the stock market called Silver to a Trading Agent by a young woman named Sharyn Rothstein, who is a very talented writer. I'm also helping a friend with a show about the Borscht Belt in the 1920s. And I need to find a writer to help me with a show about the later years of actress Veronica Lake. I think I could play her.

Thank you, Ilene, for getting Deeper with us here on the Dish. To learn more about Ilene Kristen, check out her official website at or visit her YouTube Channel. And for tickets to Silver to a Trading Agent, go to, call (866) 811-4111 or visit the Ensemble Studio Theatre box office (549 W. 52nd Street) up to 45 minutes prior to the show. Performances are February 12, 18 & 19 at 7 pm.


Paul Benjamin said...

Wow, I'm actually a bit jealous! :)

What a phenomenal person. I like her candidness and that she stands up for equality! Good work on the interview!

Deep Dish said...

Thanks, Paul, I'm glad you liked the interview. Ilene is fabulous!!!

Anonymous said...

I loved her on Ryans hope, and she kicks ass as Roxy on OLTL.....I love how she stands up for what she believes...awesome lady, thanx for sharing;)

Snapper said...

What's not to love about Ilene Kristen? Such an original. Like the pizza box says: often imitated, never duplicated. And she looks amazing! Great interview.