By Allison J. Waldman
Special to TelevisionWeek
Long before grabbing an Oscar for “My Cousin Vinnie,” Marisa Tomei was a teenage Cinderella-wannabe named Marcy on “As The World Turns.” Steven Weber found sitcom stardom with “Wings,” but not before he earned his acting stripes as Kevin on the CBS soap. And audiences might recognize Mark Rydell’s name as the director of films such as “The Rose” and “On Golden Pond,” but they may not be aware that he got his start in front of the camera as an actor on “ATWT.”
Ms. Tomei, Mr. Weber and Mr. Rydell are just three of the many talented performers who spent formative years acting on “As The World Turns” and then went on to carve out impressive entertainment careers.
The jump from daytime to prime time can be difficult for some soap actors. One actress, a two-time Daytime Emmy Award winner, once revealed that she could go into a casting office in Los Angeles wearing her Emmys as earrings and still not get a call back. But many of the stars who passed through “World” have struck prime-time gold.
Dana Delany, Martin Sheen, Richard Thomas and Swoosie Kurtz are all “As The World Turns” graduates who have gone on to win Primetime Emmys. Some of the most popular TV shows of the past decade have included cast members who are former “ATWT” actors: “The West Wing’s” Mr. Sheen (Jack Davis on “ATWT”); “Dawson Creek’s” James Van Der Beek (Stephen Anderson); “Seinfeld’s” John O’Hurley (Douglas Prescott); “Friends'” Courteney Cox Arquette (Bunny); “ER’s” Ming-Na (Lien Hughes); “Walker: Texas Ranger’s” Judson Mills (Hutch Hutchinson) and James Wlcek (Linc Lafferty); “Law & Order’s” Annie Parisse (Julia Snyder); “Law & Order: SVU’s” Tamara Tunie (Jessica Harris); “Criminal Minds'” Thomas Gibson (Derek Mason); “Battlestar Galactica’s” Mary McDonnell (Claudia Colfax); “The Gilmore Girls'” Kelly Bishop (Grace Wescott); “Caroline in the City’s” Malcolm Gets (Ron Gillette); “Without a Trace’s” Roselyn Sanchez (Pilar Domingo); and “Desperate Housewives'” Richard Burgi (Glenn Harrington).
A recent prime-time “find” is William Fichtner, star of ABC’s creepy sci-fi hit “Invasion.” Mr. Fichtner is one of a group of character actors, including James Rebhorn and Larry Bryggman, who shone during their time in Oakdale and later were embraced by the rest of the entertainment world.
Mr. Fichtner was in the spotlight on “As The World Turns” from 1987 to 1993 as troubled farm hand Josh Snyder (aka Rod Landry), who was involved in a controversial rape case before ultimately being redeemed. Mr. Rebhorn is well known as the secretive secretary of defense in “Independence Day,” and Mr. Bryggman starred on Broadway in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Proof.” On “As The World Turns” Mr. Rebhorn was the focus of one of the most memorable story lines, playing Henry Lange, a wealthy scion accused of sexually abusing his traumatized daughter, Angel. Mr. Bryggman appeared on “As The World Turns” for 35 years (1969-2004) and won two Daytime Emmys for outstanding actor, playing the irascible, complicated and diabolical Dr. John Dixon. Mr. Bryggman’s shadow still looms large over the show, since producers hope he makes a return visit.
A number of “As The World Turns” actors, including multi-Oscar-nominated leading lady Julianne Moore, have found favor in motion pictures. Early in her career Ms. Moore won a Daytime Emmy playing twins Frannie and Sabrina Hughes on “ATWT.”
Meg Ryan also has excelled on the silver screen, especially in romantic comedies such as “When Harry Met Sally” and “Sleepless in Seattle.” In 1982, when she was playing Betsy Stewart Andropoulos on “As The World Turns,” Ms. Ryan was just 21 years old. The soap gave her invaluable training and the opportunity to run the gamut of emotions, from Betsy’s joy when she married Steve (Frank Runyeon) to utter despair when Craig (Scott Bryce) broke her heart.
Long before he was “The Great White Hope” and the voice of Darth Vader in the “Star Wars” films, James Earl Jones (Jerry Turner) was a doctor at Memorial Hospital on “ATWT.” And when Emmy Rossum (Abigail Williams), Jordana Brewster (Nikki Munson), Jason Biggs (Pete Wendall), Brian Bloom (Dusty Donovan) and Lauryn Hill (Kira Johnson) were still in their teens, they were learning the acting craft working on the show. Ms. Hill, who played a wild, semi-literate teenager on “ATWT,” went on to make a big splash as a recording artist, including winning five Grammys for her debut solo album “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” in 1999.
Another well-known actress who made her first mark in show business while on “ATWT” was Parker Posey (Tess Shelby). She was 23 when she joined the cast. Margaret Colin was 24 in 1981, when she played Margo Hughes opposite actor Justin Deas (Tom Hughes). Ms. Colin was one of the most popular actresses to play Margo and might have stayed on the show for years had she not been lured to prime time and later to feature films, including “Three Men and a Baby” and “Independence Day.”
As with most of the actors who began on “ATWT,” the experience she gained on the show was invaluable. And in Ms. Colin’s case, she not only honed her skills as an actress but also met her husband. She and Mr. Deas were married in 1983.