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39 Years Ago TODAY Strasser Appeared as Dorian Lord on OLTL
Topic Started: Apr 13 2018, 07:19 PM (335 Views)
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Published by Jaemlyn on Aug 22, 2011

This tribute is NOT an assumption of "the end," nor does it reflect an entire career. There should also be NO comparison made between Norma Desmond and the character ... or the actress ... you see here.

At a pivotal time in the history of soap operas, there is an actress who warrants immeasurable credit and thanks from viewers in all demographics -- not only for portraying the quintessence of a woman in the context of each decade of our current society, but also for her truly divine ability to speak to us in the language of EMOTION.
Edited by cher62, Apr 13 2018, 07:21 PM.
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SOURCE: Tribute to Daytime Diva Robin Strasser website

One Life to Live's Robin Strasser: The Ultimate Interview (1998)

By Mari Lyn Henry (Soap Opera Digest)

The remarkable Robin Strasser reminisces about her 31-year daytime career... the highs... the lows... co-stars... conflicts... tenacity... and a helluva lot of agua under the bridge!

A Note from Author Mari Lyn Henry
A journalist once described One Life to Live's stylish steamroller Dorian Lord as "a rare villainess who can stir primal emotions and provoke audience identification and sympathy." Off-screen, her portrayer Robin Strasser is far more endearing, but no less complicated.

I have known Robin since she won the Emmy for best actress 16 years ago. She admits that she is a very shy person and it takes a while to get to know her. But once the door has been opened, there is no better friend or supportive castmate. She is generous to a fault, vulnerable, alive, with an extraordinary zest for life.

For this interview, we meet in her upper west side Manhattan apartment on a crisp autumn afternoon. The atmosphere is cheery and sun-filled, and her personable pet, Scooter, is there to give a bark of welcome. She offers me herbal tea and her homemade lentil soup . I begin the interview anxious to investigate the relentless rumor that has been circulating for years that All My Children's Susan Lucci (Erica) is her sister.

MARI LYN HENRY: So what's the scoop about Susan Lucci being your sister?
ROBIN STRASSER: (emphatically): We are not sisters. Not even cousins.

MARI LYN HENRY: Thank you. Can I underline the not?
STRASSER: Three times. And yet it won't stop. As recently as two weeks ago, it came up again. They also believe that Phoebe Tyler is our mother. Or that our mother is Phyllis Diller.

MLH: Did Phyllis ever find out about this?
STRASSER: Yes, and she made jokes about it in her comedy act. And I always thought it would be a great [routine] for us all to do for a charity fund-raiser someday.

MLH: Do you have a sister?
STRASSER: I have a half sister who I did not meet until I was a grownup. I was doing a play in Los Angeles and, without any prior notification, between the matinee and evening performance, the stage doorman called upstairs and said, "Robin, there is a young lady here and she says she is your sister." And I said, "In my family, anything is possible." I had heard that I did have a half sister somewhere. I opened the door and there was this very lovely 21-year-old woman [I was about 31 at the time] and it was a little like looking in the mirror. We look that much alike. And we just fell into each other's arms and started crying. She is married and lives in Washington State and has three sons. We stay in touch through phone calls. And I have a half brother. We all share the same father.

MLH: Do you have a motto that has helped you survive the bumps professionally and personally?
STRASSER: "Be realistic, but don't give up your dream." I am on the tenacious side. I admire those people who have a way of following a dream where they don't need the validation of other people. Haven't we seen a change since we talked during your groundbreaking book research? [fyi: I interviewed Robin for How To Be A Working Actor, 1986 1st edition.] Such an evolution in the power of performers who write and create their own characters, certainly in the area of television... [From] standup comics to the most heavyweight [actors] in our industry, [success] has a great deal to do with the power they got from creating a character and writing their own material.

MLH: They have to have tenacity if they are going to be known beyond the comedy clubs.
STRASSER: That is what I tell the young actors now: study literature, take some business courses, join an improv group!

MLH: You were raised in New York, right?
STRASSER: Yes. One of the ABC questionnaires asked what my "hometown" paper was. I wrote The New York Times and The Daily News.

MLH: When you began your acting career, did you ever experience financial hardship?
STRASSER:. The talk show host, Dick Cavett, once said he was a starving actor and as soon as he could save up the price of a sandwich, he decided he'd better have something else he could do to support himself.

MLH: So you never went through that kind of adversity.
STRASSER: When I needed money, I would work at dress stores or sportswear stores. One of them was Henri Bendel's. I was such a good salesgirl they were ready to train me as a junior assistant buyer. When you meet an actor who is waiting tables, I expect him to be an even better waiter than the guy who is a career waiter.

MLH: When did you begin the role of Dorian?
STRASSER: 1979. I played it for eight-and-a-half years, left for six, and have been doing it since. I like to say that I am the third and the fifth Dorian. The first was Nancy Pinkerton, then Claire Malis, then me, Elaine Princi, and me again! Great part for all of us.

In 1982, Robin took home Emmy gold.

MLH: Prior to Dorian, there was Rachel Davis on Another World, a role which you created. Did that role prepare you for Dorian Lord?
STRASSER: Rachel was sort of like Eustacia Vye in Return of the Native. She had to make it. She had to be successful. She was a girl from the wrong side of the tracks. She just wanted the good life. So she became involved in the Alice/Steven [George Reinholt] relationship and tried to steal him away from Alice [Jacquie Courtney]. The demographics were incredible on that show. I think there were nine young leading women under the age of 25. I sometimes think that is what made our director David Pressman lose his hair -- trying to wrangle all those baby "divas."

MLH: Have you ever told David that?
STRASSER: No, it is a quote exclusively for you.

MLH: What was it like working with Constance Ford who played your mother Ada?
STRASSER: She taught me so much. Well, you want to talk about people who are tenacious. Connie was always driven by the importance of quality in the work. And she never dipped her flag. She had an intensity about her that I loved and was always conscious of her commitment to what she was doing. She had made Hollywood movies; [she was] the woman who slapped Sandra Dee [ in A Summer Place] and she was my mother. She was in New York doing a soap opera and there was no sense of her having "stepped down," or having settled for anything less. She was ready to take this part on and she was a jewel. I was so fortunate to be exposed to her as a role model. She was always passionate about the work, always making strong choices. In those days there was more of the "Let me pour you some coffee and let's talk about it" scenes. But when she poured you coffee, it was poured and you knew some important stuff was going to be discussed. I have a gorgeous picture of Connie wearing a man's shirt and dangling her bare legs. It was taken during her "Hollywood" days. When she gave it to me, she whispered, "That's Rock Hudson's shirt." She and Rock were good pals.

MLH: What was it like working with George Reinholt?
STRASSER: He was brilliant. An actor, who once he stepped into his part, you could meet him in the middle of the arena and you saw someone who was doing what they were meant to do. George called me a few years ago when he was thinking of returning to the business and he asked me how I thought he should do it. I said, "Well, George, they think you're crazy, so why don't you just open up that discussion. 'Hi, I've been crazy but here is what is going on in my life currently'... and let them know you are a very talented person who is ready to come back to work."

MLH: Did Rachel have qualities which you could apply to the character of Dorian?
STRASSER: Absolutely. Although Agnes Nixon left Another World at a certain point, she took the prototype of the Rachel character to the next level when she wrote the role of Erica Kane. Erica went all out looking for the wealthy husband to better her situation. And as she grew up in her twenties and thirties, the stakes got higher in terms of her desperation to get material things.

MLH: How did your life progress after you left Another World?
STRASSER: After [playing] Rachel, I spent two and a half years in Los Angeles, gave birth to my second son, and ABC asked me to come on to One Life to Live as a replacement for a character named Cathy [Jennifer Harmon] who had just stolen somebody's baby. I said I didn't want to return to daytime as a replacement.

MLH: Obviously, you didn't take that role. What happened next?
STRASSER: Then Agnes wrote the part of Dr. Christina Karras [1976-79] on All My Children, [which I did take]. She became a very gray character. But I could not go into the "Rachel" prototype because Erica Kane was on the same show. As a gray character, she wasn't good, she wasn't bad. She was neurotic. She thought she had killed her father. There were ghosts. She wanted to be a ballerina. She would have flashbacks. It was a challenging role and I said to ABC I didn't want to continue, that the part and I did not mesh. One of the first things I did when I came on the show was tell a character that her newborn baby was retarded, had brain damage and should be put in a home. And I did not want to play a character that would say such a thing. I thought of all those people who have children who are learning challenged at home and really I begged not to have to say that. And they made me say it. And I must say, Mari Lyn, if you don't adopt and marry and take into your very heart and soul the character you are playing on a soap, you are probably only going to be doing the role for six weeks, six months, but you are never going to make it to the six year mark. You have to love and adopt and own and defend and adore your character, whether it is a bad guy or a good guy. I can do black or white, but gray is not going to work on daytime.

MLH: Christina doesn't sound like a very appealing character.
STRASSER: She didn't like the Martins! I said I don't like Christina. I don't want to do her. So having made that announcement, Jackie Smith [then head of daytime programs for ABC] asked me to come and see her. She had this impression that I didn't like this character because she wasn't a good person. No, I said, I love playing bad guys. Did you ever see me on Another World? She hadn't. I told her I didn't think I had done my best work here. Jackie was trying to understand this "gray" concept. So she said, "I don't suppose you would want to play Dorian on One Life to Live, would you?" I said, "Wait, wait a minute, now that is a part I would very much like to play." I had said I didn't want to replace a character and I would be the third Dorian. I had said I didn't like this character on All My Children because of her negativity, and here I was kind of champing at the bit at the idea that I could play Dorian. So, I met with the producer Joe Stuart. I had always had respect for Joe Stuart. He might even be embarrassed, but I had a real affection for him because he is not a man who necessarily goes around asking for affection. Bottom line... He was not sure he wanted me on the show.

MLH: Did the current Dorian know she was being replaced?
STRASSER: Absolutely. Claire Malis was going to California. It was a clean departure. She was going out there because her husband wanted her with him. And I had watched the show on and off while I was playing Christina.

MLH: What were your initial discussions with Joe Stuart like?
STRASSER: I told Joe I thought Dorian was a very interesting part, although [she seemed] destined to be a short part because she was a murderess, having killed Victor Lord. He said, "It didn't happen." I said, "What?" [He repeated,] "It didn't happen." I said, "Wait a minute. Everybody saw it happen." He said, "I am the executive producer and if I say it didn't happen, it didn't happen." So I became emboldened to say that while Dorian was a rich woman, she didn't have a sense of style about her and not a lot of humor. Would it be okay to tell the network we are going to give the audience a glimpse of what people love to see rich people do? Live excessively. And I added she should dress marvelously and flamboyantly, that there should be some campy humor when she screws up. Then maybe she can be around for two to five years. This was pretty gutsy! He didn't know that I was on the verge of a divorce and that I needed a job badly!

MLH: I think this is a perfect example of your tenacity.
STRASSER: Maybe. So at the last part of the meeting, after he agreed to doing more stylish things for the character and giving her more humor, and more of an edge, making her snappier, he said, "I've got a problem. I hear you're difficult. I hear that you are hard to work with." At which point I dissolved into a flood of tears. We all have these buttons--and I am not a person who cries easily--but it went straight to my deepest center and I bawled. And Joe melted. Not that he was manipulated by that, but he had heard something. He had thought I would defend myself or get angry and want to know the source, but instead my feelings were so hurt [because] I was so misunderstood that I just sobbed. You know you can't be on a very good show and tell them that your character is gray and that you are leaving, be in the middle of a marriage that is disintegrating and look like the cheeriest camper of the summer.

MLH: Sometimes being "difficult" can just mean that you care an awful lot about the work.
STRASSER: There are an awful lot of people who have that issue around their name. "She's difficult" or the new phrase that makes it easier to say is "high maintenance." But high maintenance can also refer to cars you collect, fine wine you want to store, antiques you want to preserve--you wouldn't apply a quick coat of Mop and Glow to a fine oak floor... so I'm okay about that, because I'll tell you a story I haven't shared in a long time. After I had left One Life To Live, there was a movie director interviewing me for a part, wanting to get to know me better. And I told him I never would or could dream of letting down my standards just because someone else might think we were just doing a soap. It never ever entered into my thinking, my vocabulary or the way in which I conducted myself on a day to day basis.. And he listened to me for quite some time and he really seemed interested. Then he said, "God, you must have driven your producers crazy." Well I hope not. I hope that in the end people can see that I do care. What I don't do anymore is fight with anybody. If fans write to me now and they pressure me to fight harder, to not let this or that happen, I have let them know via my infamous hot line. Please, I cannot live on that level anymore. I am not fighting with anyone anymore. I will still take care of my performance. It is about where I am coming from spiritually and in terms of my own psychology. I have had my battles. I am not going to betray myself or the audience whom I value. But I will walk away rather than be in a toxic situation. I will wave a white flag. I will shake hands. I will not burn a bridge. I will try try try to affect communication philosophically, try to repair any misunderstandings, speak directly with the person with whom I've had the misunderstanding.

MLH: But Joe Stuart melted when you went awash in a flood of tears.
STRASSER: The upshot was that I had a wonderful time working for Joe Stuart because if anything he is a benevolent dictator. His rules apply to everyone. There was enormous structure in the show. People respected and feared him but he was honest, direct and fair. If he didn't like something you were doing, you heard about it damn quick, and if you didn't improve, you were fired. After 32 years in daytime, I look back on that experience fondly. When people get to know me they might say, "Anyone who works with you has to understand that you care deeply and if they understand that then everything takes on a perspective that is very manageable." It's true. I'm that way as a person. If my feelings are hurt, if I fall in love, if I'm excited, you see it right away. The whole package gets delivered right there on the spot. There's no residual luggage that is checked somewhere waiting to come up and rear its ugly head.

MLH: It sounds like the "Joe Stuart" years may have been the most cohesive. Simply put, it was the birthing of Dorian Lord as played by Robin Strasser.

STRASSER: And you know the show was very highly rated. We'd go home by 6:30 at night at the latest. And there was enough time in the morning to rehearse the scenes in what is known as "dry" blocking. I don't understand the terminology "dry." It is without cameras and technicians, just your director and the technical director. You get your blocking, your moves, and any changes or modifications have to take place right then. We used to rehearse the scene, once, twice and sometimes a third time to get an accurate timing on it. But within that time frame if you had an interesting idea you wanted to explore... you could also get the director to use the eraser side of his pencil. He would change and accommodate things because a good idea had been offered that he liked. There were actors then like Judith Light [ex-Karen] and Gerald Anthony [ex-Marco] and Al Freeman Jr. [ex-Ed] and all of us were getting to be very co-creative in the morning. We had a structure that followed throughout the day. We were doing a good show and we were home by 6:30. It was an interesting time. I don't like to be wedded to the concept of the "good old days" but when I look back -- I am not saying that these aren't good days -- I am saying that that was a unique and incredible time. Within that format of trying to get an hour show done in one day, there was still time where we were allowed to be creative.

MLH: Can you share any other reminisces about your early days in Llanview?
STRASSER: A favorite story of mine involves Mr. David Pressman once again. Early on in the first six months, Dorian decides to go to a South American country to try and liberate an ex-lover who is being kept prisoner. She in turn is captured by the rebels and guarded over by a Jimmy Smits look-a-like. I am railing and railing at him. So I asked David if I could do part of the dialogue in Spanish. I speak terrible Spanish, but I thought it would be funny to hear Dorian trying to speak fractured Spanish. Dorian wants to think she is good at everything and can surmount anything and she tries to converse in her awful Spanish. The handsome guard had no lines but he looked at me like I was crazy. And so the next day I was telling the story as Dorian and there was a line "that is all water under the bridge." I had Dorian say, "Oh, well that's all agua under the bridge". And David Pressman said, "That's it! I love that. That is the key. Do this a lot." I got a little gold star from him that day.

Dorian and Viki: Strasser enjoys clashing on-screen with "terribly classy" co-star Erika Slezak.

MLH: Can you recall what your first day on the show was like?
STRASSER: It was a nightmare of names and back story. There was stuff I was saying that I honestly just had to memorize. There was only a 24-hour transition time between All My Children and One Life to Live. I was brought up to a certain amount of speed but even then it was strictly a matter of memorization. I had so many names to sort out and by the end of the first day I was exhausted. In those days you couldn't cut. The edits were very expensive and if you made a mistake you were in big trouble. I got through it. I was fine and I sunk into the couch to catch my breath. The cast and crew were gone. Then I felt somebody sit down next to me. It was Erika Slezak [Viki] and she said, "You are going to be very good in this part. And I am very glad you have joined the cast." [Fond laughter] Terribly classy of her. I really needed that. There is a certain kind of real grace that some people are lucky to have and it has a lot to do with Erika's upbringing and fine family tradition.

MLH: Have you ever experienced a similar welcome working in primetime?
STRASSER: When I did my first episode of the prime time series Coach it was as a co-star with the lead, Craig T. Nelson. Shelley Fabares, the actress playing his love interest, was not on the episode, but she came to the studio on the first day and she filled my dressing room with balloons and left me a lovely note. When I bumped into her, she said, "This is such a fine role. Enjoy yourself and welcome." My stage mother [on AW], Constance Ford, taught me so much. Hers was Donna Reed who had to be the epitome of the most gracious Hollywood star and class act.

MLH: How was it decided to give Dorian a mother?
STRASSER: When Claire Labine was headwriter, she opened up the back story and discussed Dorian's mother and father who we were told had died in an auto crash. [Before that,] different writers rewrote the history and added extra sisters and cousins--the Cramer girls, Blair and Kelly. Cassie showed up in the history as news to Dorian that she had had a child. So they created a mother. Dorian's mother was not dead, but alive and well and being kept in the attic by the loyal family retainer who loved her more than life itself. A very Gothic story. There were mixed feelings about the story, but others have said that as challenging as it seemed to be, I pulled it off very well.

It had been decided in the old administration that I would play my own mother. I was very concerned about it. I lived with that information for about six months. I felt at times it would be a real challenge and therefore I would embrace it. But when you are doing tape, it is so hard for one person to do two parts. As we neared the event of discovering the mother, we had been working such long hours that the whole cast was fried, including yours truly. People were saying that playing two parts would be a guarantee of an Emmy. I implored them to stop thinking that way. It kills creativity if every page or speech is given "Emmy" proportions or importance. I have empathy for the woman who is not my "sister" for all the Emmys she hasn't won because she has to hear about it all the time. She has had an astoundingly brilliant career. When you win it once, people will say, "Well, you have only won once, wouldn't you like to win it a second, third or fourth time?" Trust me. My one Emmy is a treasured only child.

MLH: What happened when Jill Farren Phelps became the producer?
STRASSER: She made a first phone call to me and I raised the issue that playing my mother would not serve the story but might be just a gimmick. If I had been in her office she would have probably fallen on her knees she was so grateful. I was so concerned about it because we were in so deep with this dark Gothic story that I needed closure with it. Thinking about it right now I start to get emotional. It was so hard to think about childhood abuse and a lack of parental love, about all the rejection. I needed closure and I definitely needed another actress to do it with. So they got me the brilliant Marian Seldes [Three Tall Women] who, thank you very much, does look like [takes picture of her mother off the wall] my own mother. Marian and I just hit it off. She is very musical in her language and the character was a very gifted concert pianist, driven mad by her desire for perfection. What a privilege it was to work with her!

MLH: What about other celebrities you have worked with? Sammy Davis Jr? Did you work with him?
STRASSER: Briefly, unfortunately. It would have been nice to work with Uta Hagen [ex-Hortense], though she was appalled at how little rehearsal time there was and then opined from the makeup chair -- I'll never forget -- "If I did something like this regularly, you would find me in my dressing room rehearsing all the time." She had trouble getting people to rehearse with her. I personally would never have left her dressing room. I would carry coffee for her.

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By Mari Lyn Henry

MLH: How many men has Dorian brought into her spider's web?
STRASSER [a la "Dorian"]: Not enough! Well, you are talking to Dorian, aren't you?

MLH: Okay, Dorian. Let us discuss the men in your past. How did you feel about Herb?
STRASSER [a la Dorian]: Herb was a case of can't live with him, can't live without him. I think he was one of the great loves of my life, if not the love of my life. In some deep sense, he didn't really understand or like the real me. I think there was often a lot of judgment on his part that sometimes caused me to act out even more.

MLH: What was the central conflict between you and Herb? Money?
STRASSER [a la Dorian]: He didn't have enough ambition. When you grow up without enough money, I think it is important to have it as a stabilizing factor. Herb was not heavily motivated and of course when I tried to help him become Governor of the state I did everything I could and there were certain actions that I took that caused problems. I was coming from a good place. I just knew he would be the best Governor the state could ever have and I wanted to see it happen but... c'est la vie. [fyi: Her French is somewhat better than her Spanish.]

MLH: After Herb, who did you set your sights on?
STRASSER: May I have permission to step out of character for a moment? You see Herb really left the picture while I was away. And when I agreed to come back, I didn't know that I wasn't coming back to my Tony Call. How out of the loop was I not to know Tony/Herb wasn't there anymore!

MLH: What happened to Dorian's love life?
STRASSER: There was no man. Elaine Princi had done a fabulous job on a storyline that had overtones of something I had suggested when I was still on the show -- that Dorian pull a "Cher" and get involved with a younger guy. In those days it was big news. She could wear black leather and ride a motorcycle. So that young man -- Jason, played by Mark Brettschneider -- was still around and we had the challenge of how to build our relationship.

MLH: What happened to Mark?
STRASSER: He left because he didn't like what was happening on soaps. He went back to school and now he would like to do one again.

MLH: What happened after Jason's departure from Llanview?
STRASSER: So Dorian was without a man. Linda Gottlieb, Executive Producer at the time, knew I was popular but she had never seen my work. She didn't quite know what to do with me, nor did the headwriter. It took until Linda decided to do the 30th anniversary show. I was on for eleven months when Dorian and Viki are locked up and given 51 pages of material in one show and 36 pages the next day. Linda said to me, "Oh my goodness, you are so funny, such wit..." Eleven months later I was finally given the material that created an audition for me to win my part back! I can tell you from experience, reclaiming that part was a challenge when you don't have the material, the writing isn't on your side, the directors have never worked with you before, and you are working with all new actors. My new daughter, played by Laura Koffman, and I were kind of stretching for communication until I said, "Look, I may be your second mother, but you are my fifth Cassie!"... I am very grateful to the huge talent of Erika Slezak. If you are going to do 51 pages in one show -- the script is only 100 pages -- there is no better person to do it with. As a matter of fact to this day, my mail really reflects the desire for more story involving Dorian and Viki... So I passed the "audition" for my own part. Linda got to see me doing the sort of material that had given me the franchise for doing the part as I saw it.

MLH: If there were a character on the show that Dorian should have been paired with, who would he be?
STRASSER: When she was really desperate for money and power, why didn't she go after Asa? Before I left for California, Paul [Rauch, then executive producer] thought it would be a good idea to take away Dorian's money and give it to Tina. So Dorian had to go to work as Asa's assistant. Why didn't I try to seduce him?

MLH: That would have been the "Dorian" thing to do.
STRASSER: Exactly. But Paul wasn't interested in Dorian having power. He put me in prison, in uniforms, and took away my money because he thought I would hate it so much I would quit. He didn't know how much I love "B" movies. I never had so much fun [as] doing my "woman behind bars" story. That story played in the summer and they got the most fabulous actresses to play the prison women, including Kathy Bates. Kathy was doing Night, Mother on Broadway. New York has to keep its soap operas because it helps to underwrite theatre. It keeps a certain amount of the economy enriched here.

MLH: What about your current storyline involving Mel (Stephen Markle)?
STRASSER: The Remarkable Markle. He was a gift to Dorian from the equally remarkable Claire Labine. Only Ms. Labine could create a Pulitzer Prize winner who is a falling-down drunk, forever grieving for his dead wife. Stephen completely embodies this role and consequently he is irresistible to Dorian and the audience. Women used to say to me on the street, "Can you clone Mel for me?" I would like to clone him for myself as well... Unfortunately we fell into that soap vortex [that occurs] when a couple get married and are happy, sexy, and charismatic -- they disappear! No one knows what to do with them. Well I've been told that this situation will be rectified and soon. Stephen comes from the theatre. He has played all the great roles including Hamlet three times. There is nothing he can't do as Mel with or without Dorian. I think he deserves center stage.

MLH: When the script isn't written that way, what do you do to keep Dorian fascinating?
STRASSER: I so understand this woman. I have adopted her. When Claire Labine told me her vision of what happened in Dorian's childhood, it wasn't at all what I had imagined, but it didn't matter. A Claire Labine story! What an honor. I dove in and went for it. I really love and like this character. I understand excess but I had a very challenging childhood. I understand people who are that complicated and have trust issues and need a facade to survive.

MLH: You said you love "B" movies. Any movie stars you identify with?
STRASSER: Bette Davis. I have a huge wonderful portrait of her by Hurrell that I bought, an original print. Then there are the women who were brought on board in case Ms. Davis got difficult -- Ida Lupino or whomever they were grooming to be that wild creature. Davis is one of my great idols. I have great empathy for how difficult her career became for her after she turned 50.

MLH: "Fasten your seat belts, it is going to be a bumpy night." Would that famous line she uttered as Margo Channing in All About Eve be a line Dorian might say?

STRASSER: Absolutely. A lot of actors ask me about training and I advise them to watch old movies. You can rent them. I am always saying to Gina Tognoni, "Have you rented a Carole Lombard [movie] yet?" I say, "She was half Italian too, honey, but I want you to watch her work because there was an elegance to her, a humor, sexiness and lightness." You are not imitating these people but you look and watch their essence. Let the energy, timing and style infuse your consciousness. They did have more support. More takes. Forty people making sure that dress fit right, that the hairdo and makeup were perfect, oooh such a delight to watch.

MLH: How do you feel about your relationship with the new administration?
STRASSER: We are having an adaptive crisis now between the new administration on the show and Dorian. There are two reasons why I did not exercise an option to leave the show. One: When ABC invited Michael Zaslow [David] to come on, [it] created an opening in my heart forever and Two: They have cooperated and are letting me do a play. It wasn't leveraged as you will have to agree to stay that extra year or else you can't do the play. They just gave it to me. I hope what will always balance the story with some difficulties they may have had with me is that I am very loyal when kindness and support are extended... So I couldn't walk away from the show when so many things seemed to need some healing. The show has been very good to me and mine. Another year is certainly merited. Because it is not that I need to have the story or the only story but I do want to be an important part of the tapestry and continue this character in her natural evolution and development. Otherwise it looks like she has outlived her usefulness.

MLH: It seems like this is a good time for you to be doing a play and taking a short leave of absence, especially with Laura Koffman (Cassie) expected to give birth by the time your play is over. Time then to resume your mother/daughter relationship after both projects are a fait accompli.
STRASSER: Yes. We haven't had some good interrelationship [scenes] lately between the Cramer women. And you will understand as somebody who has been a "casting alchemist" that it was not a writer-driven concept. It was the casting of this group of women who all liked to rehearse together and found common ground as actors and as women that started to suffuse our work. Suddenly from this very "checkerboard" family of strange females we became the Cramer women -- Kassie DePaiva, Laura Koffman, Gina Tognoni [and myself]. My darling Gina is a very talented young woman. As much as I would like to see better story for me and for Stephen Markle, right up there is "Yo! what about Gina Tognoni?" We are talking about somebody who has the potential to be a very important leading lady. But I adore all "my girls". Here's a cute story: The staircase on the set is supposed to look like marble so naturally there is no carpet on it. Our costume designer will dress us with these gorgeous high-heeled shoes to get up and down these stairs. But I felt that my Cramer girls were clumping and it was very loud. So at one point, I said, "It sounds like a troupe of baby elephants. Oh baby divas, c'mon, we have to glide." I was instantly challenged. "Oh Robin, you couldn't do that." "Excuse me," I replied. I went to the top of the stairs in these impossible looking shoes, curled up my toes, and softly came down the stairs, purposefully looking like Norma Desmond descending the grand staircase in Sunset Boulevard and declared grandly, "You see, not a sound!"

MLH: Would you consider yourself sort of a choreographer in residence?
STRASSER: Only when it comes to the staircase. These women have great moves of their own. I have a lot of fun with the new people who have been brought on. What they find out about me is I like to rehearse. And we will go into a dressing room and we will work. We will also talk and bond and find that comfort level so that somebody like Tuc Watkins [ex-David], once we got to a certain point, really opened up. When Tuc allowed his humor and his wildness to show, we had a really fun character on our hands. Remember when Viki forced Dorian to marry David? Unfortunately, that ball was dropped and we went into a slow year for me. We could have done our own version of War of the Roses because we wanted to kill each other. He has a very strong comedic bent and I would follow that call of the wild anytime.

MLH: Speaking of comedic bents, I understand the play you are rehearsing is being promoted as "fun for the whole dysfunctional family!" Give us the details.
STRASSER: It is the New York premiere of Freedomland by Amy Freed. This play was a runner-up for the 1997 Pulitzer Prize. The performance dates are November 27 through January 3rd at Playwrights Horizons, 416 W.42nd Street (Theatre Row). It has a wonderful cast and a brilliant director. I love being back on stage.

MLH: What kind of character are you playing?
STRASSER: An out-of-control sex therapist.

MLH: With or without clothing?
STRASSER: There will be sometimes an absence of clothing. How much I will actually show is to be determined. You will have to come see for yourself.
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