Eden Riegel played Bianca Montgomery, Erica Kane's daughter, in the original "All My Children" on ABC and on "All My Children 2.0" by Prospect Park. You can reach out to her on Twitter: @EdenRiegel
I chatted with one of the most popular actresses who has portrayed a gay character: Eden Riegel (Bianca Montgomery) of soap opera "All My Children". Eden Riegel did not know her character Bianca was a lesbian when she won the role.
You started acting at the age of 7 years old on Broadway in Les Misérables. Please describe your audition and what you were feeling when you were told you got the part.
"I booked the part out of Washington, DC, close to where I was living in a Virginia suburb. It was a giant cattle call at the Kennedy Center that took all day with hundreds of kids auditioning. My mom read about it in the paper and we went, having no idea what we were doing. We didn't even really know what Les Mis was. My brother and I had done community theater and dinner theater, but nothing on this scale. All the other kids were more professional than us, more polished, more prepared. But our naturalism ended up working to our advantage. I was very nervous which made me look fragile and waifish which was perfect for the role. My brother was spunky and puckish -- a natural Gavroche. He was cast as the 'local kid' in the Kennedy Center production (a publicity trick they often pulled at the time to get a lot of attention in the local press). But the director, Richard Jay Alexander, remembered me through that production, and when he started up a new company out of New York shortly thereafter, he hired both my brother and me. We toured for a year and then I moved to Broadway. I obviously had no understanding of the importance of getting the role, or how it would change my life. I loved doing theater, being a part of a cast and all the fun and grown-up responsibility that went with it, so I was very excited. But I still remember being sad that I would miss Halloween Trick-or-Treating in my hometown. When I moved to Broadway I knew it was important and that made it easier to leave the family I had formed on the tour behind. But I never knew enough to be scared. I just had fun when I performed. I was too young to feel any pressure yet. On tour and on Broadway we had a chaperone backstage and a girls' and boys' dressing room. And my grandmother toured with us as our guardian and received an additional per diem to travel with us (actually 2, as there were 2 of us), as is the Equity [union] rule. Moving to New York initially did create some stress, because I was living with my grandmother away from my parents and brother (who were still living in suburban Virginia). But soon after my brother also booked a role on Broadway and he and my mom moved to New York so we could become full-time show-biz kids. Still, that was no picnic, and definitely put a lot of stress on my parents' marriage."
How is television acting different than stage acting?
"Definitely faster paced to say the least! It's a whole different beast. There is very little time to rehearse or to work with the other actors and director. You show up on set having done most of your prep on your own and already knowing your lines. In soaps that can mean learning 40-odd pages overnight. You work with the director to quickly block the scenes and then head right into shooting. For primetime there is time to light and a small number of takes. In addition there is coverage that they have to get for editing. Usually two cameras are operating at once, from the same angle, one looser and one a little tighter frame. They do a master, some mediums, and go in for close-ups, then turn around and do the other side. In soaps it's often just one take. There are three or four cameras going at once and they do a rough edit in the control room on the fly. Then they make sure they have what they need and move on. That's why soaps can cover so much material, sometimes shooting two hour-long shows a day. Theater is something different altogether, as most actors are familiar with from school. There's a rehearsal process, lots of discussion, and staging goes through several revisions as things settle in and feel different. Once the show goes up all the technicals are set, but performance can change quite a bit within those parameters from night to night. It's a living, breathing organism, and no performance is the same. In film and primetime much of the performance is shaped by the editor and director/producers in the cut. In soaps it's essentially filmed live, so whatever happens on the day is what the final performance is. And in theater there is no final product. It's always a work-in-progress."
Do you continue to take acting classes? How have you seen yourself grow as an actor due to classes and real life experiences?
"Absolutely I am still in acting class and can almost never imagine myself not being in class. Due to the cyclical nature of the business even the most successful actors I know are unemployed almost more than they are working. During that time, of course, they are actively auditioning, maybe making their own content with friends, writing, and sometimes doing some theater for an alternate creative experience. But it's important to stay sharp and that means working the right way in front of other people you trust to push you to improve, even when things are slow. Perhaps especially then. Because we are so reliant as actors to be hired before we can work on our craft, we have to find outlets when people aren't giving us that opportunity in order to be in tip-top shape when they do. Also, when I am working a lot it's easy to fall into traps, taking short-cuts because I'm overwhelmed with what has to get done. Being in class every week is like going to the gym. It keeps me honest, inspires me, and pushes me to keep learning. What's so great about what we do as actors is that you can never be a finished product. You can always get better, I don't care who you are. Even if you are Daniel Day Lewis. I bet he never stops working, that guy. There is never a time when we can't improve. So no matter who you are you have to keep working on yourself. A sitcom actor might find his show cancelled or crave a new challenge, and he will be so glad he's been in class every week working on his drama skills, for example. Those same skills will deepen his sitcom work, and will prepare him for his next project."
When you were cast as Bianca Montgomery in the soap opera "All My Children," did you have any idea about the lesbian storyline?
"When I was cast I had no idea. I only knew that they were looking for a very strong actress because they expected the story to get a lot of attention. I was flown to New York to have a one-on-one sit-down with the then executive producer right after I was offered the role. She talked me through the whole storyline to make sure I was comfortable with portraying a lesbian character. They wanted the right person for this role, because they anticipated it might be a tough-sell to some loyal fans in small-town America who might be uncomfortable with the idea of having a gay regular on their beloved soap. They wanted to win all the fans over, and hoped they could embrace Bianca as their own. To that end the story was vastly more successful than anyone could have anticipated. By and large our fans were incredibly welcoming of me and supportive of the storyline. It became a favorite of the viewers in a way that made us very proud of our fans and gratified in our work."
What type of research (besides consulting your lesbian sister, Tatiana) did you do to make sure you portrayed a girl who was afraid to come out due to family issues?
"I did consult my sister as research, and talked with some of her friends. What I found was that, though the details of each of their stories were different, at the heart of all of them were ideas any human being could relate to. Themes of alienation and rejection, of loving a trusted parent, and worrying (sometimes quite justly) that that parent would lose their love for you if they knew who you really were. Of learning to love yourself, and accept who you were born to be, and having to courage and self-love to be that person no matter the stakes. What was most valuable in my research was the permission I was given to make the story my own. Everyone I spoke to had a different tale to tell with different details. Each was their own person, with different tastes and fashion sense, different likes and dislikes. So I was empowered to make Bianca my own with the confidence that I didn't have to represent an entire community of people. Or rather, by portraying this one girl, unique and like no one else, I was representing the entire community in a way that would make them proud. It's hard to remember but it was really a different time then. Now gay characters proliferate on television. But then it was extremely rare, and had never before been done on daytime. I was the first and felt a responsibility to do it right. As I found out, approaching the role as I would any other role I had played was the only way to go."
What did you do to gear up for the first lesbian kiss (with actress Olga Sosnovska who played Lena) on American daytime television?
"Soaps are so fast we didn't really have time to work anything out. We certainly didn't practice in our dressing rooms, or anything, much to some of the male cast members' disappointment. But at that point Olga and I had been working together for several months and felt very safe with each other. We were friends. Which I suppose might have made it more awkward, but for us somehow made it infinitely less so. And she's British and those British gals don't have the gene for embarrassment so she helped diffuse the situation. It was silly and giggly and ultimately just as uncomfortable as any opposite-sex kissing scene ever is, and no more-so. What was most scary was the wall of press cameras behind our camera guys and all the strangers on set. It was considered an event at the time, and different outlets sent crews to cover the scene. That part was terrifying. Just acting in front of them, and then the kiss, too. It felt very scrutinized. I wanted the kiss to look sweet and tender and very natural. Not rushed or awkward. I'm not sure we achieved that but each kiss got progressively better as we got more comfortable."
Bianca had many girlfriends. As each new love interest was introduced and you became more and more comfortable with same-sex kisses, did you have discussions with the actresses beforehand or just delved right into it?
"We would talk about it a little but honestly it was mostly joking around. It was a soap so we had to keep the kisses pretty chaste. Elizabeth Hendrickson and I tried to slip each other some tongue at one point but they made us retape that kiss sans-tongue. It's the daytime so everything had to be fairly tame. And all my love-interests were very game for the kisses. We were always happy on those days because we loved the story and loved that they were letting us show real intimacy between two women on camera. So we were always up for a kissing scene, or to throw in a kiss where none was written. It became very comfortable and habitual. And, no, I never worried about being typecast. I don't think women had to worry about that as much as men even 12 years ago when we started the story. And nowadays it's even less of an issue than it ever was. We are starting to see actors male and female go in and out of gay or straight roles with no one batting an eye. And actors are playing gay or straight regardless of their personal orientation, and feeling more comfortable being out because of that. But anyway, I never worried about it. Life's too short and the part too enticing. Considering every potential inevitability is too exhausting."
You started doing fan events and other events because of your work on "All My Children." Are these events written into your contract or is there a separate contract?
"The Super Soap event that took place every year at Disney World was sponsored by ABC/Disney and I imagine that was somewhat contractually required as a reasonable promotional appearance. But believe me I wanted to be a part of it. It was fun. No one had to do any convincing. I didn't do much in the way of other public fan events. I did the fan club luncheon every year and my own fan club held and still holds annual events. They are fun and proceeds go to charity. I did a number of other charity appearances and events."
Why did you choose not to renew your contract on ABC's "All My Children" and move out to California?
"Because I wanted to see if I could make a go of it on primetime or in films. I was signed to a big-shot agent and I thought at the time, 'I'm not getting any younger, if I want to give it a shot this is my chance.' I had a few close calls but did not break out in anything and would return to the show when I wasn't busy doing other things. I'm proud to be a working actor who has always supported myself comfortably doing what I love. To me that is success. Everything else is gravy."
Why did you decide to return to "All My Children" 2.0 which [was] shooting in CT?
"I wanted to be a part of the show's next chapter. It was a huge part of my life and I was excited to play Bianca at a new stage in her life and also see the show establish itself for a new generation, with a company behind it that had an exciting vision, and with a new model that is groundbreaking and could pave the way for a new way for viewers to consume television. It's an exciting time. I was also proud of our fans for never giving up, and through sheer power of will bringing our show back from the dead. I wanted to be a part of this resurrection because I was so impressed that it actually came true! We are shooting on location in Connecticut and sharing studio space with One Life to Live, so we take turns being in production there and being on hiatus. During the hiatus I am back in LA. When I am shooting I am on location in Connecticut."
This piece originally ran on NYCastings.