One Life to Lives Dorian (Robin Strasser) has said I do seven times. Shes tried younger men, older men, crime lords and journalists. None of them brought her the undying happiness she was hoping for. So, whats a gal to do? Become a lesbian -- almost.
With the city of Llanviews mayoral race down to the wire, Dorian is horrified when she learns her arch-enemy and opponent Viki (Erika Slezak) has won the support of the towns Gay and Lesbian Alliance. Not to be outdone and to prove she deserves their backing, Dorian decides she will pretend to be gay and announces she will marry her openly gay campaign manager, Amelia (Tia Dionne Hodge).
In another daytime television first, Dorian will tie the knot with Amelia as part of a mass ceremony of 22 gay couples the week of Oct. 26 to bring awareness for same-sex marriage. But will Dorian be able to go through with the nuptials since she is really in love with David (Tuc Watkins), her on and off again beau?
Out caught up with Strasser, who is celebrating her 30th anniversary as Dorian, on the set of One Life To Live. In an honest and intimate interview she talked about her concerns with the gay storyline, her personal struggle that kept her from the LGBT March on Washington, the Obama administration, and what kind of man shed want one of her sons to marry if he was gay.
Out: You are thrilled to be doing this mayoral race storyline with Viki --
Robin Strasser: How do you know that? What are your sources? [Laughs] You like that -- when I turn it around and ask you the questions? Did somebody tell you this would be easy?
Can I make up something about how difficult you were?
If it sells you or me, go ahead!
How did the producers and writers approach you to tell you that you would be part of a gay storyline?
They dont approach us. They try to stay as far away from us as possible. That just isnt how it works. Ron Carlivati [the shows head writer] is a man of great intellect and has diverse interests and experiences. There was no warning for me. I saw something coming up [in the script] and said, Whats going on? Is Dorain ? They said Yes, shes going to want to get the gay vote away from Viki so much that she declares herself gay.
Whats the first thing that went through your mind?
Is she saying shes gay or is she trying it out? Either way, I needed that information.
Did you have any concerns?
What alarmed me more than if she had actually made a discovery about her sexuality was that if she is pretending that she is. But she believes she is doing it in a good cause, which in her pathology isnt that she wants to do anything to be mayor -- its in a good cause because people do have a right to make their personal choices about their sexuality and romantic and personal commitments. Equal rights to all people should be available. So, she goes to the higher moral ground even while shes down in the mud deciding shell do anything to beat Viki to become mayor.
What do you say to critics who say you are making a mockery out of same-sex marriage?
I cant listen to critics. Not because I dont feel that their opinion is valid, but if I made an active survey or fact-finding mission about how my work is carrying out the storytellers vision on our show or was going to impact -- if that in any way shaped what my acting choices were or my commitment to the material -- then I would be in big trouble. And I dont let anything "bleep" with my work.
Is this storyline classic Dorian?
So you would say this story is plot-driven and not character-driven?
No, its not that either. Its totally unexpected Ron Carlivati visioning. It doesnt fall into a pocket of classic Dorian. Classic usually to me infers this is what has been the trademark of this character in the past, and this is so out of left field. I think people wouldve bet money that Dorian would do just about anything to take the election away from Viki, but to actually stand there and declare herself not just a lesbian, but by the way here is my fianc. We didnt make a big deal about it, but shes [Amelia] also a woman of color. Hello!
Off-screen you have been an activist for gay rights for years. What made you first get involved?
Youre going to say I was smiling warmly and affectionately [when I said this] Most of my best friends are gay! Truly, I cannot look back on my life without gratitude for people I was blessed to have who happened to be gay. That would be men and women. I feel the loss over the friends -- because I am of a certain age -- who became ill before we knew what it was that was making people very sick and killing them. It [supporting gay rights] was not anything I had to search for. It was right there in my experience.
You were supposed to be at the LGBT March on Washington, but at the last minute didnt go. Why?
Up until the day before I thought that I would be there, but I am currently under treatment for the panic attacks and claustrophobia that has affected me since early childhood. Sometimes -- and it doesnt mean you shouldnt take it on -- but sometimes when you go into discovery and recovery transitionally, youre more raw and exposed. The thought of going into a train station --
There wasnt any luxury. I was takin my little ticket and a-goin down into Penn Station. I got panicky. Public transportation or anything where I cant control the door -- Im sorry. I just have to know that I can get out. I now have to be very careful about going to theater. I cant sit in certain kinds of seats. Im glad Broadway and Times Square has gotten so vital, but its too crowded to go into for me.
How do you get around New York?
Oh! I havent taken subways in 30 years. I work for taxis!
How do you feel the Obama administration is faring on LBGT issues?
Youre going to ask that big of a question! [long pause] I have concerns because I was an early Obama supporter. I think one of the happiest times in my own home was the Inaugural dinner that I gave. I made a dinner that wouldnt quit! And by the way I had very special friends there! I can show you the e-mails I sent afterward where I said, Im sorry to tell you this, but the best looking people there were the gay couples. We had straight people there too. Dick Cavett showed up. Look at me name dropping!
But back to gay rights -- it has never done any factor of our society any good or given true gain to suppress, discriminate or do harm to another group. You cant give me historical evidence that it ever made anything stronger to isolate or try to destroy another group. It shouldnt even be up for debate. Particularly when the nit-picking over what should be allowed and what shouldnt negates the willingness of the gay community to be of service, as in to become parents of children who are not necessarily the first ones adopted. Theres no win in that, and its shameful. I got a lot of dividends that I was hoping would come in on Obama. Gay rights was one of them.
What is another issue you were hoping President Obama would come through on?
Well, Im a product of the 60s. Amongst the promises besides his commitment to gay rights was the idea that we were going to go get the boys and girls, men and women fighting for us home. Im deeply concerned that whats being discussed is how many more we are sending. Vietnam -- they said we want to bring them home with dignity and honor. How about bring them home alive? -- theres a concept. Or, if they are wounded, give them everything they need to heal. If someone has died, see that their family and their children are taken care of in the sense of no foreclosures. I dont think there should be foreclosures on military families -- period. It should be impossible in any financial agenda that a family that has a husband or a wife, son or daughter fighting for us, die for us, that they cant get a 24-month grace period to dig themselves out of some hole that was crafted by questionable banking and lending practices.
Are you worried about history repeating itself?
We cant leave until we finish it? Vietnam, Vietnam, Vietnam, Vietnam, Vietnam. My generation somehow found a way through and Johnson and Kennedy did not get us into the debt the younger generation is confronted with. They have bills to pay, baby.
Over the years you have been candid about the plastic surgery you have had. What is the greatest compliment you can receive?
Youre still very passionate and energized. I smile and say, thank you when people try to put one over on me by saying, [puts on a thick New York accent] Oh, you havent changed in all these years! Thats not true. And I dont think looking young is the compliment you want to be pushing on people.
Whats one of the hardest things about playing Dorian after 30 years?
If youre going to tape your performance at 9:30 in the morning, you better be ready -- especially if youre working with Miss Slezak [Viki]. She knows your lines at 9:30 in the morning, and shes only read the script twice! Ugh!
On-screen you and Erika are bitter rivals. Are you close off-screen?
We dont go to the mall together! Which, truly, is a loss, as far as Im concerned.
Guiding Light was just cancelled after 72 years. Are you worried about the future of soap operas?
Im concerned about the future of scripted storytelling -- long form storytelling thats produced by professional producers, performed by professional actors and designed by designers. Theres always another reality show. I still cant follow that story about the boy and the balloon and John and Kate -- this is frightening. Im not going to put down all reality shows, but when there is so many that there isnt enough creative air left for structured, scripted storytelling, then I do get worried.
You have two grown sons. How would you react if you found out if one or even both were gay?
If one of my sons came to me and said, Mom, Im in love and his name is Michael As long as the guy was willing to get along with his mother-in-law and let me play with the children if they chose to adopt --
Any gay man would love to have you as a mother-in-law!
And now you know why I dont want the chicks my sons brought home! Its like, What part of this dont you get, girlie?
Finally, what are you the most proud of?
To learn more about Robin Strasser, visit her website, robinstrasser.com. One Life to Live airs weekdays on ABC.The mass gay wedding storyline will continue to heat up all week with a major event on Friday, October 30 and as well as the week of November 2. Check local listings for channels and times.Send a letter to the editor about this article.
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