I think I’ve said this before, but soap actors get a bad rap. People think it’s all camp and melodrama and overblown emotions, quavering voices or Pointy Fingers of Doom. Sometimes it is. But sometimes it’s subtle and poignant, too. These are performers who constantly have to run the gamut of human emotion. Their characters need to turn on a dime, often within moments, and an actor who can’t do that…? Soap fans do notice.
Pair good actors with great storytelling and you get magic. You get ATWT‘s Lily, who has been breaking my heart this week, because Noelle Beck seems like she’s been through the wringer. Her entire body carries the weight of Lily’s grief and exhaustion, and her beautiful face is etched with raw misery. It doesn’t really matter that Holden isn’t dead; it only matters that Lily feels his loss so acutely. Then there’s OLTL’s Tika Sumpter, who wowed me today as Layla confronted Oliver about his sexuality. She went from cold anger, to hot fury, to her voice breaking with anguish…and then full tears. Paired with Scott Evans, whose Fish was trapped in desperate denial, her scenes were fantastic. I got chills when Fish said that simple, devastated “yes” to Layla asking if he and Kyle slept together. The script…my God. The script was so realistic, I want to kiss whoever wrote their dialogue.
Layla: When I’m with a man, I want all of him, you understand? Not just the part that walks in a room with me on his arm or brags about me to the squad or shows me off to his parents. I want to be the one who has to be backed up against the wall because he wants me so much that he can’t help himself. That’s what I want. Can you give me that? No! You can’t, and I’m not settling for less.
Oliver: I can be what you want. I just need…
Layla: To change who you are?
Oliver: No. You like who I am. You said that yourself. I’m the kind of guy that you want. You want the kind of guy that you can talk to, someone who’s kind and appreciates you and wants the kind of life that you want.
Layla: Why do you think this hurts so much, Oliver? Why? This isn’t just about you and your problems. I wanted you to be the one.
Oliver: I wanted you, too. Layla, we made love.
Layla: It’s not supposed to be like a test, Oliver, and I can’t let you use me.
Oliver: I love you. I told the guys. I told my parents. I need you. You’re the kind of woman that I’ve always wanted. You’re smart and sensitive, and you’re stylish, and you’re great. I love hanging out with you.
Layla: It’s not enough.
Oliver: Yeah, but it is for me, and I can be what you need, I promise. Just help me. You don’t know what it’s like. I can’t be gay.
I admit I laughed that Oliver threw in “you’re stylish,” as a reason he loves Layla, but, God, it all hurt. It hurt that he was basically admitting he was gay all the while telling her that she was his best hope for turning his back on who he is. And Layla understood his struggle perfectly. Her condemnation wasn’t for his orientation, but for his deception…both with her and himself.
Layla: Do you expect me to feel sorry for you because you’re a gay homophobe?
Oliver: No, and I’m not homophobic, and I’m not gay. Okay. I don’t even identify with that. I’m a cop. I want to get married and have a family.
Layla: Gay people have families and jobs, and in some states, they even get married.
Oliver: You’re not hearing me.
Layla: You’re coming in loud and clear. You hate yourself.
Oliver: That’s not what I’m saying. Look. I’m a work in progress, but I’ll do whatever it takes, okay? I’ll go to therapy. I’ll go back to church.
Layla: I’m not asking you to change who you are, Oliver, and if you’re not ready to accept yourself, then there’s nothing I can do about that, but you’re lying to yourself and me, and I deserve better than that.
She’s damn right, she does! And I hope she gets it. And I hope Fish finds something better than pain and denial and hiding in therapy or church. That’s not camp and melodrama and overblown emotion. That’s stuff that happens in reality. And that’s what soaps, and their actors, are capable of conveying. That heartfelt connection is what I’m in it for.
4 thoughts on “This is why I love doing what I do.”
And this particular episode of ONE LIFE TO LIVE is why I continue to watch soaps even though not only soap actors but also soap fans get a bad rap as well for watching these programs. When the stars are aligned properly and a story unfolds not based purely on plot, scenery or other sorts of gimmickry but on relatable and authentic human struggles, that’s when the power of soap storytelling truly shines is put to its best use. And this was the case with yesterday’s scenes with Layla and Oliver.
I think what resonated with me the most about Layla and Oliver was the fact that their conversation (yes, the script was amazing even with the “stylish” bit uttered by Oliver) — Oliver’s excuses and lies (ranging from being drunk to playing truth or dare) to avoid admitting to and declaring his sexuality, and Layla’s rage and tears standing in for the ultimate example of the collateral damage that results when a gay man hides in the closet while using, not maliciously, a woman to avoid his own problems with his sexual identity — was so painfully private and brutally frank that I felt like I was intruding in two people’s, not fictional characters’, intense interpersonal conflict and their volcanic confrontation to get to to the truth in order to resolve said conflict. To me, Layla and Oliver yesterday were REAL PERSONS grappling with a terrible situation that neither one could completely accept or fully resolve without having to endure much anguish, anger, fear and many tears.
When I read your editorial in the latest SOW, I too had to laugh and wonder what goes through the minds of show runners when coming up with story ideas. Rapists getting therapy from their victims, an aunt and nephew having sex, continuously creating misogynistic situations for female characters — like you, those are not the reasons why I and many other soap fans watch and root for our shows despite how they sometimes irritate the audience and our intelligence. Like Layla’s refusal to settle for anything less than what she wants from her partner, I want certain things when I watch my soaps: entertainment, some laughter, and the ability to relate to what’s playing out on my screen and to be moved when I see my favorite characters struggle and to cheer them on when they overcome their obstacles because those reflect what I go through in my life and help me realize that the human condition is universal and that sometimes, there are happy endings and other times, you’ll just have to let yourself feel the ache and the pain and let time do its job. Those are the things that soaps can and should offer their audiences. And yeah, I demand that soaps provide those things to me and my fellow audience members.
With yesterday’s ONE LIFE TO LIVE, I got what I wanted and then some thanks to great writing, direction, Scott Evans, and the brilliant Tika Sumpter, a formidable actress woefully underused by ONE LIFE TO LIVE who displayed her talents as a true leading lady yesterday. Uncomfortable though I may have felt by the end of the episode, I was still happily reminded why I love these characters and why I love my soaps – detractors be damned.
And now, I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Thanks so much for sharing your eloquent thoughts on Layla and Oliver!
Thanks for reading, James!
Yeah, I don’t know what goes on in writers’ heads, but I love, love, LOVE when the ideas come to fruition like this one did. It was so intimate, so personal, and so resonant. The best writing makes you feel as though you’re watching something you shouldn’t be.
Great analysis of some great material! The Fish/Layla stuff has been more captivating for me. I can’t argue that Noelle has been amazing the last week, but it DOES take away from it for me knowing that Holden is alive…I mean, even if I knew through the press that Jon would be back, the fact that we saw him onscreen the same day as Lily’s heartbreak hurt her scenes, IMHO.
But the Fish/Layla stuff! Fantastic! And I’d never take away from Tika or Scott’s performances, but it’s got to be at least a bit easier to pull on those emotions and knock material out of the park when you’re given something amazing to hit! As an ATWT watcher who’s just started watching OLTL, I’m not used to praising writers…but I’m happy to do it in OLTL’s case, and hope I can over at ATWT again soon, too!
PS–OLTL gets my praise not just for the Kish storyline, but in general…the wit is wittier, the arguments more genuine…almost every scene on OLTL is better written than what I’m seeing on other soaps right now. Great dialogue all around.
See, I think ATWT has great day-to-day scripts, too, and a lot of good stories. It’s just the execution that often fails. And, for me, I decided to separate from the get-go how Noelle was playing it from the reality of Holden being alive. That’s the problem with knowing what’s happening weeks down the line, I always have to compartmentalize.
As for Fish and Layla benefiting from great writing… I absolutely agree. But I wouldn’t want to shortchange some of the great stuff that does come out of Oakdale. The Stenbeck/Ryan/Coleman arc, for instance, has a lot of great writing in it.
I think when people pick up a new soap, it’s easy to go, “Oh, this is WAY better than mine.” But they all have weaknesses, and OLTL has its own problems that its longtime fans are dissatisfied with, the same as ATWT watchers.