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.