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Hillary B. Smith Is Given Back

The Emmy Award-winning One Life to Live star returns to the stage in Any Given Monday

By New York City
Hillary B. Smith
Hillary B. Smith
Hillary B. Smith has had an eclectic acting career, with roles in such New York stage hits as The Heidi Chronicles and Lips Together, Teeth Apart, as well as major parts in such daytime dramas as The Doctors, As the World Turns, and, most notably, One Life to Live, on which she has played the role of Nora Buchanan since 1992 (and earning a Daytime Emmy in 1994). Smith now returns to the New York stage for the first time in over a decade in Bruce Graham's Any Given Monday, which begins performances on Thursday, October 6 at 59E59 Theaters. TheaterMania recently spoke to Smith about the role, her fans, and her future career plans.

THEATERMANIA: How did this part come about for you?
HILLARY B. SMITH: It was sheer luck. I got a call from the producer read the play, really liked it, went in to read for the part, had a fun auditon, and got the call that afternoon that I got the part.

TM: Are you enjoying being back on stage?
HS: It is really nice to be back on the boards. Doing One Life to Live used to be more like stage, where we had the luxury to have rehearsals and talk about scenes. But now they just write so fast and we get it and do it. It's all about pushing the story forward.

TM: Tell me about your character, Risa, and why you were attracted to her?
TM: Risa is this upscale Jewish housewife who is having a midlife crisis. She's married to Lenny, who is her rock, but with that stability comes what she perceives as boredom. Then, she finds someone who makes her feel alive, so she leaves her husband and has an affair, and then realizes this is maybe not what she wanted; that sometimes what you're looking for is right in your own backyard. I like that the play explores these pivotal moments when people make decisions that forever changes their lives. But I also think this is the kind of the play where when you leave, you can just say "I had a great time."

TM: Do you expect to see a lot of your One Life to Live fans at the theater?
HS: I know a lot of people will be in town for our first preview weekend, so I am actually doing a special post-show reception for my fans on Friday night to benefit my charity, the Willie-Coppee Fund, which is a discretionary fund for pet owners who otherwise would have to put their dogs down.. With the money we've raised, we've helped cure dogs of illness, done operations, and found homes for sick dogs across the country. I am also starting something called the Light Fund with a doctor in Boston Children's Hospital to help fund research for childhood illnesses.

TM: Right before you joined One Life, you shot a pilot for a TV series based on the hit play Driving Miss Daisy, but it never went to series. Can you tell me about all that?
HS: I was supposed to star in a series called Love & War by Diane English, but when that didn't work out, they sent me the script for Driving Miss Daisy and asked me to play Florine. It was a wonderful experience. I got to work with Joan Plowright, Robert Guillaume, and Saul Rubunek. Alfred Uhry wrote it, and he was there for the whole thing. It was really a high point of my career. Unfortunately, the executive in charge hated the idea of showing a black man being a servant to a white woman. I think she missed the point that it was about prejudice. And it didn't help that we shot it around the times of the Watts Riots in L.A. So they aired the pilot in August and that was the end of it. And yes, had it got picked up, I would never gotten to create Nora..

Robert S. Woods and Hillary B. Smith in One Life to Live
(© ABC)
Robert S. Woods and Hillary B. Smith in One Life to Live
(© ABC)
TM: What has it been like to play Nora for almost 20 years?
HS: I have to say she has changed a lot in the last 10 years, and too often, she became a device to move the story rather than the character we started with. She's done a lot of things I wouldn't have Nora do. Lately, with the story about Destiny having Nora's son's baby, I've had to play Nora like she's losing her mind -- she's so stressed out and so desperate and so full of grief that she's making decisions Nora would never make and that go against her moral fiber. But, as an actor, you have to come up with justifications for what your character does.

TM: The show is scheduled to go off the air on ABC in January, with the likelihood that it will continue online. You haven't said whether you'll stay on. What can you tell me?
HS: I can say that when Llanview leaves ABC, Nora and Bo (played by Robert S. Woods) will be together, and that makes me very happy. As for the online venture, I am very excited that the show's fans will have another venue, and I am sorry for ABC that they made this decision. But I don't know what's in store for me after Thanksgiving, when I stop shooting One Life. Things are up in the air. I am continuing to work on this Internet series,Venice, which shoots in Los Angeles. I would love to do more stage work. And I have to admit it's both liberating and scary not to know what's next. Like a lot of actors, I actually love change and love reinventing myself.


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