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Double Exposure

Brian Kerwin does daily double duty as August:Osage County's bad guy Steve Heidebrecht and One Life to Live's good guy Charlie Banks. logo
Brian Kerwin
(© Joseph Marzullo/WENN)
By night, he plays a successful if sleazy businessman urging his girlfriend's 15-year-old niece, Jean, to smoke pot and lift her top so he can see her breasts. By day, he plays one of the nicest guys in the world, with a wealthy, age-appropriate girlfriend. It's a demanding 24-hour cycle for actor Brian Kerwin, who radically alternates daily between portraying Steve Heidebrecht in Tracy Letts' August: Osage County on Broadway and Charlie Banks on ABC's daytime soap opera One Life to Live.

But before you send Kerwin a sympathy card, consider this: Osage has garned an enormous amount of attention, including a Pulitzer Prize for Drama and seven Tony Award nominations. And on June 20, five days after Osage is expected to garner the Tony Award for Best Play, Kerwin will be in Los Angeles for the Daytime Emmy Awards, where he has been nominated for Best Featured Actor. (He is the only member of the show's cast to get recognized this year in any acting category.)

Plus, Kerwin says doing double duty isn't as hard as it looks. "During the first act of Osage (in which he does not appear), you can find me fast asleep on the floor, or learning my lines for the soap," he says. "But if I had Deanna Dunagan's part or Amy Morton's, I seriously couldn't do it." It doesn't hurt that his role, though relatively small, is particularly memorable. "Of all the 13 characters in the show, my feedback is that Steve stands out. He's truly vile. I have to say that I absolutely love to play challenging characters when I get them. And in his own way, Steve feels he is justified in what he does. Nobody is intentionally evil. And there are some very funny, twisted rules in that dysfunctional family that everyone follows."

The play originated at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company, and Kerwin, who was born and raised in Chicago but has lived in New York for the past 15 years, was one of only two new actors plugged into the company when it came to New York last fall. "I originally met Jeff Perry (who plays Jean's father, and is one of the original founders of Steppenwolf) 18 years ago when he, I ,and Billy Petersen did a movie called Hard Promises and we really hit it off," he says "And I had been in Tracy's play The Man From Nebraska at South Coast Rep just two years ago. So when I got offered this role, I felt comfortable right away -- even though it came only five days after I signed the papers for One Life to Live."

As it happens, Kerwin has spent the last 30 years bouncing nonstop from stage to television to movies and back again. His many credits range from guest spots on such television series as Monk, Big Love, and Grey's Anatomy to films such as Torch Song Trilogy and 37 Dresses to such plays as After the Night and the Music and The Autumn Garden.

But the Emmy nomination is definitely a new experience. "My first reaction on being nominated was embarrassment because I've only been on the show since October," he says. "I look up to a number of actors on the show, especially those that have been there for years. On the plus side, I was afraid they'd bring me on for my romance and then a year a half later they'd give me tuberculosis or something and kill me off. Now I feel like maybe I'll be on a lot longer."

The Emmy process also brought Kerwin a new challenge. "When you are nominated, you have to submit two samples of your performances to the judges," he says. "But I don't watch myself on TV. And with my schedule I don't have time! So I asked two nice ladies in the office to watch it together and choose."

Kerwin, who briefly appeared on The Young and the Restless in the 1970s, says he always aimed to play a soap character that was different from the norm. "I wanted to play a guy who was totally honest, who never told a lie," he says. "Well, it worked for a few months, but this is a soap and he had to become a little duplicitous." Indeed, Charlie's in a whole lot of trouble now for lying to girlfriend Viki Davidson (played by five-time Emmy winner Erika Slezak) that one young male character is his biological son, while another has been revealed to be his real son.

Slezak, who has been part of One Life for over 30 years, says Kerwin quickly contributed some badly-needed attributes that made him instantly welcome on the show. "He's great to work with on so many levels," she says. "He is such a nice man and charming, which always helps, and he has those wonderful blue eyes. But beyond that, he is a wonderful actor. Brian has a special sensitivity and a simplicity that you haven't seen in any of the male characters on the show. He is not afraid of playing emotions. Some men on our show won't play weak, but Brian isn't ashamed to show that men have feelings and hurt and cry."

The double work schedule, as tricky as it may be, is also allowing Kerwin to spend more time with his kids, Finn and Matilda; and the money he makes on One Life also affords him the chance to focus on theater. So, all in all it's a win-win situation. "Kids shouldn't grow up on the road." he says. "And I like doing the soap; it's good honest work."

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