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Suddenly Susan

After almost three decades portraying Erica Kane, Susan Lucci has—finally—won that elusive Emmy. But the actress still has other roles to conquer.
Mervyn Rothstein
From the Print Edition:
Susan Lucci, Sep/Oct 99

(continued from page 1)

Then, on May 21, 1999, in front of a national television audience, Lucci finally won her long-awaited Emmy. Critics later said that her acting in a bedside vigil over her TV daughter's emotional and physical illness had pushed her past the competition in the Best Actress category. Whatever the reason, amid a standing ovation at Madison Square Garden in New York City, with a triumphant smile on her face, Lucci walked up to the podium and accepted her award.

"I truly never believed this would happen," she said that night, tears in her eyes.

Looking back later, she says, "It still feels wonderful. Winning is a much better experience. I always wanted to win. I never made a secret of that. It has been an exciting, very happy time for me. I'm enjoying it tremendously. People have been very warm about my having won, though they were very warm all along even when I didn't win. But this is a time for celebrating."

The honor, however, hasn't changed her attitude toward her work. "When I walk into the ABC building, I'm there to play scenes," she says. "That for me is really the fun part of what I do--working on the scenes, and then playing them. It's a very intimate form of communication. It's very revealing, very daring and very exciting."

Despite the Emmy and the glamour of celebrity, the life of a soap opera star is not an easy one. "All My Children" is taped five days a week, 51 weeks a year (Christmas week is a holiday). A minimum of five episodes are taped each week, sometimes six or seven, especially after Christmas to make up for lost time. Holidays such as Memorial Day or Labor Day are rarely times of rest; the shows must go on.

On the days Lucci is working--three, sometimes four days a week--she awakens at 4:30 or 5 in the morning in her 14-room Georgian colonial home in Garden City, Long Island, a well-to-do suburb of New York City--and the town where she grew up. She has some oatmeal, yogurt or fresh fruit, maybe even a bagel.

After breakfast, Lucci travels for an hour and 15 minutes to the "All My Children" set, which is located on West 66th Street, on Manhattan's Upper West Side. "I'm studying my lines all the way," she says. "Usually, on Sundays I read all the scripts for the week. My parts are underlined, and I'll think about the lines in a loose way, which I find very creative. I commit the lines to memory on the day of the shoot, in the car. Rehearsal begins at 7:30 a.m., with the director and the script. And then it's run to hair and makeup. Some days we try to be ready to begin taping at 9:30 a.m. Other days we rehearse on camera at 10 a.m. and start taping at 1 in the afternoon. It's all about doing the lines and getting in as much rehearsal as you can and getting physically ready."<

The day's work usually ends at about 7 p.m.--although it has been known to continue until 3 or 4 in the morning on particularly difficult or busy days. "And then I go home, and on the way home I look at another script," she says. "When I go home, that's really time to be home."

For her duties, Lucci is paid well, but, she says, not as well as some. She declines to discuss salary, and says that all published reports--one number or another in front of the word million--are incorrect. "By the standards of television I do very well," she says, "but by standards in the world I'm not paid as well as many athletes, or as well as many rookie athletes. But I still love what I do. And I do many other things, and I'm rewarded for those other things, too, so 'All My Children' is not my only source of income."

In the studio, the goal is to complete one one-hour show a day. But sometimes, to allow for vacations or time off to make prime-time television movies, it's one show, with an additional seven or eight scenes. Each scene is rehearsed once on the set, before the cameras, and then taped. A typical day will involve 25 to 30 scenes, and anywhere from one-third to two-thirds of them will involve Lucci. Between the rehearsal and the taping, Lucci will often stand on the set, script in hand, going over her lines, making sure she has them down. She says the lines to herself, looks up, closes her eyes and visualizes the words and the action. Sometimes she leaves the set and walks to a corner of the studio to practice the lines aloud. She will, after all, essentially have only one chance to get them right.

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