"I Like Her A Lot"
Afternoon TV, January 1978
by Katie Hall
Article Provided By Wanda
Ilene is Delia Ryan's greatest defender and has some wild ideas about what she'd like to see happen to Delia and the Ryans.
No two personalities could be more different than those of Ilene Kristen, the actress, and Delia Reid Ryan, the character she portrays on ABC's daytime series, Ryan's Hope. And no one knows the difference better than the actress herself, who created the role when the series debuted just over two years ago.
"Delia is the opposite of me," says Ilene. "My background is so different. I feel very, very secure. I had a very, very stable upbringing with two parents who were always there. I have great sympathy for Delia - she really had no one, nothing."
Ilene, like Delia, comes from a small family, but the similarity ends there. "My family is small," Ilene explains. "I just have one sister, but we've always been very much a family, a nuclear unit. I always knew who my mother and father were. They were wonderful to me when I was growing up. They treated me like an adult and with a great deal of respect."
Ilene feels that a person's childhood experiences have a very strong influence on them in later life. "I think people do what they do as adults," she says, "because of what happened to them in their younger life. When they have problems dealing with certain things, you can usually trace it back to the formative years and understand why. Sometimes people will be very different from their upbringing because they're trying to correct something. My father, for instance, had a very strange upbringing, but he went in the totally opposite direction as an adult. He had a mother and father who were separated and eventually divorced, which was unusual back in the 20's and 30's. But rather than taking after his father, he went into the totally opposite direction. He became a real family man - very stable, very generous, very loving.
"You know," says Ilene thoughtfully, "a child can grow up in an atmosphere where they're not given love and then go on as an adult and not able to give love. Or, a child can grow up not having love and then spend the rest of his life searching for it. That's Delia. She's trying to rectify the mistakes of her childhood, but the problem is she doesn't know how to do it. Her greatest difficulty is how she deals with the day-to-day problems of life, and not the problems themselves."
Ilene, on the other hand, is busy coping with her own life in a very secure and successful manner. She recently saw one of her own real life fantasies come true - Ilene and a partner opened a New York film theater last spring. The Jean Renoir Theatre is named for the noted French filmmaker. "It's my first business venture," Ilene says proudly, "and it's something I've always wanted to do. We're the only theater in America with Renoir's full approval," she adds. "We plan to show a lot of his films that have never been seen in this country before. And we're also showing a lot of other films that you don't often get a chance to see here. We had a Bunuel festival, and a selection of films from the Berlin film festival, and we just finished a Cuban festival."
Unlike Delia, Ilene has her own life to keep her busy - and keep her busy it does! Aside from working on the show four or five times a week, she devotes her evenings to the theater and one wonders how she ever finds the time - or the energy. "You find the time somehow," Ilene says. "First of all, I have a lot of energy, and besides, it's exciting. I like being able to wear different hats," she continues enthusiastically. "I've done a lot of different things in the theater. I was a production assistant at one time, and I've worked on scenery. I did prop work for the Broadway productions of Jesus Christ, Superstar and on Lenny. "It's good though," says Ilene, "it gives you a different perspective on things. You see a lot of things differently from the production end than you do when you're performing. And that can only help you to better understand the business you're in."
Ilene feels a very strong commitment to the 'business' she's in and that is one of the reasons she's involved with the Jean Renoir Theatre. "I'm not really making any money," she explains, "but I feel you owe something to the business if you're working in it and making money. A certain amount has to go back into it in order for it to survive. Eventually, I'd like to do some live theater at the Jean Renoir or maybe start a small repertory company."
Should anyone fear that Ilene's behind-the scenes involvement will eventually take her away from her work before the camera, they can relax. "I enjoy the work with the theater," says Ilene, "and the production work I've done in the past, and I'm pleased that I can do it. But, I prefer to act. It's what I've always wanted to do. And I love working on Ryan's Hope. It's hard work, but I love it. It's a terrific show produced in a terrific atmosphere. Everyone, the writers, the production crew, the whole staff, is very friendly, very cooperative. And the cast is wonderful. We're like a family."
One of the cast members that Ilene is closest to is Malcolm Groome, who plays her on-screen husband, Pat Ryan. "I've known Malcolm for a long time, longer than Ryan's Hope," she explains. "We worked together on Broadway in Grease." He's very talented and he's a delight to work with. He's a close friend, too. And a good friend. Do you know, he probably saved my life one day on the set! We were taping a scene where I was supposed to be pushed in the Hudson River, and to wet me down, they put me in a metal tub on the studio floor and threw buckets of water over me. Suddenly, Malcolm shouted, "Ilene, get out of there quick!" He pulled me out of the tub, then pointed out all of the wires and camera cables on the floor around the tub that were getting wet from the water. He was afraid that I might have been electrocuted!"
The on and off-screen relationships between the stars and between their characters are obviously quite different. But what about Ilene's feeling about her character? Does she like Delia Ryan?
"Yes, I do. I like her a lot," she is quick to answer. "I think it's important to like the character you're playing, particularly in a serial. There are always times when you won't like something the character is doing but that's when you have to understand why he or she does certain things. You have to have a background to draw on. Understanding the character is part of liking them. A lot of people don't like Delia, but I think that's because they don't understand what motivates her. Delia is motivated by desperation, a great deal of desperation. She's very manipulative, yes, but it's the desperation that makes her that way. Of course, Delia would never think of herself as being manipulative. She's just doing what she's doing because she has to. And sometimes, that makes her appear to be a villain, which she isn't. If you were to just listen to what some of the other female characters on the show - Mary, Jill, or Faith - have to say about Delia without understanding her background, you would probably say, 'this girl is a horror!'"
Ilene also thinks it is unfair to compare Delia to the other female characters on Ryan's Hope. "Remember," says Ilene, "she's the only female character on the show who causes problems. She's used as a catalyst - and all the other women are saints by comparison. "Also," Ilene continues, "all of the other females in this story appear to be very strong and Delia can come across as being very weak. But she isn't. In fact, in many ways, she's much stronger."
A major way in which Ilene differs from Delia is their individual philosophies. Ilene grew up with a totally different philosophy of life. "I have a rule," she says, "don't ever push anyone. Don't put up walls. Don't cling to anyone. I guess you could say that the rule is - no rules. That's the way I live my life. But Delia's got a lot of demands. I don't make demands on anyone," Ilene says emphatically.
Ilene has become so involved with her character over the past two years that she sometimes goes to the writers and asks them to make changes in a particular script or storyline. "Sometimes when I see what the writers are doing with Delia, I want to say, 'no, don't do that!' And very often, I do. Claire and Paul (Claire Labine and Paul Avila Mayer, creators and headwriters of the show) are very agreeable to the changes. They realize that I know the character very, very well."
When asked if there was any major change she would like to see in Delia's character, Ilene answers with a mischievous twinkle in her eye.
"I have this fantasy about her that came to me one night when I was walking downtown on the West Side in Manhattan. I came across this place called Delia's Restaurant. I thought to myself, wouldn't it be wonderful if Delia had finally had it with the Ryans and so she takes Little John and goes out on her own. She still has a little money left from the divorce settlement with Frank and she says to herself, 'I don't know what I really want to do, but I think I could be a hostess in a coffee shop.' And then she finds this little place which is right near the Ryans, and hasn't been in operation for years. She gets the place going, even has Little John helping, you know, handing out menus and things like that. And she takes all of the business away from the Ryans. In fact, she even sends an inspector from the health department over to the Ryan's kitchen and he finds roaches in some of the corned beef and some rotten potatoes. She is very successful and she becomes very independent. Wouldn't that be wonderful?"