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Inside the Soaps with Mimi Torchin
Soap Center, September 21, 2001
Part 2

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Mimi:  You've never been married, have you?

Ilene:  No, I haven't.

Mimi:  Was that a conscious choice?

Ilene:  For many years it was a totally conscious choice, and then I was engaged to somebody really very wonderful, who I'm still somewhat in contact with.  We have a surrogate son that… actually someone who I worked with when I ran an arts program at the Prince George Hotel…

Mimi:  I remember that; that's for homeless kids, right?

Ilene:  Yes, and my favorite kid, Antoine, who was on "Ryan's Hope" with me…  Actually he has been doing some jail time, which has been very, very difficult but really amazing because in the time that he's been in prison he's worked on a book that he's writing.  And he's a really, really fine kid, and he's being released to Bill's custody.

Mimi:  This is your former fiance?

Ilene:  Yes.

Mimi:  That's wonderful.  How old is the boy now?

Ilene:  He's 25 now.

Mimi:  Oh, he's a man now.

Ilene:  I've known him since he was 11.  He's quite a man.  He just called me yesterday and he said that he can't believe that he's coming out, and the way that he's coming out is being released to Bill.

Mimi: Do you think that he's going to make it in the world?

Ilene:  Yes, I do.  He's very special.

Mimi:  So, he's like your child.  You don't feel the need to…

Ilene:  No, no.  I actually… I still do feel that I will be married, but having a child was never very important to me.  Giving love to a child who needed love was really important.

Mimi:  And you did that?

Ilene:  And I did that.

Mimi:  So that's great.

Ilene:  I did that with several kids, but this is really my kid.

Mimi:  Your special boy?

Ilene:  Well, you know he calls me "Mom" (laughs), and he calls Bill "Dad."  It was so funny because when we went up to see him in prison, there was a picture taken of the three of us and I thought, "There's an Italian and the Jew and the black kid in the middle."  And then I said, "This is the family, and this is the family that I always wanted."

Mimi:  That's great; that's the way the world should be.

Ilene:  Even though we're not together, somehow this dysfunctional family is really very, very important to me.

Mimi:  Tell me about whom else you hang out with and you keep with, because I know you all were a very tight…

Ilene:  I just saw Malcom!  I just saw Malcolm Groome, which was just such a treat.  He came in to see Nancy, and oh, Malcolm is wonderful.  His hair is down to here (points to past her shoulder).

Mimi:  Oh my God!  I can't even imagine!

Ilene:  Oh yeah, he's great.  He's such a beautiful person.

Mimi:  What's he doing?

Ilene:  Well, he does background looping for movies and for television; he does very well.  You know, he fills in all those voices.  He does very, very well with that.

Mimi:  And Kate (Mulgrew)?  You keep up with Kate.  Captain Janeway, my idol!

Ilene:  Yes, I just saw Kate.  She came into town, actually, to see Nancy and we hung out the other day and that was great.  Even though all this time has gone by, it's really funny; you kind of revert to being the twenty-something person that?

Mimi:  That's not such a bad thing, though.

Ilene:  No, it's pretty weird though.  I sometimes feel like we're leading these parallel lives, you know. That, yes, we're living this life at this age, but at the same time this life from 20 years ago, particularly because it's?

Mimi:  It's re-running.  Must be strange…

Ilene:  Yes, it's re-running, and as you get older, though, so many parts of your life just start running in a parallel line.  I'm actually going out with somebody who I've known since I was probably like 19 or 20 years old…

Mimi:  A lot of people I know are doing that. A lot of people, as they get to sort of our age -- although I think you're younger than I am -- they're going back to people they knew in high school and college.

Ilene:  It's very weird.

Mimi:  It's funny; it just sort of comes full-circle…   Delia was always one of my favorite characters because she was so unique.  There was nobody on daytime like her then and I don't think there's been anybody like her since.  She was the most unique character. She got into lots of weird scrapes including being kidnapped by a gorilla, which wasn't your Delia, right?

Ilene:  No, it wasn't.  When I left the show, I think they were in a quandary about certain things and they started doing this gorilla storyline, which I felt was very unfortunate, because here the show had been so real and then all of a sudden it took on a whole other thing.  Then they did a storyline with like a Jaws-type of take-off.  I feel when these shows go in that direction it can be very problematic.  I don't know if Claire and Paul were still writing it then.  I know that had that come up when I was doing it I think I would have said to them…   I don't think it would have come up because things were just going in another direction, so I didn't have to do that.  I mean I had other things.  I was hysterically blind for a while.

Mimi:  What else?  Let's try to recount some of those?

Ilene:  Well, the blindness was a big thing because at first I was actually really blind and then I was faking my blindness.

Mimi:  Oh, Delia, but that's okay; Reva just did that on "Guiding Light," so there you have it.

Ilene:  Well, there you go… yes, these universal themes…

Mimi:  (Laughs) Yes, exactly!  Faking blindness… something we all do!

Ilene:  Yes, every day.

Mimi:  You were on the show for quite a long time; you came, you went, you came…

Ilene:  Came, saw, conquered, laughed, quit, fired, you know all those things…

Mimi:  And came back.  They had to beg you to come back.

Ilene:  Yes they did.

Mimi:  Did you have a favorite storyline?

Ilene:  Oh God, I had so many great things with Roger, the cooking classes with Sheila…   Now I don't remember a lot of that except that I do know that it was really great that I'd lie and tell him that I was going to these cooking classes.

Mimi:  This is when you were cheating?

Ilene:  Yes.  Who was I cheating on?

Mimi:  I think Frank.

Ilene:  I was cheating on Frank, and I was going over Roger's…

Mimi:  And you said you were taking cooking classes.

Ilene:  Yes, with Sheila.

Mimi:  Frank is dumb.

Ilene:  Well, he didn't care perhaps because I think he wanted to be with Jill so, "Go Delia, go."  But the rest of the family was quite shocked that I was actually carrying on with Roger who they always considered this rich, ne'er-do-well guy.

Mimi:  But you really weren't cooking.

Ilene:  I was cooking, just not the Chinese food I was supposed to be learning.  I was learning all about Chinese cooking, supposedly, but no, I wasn't quite doing that.

Mimi:  Did you have a storyline you had to do that you hated?

Ilene:  No, I had no storyline that I did that I hated.  There were a couple scenes that I did not like.  It had to do with tearing apart a doll, and it was like I had a monologue with a doll and I was ripping it apart.  I felt it was brutal and something was really off about it.  I called up Claire and I said -- I didn't direct this towards Claire because I knew she didn't write it -- and I said, "Someone's psychiatrist is out of town.  I know I'm working out a lot of problems through them with this," and it was in fact the truth.

Mimi:  That's very funny.

Ilene:  Yes, it was a little strange.  I felt it was so brutal and it was weird.  Plus I hate talking into the air. People don't really have long, lengthy conversations to themselves unless they're…

Mimi:  They do on soap operas.

Ilene:  I know, but I never liked that particularly.  I never liked standing in a mirror and going, "Oh, I'm gonna get them." Those things were always a little bit tricky and difficult.  Of course Delia would have that because so many of her interior thoughts had to be transferred.  That was always a little bit difficult, but basically [I never hated] the storylines, no.  I had some great storylines in the last four years of the show. I thought I had some really good stuff.

Mimi:  Delia had so much rich stuff.  What's your happiest memory of the show?

Ilene:  You know, believe it or not, it was the last couple years of the show. I had really made peace with a job that I actually never really wanted, because I really wanted to do comedy.  I had trained… I felt I had trained my whole life… I had trained my whole childhood to be Lucille Ball, really.

Mimi:  But you were Lucille Ball.  I mean you were a Lucille Ball who was a little bit psychotic… sociopathic maybe.

Ilene:  Yes, I know, I know.  Well, Lucy and Gayle Storm were kind of my idols, so I had never thought of doing a soap opera, but then I used the soap opera the way I felt that would make me happy.  In the last couple years of the show, I really was actually happy.  In fact, I remember being in my dressing room and I was really having a great time.  I became very close to Jason Adams, who played my son, and with a bunch of people on the show.  We actually were socially going out.  We'd have these great dinners.  Also this young man, Antoine, he became just part of the circle; it was really wonderful.  I was doing a lot of music.  I somehow had a feeling that the show was going to go off the air; it was really funny.  It was on the day I had actually made peace with the show, in my heart and in my soul.

Mimi:  And how did it make you feel when you found out that it was going to be no more, this show that you had spent so much of your life with?

Ilene:  At first I thought that's the way it's supposed to be.  Things are supposed to have an ending. Then when you really think about it, it's such a great group of people -- and karmically, such a group of people that should be together and worked so beautifully together -- that I say, "It would be great to work with these people again. It would be great."

Mimi:  And have you worked with any of them again?

Ilene:  No.  Oddly enough, when I was doing "Loving" I worked with Walter Bobby who I had done "Grease" with on Broadway.  So that was really extraordinary.  When you get to work with someone who you know very, very well, it's really amazing.  I'd like to work with Ron.

Mimi:  Ron Hale?

Ilene:  I'd love to.

Mimi:  Well, anybody at "General Hospital" out there: (Ilene laughs) Ilene is available.

Ilene:  I think he needs a woman.

Mimi:  Desperately he needs a woman.

Ilene: You know, I really haven't seen the show, so I really don't know if he needs a woman.

Mimi:  He needs YOU!

Ilene:  (Laughs) He needs me?  I think he needs YOU.  He needs a woman in general, but I think specifically YOU.

Mimi:  The show is now on SoapNet again, "Ryan's Hope."  Have you run into new fans?

Ilene:  Yes, actually, I have.

Mimi:  What is their reaction?

Ilene:  Well, it's really funny because I'll go to restaurants and I'll see a group of people talking about me, like whispering, but it's not very secretive…

Mimi:  (Laughs) They're not very subtle, huh?

Ilene:  So I usually go over to them and I go, "I am." And they go, "Well, it's weird because we're watching shows from 20 years ago, so it's very strange because you don't look all that different."

Mimi:  You look exactly the same!

Ilene:  It's weird..…   We're all in this kind of weird time warp and people are really enjoying the show.  They really love it.

Mimi:  You're not surprised, are you?

Ilene:  No, I'm not even surprised.  I'd be surprised…

Mimi:  It's so universal.  And don't you feel that the values -- the kinds of stories, that the show tells, and has always told -- is something that people need now?

Ilene:  Yes.  Well, the difference between then and now… now this is what used to drive us crazy as actors… those scenes were long…   You could be talking for ten minutes.  It didn't go, "Blah, blah, blah, blah, boom!" onto the next scene, like an MTV-type of thing…

Mimi:  And it was only a half-hour show.

Ilene:  But a friend of mine looked at some of the stuff and said to me, "Did you talk that much every day for that long, for that amount of time?" And I went, "Yeah," (laughs) which is one of the reasons why, after three years, I was exhausted…   I didn't really understand that until I looked back and looked at some of these scenes and said, "Wow, I was tired."

Mimi:  Do you think that you were tired because you actually had an emotional thing happen through being able to sustain an idea and an emotion for all of that time?

Ilene:  Yes, and as I said, I wanted to do comedy.  So at that time, when I was doing "Ryan's Hope" -- the beginning years -- that was very heavy, emotional stuff.  I had to cry a lot.  That's very difficult, having to do that -- because I had been trained, and trained very well -- and kind of worked within the Actors Studio, Method Training.  I'd go in back of the set during lunch and I'd do all the sense-memory stuff.  Put myself through hell and be ready to cry.  That was tough; it was very, very draining.  In the latter years of the show, I had a lot of stuff that was a lot easier for me.  It was like a lot of madcap Delia; I didn't have to cry as much.

Mimi:  I think that's what people also have retained about Delia a lot.  They forget about the drama and they remember the comedy because it's so fresh, so unusual.

Ilene:  Well, that's good.  I kind of want them to remember that… although looking at the crying stuff I know how deeply personal it was.  Sometimes I cried because things were great.  Most of the time, the thing that got me to cry the most was thinking and remembering something in my childhood that was great, but that would just be exhausting; I can't tell you…

Mimi:  It's hard enough living life once, to have to live it twice, right?

Ilene:  I can't tell you what my lunches were like or not like.  It was very hard for me personally to memorize my lines the night before.  I almost couldn't do it that way.  I was one of the only people who used to come in the morning and really sometimes not…  I knew them on a certain level, but I felt like it was wrong to have them memorized until I needed to.  So my day was unlike a lot of people's day.  It worked differently for me.  I put myself through a lot of torture.  So by the end of the three-and-a-half years -- my first stint -- I was ready to go.  I don't think it was the right time for me to leave; I don't think it was a wise thing for me to do, but in looking back at it, I understand why I did it.  You know, I understand why I did it.  Then coming back the second time was interesting because it was kind of a new regime there and it was very different, a very different experience.

Mimi:  What do you think is the greatest lesson you've learned in life?

Ilene:  Oh my God. I wish I could say I think I know things, but I really don't.  I think the greatest lesson that anybody can learn is to appreciate things while they're happening and to be in the NOW of your life, and not even to be in the past.  That's why it's even hard with the show being on the air, because it's the past.  Not that it doesn't have relevance, it does, but there's something that's going on inside of me now that's far more relevant than anything that I could be doing even a half-hour ago.  It's right now, what is relevant.  And I think we live for the future, we live in memories, and all of that stuff is really inconsequential. Although we're a society that you're only as good as your last?

Mimi:  It is a sort of throwaway society.

Ilene:  It is a very throwaway society.

Mimi:  Tragic?

Ilene:  And I think that if you could get into the minute, the second of life, you know that things aren't so bad.  You could owe money, you could this, you could that.  Are things so terrible at this very second?  Usually you'll say, "No, this is great." And if you're wise I think you could go, "This is great."

Mimi:  Do you have any major regrets?

Ilene:  I do, but I don't know if I had control over those regrets.  Yes, I do.  There are times when I feel like I'm not living up to my potential.

Mimi:  I think we all feel that.

Ilene:  You know, I think I have a great gift as an entertainer.  I don't know if it's as an actress, I don't know really what that means.  As an entertainer, to entertain people, to impart a message -- that was my healing.  You know, some people become doctors.  I felt like I could talk to people about emotions, about feeling things, about whether feeling laughter -- or making people laugh or making people cry -- and [let a person] really identify with another human being.  A lot of people go through life not identifying with anybody else; they don't have compassion for other people.  So I always felt like I wanted to portray a character that people would have to care about. Whether they hated her, I would make them stop ironing; that was my goal:  "I'm going to make you stop ironing; you're going to sit and you're going to watch this."  I felt like I had messages to impart about a human being -- flaws and all.

Mimi:  What would you like to be remembered by?

Ilene:  Well, some of that [which I just told you]… making people feel things… for bringing a certain lightness and gaiety into a scene when it needed it the most.  And entertaining.  I think I'm an entertainer.

Mimi:  I think you are an entertainer.

Ilene:  Thank you.

Mimi:  I think you've done it brilliantly and I think you're going to continue to do it.

Ilene:  I hope so, thank you.

Mimi:  And I've really enjoyed this.

Ilene:  Thank you, this was a pleasure.

Mimi:  I'm so glad you came.