Soap Opera Weekly, July 16, 2002
By Kathryn Walsh
OLTL's Ilene Kristen is solid gold as the boozing, abusing Roxy
Every now and then an actor gets that once-in-a-lifetime role, a character so rich and colorful that the rest of the canvas pales in comparison. Susan Lucci found it in Erica Kane; Anthony Geary with Luke Spencer. But Ilene Kristen has hit the jackpot twice, first as Ryan's Hope's Delia Reid and now as One Life to Live's Roxanne Balsom.
Kristen's path from Delia to Roxy was not paved in gold, however. "I'm not going to say that it wasn't tough, because it was," Kristen admits of the 11 years between contract roles spent pounding the pavement and having doors shut in her face. "When you have a lot of talent, which I think I do - I'm not embarassed to say that - you feel like you are being caged in by your own lack of opportunity." The actress struggles with her words, welling up when mentioning the many friends who got her through the hard times.
"The truth of it is, Lorraine (Broderick, OLTL's co-head writer) is responsible for this," Kristen shares. "Over the past 10 years, there were other people who could have made this happen a lot sooner and for whatever reason did not. And I don't understand that. It is probably the biggest question mark: how I could actually be off a soap regularly for that amount of time."
Kristen spent the years between RH and OLTL doing a little bit of everything, from soaps (she had recurring roles on Another World, Loving, and OLTL), comedy revues (she almost landed Saturday Night Live) performing rock 'n' roll, script doctoring and working for a high-end wedding photographer.
Kristen's fortune changed last August when OLTL called her agent to see if she was available. But like many things in her life, it was a bittersweet victory - she found out she got the role of Roxy on Sept. 10, 2001. "I had one day of, 'Wow. This is great.' And the next day it was, 'Why would acting be important to anybody?' I don't feel that way right now, but I did that week: 'Who cares?' By the time I started work on the 27th, it was, 'Okay, ready to roll: People really need entertainment, and I'll give it to them.'"
Kristen was not offered a contract. "But I had a feeling...I saw the first two days and I said, 'They're not going to get rid of this. The show doesn't have this.' The show needed a grittier, tougher kind of thing."
After her first work aired, she got a call from a friend who grew up in an abusive home. "He said, 'Ilene, you're going to write yourself right out of the show.' And I said, 'No. I don't think so. It needs to be shown. I'll get sympathy eventually down the line because you'll find out why Roxy acts that way.' We may not know that for a while, and I don't want to get soft on the edges with it. She's someone who's a survivor and has had to do what she's had to do because she has to do it. I'm quite sure she was abused as a kid.
"I always make up the backstory," Kristen explains. "I see her as having a similar life to Natalie. I've played different types of characters that come from troubled backgrounds, like Delia. I based Delia on somebody I knew, but I based Roxy on a lot of bar girls from playing in rock clubs, kind of a sousy girl, tough. She's looking for love. That's the thing about Roxy. She really has this thing for Max."
Kristen clearly relishes her attention-getting role. "I'm in pig heaven. Are you kidding? I love these kids of characters. I want to rile the audience as much as possible." And she loves to interact with her fans. "When I'm home and I'm behind closed doors, I have my privacy. And when I'm not, I'm public domain. I respect the audience, and I care about them as much as they care about me. It's important to me. That's one of the nice things about doing a soap: You get to learn about people, especially if you don't close yourself off from them, which I don't. Maybe it's because I grew up here (on Manhattan's Upper West Side), so I'm used to being in everybody's face and being talked to."
Oddly enough, despite her questionable moral compass, the fans seem to adore Roxy. "I am like the queen of the nannies. I hear a lot of 'Oh, Roxy!' A lot of people with accents, people from Belize and Trinidad: 'Oh, Roxy, you bad girl. Bad girl.' They love her."
Kristen is now on contract, and Roxy shares stories with not only Natalie/Allison/Jessica but also Max/Al and now Viki/Niki. This week, she gets dragged into Niki's scheme to get rid of Ben when "Viki" uses Roxy as her alibi for the time during Ben's fall. "You have to give the writers so many possibilities, so much innuendo, that after they see that scene - and especially if you have a scene with several new characters - the writers will say, 'Oh, my god. We can do this.' I try to create chemistry because that's my job. That's what I show up at work to do."
And although she loves it, it is work. "It can get a little scary," Kristen says, referring to OLTL's schedule of often taping more than one episode a day. "A lot scary, actually. I'm always up for a challenge, but every once in a while you say, 'Oh, god.' [But] there are days when you say, 'I would pay them to do this.'"
She pauses, then laughs. But they don't need to know this."
|"Back on Ryan's Hope, we were pushing the envelope all over the place," Kristen says. The actress with her co-stars (from far left): Ron Hale (now GH's Mike), Bernard Barrow, Helen Gallagher and Michael Levin.
|Roxy is perhaps daytime's worst mom; she now has two daughters, including Jessica (right), and a son to kick around.
honestly cares [about Max], Kristen says. "Now, how she got that prenup done...I
rationalize it: 'I'm going to make him love me. If he doesn't, he's going
to pay.' She's smart, but in a weird way.