Susan Lucci has three little words to describe her new Investigation Discovery series Deadly Affairs: “Lust gone loco!”
It’s familiar turf for the Emmy-winning actress, who spent more than 4 decades bringing to life the adventures of All My Children’s much-married diva Erica Kane before the beloved daytime drama was unceremoniously yanked by ABC last fall, stunning fans and the series’ devoted cast and crew.
So when Investigation Discovery’s president and GM Henry Schleiff came calling with a project that would allow Lucci to keep Erica Kane very much alive in spirit — and on the airwaves — she found the offer intriguing.
“I came to Discovery because a presentation was made to me by Henry that was just incredible and made me laugh and made me get it and made me understand that this would be a perfect fit for me,” says the 65-year-old Lucci, impossibly beautiful in a tailored white suit and seated beside her dashing husband of 41 years Helmut Huber at the Beverly Hilton. “Henry sent a written proposal with photos of me as Erica with different boyfriends, different husbands — and then in jail! I had blood on my gown, I had a knife in my hand — but the writing was so witty and so right-on that I thought, ‘Oh he’s right — this could be a lot of fun!’ So we had a meeting and I was just bowled over. I knew instantly that these were good hands, this was a great idea — and a challenge for me, because I’ve never hosted.”
Boasting the mantra “two’s company, three’s a crowd — and one is a killer,” Deadly Affairs features dramatizations of true-life, ripped-from-the-headlines romances gone fatally wrong, narrated by Lucci, who gets to assume distinctly Kane-esque personas for each episode and offer up nuggets of her alter ego’s romantic wisdom (“In my experience, a perfect gentleman is nothing more than a patient wolf.”)
“I thought I would be in a studio, simply hosting the way I have watched hosts on other shows do, but no!” she explains. “I’m also on location! I’m in wonderful locations that have something to do with the story we’re telling, but also, I’m playing a character! I’m not myself; I’m a character that’s akin to Erica Kane, so fans who are missing Erica will get a feeling, a little flavor there. There’s a lot of humor and a lot of costume changes and a lot of great, organic storytelling — with a wink, with some humor. And then, of course, I also go into a recording studio and do the entire narration.”
And while the true-life soap aspects of these love stories gone horribly wrong are what draw viewers in, Lucci stresses that Deadly Affairs is ultimately about seeing justice served for the stories’ innocent victims.
“This is actual reality,” she says. “These stories did happen. This is not the kind of reality TV where things might be manipulated to make it seem real in the moment. These things actually happened. They were in the news. So we’re respectful where we need to be respectful — because a person really died. This is real. And you see how all of those personal relationships that people used to love to watch on All My Children — well, these are real-life relationships that have gone really wrong.”
Here’s what else La Lucci told me about life after All My Children and her new roles on Deadly Affairs and Lifetime’s upcoming Marc Cherry dramedy Devious Maids.
CGM: You came out of All My Children into a whole new world of television – one in which the idea of a show running for 4 successful years is rare much less 4 decades and reality is everywhere. And yet here you are, in a perfect entrée for you into the world of unscripted television AND in the hands of one premiere series writers on TV…
Susan Lucci: Well I never really thought about it that way [laughs]! It’s a very interesting observation and yes, you are right! But I really just wanted to play parts, do work that challenged me and that I felt as excited about doing as I did when I took the part of Erica Kane. In a perfect world, I wanted to have that opportunity — and also to be in good hands whatever I was going to do. And that’s what I feel I have found with Deadly Affairs on Discovery ID — and also the show I’m going to be doing on Lifetime, Devious Maids. So yes, I’m very lucky. And, in between, to be doing Army Wives on Lifetime and work on TV Land on Hot in Cleveland — how lucky!
CGM: My earliest memories of television are playing with the sofa cushions and watching All My Children and The Secret Storm with my mom. So I’m shocked and sad to see daytime drama being phased out as a television genre, because it is the one genre that is embraced by — and passed down to — multiple generations of viewers …
SL: I watched The Secret Storm with my mother, too! And Love of Life! And I did the same thing, too – made forts out of cushions!
When I was on the book tour last year, I had no idea that All My Children would be cancelled. The millions of fans who have always been so passionate were out there all over the country. For example, at Mall of America, I did an appearance at about 3 in the afternoon, and they were lined up all day — three tiers going up the rotunda. And everywhere I went — whether it was the Sulgrave Club in Washington, DC, or Mall of America — no matter where I went, the fans, across the board, across generations, were passionate — and there. So I was surprised when we were told they were not there. Because I saw them. They were there. And they were passionate. And they made my book a New York Times bestseller.
And the fact that we’re seeing more and more soaps do so well in prime time lets us know that, yes indeed, the fans are there. And globally, the genre is growing, not diminishing — in India, and the South American countries. So I am sad to have seen our show taken off the air. On the other hand, now I have some wonderful opportunities to which I would have had to say, ‘I can’t.’ I wouldn’t have had the time to do them. But now I do — and I can embrace it.
At the same time, I wish there were more hours in the day, because I miss Erica Kane, and I miss my All My Children family. But I really encourage the shows that are still on, and I hope to heaven that they stay on. Because they are wonderful and I know how talented and hardworking those people are, and how wonderful the shows are. And the audience is there for them.
For myself, I’m hoping that our All My Children fans and my Erica Kane fans will come with me and have a wonderful entertainment experience on Deadly Affairs.
CGM: You embodied one of the most intriguing roles ever written for a woman – and really one of the best television roles written period. So did you really have to audition for Mr. Cherry?
SL [laughing]: I did! I did! I’m a long time Marc Cherry fan, and Desperate Housewives was groundbreaking. He’s a visionary and he’s brilliant and when he asked me to audition, I was happy to do it. I was told it was part of his process and I get that. And you know what? I think it’s wonderful. And I just loved playing that part even if it was going to only be in the audition. But very happily we really were on the same page. Sabrina Wind, his producing partner, was also there and we just had the best time.
It’s a wonderfully written script — as Marc Cherry writes — and it’s so funny and it’s also so engaging and so intriguing. And it’s shot in a very fresh way. It looks so fresh. I’m thrilled to be a part of it. The music is incredible, the cast is incredible — very large ensemble cast. Wonderful actors, everyone across the board.
CGM: So many of your All My Children fans are still hoping for the show’s return in one form or another. Given that you are now employed on two high-profile primetime shows, are you still keeping that door open or could you feasibly see moving forward and retiring Erica Kane for good, regardless of what happens?
SL: I would always leave the door open … and move forward [laughs]! I did All My Children and Broadway at the same time — 8 shows a week. You can do it! And I could never say the door is closed and turn back on All My Children or Erica Kane — especially if Agnes Nixon is involved and Lorraine [Broderick] is involved and the right people are producing it. Because again it’s so important to be in the right hands. So important to be in good hands. I’d want to be in the hands of someone that “gets it.” Then truly I would listen to anything they had to say to me.
CGM: And even though some fans protested the idea of AMC coming back in a digital format, that really is the new wave of television. And then people can watch whenever they wish without being beholden to ratings …
SL: I’d like to see it be an app on the iPad! People could watch it on the way home from working — before they have to make dinner for their children. I know how busy everyone is now.
CGM: Are you particularly delighted that Deadly Affairs allows you to keep the spirit of Erica Kane alive and lets you have some fun with that?
SL: I go from Glamour Girl to Rosie the Riveter — I actually worked with some power tools! That’s why I said I just had to do this. They at Investigation Discovery are just embracing the Erica Kane persona and understanding that millions of people were so disappointed when All My Children was taken off the air and that they miss Erica Kane.
When I was on the book tour last year, a man came up to me in New York and said to me, “You know, Susan, they say that cotton is the fabric of our lives, but really — it’s All My Children.”
CGM: Do you keep in touch with your All My Children family?
SL: We had dinner list night with Alicia — Alicia Minshew who played Kendall, my daughter on All My Children — we saw Alicia and her husband, and Eden [Riegel], who was the original Bianca and some of our producers. We are all still in touch. And in fact, my hair, makeup and wardrobe team from All My Children in New York are doing Deadly Affairs with me! My costume designer David Zyla and I are still in touch. Our associate producers. We’re texting all the time — “Are you in New York?” “Are you in L.A.?” “Where are you?” And we try to get together.
CGM: Since you seem to be inexhaustible, any thoughts on doing more Broadway in the future — or another book?
SL [laughing]: Both of those things are very appealing to me, but it’s the timing — both are very, very time-consuming. And right now I have this beautiful situation and I am just getting my feel wet in both. So once I see what the reality of doing two primetime shows is going to be for me, then I’ll see what else I might be able to do. Because I want to do what I do well!
Deadly Affairs airs Saturdays at 10/9CT on Investigation Discovery.