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Louise Sorel: October Surprise
Mitchell Haaseth/© NBC Universal, Inc.

Louise Sorel: October Surprise
by Michael Logan  October 20, 2009 08:55 AM EST

Something wicked this way comes. The great Louise Sorel is returning to Days of Our Lives as Vivian Alamain, the eccentric wacko who famously buried Carly Manning (Crystal Chappell) alive back in 1993. When we first see Vivian on October 30, she will have just received the ashes of her nephew, Lawrence (Michael Sabatino), who was recently killed by Carly. So what does our favorite Salem witch have planned? A dish best served cold? Sorel gives us the scoop on her eagerly-awaited homecoming.

Can we safely assume Vivian is back with revenge in mind?
That’s the plan. Carly has rudely stabbed Lawrence with a knife. I’m not sure why. He had some sort of illness or he turned into another person…I don’t quite understand the plot but it’s something like that. Carly will get caught in the murder but Vivian has her exonerated by having someone else confess to the crime.Vivian wants to be the one who tortures Carly.

People still talk about the buried-alive plot. Hard to believe it’s been 16 years.
It’s all a blur. I was in the hospital [eight years ago] with Crystal when she gave birth to her first child, Jake, and I just saw him for the first time since then. I can’t believe how the time has passed! Crystal and Michael look so beautiful. Well, she has always been one of the great beauties but he now has this wild wonderful look about him. Like a mad prince. And my son! You know, the one Vivian gave birth to, like, 14 years ago? Have you seen this Jay Johnson who’s playing the role? He is so beautiful I can’t bear it. He’s extraordinary. He looks like an English poem. I just can’t stop staring at the man! Wow.

Are you in shock with the new low-budget way of making soaps?
There’s no rehearsal anymore! Scary, scary, scary. I’ve never worked without two or three run-throughs and, my first big day, they gave me all these wildly complex mouthfuls to say – I felt like Danny Kaye trying to spew out “The vessel with the pestle.” I was absolutely terrified! But I got through it. What else can you do?

The offer to return to Days wasn’t great timing for you – it came just months after you moved out of Los Angeles and made New York your sole residence.
I was so settled in New York. Now I feel like I’m having an out-of-body experience. I loathe it here in L.A. It’s like the Thomas Wolfe thing. I don’t feel like I’m me. In fact, I’ve started writing a piece about visiting L.A. I call myself Thomasina Wolfe. She’s like my other self and I’m showing her around town. It’s hard to explain.

What made you say yes?
Frankly, I don’t know. I was very unsettled by it. But you know actors! They call you with an invitation, and you still think you want to do this acting thing, and I did love the Vivian character. I can’t believe it’s been nine years since I played her. [Days exec producer] Gary Tomlin asked me to come back over the phone, sight unseen. He didn’t ask me how I’m looking these days. For all he knew, I’ve gained 250 pounds.

Actually, a super-tubby Vivian would be a hoot. But producers aren’t allowed to ask such things, are they?
Paul Rauch [Sorel’s former flame and One Life to Live boss] would have asked me that! [Laughs] He’d come right out and say “How do you look?” Anyway, I was at the point in my career where I thought I was toast. It was nice to know [Days] wanted to bring back my character. So I agreed to do it. It could be my last hurrah, I don’t know. It was nice to be asked. It was nice that I didn’t have to do the asking.

Your last role was on Passions five years ago. Did you feel you’d left the business? Or were your agents still looking for roles?
I guess they were but it’s tough, the older you get. Fortunately or unfortunately, I’m not aging the way I’m supposed to. I don’t look like Doris Roberts and other actresses in their 70s. I’m in this weird sort of gap. I still go the theater and love the performances. I have a lot of friends who no longer go because they aren’t working and it drives them crazy to see people who have jobs. They’re jealous and they can’t stand it. I don’t get that.

Let’s get back to your Passions gig. What the hell was that? [Creator/head writer] Jim Reilly had you playing a character who gutted tuna in a fish cannery but the part never amounted to anything. A true case of all guts, no glory.
I try to forget about it. The whole thing was revolting, simply revolting. I hadn’t read the script. They offered me the role. I said yes. And then I get to the set at 6 AM and they’ve brought in pounds and pounds of fresh tuna and we’d have to cut their heads off. I was so nauseated.

What was Reilly thinking? Was it some sort of revenge?
I don’t know. I can’t speak for the dead. I’ve always wondered if he was mad at me after I won the Soap Opera Digest award and thanked him at the podium for “whatever he’s smoking.”

Not possible. He thought it was hilarious. He told me so. He really did love that.
Well, then, I can’t explain it. I was mortified, but what could I do? I was there so I did it, though I almost puked every morning. I could not believe I was doing what I was doing – me who loves animals!

So it’s good that’s not the way your career ended, right?
[Laughs so hard she snorts] Yes! Instead of ending with a bang, my career could have ended with a big tuna splat!

Reilly was a notorious recluse. Did you ever meet him when he was writing for you at Days?
We passed in the hall at NBC once. He nodded, but he didn’t speak to me. I never actually met the man. From the little I know about him, I understand he was terribly witty and quite fun to be with. I also knew about his Irish Catholicism and could see it coming out in the writing, and some of it was – whoa – really, really dark.

I could never figure out how someone who was so funny and personable and such a great raconteur could be so socially inhibited.
It made sense to me. That kind of wonderful and robust outward humor is not really sharing oneself with people. He had his demons and I think that’s why he removed himself. You could tell a lot about his feelings about women in much of his writing and the stories he did. I think he had a hard time being truly one-on-one with anybody.

Things sort of went south with Vivian toward the end of your previous run. Reilly had you dressing up in the most nonsensical get-ups – it eventually became goofiness for the sake of goofiness. What was all that about?
I don’t know. I did take that problem upstairs to the producers’ office. I said, “What has happened to Vivian? She used to be sophisticated and intelligent!” I guess I probably bent a few egos because I understand now that one of the people I was [complaining to] was actually doing some of the writing. But it was a fair question. I did everything they asked me to do. Full out. No matter what. I’ve been bald. I’ve been a bag lady. I’ve been Elvis. I was a hyperthyroid Mary Had a Little Lamb. I even dressed up as a box of french fries. It was coming out of nowhere but that’s what you get paid to do and I did it.

With this return, will they get back to the real Vivian – someone who’s not committing crimes because she’s hopped up on Chinese meds or acting bipolar because Stefano gave her a mood-alerting tooth implant? Who is the real Vivian?
She’s passionate and fearless. I don’t think she was ever intended to be that funny – that began to happen after Reilly came to Days. You know, they tried to get rid of me. I think I originally signed for a year but at the end of five months they called my agent and said they were dropping me. But they called too late [per the terms of the contract] and they would have had to keep paying me so, begrudgingly, they kept me on the air. But then that’s when Reilly came in and started writing and, before long, Vivian took off with the fans.

It can be argued that the buried-alive plot changed the soap business forever, and not necessarily for the good. It was spectacularly well written and acted – you and Crystal kept it grounded in a reality that somehow made it play believably – but before long Satan was possessing Marlena, vampires were taking over Port Charles and Guiding Light was cloning Reva.
I didn’t watch the other shows – still don’t – so I didn’t know what impact that story had. Crystal committed, I committed, that’s what made it work. Also Reilly had gradually paved the way for that story, preparing the audience so he could go that way on a show that used to be much more normal. He took his time setting it up. You can’t do the same sort of thing on, say, As the World Turns. It can’t come from nowhere. It’s like Seinfeld – not that I’m comparing the two – where they gradually crafted the characters to the point where they could do the most insane things. It was genius. And that’s where Reilly was smart. He didn’t just throw in a premature burial. He made it work.
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