You’ve spoken before about your sister, who is a lesbian. You’ve said that she didn’t inform how you portrayed Bianca, but did growing up with her influence your decision to be that history-making daytime actress to tackle a coming out story?
Absolutely. I definitely didn't want to play her (Riegel’s sister). But in talking to her, she gave me permission to play it my own way and not worry about having to represent everybody, because it's not possible. She gave me a lot of freedom in my portrayal, which was great, and exactly what I needed.
I talked to her about what it was like for her. And of course she's my sister and I love her so much. What she goes through is so important to me. She told me about her feelings and how difficult it was, and it helped me understand my character and what my character was going through, so it was really good research. I was fighting my sister’s battles basically.
And sisters are protective of each other.
Exactly. The story was really personal for me and continues to be. I don’t have someone in my family who has been victim of violent sexual attacks - thank God. But Bianca losing the baby and the baby switch and all that stuff -- that had to come out of my imagination mostly. But I understood the character and loved her and was able to take her through all those things.
You left AMC for a while. Did it have to do at all with the turn that Bianca's storyline had taken?
It was not the story that I was told we were going to tell. Obviously, marriage equality is still a big issue -- unfortunately. It was during the Prop 8 time and it was the first time I felt the tide was turning and we could actually get some marriage equality. It was a really exciting time and I was debating whether or not to come back to the show and then they pitched me this beautiful story about Bianca being in love and getting married, a real same sex couple on daytime. It kind of felt like the coming out story all over again, or the next generation of coming out story. I was immediately on board, and the fact that this beautiful actress Tamara Braun was playing…
Your love interest! She’s fanatastic.
She’s so good! I was like, “This is going to be amazing.” Then, they just had something else in mind entirely, which was really a more conventional soap opera story of affairs and cheating, and then Reese wasn’t really gay. She was interested in my brother-in-law, which is kind of gross, and they made out in the church where we got married.
Oh yeah. That’s never good.
We got annulled by text message less than 48 hours after we've been married. It was all very messy, and I thought, weirdly, and argument against what we were fighting for.
Reese and Bianca in happier times.
It was very upsetting. At that point I just didn’t feel listened to. There are so many regimes in these soap operas because people get burned out. It’s grueling work. That particular writer who was involved -- I think he just thought my input wasn't really, you know, welcomed. I understand. If I were a writer I’m sure I wouldn’t really want an actor talking off my ear about what they feel their character should be doing. Actors, for the most part, maybe don’t understand the more broad perspective. But, it was tough for me to watch my character going through that when I thought we were telling another story.
It was hard for them to convince me to come back again. I still didn’t feel like anybody totally acknowledged what happened, nor really promised that it would happen again. I was really protective of the character so it was tough for me . It was one of those "fool me once, shame on you - fool me twice, shame on me" kind of thing. I just didn’t trust it. With Christina (Bennett Lind), they told a gorgeous story and I loved watching. It was exactly what Bianca should be involved with. It all worked out great and they were responsible with the character, so it ended up working out for her and for me -- as a viewer.
Was that enough to convince you to come back in this online format that they would do justice to the character you loved so much?
Also, they just went overboard to help me and pitch me what the story was going to be and promised me that it was going to be different. Those were all things I felt hadn’t happened enough before. I was really confident they were going to tell a great story this time.
Daytime and primetime TV are different animals, but since Bianca’s coming out there have been some really lovely lesbian storylines on mainstream shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Glee, Pretty Little Liars… What do you think about the evolution of LGBT characters since you helped pave the way?
I love it! Its amazing, its just so natural now. Not that it wasn’t before, but we had to think a lot. How is this going to come across? When you do anything for the first time you just don’t know. I had to do research, not really, as it turned out. But I didn’t know because no one had come before me. I didn’t know that I could play a character and it was going to fine. I’m thrilled to see what’s happening now, and it’s just becoming more and more normal now to see characters of all types on television doing the same things that any other character of any orientation would do. And we’re still talking about the issues, because even as people become more tolerant, the issues don’t disappear. It’s important to keep a dialogue about it . I love it. I love how common it is to be gay and lesbian on TV now.
I would be remiss not to ask -- Susan Lucci is busy working on Devious Maids now. Does Erica Kane remain an ever-present icon on the show?
All My Children is synonymous with Erica Kane. I think that’s one of the reasons why it was so important to have Bianca and Kendall (Bianca’s sister) back. It is important to have the Kane women presence. I know that Susan is trying to work it out so she can make an appearance at one point. She is an incredibly busy woman.
Bianca’s a mom to a teen this time around. Is her parenting style at all like Erica’s?
God I hope not (laughs). I don’t know. It’s hard for me to have perspective on that. This happens in life, but you know how you do and say things and you’re like, “What? I sound just like my mother.”
In fact, there is a scene, where they wrote in the stage direction that Bianca “wants to slap her daughter,” which seems very much like an Erica thing to do. She doesn’t.
Bianca and her daughter Miranda (Denyse Tontz)
Right. That was a different generation! On another note, I think Bianca’s fans would love to see her happy and in love, at least as much as a soap character can be. And now that it’s not on a network…maybe things could even be a little racy. Is there a love interest in the works? Can you speak to that?
I can’t. I can’t talk about any of those things. When I went back to shooting, I shot a week of those shows. So its possible that we haven’t completely touched on everything that will happen with Bianca. But I do know, intention wise, talking to everybody involved, I know that they want Bianca to be a full-fledged character and that includes, of course on a soap opera, that includes having love and romance. And because it’s on the internet we can show a bit more skin so I imagine there will be "fun scenes.”