Susan Haskell - Click to enlarge

Nothing To Fear But Fear Itself

...and it's doubtful OLTL's feisty Susan Haskell is even afraid of that

Soap Opera Weekly


By Laura Fissinger

Right up there with the approaching millennium and the prices of anti-wrinkle creams, the Big Fear of the 90's seems to be Fear of Happiness. Susan Haskell, however, isn't afraid. The One Life to Live standout (as Marty Saybrooke) even appears to hold key secrets about surviving that sublime yet scary condition.

Happiness has not robbed Haskell of pals and confidants. Her family ties remain tight. She possesses a healthy streak of cynicism. Her formidable intellect has not been dulled. Recently, her career gained serious speed with three outside projects, two of which have aired.

What is spooky about happiness, of course, is the damage potential it invites from jealous onlookers. The topic of envy makes Haskell laugh; she lobs a quick, knowing smile.

Susan Haskell - Click to enlarge

"Like my mother always has said: 'Kill them with kindness.'" The point here is that Haskell was brought up to be a kind person. And a happy one.

"Family's always been so important to me; that's whsh_blackchair.gify I've been attracted to work in the family therapy field." Haskell's American-bred tribe settled in Toronto before she was born. Its immediate members include her father, Roger, a cooperate executive, her mother, Marilyn, an actors' manager, elder sibling Roger and younger Carolyn.

"From the time I was little, I was rooted in them. My parents are so stable, and so funny together. I think if kids grow up knowing their parents are there for them, and for each other, there's an awareness of unconditional love. That's the core. So then the child isn't afraid to explore, to try things; they feel free to branch out and not worry about it."

Marilyn and Roger gave their brood a jump start on "trying things." "Yeah, they kind of threw all the kids into everything: swimming, music, dance, all that," Haskell grins. "I took piano and can't remember a thing except how to read music!" As for her eight years of ballet, the training still shows, on and off the job. Even curled up in a dressing room armchair, jumping up to answer a phone that keeps ringing, Haskell moves her long form with an easy grace and the posture of royalty. "Ballet does a lot to teach you awareness of your body; it's a freedom. It gives you a feeling of how to express yourself physically."

That expressiveness probably helped when Haskell started print modeling at age 16. Subsequent TV commercial work prompted the acting idea. It stayed in the idea stage for quite a while. "Science has always been the thing that fascinated me. I always just loved biology in high school; I still love it. Besides acting, it's the 'other thing' for me. When I was a kid - I don't even know how I knew the word for it - I wanted to be a pediatrican."

At Boston's academically rigorous Tufts University, Haskell took a psychology class, which led to her degree in biopsychology. "The field deals with everything from the nurture-plus-nature interplay of human development to things like diet and brain chemistry."

Leaving the graduate school question unanswered for a while, Haskell moved to New York in 1990. "Now I know that acting was the perfect choice for me," she says with unusual emphasis. "But back then, I kind of fell into it." Haskell's version of falling into things, however, includes focus and discipline. After a year of intense acting classes, the novice did a little episodic work plus a "five-lines-something" part in the feature Strictly Business, with Halle Berry.

Susan Haskell - Click to enlarge

Haskell became a bride on the cover of Modern Bride Magazine

Aside from the jitters not uncommon to any regular human being, Haskell swooped through all these changes with ease. "I'm not worried about failing, I don't think, because I know my good points and I know my limitations; I think that's only smart." As always, her family was encouraging her to "try things." Why not? Haskell's gift for logic told her she could always go back to school, earn money via modeling, choose any number of alternatives if acting didn't click.

However, Haskell's impact on OLTL was obvious almost immediately. Something in addition to logic, family and friends helped her navigate the brave new world of success and public attention. "My parents, my family, we grew up in the Christian church. I know people get funny about religion, but it's not like I'm out there preaching. It's another kind of strength I have." Haskell speaks without much gesturing or obvious facial expression; the calm coming from her in this moment transmits itself by a combination of things too subtle to pinpoint. "There are always people I can phone, you know? But there are also those moments, if you're alone, when you can just say 'OK, I need some strength here; please, calm me down.' If you believe in it, it's amazing how it does that." Her voice rises a few notches in volume.

"I don't profess to have any of the answers! It's hard to explain about believing the way I do, but sorry, I just do." The delicate shoulders rise and fall in a shrug. "And then you get the whole difference between religion and my science background, and that's something I'm constantly trying to learn about. There are different schools of thought to explore. It's not a scary thing for me, the relationship between religion and science. I find it fascinating; it's all here together. It's just a matter of figuring out how it all relates."

Haskell has carried both logic and faith into her recent string of non-daytime opportunities. "It's been a pretty good stretch of time," she says, uncorking a big grin. She had a "small but really good" part in the miniseries Zoya, starring Melissa Gilbert, and she played the lead in the ABC Afterschool Special Fast Forward, co-starring Gerald McRaney. She'll also be seen in the feature film Mrs. Winterbourne, with Shirley MacLaine, Ricki Lake, and Brendan Fraser. "What first pulled me towards acting was how comfortable I felt in front of the camera. In those three different kinds of projects, I felt pretty comfortable across the board. I think a lot of it has to do with my experience here at One Life to Live. If you think you've got a grip on a character, and technically you know how to handle things, there really isn't any reason to be nervous. It's just a different character with a different group of people to work with. It's the same process."

Susan Haskell - Click to enlarge

Marty and Dylan (Christopher Douglas) were lovey-dovey until he put himself in danger to avenge his sister's death.

Haskell relished the bonus of good talks and good fun with co-workers Gilbert and Lake. "I've been very lucky; I haven't had to deal with any divas. Besides, how do you know that someone is a real diva?" A chuckle percolates under Haskell's words. "Everybody has their days. There can be some personal problem or they don't feel well or whatever, so they're not as friendly as they would normally be. Or maybe they've got cramps." Now she lets herself laugh. "It's not like you really learn about someone in short periods of time." Or through two-hour press grillings? "Exactly."

Thanks in large measure to Mrs. Winterbourne, the Emmy-winning Haskell (Outstanding Supporting Actress, 1994) is pelted with the predictable questions more than ever. "It's not just the press. When people find out you're an actor, it's always, 'So, when are you going to do a film?' Or, 'When is the next one?' It's just the attitude you get used to. I can't make a decision about how I like working in films, yet; I've only done one! Also, I think if you start saying, 'I'm only going to do this kind of work or that kind of work' in this business...." Haskell nearly sputters, exasperated. "I mean, give me a break! And this job I have here, it's the best job - can I tell you? To work with people you love every day, and to have a great character to play, and learn so much about acting on camera...." She shakes her head.

"But I think people are starting to see the level of acting, of storytelling - a lot of the quality in daytime. Just during the years I've been here, we've all started to see actors crossing over from other mediums." Obviously, there's no need to ask if Haskell is happy to stick with OLTL at least a while longer. "Yes, I go to the appropriate people here when certain things are happening with Marty that trouble me, issues like that. They hear me out, and explain what they're aiming for. But what hasn't been printed - please, I really want this on the record: ABC really bent over backward to make sure I could take those three recent outside jobs. They truly did. That meant a lot to me."