Susan Haskell

Opposites Attract

Soap Opera Weekly

By Mark McGarry


When Susan Haskell (Marty Saybrooke, One Life to Live) was growing up in Canada, her mother would take in troubled teens off the streets and try to help them. They weren't ax murderers, Haskell jokes, but still they suffered from serious problems. Now, years later, Haskell finds herself playing someone just like them - and loving it!

What actor wouldn't? Marty is one of the most complex characters on daytime, and Haskell's reasons for loving her go far beyond the acting challenge. She majored in biopsychology at Boston's Tufts University and, thanks to her knowledge of that subject, she further understands - and relishes - Marty's many facets.

Haskell wanted to go to medical school after graduating from Tufts and eventually practice psychiatry or become a pediatrician, but was torn. She remembers taking a drama class at college and hating it - "I always used to run around and sweat," she says - but she was doing commercials, and something about being in front of the camera felt right to her. So she enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

Haskell got a part on the syndicated TV show My Secret Identity, and then won a role in the feature film Strictly Business. But it wasn't until Marty came along that she became absolutely certain that acting was what she really wanted to do.

Before delving into Marty's psyche Haskell had to grasp the physical aspects of the character, because Marty has lupus (the illness is currently in remission). To prepare for the role, Haskell spoke with people who have the illness. "It can come and go," she says. "the thing I have to deal with as an actor is the exhaustion lupus patients suffer, which seems to be the most prevalent thing; also aching and pain. That can go from having a really hard time getting up in the morning to bloating and rashes. And it's always important to know that even if you're feeling better on a certain day, the next day you might not feel that way. Knowing you have something like that should always be in the back of your mind - even with Marty, who sort of acts like she doesn't have it, and denies it completely."

Marty's attitude toward her condition has spilled over into other areas of her life and has taken a toll. "I think she's not facing up to a lot of things that have happened to her," Haskell says. "She's trying to cope with it the best way she can, which is to put up a front and try to act tough. But she's not stupid. She knows what's going on, but she's been left alone growing up. And I don't think she really understands what's happening. Marty knows that if something uncomfortable comes her way, that's when you get tough, that's when you act like nothing matters, or that's when you go out and drink. That's the way she copes with it, to act like it doesn't matter.":

Mostly Marty makes her own trouble. When Andrew (Wortham Krimmer) showed compassion for her, Marty fell for him. But when he rejected her, Marty started an ugly rumor: that he had tried to seduce Billy (Ryan Phillippe). The lie spun off an entire summer storyline that examined homophobia and the right to privacy. Marty was right in the middle of it, cunningly smirking her way through the mess she created out of a lifelong history of rejection and loneliness.

Nothing Marty does could surprise Haskell. "I laugh," she says, "I get the script, I look through it and I think, 'Oh, you're not going to believe what she's doing next.' Or Wortham will tease, 'How could you start such a rumor?' And when I was working with David Ledingham (Suede), he was asking, 'How could you turn me in?'"

Haskell attempts to justify Marty's actions. "Sometimes when something happens to her, she says things out of pain. And that's partly her fault," Haskell notes. "But I think if you look from the outside in, it's hard to understand why she does what she does. As far as Andrew's concerned, Marty thought he deserved it. She's a smart person, so when people come to her and say, 'Look, what you're doing is wrong,' I think she has a clue. I think she knows what's going on; she knows it wasn't exactly the nicest thing to do. But at that point she doesn't want to admit what's wrong. She doesn't want to open up to anyone. It's very difficult for her to let anyone see the vulnerable side of her."

It was hard to empathize with Marty during the homophobia storyline, but viewers might remember one scene that turned everything around in terms of Marty being the bad guy. The scene took place at the hospital; Andrew was yelling at Marty for the trouble she had caused. Marty, however, threw everything back in his face. "That's what she was feeling," Haskell says. "She really felt like, 'No, you were wrong. You made me do it.' He was yelling at her and she finally said, 'If you hadn't done that, I wouldn't have done what I did.'"

Reaching an emotional peak like that "takes a lot of thought," says Haskell, "as well as a lot of work with the other actor. But once you make the connection with the character, the feelings kind of evolve because you're putting yourself in her position. And it's almost like you tease yourself. You work up to the tears, and then you hold back. And you work up and hold back. And you get it up to the point where you could snap when you need to. You just have to be there."

The big question now is, Who will Marty end up with romantically? "No one!" Haskell laughs. "I'm running out of male actors on the show. Pretty soon it's going to be Asa!"" They'd make an unusual pair. How about Suede? "Obviously Andrew and Suede are very different people," Haskell says. "Marty was basically looking for acceptance from Andrew. He cared for her when no one really had - that's why she wanted to get close with him." As for Suede, she says, "He's exciting, a rough kind of guy. But there was a sensitivity; a background that they both shared, even though I'm not really sure what it is. It was that kind of connection. It wasn't like 'Oh, let's just go to your room for a while.' It might have started out that way, but she's just sort of lonely. She wants to have fun, and Suede seems like he's fun to hang out with."

If Haskell chooses not to stay with OLTL when her three-year contract is up, she would like to do more feature films. "I'd love to do Broadway, don't get me wrong, but I just think I work better in this medium. There's a difference," Haskell says. "Some people have more subtle, smaller ways of acting that the camera could catch but are lost on stage. That's the way I am. I'm more intimate."

In her free time, the actress travels as much as she can. Just before this interview she did a modeling job in Arizona, then she and her sister met their brother in Santa Fe, NM. (Her brother is a lawyer in California; her sister is studying international relations at Columbia University in New York City.)

The conversation trails back to Marty and whether any of her has seeped into Susan. "It's funny," Haskell says. "I was talking to my girlfriend in Canada, and I said something really direct. She was startled and said, 'Oh, my God, that was Marty!'"

Can Marty be reformed? Haskell thinks so. "I know from growing up, you never know when your having helped someone will actually affect them. You never know when Andrew's caring is going to reach Marty. The same thing happened with those young people my mother worked with; years down the road, they finally understood what she was talking about."