Soap Opera Weekly 10/96

"Mrs. Brown, You've Got A Lovely Daughter"


Unlike the love-starved manipulative character she plays on GH, Sarah Brown is the embodiment of her middle name: Joy

Sarah Brown has a couple of people to thank for saving her life. One is her girlfriend Gwen Sanford. The other one is Oprah Winfrey.

It was Oprah's show on what to do when your house catches fire that taught Brown, the comely 21-year-old actress who plays Carly Roberts on General Hospital, the proper methods for escaping safely from her burning apartment. The fire in Brown's home in West Hollywood the morning of May 11 was caused by faulty electrical wiring. She'd moved into the second-floor apartment--her first since moving out of her mother's home in the San Fernando Valley--two months earlier. The actress had risen briefly that morning to let her dog, Wolfgang, a combination Labrador/husky, out on to the terrace. She went back to sleep and was still snoozing when best friend Sanford, an overnight guest, shook her awake. Wolfgang was barking and Sanford smelled smoke. Thanks to Oprah's advice and Gwen's alertness, the three jumped to safety from a balcony off her bedroom, sustaining no major injuries from the harrowing experience.

Brown lost everything in her apartment except for two crosses, one gold, one silver, that she kept in a jewelry box. She's back living with her mother, Pamela, who teaches creative writing to women in prison and to women with AIDS. After being on her own for only two months, Brown says ruefully, "It was very painful for me to lose my independence that way and to be back in the same bedroom that I had left."

Oprah's show saved Brown from burning, and GH rescued her from having to sell toys on behalf of a now defunct children's show, V.R. Troopers. As Caitlin Starr, a photojournalist and sometime superheroine, Brown was the children's TV equivalent of Lois Lane, Emma Peel and Judy Jetson all rolled into one. Her show was one of those 95-cent nonunion productions where merchandising was key and the actors had to serve as their own stand-ins while shots were set up, do their own stunts, and then, on top of it, act. And daytime actors complain! "We did 92 episodes in less than two years' time," she recalls in amazement. "Ninety-two episodes takes most shows several years. We did four shows every 11 days. We did enough for five years in 1 1/2 years."

Alas, merchandising sales for V.R. Troopers were small in comparison to those of other children's TV tie-ins, like The Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, and the producer, Saban Entertainment, opted to cease production. "We attracted college kids, 11-and 15-year olds. They're not buying toys. That's a hard reality for an actor. You work your butt off and they're like, 'Sorry, kid, you're just not selling enough toys.' "

As Carly Roberts, the student nurse with an agenda so shady it leads back to Bobbie Jones and her days as a soap opera 'ho, Brown won't have to sell any dolls, squirt guns or lunch boxes to American children. On GH, she actually gets to act, which she does with an unusual amount of subtext and shading for a neophyte daytime performer. From what we know of her days as Caitlin Starr, it sounds as if she was starved for an opportunity to show just what she could do.

Carly was a hotly contested role. Brown says there were no less than eight screen tests, and the variety of applicants for the part says something about the many directions the producers were considering. "There was a Miss America there, and I'm looking at her going, 'Why am I here?' A real Miss America. She was like, 6-foot. But we weren't all drop-dead beautiful; it wasn't like that. Then there were a couple of severe brunettes and a redhead who was really cute."

Back up. Just what is a "severe brunette"? "They have a diva look on their face that says, 'I am IT,' " Brown explains. "They sit against the wall and give people dirty looks and try to break them down. It's like being a boxer. They try to make you feel like they have it so down pat that you can't even touch it. I'm very humble when going in for something like that. I would rather spend my energy concentrating on what I'm there to do."

Once the role was hers, Brown consciously set out to slow down the frenzied style of performing she had acquired on kiddie TV. She also asked GH casting director Mark Teschner about some tricks of the trade. "I'd never watched a soap and never auditioned for one," she says. "When I first met Mark, he asked me if I had any questions. I said to him, 'Soap acting, what's the style? I know it's different.' He looked at me as if I was a Martian. 'What do you mean, what style?' I said, 'You know, how they do those looks off into space, they give those eyes. Their eyes get really squinty.' "

She was referring to those Please Cut to the Commercial looks seen only on soaps. "I didn't understand what that was about," she says. "I thought that's how you were supposed to do it. Well, I've come to realize that's not it at all."

Sarah Brown was born in Eureka, Calif., and spent her first four years in the Durkin Christian Fellowship (a religious commune in Humboldt County, Calif.) with her parents and older brother, Elijah. She describes the commune's leader as a charismatic figure "who would take in the lost souls of the world and reform them. A lot of inhabitants were former lost souls in one way or another. My mom had been a runaway at 14." Brown's parents went to live in the commune after roughing it in a shack they built themselves in the woods of Chico, Calif. It had no electricity and no running water, but, Brown says, "they were completely the happiest people in the world." Not for long. By age 4, Brown was living in the landmark Los Angeles suburb of Lakewood and her parents had split up. Brown went to at least a dozen schools, where she was a gymnast on various teams for eight years as she crisscrossed the state of California. They moved on the average every two or three years; in one city, she lived "in seven or eight different houses in three years."

The migratory life, she says, made her ideally suited to acting. "I feel it's the best training I could have possibly received," she says proudly. "I truly believe a lot of it has to do with the way I grew up, bouncing around all the time and knowing how to jump into any situation and belong. If I was in Corona and they had a little twang in their voice, I picked it up because I didn't want to be different. I had so many different accents. People tell me all the time that I have an accent and they can't understand where it's from. That's from picking up so many different types of speech and then dropping them once I moved to another place."

Though this lifestyle made for many short-term friendships, Brown isn't boo hooing. "Six years is a long time for me," she says of her friendships. Recently, she was licking her wounds over a failed romance with a man she says she's "completely in love with." The unnamed man was the topic of conversation the night she and Gwen were up yakking, the night before her life went up in smoke. "Once the fire happened, he was really good to me and really there for me," she says softly. "We were hoping that maybe we could fix it."

Things didn't work out and now, Brown says, she's out of circulation. "I'm kind of taking a vow of celibacy, actually. I'm not one of those girls who needs sex," she proclaims. "I'm a woman, and women are so much more about sensuality and love. So if there's no love there, then what do I want with--" she pauses, agonizing over what the people who market Mickey Mouse and Tinker Bell will think of her--"what do I want with some member invading my space?"

Well, there's a line you won't hear on GH. But you heard it from Sarah Joy Brown.

****Thanks to Tara for this article****


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