PASSAGES---Soap Opera Weekly 3/23/99
by Freeman Gunter
For GH's Sarah Brown, embracing her baby, her faith or her life's work is an act of love and learning.
In the role of General Hospital's Carly, Sarah Brown hit daytime with uncommon force, attracting accolades that seldom come to new actresses. In these pages I referred to hers as "a talent the equal of any on daytime." Her colleague Steve Burton (Jason) went me one better when, in an interview, he called Brown "the best actress on daytime." The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences seem to agree with our expert assessment because they bestowed two Daytime Emmys upon her, in 1997 and '98. Such an impressive gift, and the resulting raves, make Brown a daunting act to follow, especially if she is expected to top herself. When she returned recently from maternity leave, some of the magic was undeniably missing, an observation which, rather ungallantly, I shared with her.
"I was very rusty," she admits with the clear-eyed self-assessment and lack of pretension that characterizes her. "When I first came back, I was a little disappointed with where my story was going. I thought my first week back would be really ballsy and incredible. And I was disappointed. The biggest trick for actors is never to make judgments on their character or on their story. Just do it. It's really hard, but if you get told to do something and you decide you don't like it, it's not anybody's fault but your own if it comes out bad. If you completely commit to something that you don't enjoy, at least it's gonna be better than if you half-ass it, which I think I did for a little while there."
"It's just my huge ego, you know?" Brown responds to my commiseration. But surely she jests: Sarah Brown seems the least ego-driven of actors. "No, I don't have a big ego," she counters. "I mean, I do, yes, but not in terms of how good I am. Not at all. I mean ego in terms of what I think I'm capable of. And what I expect from myself. I like something really juicy and really meaty. When I didn't get it my first day back my ego got a little bent out of shape."
Viewers learned that Brown could really act from watching her on GH, but how did this happy fact first occur to her? It couldn't have been her work on VR Troopers that told her she possesses acting chops worthy of stretching. "My training is all in classical theater, Shakespeare and Greek tragedy," she says, making it clearer why she felt let down by her welcome-back material at GH; this is a gal used to dealing with good scripts. "That's where my heart and soul is: tragedies and things that are so well-written that they are flawless, making you rise to the challenge in performance. My debut was in a college production of Antigone. It was my first day at college, I was a freshman and I made a lot of enemies by getting that part. The seniors usually got the meaty parts like Antigone. I opened to incredible reviews and it was really a dream come true. Of course, it was only a college play, but it was huge for me at the time. I was 18 years old, doing this really hard play, and a lot of people came to see it."
In one day, fate had handed Sarah Brown her mission. And it was all about the work, the challenge, not just being in front of people showing off. "To be an artist...," she reflects. "I'm not an exhibitionist at all. Well, I guess every actor has a little bit of that, but I live for the excitement and the drama of it all. I just live for it. The ability to stretch and be different characters, that's in my DNA. If I'm around someone who's got a really cool accent, two days later I sound like that person, you know what I mean?"
Give her just an accent and she'll run with it. There is no limit to what she can do with a complete character, like Carly, a woman defined by her history of being abandoned and her need to belong; a woman not at all of the '90's. "It's interesting that you are bringing that up," Brown says, "because in 1999, I want to make Carly very much a '90's woman. We all have baggage. But in order for a character to expand and to be acceptable and intriguing to a larger audience, they need to grown. They need not necessarily put aside any of their baggage, but to rise above it. So this year I'd like for Carly to see more clearly the things that have happened, to be changed by them. The one thing about Carly that doesn't sit quite right with me is that she panics too much. She's a firecracker and gets angry a lot. It's too much action before she thinks, which is coming from having a very short fuse and a long history of neglect and abuse. Shit happens to Carly, and she's always expecting it."
Brown stresses that Carly and Sarah are two different people. Inevitably, though, they have many things in common, motherhood among them. In the beginning, Carly was extremely uncomfortable with her newborn child; then when she returned from her stay in the mental hospital, her son Michael didn't remember her. "They wanted to keep this continuity when I returned and that was extremely hard for me to play after I had a child," Brown explains. "Again, it was difficult for me not to judge her and say, 'Carly wouldn't do that,' when I really meant Sarah wouldn't do that. The truth of the matter is that many, many women suffer postpartum depression. A woman is on a huge high during the pregnancy and delivery. Just huge. And when the baby comes, you don't even want to sleep, you just want to stare at the baby all the time. Then, when that wears off, it's a very low low." Brown reports that the show has eased the burden considerably by accomodating her in every possible way. "But even with a three-day week, when you're doing a soap and you are a perfectionist like I am, you end up working all day and then working all night because you have a script that you have to shoot the next morning. So there's no, 'I'm not working today.' You are always working."
When she works at the studio, Jordan Alexandra, 8 months, is always nearby, waiting in the dressing room for her mommy to meet her for lunch. And when Jordan comes of age, it will be at a bat mitzvah, not a confirmation, because her mother converted from Christianity to Judaism before she was born.
"My parents are Christian," she says, "and they were part of a Christian commune when I was born. Shortly after, they decided to move out of that situation. My mom left with a pretty bitter taste in her mouth, and my dad continued to follow the ways he had learned with this group. Even though my father's always been a spiritual seeker, it was hard for him to comprehend what I was trying to do. He felt that this group of people have been so persecuted, so knocked down, so torn apart throughout history that he couldn't understand how I could leave that as a legacy to my child. My answer is that I am like every Jew that came before me. It is definitely part of my history, but it's not my whole humanity. I would never take that heritage away from my child just because it is going to be hard for her. The truth of the matter is that it's in her blood." Brown believes that she actually has some Jewish blood through a grandmother who was born in Poland. "We know that they came here during World War II and that they changed their name. It's something my mother and I have always suspected."
From an early age, her father's spiritual quest gave Brown the idea that it was permissible to question. "Although I always accepted God, I was very unaccepting of the other stuff I was hearing. The bottom line is this: I am a reincarnated Jewish soul. I have these dreams that have never left me since I can remember. I'm on the bank of a river coming out of a small boat, as if I were in hiding. A huge Slavic group embraces me as I step onto the sand -- these massive Russian-looking men and women with the rags and tattered clothing, beards and the whole look of Russian Jews. I don't know where these memories come from. Maybe I've been here before, or I'm channeling something that someone in my family went through or that I've gone through in my own life."
After a period of confusion, Brown began taking classes to learn about the faith. "It enriched my life because the person that I love was born into it and I wanted to understand what he believes in. From the first day, I found I identified with everything they said. One of the things I love about the religion is the fact that you are encouragaed to argue with God. Being a Jewish soul, I've always been a debater. I don't accept anything that people say as being law or the truth unless it rings true inside me somewhere. I have to seek it out myself, learn it for myself. Knowledge is one thing and knowing is another. I had a long conversation with Steve Burton yesterday, because he's trying to figure out how I could convert. Basically, we were just debating the Bible, because he is Christian. I don't want to take away from anybody else's beliefs; I believe that they are all the same. There is no conflict. We are all children of God. It's just how you choose to look at history and what is laid down. What you choose to follow in terms of the rituals you want to take on in your life as your way of worshipping the one God that is up there and connects every single religion. If you read Buddha and Jesus and Confucius, even Gandhi, you don't find a conflict. It's all pointing toward the same place. I think the shame of it is that our parents and our society teach us to believe one instead of understanding that they all relate to each other, they all come from the same place. We get so wrapped up in 'It's my religion!' My only conflict with religion is this idea of 'I'm gonna kill you in the name of God!' That's my problem with many religions, and that's why I wish we had some unity and people could realize that we are all free."
****Thanks to Tara for this article!****
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