Where else in popular entertainment can you recast characters, sometimes multiple times? James Bond, Doctor Who, anything else?
Let’s take a look at our current cast. For characters who have been on at least ten years, only Alice, Maggie, Doug, Victor, Marlena, Abe, Tony, and Lucas have never been recast. (Look at Lucas in there with the big boys!) In the 5-10 year range, we add Anna, Nicole, and Chloe to the list of singles. You get into grey area very quickly with this, by the way. We could count John, except he was played by another actor for several months when he was “the Pawn” all wrapped up in bandages. Or how about flashbacks? Steve was played in flashback by little Aaron Nichols (Stephen’s son), otherwise we could count him.
There have been two Chelseas, two Bos (four if you count flashbacks), two Kates, three Kaylas, three Romans, three Carolines, four Julies, four Mickeys, and five Lexies. When characters join as babies or children, all that SORASing makes the numbers get very big very quickly. There have been three Stephanies, four Maxes, five Hopes, six Phillips, and eight Samis (including Stan—hee!). Will has been played by four actors already. And of course the all-time winner is Mike Horton, who has the distinction of being played by fifteen different actors.
You’ll notice from these lists that core family members, Bradys and Hortons, are more prone to recasting than other characters (no matter how popular they may be). First because core family members are more likely to have been born on screen, and secondly because with soaps’ emphasis on family, the TPTB have a vested interest in keeping the core families alive. We’re much more likely to see another Jeremy Horton sometime in the future, than we are to see another Carly Manning.
Looking at the totals, I always think it’s most interesting when you don’t count all the little kiddies. Mike still racks up an impressive four, Lexie’s total of five deserves another mention. The greatest recasting achievement, I think, is when different adult actors can play the character for substantial lengths of time, with each actor putting their own definitive stamp on the character. This excludes Julie, for example, since the first three Julies were just warmup for Susan Seaforth Hayes, who has played the character since 1968. Looking at it this way, the two different Bos are worth a second look, especially since you have Peter Reckell’s Bo involved in one supercouple with Hope, and Robert Kelker-Kelly’s Bo involved in a different one with Billie.
Then there’s the question of how to handle the recast. Sometimes, years have gone by since the character has been on canvas, so this just means introducing the character all over again. In Kayla’s case, for example, Catherine Mary Stewart left the show in 1982, and Mary Beth Evans came back as Kayla four years later. It’s a little more awkward if you’re in the middle of a storyline. Common techniques are to have a voiceover or subtitle run across the bottom of the screen announcing the recast, or just to have another character pointedly refer to the recast character by name. I believe that one of the Jack recasts involved having one Jack step into the shower, and another one step out—but that’s a little too cute for me.
Then there’s the plastic surgery storyline. I admit it, I have a soft spot for this old chestnut. As a child, I was vehemently against recasting, so if the show was going to foist a new actor on me, I wanted them to have to work for it. Plus, plastic surgery storylines usually involve amnesia, mistaken identity, and falling in love with the wrong person—all the soap staples. When Stefano brainwashed Roman and gave him a new face back in 1985, he also made him taller, hairier, and switched his dominant hand from his left to his right. Shoot, is there anything Rolf can’t do? (Of course all this was retconned away later when it was revealed that John Black wasn’t Roman after all.)
The decision to use the plastic surgery story for some recasts and not others can lead to moments of unintentional humor, like when Kayla came back in 1986 with her (unacknowledged) new face, and expressed her nervousness about seeing Roman’s (acknowledged) new face. When Phillip came back with his face transplant and tried to take custody of Claire, Belle stood up in court and agonized that Claire wouldn’t recognize her father, while Claire’s other daddy with his new face sat placidly by.
Different actors, of course, bring different qualities to the role, which makes for fascinating intersections of character and their function in the plot. Next time, I’ll take a look at the many faces of Jack Deveraux.