TV helps thesps prepare for primetime, film

While enthralling viewers with intricately improbable plotlines, soap operas double as boot camp for actors. Any notion of a stigma is a thing of the past, and savvy talent scouts already scour soaps for future stars.

“There are just way too many examples of actors going directly to pilots and series,” TV Guide daytime columnist Michael Logan says. “There might be a casting director here or there who won’t see someone who’s done soaps, but they’re the exception — and I’m sure they’re the fools because the work is so good.”

Film stars Brad Pitt, Julianne Moore and Meg Ryan came from soaps, as did countless others.

“There seems to be some bristling at the implication that soaps are a training ground, but they are,” says Soap Opera Digest editor Stephanie Sloane. “They do up to 40 pages of dialogue a day, so as far as volume there’s no comparison to what they do in primetime or film.”

“General Hospital” casting director Mark Teschner concurs, saying that shooting as much TV in a month as primetime series do per season is the hardest work there is.

“I’ve always felt if an actor can do daytime successfully, they’re capable of doing anything — whether it’s primetime or film,” Teschner contends.

Among those poised to make the leap from soaps to primetime or features are last year’s winner of the younger actress Daytime Emmy, Jennifer Landon, and her “As the World Turns” co-star, Alexandra Chando. Logan says Landon (whose first primetime appearance came on her father Michael’s “Highway to Heaven”) has a “spectacular likelihood of moving on,” having proven herself as a dramatic and comedic actress while offering an accessible, “real-people”quality that makes her easy to cast.

“There’s an actor who just left ‘Guiding Light’ named Tom Pelphrey — he won the (younger actor) Emmy last year,” Sloane adds. “He’s definitely one we see as having a lot of potential.”

Logan also considers 2007 supporting actress nominees Gina Tognoni (“Guiding Light”) and Renee Goldsberry (already successful on Broadway as Nettie in “The Color Purple”) of “One Life to Live” to be powerful talents, while Julie Berman is generating buzz as Luke and Laura’s daughter Lulu on “General Hospital.”

“I’ve been here 17 years, and she’s in a handful of the most complex young actresses I’ve ever met,” Teschner says.

Already bridging daytime and primetime are Caitlin Van Zandt, doing double duty as Ashlee on “Guiding Light” and Allegra Sacramoni, Johnny Sack’s daughter, on “The Sopranos” (though she is no relation to “Sopranos” actors Steve or Maureen Van Zandt) and “Dancing With the Stars” co-champ Kelly Monaco of “General Hospital,” who nabbed a role on the U.S. adaptation of Brit series “Footballers Wives.”

Meanwhile, poised to make the leap is John-Paul Lavoisier (“One Live to Live”), who reminds the show’s executive producer Frank Valentini of former “Life to Live” actor Ryan Phillippe (“Flags of Our Fathers”).

“When Ryan Phillippe started on the show in the early ’90s I thought, ‘This kid’s gonna be a star,’ ” Valentini says. “He had a look and a voice. Although he was a little green at the time, I could tell he was going to be big.”

Others to keep an eye on include Brook Kerr (“Passions”), recently cast in the Alan Ball pilot “True Blood”; Rachel Melvin (“Days of Our Lives”); Michael Graziadei (“The Young and the Restless”) ; and Jason Thompson (“General Hospital”).

As is always the case, of course, having potential noted is no guarantee that potential will be fulfilled.

“Julianne Moore came from this show, but it was in her makeup to succeed,” says “As the World Turns” executive producer Chris Goutman. “She wanted to do great works of dramatic literature as well as popular entertainment. She had that hunger and desire as well as talent and luck.”

Adds Ellen Wheeler, executive producer of “Guiding Light: “Working, talented actors have an opportunity to choose what they want their career to be. I’m glad we’ve been developing actors to have that ability. There’s an opportunity for practically every one of them to become a star, whether it’s to go off and become a star in nighttime television, in film, on Broadway, or to continue to be a star here with us in daytime.”

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