Opinions in the soap blogosphere are a dime a dozen, and we rarely agree with each other. But I think that the verdict is nearly unanimous on the casting of Jamie Luner as All My Children’s new Liza: epic casting FAIL.
The first law of casting, especially as it relates to replacing an existing performer, is to find a similar performer. Successful recasts either physically resemble their predecessors, or in some way capture the essence of the prior actor’s performance. If they’re lucky, and talented, they nail both aspects.
Luner neither looks like Marcy Walker, who played Liza over a span of three decades, or acts anything like the Liza viewers knew and loved. Liza Colby was a cool customer; she could be distrustful and manipulative, but that came out of wariness and wounded love.
This nuLiza seems to have dusted off stock personalities (Bitch, Vixen and Harlot) out of the Lifetime Television Movie bin.
AMC’s mistake is compounded by the fact that Beth Ehlers, who AMC originally considered for nuLiza, is almost completely wasted as Taylor. Ehlers, like Luner, may have been a bit too young to play Liza, who should now be in her late forties. But Ehlers would have been a better match to capture the original essence of Liza (and looks a bit more like Walker, as well).
There have been other instances of Epic Recast Fail in the annals of soap history. Here are but a few examples.
Connor Walsh, As The World Turns: I loved, loved, LOVED Susan Batten as Luna on One Life to Live. LOVED her. Luna was quirky and fun and she was a big reason I watched OLTL during those Gottlieb/Malone years. But her stint on ATWT was a mistake.
Then-executive producer Felicia Minei Behr made the decision to fire Allyson Rice Taylor, who had been playing Connor, and replace her with Susan Batten. Behr underestimated Rice Taylor’s popularity (she’d been playing the role for six years). And, like Luner, Batten was almost nothing like her predecessor. Rice Taylor’s Connor was subdued and patrician; Batten’s Connor was…..well, a lot like Luna and a lot unlike Original Recipe Connor.
Mindys #3 and #4, Guiding Light: Krista Tesreau is the classic Melinda Sue Lewis, of course. Many of us also liked Kimberley Simms’ take on Mindy, which took the character into a more adult realm.
When Simms left, though, the show was in a bind. The Nick/Mindy/Alexandra story was a huge hit, and Simms’ departure put a bump in the momentum. The first nuMindy was Ann Hamilton, a pleasant and capable actress who nonetheless was horribly miscast. She would have made a great adult Anne of Green Gables, but she wasn’t Melinda Sue.
Hamilton was followed by Barbara Crampton, another actress that I respect and enjoy. I’d loved Crampton since her days as Trista on Days of our Lives. But she was a bit older than the character of Mindy, and she never quite fit.
Ultimately, once Simms and Beverlee McKinsey left, that particular story never regained its potency or potential (though Marj Dusay’s Alexandra is magnificent, and has been strong in other stories).
Donna Love, Another World: Anna Stuart, the original Donna, has always owned this role. Stuart is a wonderful actress, much missed on daytime, and her Donna provided a wonderful combination of strength, sweetness and bitchery. When she left in 1986, she was replaced by Philece Sampler, who’d made a big splash a few years before as Renee DiMera on Days of our Lives.
Sampler was great as the bitchy Renee, but whether it was the writing or her performance, her Donna was a de-fanged version of the original and was no fun to watch.
Natalie Marlowe, All My Children: The original Natalie, Kate Collins, has always been an audience favorite. She brought 40s-movie-star quality to her portrayal of femme fatale Natalie, and then went on to create a vividly original, funny, creepy character in Janet.
Robin Mattson would go on to successfully play Janet for a stint, but AMC did not have the same luck when it recast Natalie after Collins departed in 1992. Melody Anderson looked similar to Collins, but her Natalie came across as more brassy and brash than Collins’ cool and collected Natalie did.
Anderson has, interestingly enough, become a well-known social worker. She works in New York City and specializes in addiction and its impact on families.
Max Holden, One Life to Live. James DePaiva brought Max Holden to life on a large scale. If you haven’t already, you can revisit those Max moments with the interview by Damon Jacobs over at MarlenaDelacroix.com.
When DePaiva left the show for a time, he was replaced with daytime vet Nicholas Walker. Walker certainly had his fans, but it was hard for most OLTL fans to accept him. The debonair, Kennedyesque Walker owned roles like Trey Clegg, but he wasn’t as comfortable in Max’s boots and jeans as he was in a tuxedo.
DePaiva’s return to the show was an interesting footnote, since OLTL had explained the difference in appearance by saying Max had plastic surgery. When he reappeared – in a hot tub full of female friends, if I remember right – DePaiva clearly had Max’s old face.
And Walker’s doing well for himself these days; he’s a design expert who part of the team that creates and produces Kathy Ireland’s home accessories line.
And the one I’ll undoubtedly catch hell for….
Paul Ryan and Meg Snyder, As The World Turns: ATWT gets bonus points here for trying to keep characters we know alive, and keep ties to existing families. Their main approach over the last several years is to recast, or “reboot” existing characters with new actors. This has worked to a degree with some characters (Dusty) and even surprised us in a few cases (Brad, Craig, Casey).
But I think these two are miscast. Paul and Meg may not be a “fail” to every one, because they’re popular characters. But for me, a 24-year viewer of ATWT, I think the actors and characters are a bad fit.
Roger Howarth is very talented and brought a considerable artistry to his role as Todd on One Life to Live. But he’s been at ATWT for six years, and we still aren’t completely sure who Paul is or what he’s about. (Paul’s a hero. No, wait, he’s an antihero! No, he’s…..Todd Manning?)
For longtime viewers, we knew Paul and knew the struggles he had as James Stenbeck’s son. Watching those struggles promised to be compelling, but for the most part, Howarth and ATWT seem to STILL be trying to mesh actor and role together. That sounds like a mishmash – and a mismatch – to me.
And Marie Wilson, like nearly every other performer listed here, has done great work. Newer fans who never saw the original Meg (Jennifer Ashe) have understandably accepted New Millennium Meg as the real deal.
But I think Wilson is a miscast for Meg for many of the same reasons I think Luner is a bad Liza. Wilson’s Meg may have some edges to her, but she’s been a damsel in distress for much of the past few years. Original Recipe Meg was a schemer and a manipulator, and she would have put a smackdown on anyone who tried to take advantage of her.
Many of Meg’s recent misfortunes are replays of lessons Meg already learned when she was married to Tonio Reyes. And Wilson is almost a decade younger than Ashe, so nuMeg reads a lot younger on screen.