A seasoned Broadway performer by her 20th birthday (when she originated the role of Patty Simcox in Grease), Ilene Kristen never expected to become one of daytime’s most beloved and versatile leading ladies.
Catching Up With Ilene Kristen
Since her debut as the scheming Delia Reid Ryan on Ryan’s Hope in 1975, Kristen has appeared twice on One Life to Live (including an 11-year stint as wacky Roxy Balsom, for which she earned two Daytime Emmy nominations), Loving, Another World, and eventually General Hospital, where she reprised the role of Delia in 2013.
More recently, Kristen has, once again, spent most of her time acting and singing on stage. From October 7 – October 24, she will co-star in Tony DiMurro’s new play, 1-2-3 Manhunt, at NYC’s Theater for the New City. She recently spoke to Soap Hub about the play, her memories of working on Ryan’s Hope and One Life to Live, and the possibility of returning to General Hospital.
Soap Hub: Tell me about how you got involved in 1-2-3 Manhunt and your role in it?
Ilene Kristen: A couple of years [ago], I did a reading of a different play at the Actors Studio, and William Roudebush, this director whom I have known forever, was there and he mentioned I might be right for a play he was doing. Then he called right before the pandemic to ask me to do it. So first, it was going to be last March, then last October, and now it has finally come around.
I play Millie, a childhood friend of two of the main characters, who is basically there to stop one of them from jumping off a roof. What I like about the play is that it’s about friendship and our changing city and not feeling like you belong here anymore. I understand that; things have changed so much in New York. I got my first apartment for $125 and I could have moved to another one for the same price; now you can’t make that kind of lateral move. I also like that my character is a straight shooter. I’m like that too; I always tell it like it is. Plus, I get to carry a bat around the roof! That’s fun.
IK: It feels amazing. In fact, it feels normal even when the world doesn’t. I am still not used to seeing people in masks on the subway. I didn’t see that coming. Then again, over the past few years, I didn’t see lots of things coming!
SH: Let’s go back to Ryan’s Hope. It was quite a break for a young actress to be given the role of Delia. What did you think about her when you were first approached to do the part?
IK: Honestly, I had done a lot of comedy roles in theater, so all I wanted was to play the wacky neighbor in a sitcom! So when my agent called with the offer, I said “no soap operas!” And he said, don’t worry, it will only run six months, But after I read the first script, I was really intrigued – although I had no idea I would have these dramatic responsibilities and have to cry so much. And then, after a week on the street, people would stop me on the street to talk about Delia. That was weird and normal at the same time, as if I always knew that would happen.
SH: You originally stayed on the show for five years (and then came back for another four about a decade later). I am guessing it was a good experience.
IK: Absolutely, Thankfully, the producers trusted me from the beginning, as did the makeup people, the writers, even the directors; that first week, the acting style they had me do was much bigger than I wanted. You know, I called Claire Labine, our head writer, only once. Delia was brutally ripping this doll apart and it seemed so out of character. So I asked her, “Is the writer’s psychiatrist out of town?” And the answer was yes. It was a really tough job, though, like doing a kitchen sink drama every day. I would come home and be completely drained; I had no energy to do anything else.
SH: And you got to work with an incredible cast! Who did you learn the most from?
IK: Helen Gallagher, who played Maeve, had started in the Broadway chorus like me – though she was a better dancer than I will ever be – and while she was the star, she was so humble and we had the same work ethic, believing that the most important thing in acting was to be part of an ensemble. And I learned a lot about my character from Kate Mulgrew and the things she would say to Delia as Mary. In berating me so much about all the horrible things Delia would do, it helped make me understand how vulnerable Delia really was.
SH: Moving forward, you spent over 10 years playing Roxy on One Life to Live. I loved her. So did the audience. Did you?
IK: Absolutely! I miss playing Roxy more than even playing Delia. She ended up being the antidote to the events of 9/11. I actually got the part on September 10! So I felt like my job was to raise the spirits of the people watching. As a kid, TV was my babysitter, so I always feel my first responsibility is to the fans. And Roxy was a blast. I always say playing her was the most fun I ever had — legally.
SH: Then you got to reprise Delia on General Hospital when it was revealed you were Ava Jerome’s mother! It seemed you might show up again recently when they had a scene that was set in Ryan’s Bar. Do you think you’ll ever come back?
IK: I don’t watch the soaps anymore, but I heard about that scene on Twitter. In fact, I get a lot of questions there about where Delia is. And honestly, I loved working with Maura West [Ava], who is the consummate professional. I really thought I’d be on the show longer, or be back by now, even though I might have to move to California to do it. But, for whatever reason, I think I might have to call Frank Valentini [the show’s producer] to make that happen. But after my Off-Broadway show ends, I am available and ready! And I think, from what I hear, General Hospital could use Delia right about now!
General Hospital (GH) airs weekdays on ABC. Check your local listings for airtimes. For more about what’s coming up in Port Charles, check out all the latest that’s been posted on GH spoilers, and for an in-depth look at the show’s history, click here.