By Michael Fairman

Originally published on Advocate.com October 19 2009 1:30 PM ET

The woman behind the man…. who comes out!

You fall for a good-looking cop, he seems like the man of your dreams... but there is one small problem: You’re a straight woman and he is a closeted gay man.
 
For months, that is the predicament Layla Williamson found herself in, until she wised up and realized that Officer Oliver Fish was hiding… behind her. One Life to Live’s Tika Sumpter was integral to the show's coming-out story, which spotlighted openly gay actor Scott Evans. Tika’s unlucky in love alter ego Layla seems to have had a penchant for picking unavailable men, straight or gay. So what did Tika think of One Life’s coming-out plot?
 
“I thought it was a brilliant story. I felt like we built our relationship in a way that people would believe that Layla did not know Fish was gay. I did not want to play dumb. I think she did not want to believe it, even if all the signs were there. I think she believed she fell in love with a really good guy who treated her well. She has never had a successful relationship, and she finally found a guy who she wanted to be with and who wanted to be with her, or so she thought. I was happy for Scott Evans [Fish], and I loved working with him. I knew it would reach a lot of people, so it was worth all the tears Layla and I had to shed.”
 
This soap scenario is one that many gay men may have found themselves in… trying to make a “go” of it with a beautiful girl to protect their image. So how was it for Tika to play the rejected girlfriend? Uncomfortable!
 
“For a woman to have to chase a man to be sexual with her, it’s kind of degrading in a way, and it's like, Wow. He does not want me. What’s the problem? So imagine for a woman in real life to chase after somebody and that somebody did not want to be with you sexually. One would take it so personal and it’s a rejection. It is a human story.”

When the big moment arrived last month, Fish admitted to Layla and their very machismo roomie Cristian Vega that he was gay, and then had to do the same to his nonaccepting parents. The actress says it really was an amazing experience to shoot those scenes.
 
“All those tears were as real as real could be; listening to the words he was saying. It just touched me because I felt like so many people have probably gone through that. Imagine a parent denying a child? For someone to have to deny who they are for a long time is pretty harsh. So listening to Scott in the scenes was heartbreaking. I was there and it was raw. At the end of the scene, there was dead silence in the studio.”















SOAPSIDE 1019 Tika Sumpter - One Life to Live X390 (GETTY) | ADVOCATE.COM

Now, Fish has forged a solid male friendship with the very straight Cristian (who only has eyes for the rejected Layla). He has been there every step of the way to help Fish come to terms with who he is. Tika agrees, “Cristian has been a great guy, and men need to speak to men sometimes and know that they still respect them. It’s a whole other type of relationship that women don’t have between men… gay or straight… men are still men. It’s really nice to know that somebody has your back. I think that relationship is important to Fish and Cristian, and David Fumero [Cristian] has done a great job taking the heat from Fish’s parents, and standing up to them.”
 
So, will Layla and Cristian be attending the same-sex wedding-athon (airing in a few weeks) to support their gay friends? “Yes, we will be in attendance. Kyle’s marrying Nick, who is a cutie patootie! He reminds me of Clark Kent. Nicholas Rodriguez (Nick) is a sweet guy and yes, supposedly Kyle is marrying Nick, but…. there is a whole thing that is going to happen there. We are there for support for our friends, but of course, we are truly Fish’s friends!”



Now, it’s Tika’s turn to take center stage, when after months of dancing around their mutual attraction, Layla’s stalled love life gets a jump start! On today’s episode, Cristian and Layla’s long-awaited kiss happens! But for Tika, being paired with hottie David Fumero comes with a bit of a dilemma.

“Well, he is one of my really good friends, and actually his wife, Melissa Gallo Fumero (Ex-Adriana, OLTL) is one of my really good friends. It was weird, but then we said, we have to do this, and make it sexy and amazing and not be afraid."

So, did BFFs Melissa and Tika compare notes on Fumero’s lip-locks? Tika yelps, “Oh no! Absolutely not! Oh, hell no! We don’t even talk about it, and if we do, she will make fun of it. I am not going to her house going, ‘David kissed me today and it was amazing’ NO! David is not a bad kisser and he is a beautiful man, and I give him that, but he is all Melissa’s. I definitely want to see how it looks on TV and I am excited to see it because so many people have been stopping me on the street and writing in asking, ‘When are they going to see a kiss?’ I don’t think Melissa is going to watch it!” 

And since Melissa’s Adrianna was one of Layla’s best friends, once she exited the series, so too did other gal pals of Layla’s, leaving her girlfriend-less. But Layla has a way of dealing with that loss. “I can hang out with the gay boys!


SOAPSIDE 1019 David Fumero X390 (GETTY) | ADVOCATE.COM

The recent firing and exit of Patricia Mauceri (Ex-Carlotta, Cristian’s mom), which sprouted from her refusal to play a small plot point in the gay story line, was in Tika’s work orbit. The actress was on set the day, when shockingly, Patricia’s replacement, Saundra Santiago, reported for work.

“I was there, and somebody new just showed up in the role of Carlotta and I was like. What happened? I obviously then found out. It’s a sad situation. As actors, we are all going to play things that we are not about. I played a prostitute once. Am I a prostitute? No. Do I want to be a prostitute? No. I played one on Law and Order. As an actor you are given roles and you either play them or you don’t get paid. Angelina Jolie played Gia and she was fierce in it, and so I would play a lesbian any day. You know what I mean? It’s exploration through different people and that is what we are paid to do. Look, every one has their own opinion but that is just how I see it. Listen, back in the '50s African-Americans did not have rights. And every person, if you are gay, straight, or transgender, deserves rights. It’s about equality. Who cares who you are kissing at night?”

Bierdz's Night Out

Thursday night I attended Love Out Loud West’s AIDS Walk L.A. fund-raiser, thrown by POZ magazine. The gathering brought out several soap stars to help support the fight against HIV/AIDS. Y&R’s Thom Bierdz and I chatted about the event and what has happened to Phillip III’s once-promising story.
 
“Here I am, a gay man, 47 years old and I am lucky to be negative, but I have so many friends that are positive," he said. "I know what an ordeal that is and I just want to support it anyway I can. It’s wonderful that the medications are around today and that is good.”
 
But depending on how you look at it, what is not good is a gay character’s lack of upcoming airtime on the number 1 soap, especially since it started with a bang and was greeted with such fanfare, only to fizzle out. Bierdz sets the record straight. “Here is the thing; I know I am on in eight episodes in November and then the truth is, I sort of disappear. My six-month contract is up. And I really want to support the gay community, and I want the gay community to support me. I would like the gay community to write to CBS and say, ‘We want a gay character on the air,’ and I want to be that.”



But what of the rumored romance between Phillip III and Y&R’s only other gay character, young legal eagle Rafe? Bierdz says he thinks he knows why the show may have gotten cold feet.

“I think they got a little cautious about that. I can tell you this, the people directly in charge of me, such as Maria Arena Bell [co-exec prod and head writer, Y&R] are so gay-affirmative and friendly, but I don’t know what their bosses are like… but this is something that needs to be overcome. I am excited and prepped to do a gay romance in daytime. It’s not just about Thom Bierdz, it’s about gay representation. If it’s not me, then it should be somebody else and it’s time that the gay population is represented on Y&R, absolutely.”

However, Bierdz says, even with some disappointments in the storytelling, he really doesn’t feel let down by the Y&R experience. “All of my expectations have been met," he says. "I get tons of letters and support, and I did not expect too much and they did not promise me too much. I am so honored I got a Human Rights Award for Visibility. I had to stand in front of 850 people and give a speech and I am not a guy who likes to be the center of attention. I am a total introvert. I went onstage and they were all pro-equality and pro-gay and these are my people, and this is what registers, and this is what matters to me.”


SOAPSIDE 1019 THOM BIERDZ X390 (GETTY) | ADVOCATE.COM

Having been able to play opposite three female dynamos of Y&R after 20 years (although only for six months) -- Jeanne Cooper (Katherine), Jess Walton (Jill), and Tricia Cast (Nina) -- was a very positive experience for Bierdz and he wants everyone to know how accepting the trio is.

“Jeanne Cooper has been so cool about gay people and has forever. Jess Walton has a lot of gay friends and is very into spirituality like I am. She is a cool lady. Tricia Cast is the coolest, and to have those women support me has been tremendous. I want to acknowledge them because they are so gay-friendly. Everybody has been great, even Eric Braeden (Victor) has been so gay-accepting, and it’s been great. Personally, everyone could not have been more wonderful, but we will see what the business behind that feels!”

And what of getting to play Dad to soap stud John Driscoll’s Chance? Bierdz says it had its difficulties. “He is a very sweet guy. It was disconcerting to have some 28-year-old straight guy playing your son in a hospital bed, and going, ‘My baby. I am here for you.’ John Driscoll is a great son to have for a gay guy!” [Laughs]

Soap Stars Lend Their Support on AIDS Walk Los Angeles Weekend

In addition to Bierdz, several other soap notables chatted with me at the Poz event about the continued fight for funds and research for HIV/AIDS. Lisa LoCicero (Olivia) of General Hospital had this to say: “The first point that comes to my mind is that what is asked of us soap actors at an event like this is so minuscule. I mean, could you not come out and have a couple of drinks with some nice people? I mean, how in the world could you decide not to come? And of course, I have had some dear friends that I have lost to the disease, and it’s heartbreaking. It’s not necessarily getting the same kind of public attention it used to, because there are drugs that are ameliorating some of the things. But it is still killing people, so it’s not like we can pretend it’s not happening anymore. And whatever I can do to lighten that load and research ways to make that suffering go away world wide, whether its cancer or AIDS, I will show up for and support.”

OLTL’s Ilene Kristen (Roxy) flew in jet-lagged from NYC, but was there to help raise continued awareness. “I lost a lot of friends from the get-go and one of the first friends of mine to die was the stage manager from Grease. Every week for a while I lost a lot of people and I want to support the cause. You know, I have some friends who are living with HIV and doing rather well. I hate to say it, but we need more money and money talks. We need money for research and better drugs and more affordable drugs. Anybody who needs the cocktail should get it and not have to worry about how they are going to get it, or how they are going to pay for it.”

For more on Kristen, Daytime Confidential has a new Q&A with the actress which focuses on Ilene’s music career and One Life’s Roxy Balsom’s budding friendship with the very out Kyle Lewis.

SOAPSIDE 1019 ILENE KRISTEN X390 (GETTY) | ADVOCATE.COM

Viva La Vaughan

Ousted General Hospital hunk Greg
Vaughan (who over the last several weeks has been getting an
overwhelming show of support from fans and the industry) sat down with
me to discuss details of what ensued behind the scenes that brought the
original Lucky Spencer (three-time Daytime Emmy winner Jonathan
Jackson) back to the show and pink slipped the ever reliable
Vaughan.

“It was a bit of shock. There was a call that was
made, and I went in knowing one of three things: (a) I was going to be
fired, (b) I was going to be put on recurring, or (c) There was a story
coming. but usually your executive does not call you with a story. That
is usually done by your head writer and that only happened once to me
in seven years. So I sort of prepared myself going in to it and going
in just at ease and peace. It’s not what you want to hear, but if you
go in knowing you are a little bit more reserved, and that was my
approach. It was interesting. When I think back, I had a feeling about
this. There was a guy who was coming on the show who is recurring, and
he is there now, and he said, 'How are things going?' And I said, 'You
know what? I think my days are numbered.' And he said, 'No. You’re
Lucky Spencer!' and I said, 'You know what? I know how this system
works, and I know how this show works.' I have been here long enough,
and its not that I wanted it to happen, but sometimes things happen for
the right reasons. Doors close and others open. Look, I love the people
I was with and they were my second family, and if you don’t invest in
your product then you don’t get a good return, and I was dispensable!"

For more of my in-depth heartfelt and revealing interview with Vaughan, go to my website MichaelFairmanSoaps.com.

Soap Shocker of the Week!

Y&R’s Stacy Haiduk and I bumped into each other at a coffee shop last week where she teased me that the next beat in the Patty Williams story line is a doozy! For a quick refresher course, Patty has lost her marbles after
shooting Victor three times and has been put in a psych hospital. While she
appears to have now lost all memories of the last 20 some years and
what happened to her recently, a little blip at the end of Wednesday’s
episode revealed the shocker! Patty, who had plastic surgery in the
first place with an underhanded assist from Victor Newman in order to
gaslight her ex, Jack, actually stole the face of her psychiatrist,
Emily. And we the viewers see Emily for the first time, and it’s… Stacy
Haiduk. Dual role! Dual role! Watch the last three minutesof this
episode.

That made me think: Is there any Beverly Hills plastic surgeon willing to redo my face like James Franco’s?


SOAPSIDE 1019 Stacy Haiduk - Young & the Restless X390 (GETTY) | ADVOCATE.COMBig Returns!

All My Children has been making more noise in the soap world this past week. First came the announcement that Rebecca Budig was reprising her role as Greenlee Smythe as the show moves from New York City to Los Angeles into its new digs. Maligned head writer Chuck Pratt seems to feel that Rebecca could be the cure to what ails the show. In fact, in a strange quote in Soap Opera Digest, Pratt had this to say: “Oddly enough, I always thought regardless of the move, and regardless of who we're losing and who we're getting, from the minute we lost her and she was coming to L.A… I kept thinking, 'We're going to get her back. It's going to take about a year.' Luckily, I laid in the story and had it in my mind this whole time. She’s always been my favorite.” The bright spot here is that if all goes as planned, the stage will be set for bitter enemies Greenlee and Erica to fight for the affection of their man, Ryan.

Hot on the heels of this item came word that former soap darlings Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos (Ex- Hayley and Mateo Santos) are heading back to Pine Valley for the 40th Anniversary episode of the series to air in January. Could Josh Duhamel (Ex-Leo) be next? Especially if Pratt darling, Budig, is on board?

Just What Team Does Stephanie Forrester Play For?

I received a package from The Bold and the Beautiful
recently which included a T-shirt with the likeness of Susan Flannery’s
bulldozing matriarch Stephanie Forrester’s mug on it and the emblazoned
words “Team Stephanie” with this little note: "Stephanie Forrester has
spent 23 years being hateful, depraved, and manipulative to just about
everyone who has crossed her path. So, why in the world would anybody
root for her? Tune in on Friday, October 16th, to find out." And that
is just what I did!

You see, after a series of mini-strokes, this
once-tough gal has become a bit of a softy, and has made a decision to
leave her position at work. So her coworkers decide to try to get her
to come back (even though her self-confidence is shaken by these recent
debilitating physical problems) by staging a sort of a
rah-rah type intervention. Dressed as cheerleaders, football players
and coaches, the Jackie M. design house, where Stephanie works, shows
up in front of her chanting S-T-E-P-H-A-N-I-E. Of course, the gay
audience was thrilled for the opportunity to see Brandon Beemer (Owen,
below) in sexy football garb, and Jack Wagner (Nick) doing his best
circuit party dance moves. Needless to say, after that soap bit, this
weekend I am wearing my Team Stephanie T-shirt, proudly.

SOAPSIDE 1019 BEEMER X390 (COURTESY) | ADVOCATE.COM