Just when gay soap fans were giving up hope of ever again seeing a major gay character on daytime, All My Children's producers announced they had recast the role of flagship lesbian character Bianca Montgomery. With Eden Riegel’s (ex-Bianca) decision to take on the role of Heather Stevens on The Young and the Restless instead of opting to return to the show that made her famous, the door swung open to recast the role. All My Children had some big shoes to fill — Riegel won an Emmy for the role — and the long, exhausting, and very carefully thought-out search for her replacement began.
Enter soap newbie Christina Bennett Lind, a New York-based actress who had been steadily making her mark in that city's theater scene and who looks uncannily like her predecessor. All My Children handpicked the young talent to take on the role of Bianca, and she will make her big debut Tuesday, June 15. Is it just a coincidence? Or is it a timed move, since all the major gay pride celebrations are held this month? Whatever the case, an AMC spokesperson confirmed that Bianca’s return, which coincides with her trying to locate her on-screen mother, Erica, is just one aspect of her future dilemmas in Pine Valley: “There is a complete and long-term story in the works for the character of Bianca from here to kingdom come.”
The Advocate caught up with Christina Bennett Lind to see if she is ready to take on the long haul of a soap actor’s life and also if she is ready to step up and be an advocate for the gay community.
The Advocate: Congratulations on getting the role. I hear you had auditioned for All My Children many times in the past before getting Bianca.
Christina Bennett Lind: I had auditioned for a few contract roles. And I got to know Judy Blye Wilson a bit, who casts All My Children, through the audition rooms. This one came around, and she thought it was right for me. So I looked at that as compliment, because Bianca is a beloved character on the show. This one just worked out.
How have your castmates treated you since your arrival at the studios?
It has been great. Everyone has been amazingly supportive and welcoming. Honestly, I was not sure what to expect, because a lot of people have been on AMC for so long and a lot of people were new. But I think the common bond of everybody just having moved from New York was helpful to me. I think they saw little reflections of themselves in me as I was stumbling around the first week and not having a real place to live.
Stepping into this major role created and made famous by Eden Riegel and being the moral center of Pine Valley has to come with a feeling of pressure. Are you feeling that now?
In the beginning, I did feel a little bit of pressure when I was auditioning for the role. I did look at some of Eden’s footage online to prep for it. She, for obvious reasons, was so beautiful, real, and honest in her portrayal of Bianca. Ultimately, what it came down to for me was not trying to mimic her. Part of me feels very strongly that Eden created a character that was so well-written, detailed, and complicated, and the element of being gay was part of who she was, but it did not define her. I sort of wanted to take that and breathe my own life into it and do something else by using myself rather than using someone else’s interpretation. I understand these emotions and all humans do, of wanting to support your family and be equal and be in love. Ultimately, I said, "I can feel the pressure, but I am going to let it go." The role is so full and rich that I thought, Well, now I am just going to throw myself into it.
I am really proud to play this part and have no trepidation about it at all, and being gay is part of who she is. I am proud to be doing it because of how current it all is. I am surprised that the gay community is still struggling and fighting so many years later. They are still fighting for basic human rights. I am excited to be a part of that fight.
Many soap opera flagship gay characters have come and gone over the past year. At one time in 2009 we had four soap operas telling same-sex stories. After As the World Turns goes off in September, that will make Bianca the lone major gay character in daytime.
I am excited to see where the writers take it, and they are sharing that responsibly with me. I’m sort of being that lone wolf out there now, and I am up for a challenge.
But initially, it is not a gay theme that brings Bianca back to the show; it’s her mom, Erica.
Right now she is fighting for her mom and getting details of what has happened. She believes that Erica died in a plane crash.
So you come back to town, and Bianca will go head-to-head with Greenlee, who is up to her eyeballs in the whereabouts of the MIA Erica.
That is Bianca’s first suspect. I want to needle her and get some information out of her. Greenlee and Bianca also have a very strong history together. In a sense, in the material I have been doing so far it is about fighting for somebody else’s goodness, which seems to be what Bianca’s strengths are: fighting for good intentions and the best in people. And also butting heads with Greenlee, because she is not being forthcoming with information.
Do you think AMC is taking Bianca’s return very lightly this time, in terms of the gay side of her life (i.e. not bringing her back with her wife and her kids in tow)? Last time out her story line did not sit well with the gay community. Plus, with the recent events of so many soap operas having had to derail their same-sex story lines for various reasons, perhaps this is all to test the waters with the viewers?
That is a good question. I think she is being brought back now because the show and the characters in Pine Valley sort of needed that grounding. I also think it’s a testament to the fans that they have embraced this character. I think right now the primary focus is definitely her relationship with her mother and definitely her relationships as a mother. But as far as bringing Reese back, I am hopeful that a romance can be represented. The timing this time and the story allowed for Bianca to come back as Erica’s daughter.
Reese and Bianca’s children are with Reese in Paris at this point, correct?
Yes, that’s right. Bianca basically came back to find out what happened to her mother and bring her home. Right now it’s just a trip, and her kids and Reese are still in Paris. I am staying on the show, but I am not sure how it will be written that I stay put. I am sure at some point all of this will be addressed, but I have no idea when.
Did your predecessor, Eden Riegel, send you any well wishes upon assuming the role?
I know she has a Twitter account. She said something that was very sweet and supportive. I think it had something to do with how alike we look, which is quite a compliment to me. Everyone I have been working with has said to me, “Oh, we loved Eden, but we also love this character, and we are going to embrace you.” Other than that, I have not heard anything from Eden, but I would love to hear from her.
How is working with Susan Lucci (Erica) as your on-screen mom?
She is amazing. Susan is a constant professional and open and available. For someone who has been doing this for so long, it’s quite an amazing thing how much integrity and how much work ethic she has. I thought I would be nervous just getting on set with her but she is very giving, and open. I can see why she is the epicenter of Pine Valley. She came in from her morning off the other day with two dozen crumb cupcakes for everyone.
Which none of the girls ate, I suppose? [Laughs]
Yeah, no. They just sort of disappeared, though. All the actresses stood there and said, “Wow, those are really beautiful” [laughs].
Did you screen-test with Susan?
I screen-tested with Rebecca Budig (Greenlee) and Cameron Mathison (Ryan) and there were five of us in the finals for the role. Rebecca and Cameron auditioned us on set, which was truly amazing. I feel like those are the two I am fairly close with right now. I saw Susan from afar while I was testing!
Is there a gay issue that you would love to see addressed now through Bianca?
I think they have done an amazing job at All My Children of presenting a gay story long before it was the somewhat “norm” ... the first gay on-screen kiss, a marriage, and things that the gay community in America are fighting for, their civil rights and equality. It seems Pine Valley is cool with Bianca. But what I am a little curious to see is some sort of real-life conflict arrive and see that some people in her small town do not accept her sexuality. In a sense, that is pretty relevant and controversial and true. Because Pine Valley is the exception, it’s a beautiful utopia right now. I wouldn’t mind attacking those issues that are happening in small towns right now.
So are you ready for the praises and the possible eggshells that come with playing a major gay character, whether it is from the LGBT community or the mainstream?
I fully support getting up there and pushing some boundaries. Because Bianca is such an embraced gay character and has had such a following with the audience, maybe she is allowed some more steps forward. Who knows?
But in the end, this has to be such a fantastic journey you are about to embark on. So how did you react when you got the news that would forever change your life ... that you are the new Bianca Montgomery?
I got a message from my agent, who was going into an intermission from a show he was seeing, to call him on his cell phone. So I called him back and I said, “What were you watching?” And he said, “You got it.” And I went, “Oh, OK. You are watching a new Broadway show called You Got It.” Then I basically stopped in my tracks. I was alone in my apartment, and my boyfriend was on his way home. And then I collapsed and sat on the floor of my apartment, and there were some tears. It was pretty emotional. I had been waiting for this for a couple months, and it was a huge sigh of relief. What I am most proud about in getting this role is that I felt it was me who got through, with my personality and energy, and that is what they responded to, as far as Bianca goes. It sounds cliché, but that is what did it. I know I am in a very interesting position coming onto soaps at this time, but I can’t wait to see where it can all go.