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In Part One of our interview with Lane Davies, the acclaimed actor, who will be appearing on the new web series THE BAY, discussed his drive to perform, and how that led to his first daytime role on DAYS OF OUR LIVES. In this revealing second part, Davies shares aspects of his time as Mason on SANTA BARBARA, as well as a turbulent relationship with his costar Nancy Lee Grahn.
We Love Soaps: SANTA BARBARA, especially between 1984-1989, remains such a beloved gem of daytime history.
Lane Davies: That’s nice to hear you say that. I’ve heard it in other places but you are never quite sure if people are just saying that because you’re standing there and they have to say something nice to you. I do think we had something unique going on.
We Love Soaps: The pacing, the dialogue, the rhythm of the dialogue was so different. Were you aware of what a unique and non-typical daytime show this was going to be when you agreed to do it?
Lane Davies: No, I don’t think anybody knew. The Dobsons [SANTA BARBARA'S creators] met resistance when it wasn’t formulaic. But the audiences responded to it. I think it was the humor, that we had a sense of humor when it was sadly lacking in the rest of daytime. We all had great respect for the nature of the work, but with out tongues-in-cheek when it came to the storylines we were playing out. We didn’t spoof them. We were just always aware that we were having fun and creating fun, as opposed to taking the material too seriously.
We Love Soaps: The caliber of much of the acting was unusually high. There was you, Nicolas Coster, Louise Sorel, Nancy Lee Grahn, Jed Allen, the list goes on and on.
Lane Davies: In all modesty, I think we had the best ensemble cast in daytime. It didn’t last, but we were hard to beat. We had tons of energy and lots of humor.
We Love Soaps: You said earlier you made novice mistakes on DAYS. By the time you started on SANTA BARBARA, did you feel more secure with the cameras?
Lane Davies: Somewhat, but I was still apprehensive since things hadn’t gone that well on DAYS. Early on we were losing lead time. The first executive producer was trying to give it a film look with all these long shots that had to be done over and over. We got behind, and it started costing huge amounts of money. So they started loading the show on a few of us that could handle heavy loads of dialogue. Besides learning the work itself, we earned a lot of favors early on. It’s much more relaxing to be on a show that you have been on for several years than to go on and be a guest star because you have earned the right to screw up. You’re not as worried about screwing up. Plus, we were good at learning dialogue. We had massive amounts of dialogue on that show.
We Love Soaps: Especially Mason!
Lane Davies: I was always complaining to A [Martinez] about that. I had scene after scene of these long diatribes and then he and Marcy would have a love scene at the end and just do, “Kitchy, kitchy, poo-poo...” The show would end on them after I worked my ass off all day long. They’d give us 70 pages a day, and I’d have 20-30 of that on an average day.
We Love Soaps: Clearly the writers were writing to your strengths, which was the ability to convey so much subtext with the words. One of my favorite scenes took place in the summer of 1985, when Mason revealed to C.C. that Channing was gay by bringing his ex-lover to the house. C.C. starts to register who this guy is, and Mason offers him a piece of fruit while saying, “Fruit? Have one, I mean.”
Lane Davies: [Laughs] I don’t remember that. It's amazing, there are things that are burned in to my memory. I watch The Mason Chronicles, which is basically a collection of tapes of my story that our nanny had. Some of the scenes I can watch and remember what side of the stage that set was on that day, and others things I watch and it’s like I’m seeing it for the first time. It’s like watching yourself in a dream, a much younger and handsomer self.
We Love Soaps: What made that scene and so many memorable is that Mason could be horrifying, cruel, even homophobic, yet we still enjoyed him, we still rooted for him. You couldn’t help but be on his side. That’s a delicate balance.
Lane Davies: That was the fun of him. He was a vulnerable villain. You always understood why he was the way he was. For that I credited the Dobsons. Bridget Dobson had similar issues with her own mother and transferred that into Mason. Because I was able to get those layers across, she kept writing it.
We Love Soaps: One of the reasons I believe they gave you so much dialogue had to do with the musical cadence in your voice. The way you speak words is nearly melodic. Is that from training, or is that natural?
Lane Davies: It’s probably a little bit of both. After awhile you lose track of what is learned behavior and what came naturally. Acting was really never all that hard for me. I’m still of the opinion that you can’t teach it. You can improve somebody’s acting, but if they can’t act, you can’t teach them how. There comes a point where you’ve been doing it so long you can’t remember what you learned how to do and what you did because you were born to it. I came to that show having worked with some of the better dramaturges in this country. They paid close attention to words and to nuance. They were big on dictionary work, right down to grinding the word down to its etymology. I always put great stock in nuance of the individual word, and that was a learned behavior. By the time I got on SANTA BARBARA, I had been doing it so much it was second nature.
We Love Soaps: That certainly explains why you were the go-to guy for long passages of dialogue.
Lane Davies: One day they wrote me into 58 pages. A lot of it was trial stuff. I went up to Jerry Dobson and said, “I’m sorry, I can’t do this. I’m sorry you have finally written one I can’t do. I’ll have to read half the show off [cue] cards.
We Love Soaps: Do you remember which storyline that was for?
Lane Davies: It was probably during Ted’s rape storyline. It was a big trial scene. So Jerry cut the speech, and then the show was ten minutes short. It gives you an idea of how much material I had. But all they did was load that material on to a different day. I didn’t really get out of the work.
We Love Soaps: Part of what worked well was the chemistry you had with so many of your costars. The fireworks between you and Nancy were electric.
Lane Davies: I watch them and I find myself trying to remember if we were even speaking off camera at the time. We always had this chemistry that audience liked. But we are both such hard headed individuals. We often crossed lines in terms of personal and work relationship. It led to fireworks on and off screen. My running joke is that no one could tell if we were closer to copulation or strangulation. But they seemed to like it, whichever one it was.
We Love Soaps: Of course, love and hate are opposite sides of the coin. What kind of things did you argue about?
Lane Davies: At this point I don’t even remember. I was constantly fighting, not just her, but the domestication of the character. Here was this guy who started out changing pregnancy tests so he could sleep with his stepmother, and later on they had me folding diapers. I’m afraid I resisted it a bit too vocally. Looking back, I would have been more diplomatic about it. But I was getting really frustrated because the writers and Nancy wanted Mason to be a lot more domestic than I wanted him to be. That was really what led to a lot of friction between us.
We Love Soaps: And you were there 12-16 hours a day.
Lane Davies: There was always a fatigue factor. There was a blood sugar factor. A lot of dynamics at work. Then you try to maintain some sort of personal life outside the studio and it can lead to some behavior that is less than professional. I look back on a lot of those times and there were times when I would be less than professional. Not that many, but enough that I would apologize. There were times I could have behaved better but I was just so frustrated. It was difficult.
We Love Soaps: Are you talking about tantrums, outbursts?
Lane Davies: No, I tend to be more passive aggressive. Once I learned where Nancy’s buttons were, I would push those buttons and sit back and let her throw the tantrums. If you look at the genesis of the tantrum it was me getting her to do it.
We Love Soaps: That is passive aggressive!
Lane Davies: It was very Machiavellian. And then there was the boredom factor. We had been doing the show for four years or so. I have never been a person to create drama for the sake of creating drama. But I think there were times we were so bored, that’s the downfall of daytime. That’s the drawback of daytime, you can get bored with the routine, so any drama becomes exciting. Even if it’s inappropriate.
We Love Soaps: Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently on SANTA BARBARA?
Lane Davies: There is stuff I would have taken less seriously. I would have said, “They are paying me a lot of money to do this and I should just do my job.” I would have picked my battles more carefully. I am very good at picking my battles now. At that time I wasn’t as good at it.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Please come back for Part Three in which we discuss Davies' exit from SANTA BARBARA, and the dumbing down of daytime.