Last week, the new reality series, “Queens of Drama,” kicked off with six soap stars joining forces to create a female-run production company in hopes of revitalizing the soap genre and some too-quiet careers.
Front and center is Donna Mills, the still-striking actress who is probably best known for playing Abby Cunningham Ewing Sumner on the long-running nighttime soap, “Knots Landing.” However, Mills is busy as ever with a role as conniving Madeline Reeves on ABC’s daytime sudser, “General Hospital.”
What does Mills have to teach these other ladies (Vanessa Marcil, Lindsay Hartley, Crystal Hunt, Chrystee Pharris) with the help of her friend, Hunter Tylo? Plenty! In fact, a lot of the conflict in the show is Mills’ ability to steer the ship and take charge…before anyone asks her to do so.
I caught up with the actress recently to talk about her first step into reality TV, whether her two on-screen personas would be friends or rivals and, of course, if she’s aware she has quite the legion of gay fans.
You were already keeping busy with “General Hospital” so tell me how this came into your life.
Donna Mills: But actually, Leslie Greif, who’s the head of Think Factory, called me. He’s an old friend of mine and said, “We want to talk to you about this reality show.” And I’m like, “No, no. Reality show? No.” And they said, “Listen to the concept.” They told me the concept and I went, “This is a reality show that’s about something. It has a purpose. It has a goal,” and I said, “That sounds interesting.” I still was a little bit reticent because it’s a whole different kettle of fish for me but I thought, “Well, shoot, I’ll try it.”
Since this was a new venture for you. What did you learn doing it?
DM: I guess I learned I’m a lot better at improv than I thought I was because it’s pretty much like improving, riffing, and at first, it was sort of hard and I wasn’t sure what I could say [or] should say and then it got easier and easier. We kind of got the rhythm of it and all the other women are scripted actresses, too…everybody really liked each other so we were happy to see each other every day that we’ve worked together and then it became fun.
Do you think it will be fun for the viewers to watch?
DM: Yeah. I do. I think it’s exactly what this network, which is a fan-oriented network, will like. They get to see behind the scenes, which fans love. They get to see us in our personal lives, our homes as well as in our offices and stuff like that. So yeah, I think they’re really going to like it.
I don’t think people realize how much work goes into a career.
DM: Yeah. It doesn’t happen easily at all. Yeah.
Do you think Abby and Madeline would they get along or would they be rivals?
DM: I think they’d be rivals.
It would be really fun to watch, though…
DM: Maybe I could play both parts! I like that idea. That would be very funny.
Soaps love twins.
DM: That’s true. See, the thing is, though, the big difference between the two characters is Abby, above all else, was a good mother.
She was. That was her redeeming factor all those years.
DM: Above all else. So, with Madeline, not so much, although I think she was a good mother to Nathan, James, just her own daughter, she didn’t do so well.
Was it an adjustment for you with “General Hospital?” I know the soaps shoot so fast now.
DM: It’s very hard. It’s really hard, and it’s somewhat unsatisfying as an actor because you never feel like you’ve done your best performance.
You don’t get to do second, third and fourth takes.
DM: No. No. It’s done, you’re over, it’s out.
I feel like you also have a big gay fan base. Do you get a sense of that?
DM: (smiles) Yes.
Why do you think that is?
DM: I think gay men love beautiful women. Not to say I’m a beautiful woman, but I think I looked pretty good on that. I think they like the way I dressed and that I cared a lot about my clothes and stuff like that. And I think they like powerful, strong women.
I don’t know if you’d say Abby is a villain. She’s much more layered than that.
DM: I think that’s one of the reasons “Knot’s Landing” endures in people’s minds. The characters weren’t one-dimensional. The characters were multi-layered. They had vulnerabilities, they had strengths, they were human and that’s a hard thing for writers to do but we had very good writers.
I see you on social media. How has that been for you, the fact that you’re interacting with fans now?
DM: It’s such a learning curve for me. It’s the hardest thing that I’m doing right now. I swear to you, it’s the hardest thing that I’m doing, trying to master the social media. I’m trying, I really am.
“Queens of Drama” airs Wednesdays at 8pm on the POP Network.