Thanks to the legendary Erica Kane, we all know that All My Children's Pine Valley wasn't exactly the corner of Hollywood and Vine. But that didn't mean that the town's residents weren't glamorous enough for red carpets and movie premieres. Far from it, actually, thanks to Opal's famous salon, the Glamorama.
Everyone from Brooke English (Julia Barr) to Myrtle Fargate (Eileen Hurley) frequented the beauty parlor, as it was THE place to be in Pine Valley. But the magic couldn't have been possible without the dedicated employees who worked there.
First, there was Opal Cortlandt (Dorthoy Lyman from 1981 to 1984; Jill Larson from 1989 onward), who started the business in the early 80s and poured her heart and soul into making it a smashing success. There was Opal's son "Tad the Cad" (Michael E. Knight) who took on a job at the Glamorama when he first arrived in Pine Valley. And there was the unforgettable Irma (Chris McGinn), who was almost always doing hair and giving manicures right next to her Glamorama sidekick, Ethel (Barbara Hoovman).
With so many of AMC's golden era moments and Pine Valley residents being connected to the Glamorama, Soap Central thought it would be fun to catch up with Chris McGinn and see what kind of fun behind-the-scenes tidbits she could share about playing Irma and what it was like to work with some of the ABC soap opera's most beloved actors. Fortunately, the actress -- whose additional credits include Silence of the Lambs, Jessica Jones, and Orange Is the New Black -- did not disappoint. And quite right, because she, of all people, knows -- a visit to the salon just isn't the same without a little gossip!
Soap Central: It says on IMDb that you only played Irma in one episode in 1984, but that can't be right! Irma was always in the Glamorama with Ethel!
Chris McGinn: It's not right! I played Irma in the Glamorama for six years, recurring, and I have tried multiple times to fix it on IMDb, but for some reason [it hasn't been updated]. But I was recurring for all of the years that the Glamorama was there, along with Ethel -- Barbara Hoovman at the time, Barbara Baker now -- who is my friend, still to this day. As long as the Glamo had employees, we were there!
Soap Central: Do you remember how your role as Irma came about?
McGinn: I moved to New York a week after college, and I felt that because I didn't go to Yale and I didn't go to Juilliard and those kinds of schools, I needed to get direct experience. I started working technical for plays, like being a stage manager for a play, and what I decided was soap operas would be a great way for me to learn about being on camera, to learn camera angles, and all of that. Because even though I had a degree for teaching theater, speech, and English, we never really got into the film aspect of things. So, I got onto All My Children as an extra, then they called me and asked me if I would be an Under Five, which meant you had under five lines, and I was ironically a customer at the Glamorama, which they had just created!
Soap Central: There's a hilarious clip on YouTube of that. [Below]
McGinn: Well, after I was a customer, the late, great, amazing Jackie Babbin [then-executive producer] called up through her office and said, "We want to make you a regular employee of the Glamorama." And I was thrilled. And what's funny, my roommate at the time was Barbara, she comes home and said, "They asked me to be an employee in the Glamorama!" They didn't know we were roommates, and yet, they had asked both of us to play Ethel and Irma in the beauty parlor.
Soap Central: Wow, what are the chances?
McGinn: She was shorter than me and thin and wore glasses, and I was taller and bigger with the big hair -- we were kind of like the Laurel and Hardy or the Frick and Frack of the beauty parlor. [Laughs] They employed us to work for Donna Beck, who was played by Candice Earley. I loved her. She was so great. And even Tad -- Michael Knight -- he worked there for a while. There were just all these really great people. Everybody was in and out of the Glamo, because it was a popular place to hang out. And of course, meeting and working with Dorothy Lyman was a blast. Every time there were Glamo scenes, I was there, and Babs was there. And when they know you as a regular, then you get to graduate to being invited to the wedding or to the shower or the fire, when they set fire to the Glamorama. [Laughs] So, then we got to be in all these extra episodes, because we were a part of Pine Valley.
Soap Central: What do you remember about Michael E. Knight, who was new to the show then, and so charming and cute.
McGinn: Tad the Cad! [Laughs] Michael was so wonderful. It was interesting, because exactly what you said -- he really was kind of new to acting, and there were all these rumors that they had sent him to schools to make him a better actor, but in reality, he really had all these really great instincts. He was so tall and nice and good-looking, and they put him around the Glamo, and he was adorable.
Soap Central: I'm jealous you were there for that time period with him!
McGinn: I have a very funny story about the Glamorama that he was involved in, actually. The late, great David Canary [Adam Chandler], who I loved just as much, he and Michael Knight were standing just off stage as I was getting ready for a scene with Ruth Warrick, who happened to be in the Glamorama because her character, Phoebe Wallingford, was getting her nails done. So, Ruth shows up to the Glamorama with all of her polishes and sets them down in front of me, and I'm smiling, and she says, "So, I hear I'm getting a manicure?" And I laughed and said, "Yeah." And she said, "No, I mean, I'm getting a manicure today, right?" So, I went over to the stage manager, and I said, "Does she really think that I'm going to, like, work on her nails for real and do a full manicure?" And he said, "Well, yeah, but you can just kind of humor her." [Laughs] And I look off stage, and there's David Canary and Michael Knight just laaaaauuuughing and laughing! Ruth had gotten up to go do something, and Michael came over and said, "Good luck with your manicure today!" [Laughs] I was like, "Thanks a lot, you two!" And they were laughing hysterically.
Soap Central: How did the manicure turn out?!
McGinn: Well, we started filming, and I was trying to do her nails the best I could! [Laughs] Then they'd yell cut, and I would stop, and she'd go, "Don't stop! You're giving me a manicure!" It was so funny, and Michael and David were just sitting there, laughing and pointing at me and just shaking their heads. Because who's going to argue with Ruth Warrick?! What are you gonna say?! So, I just let her tell me what to do. [Laughs] And what's so fun, as time has progressed, the other thing about Michael Knight was he and Jenny [Kim Delaney] were brother and sister on the show, and to see them now, years later, reunited on General Hospital, it's just really cool to have known them through that time period. Because I was there when Darnell Williams was on as Jesse Hubbard, when Tad and Dixie [Cady McClain] got together, all of that stuff. It really was the golden age of All My Children, when things were happening.
Soap Central: Because it was the golden age of soaps and everyone was watching them, how did your friends and family -- as well as fans -- react to you getting that role?
McGinn: My family and friends were thrilled, because they knew that if they wanted to see me, all they had to do was turn on the TV! And the fans were great. They knew Babs and I, Ethel and Irma, as a duo, because we were on almost all the time together -- we were always the matched set. Fans would be outside of the studios when you left and stuff like that, and that part of it was really fun. But for me, besides everybody being so nice, it really was about the film education; as far as being on a soap, where actors are concerned, if you're not the principal and it's not about you, they don't care if your butt is facing the camera or if it's the back of your head! [Laughs] So, you had to really watch the monitor and check for yourself and look for your best angles. Unless it's your line and the camera is straight on you, they don't care. So, it was really a great education for me to learn about all of those things.
Soap Central: Was it also a learning experience to work with such talented actors? You were with legends, and I don't think they get very much credit!
McGinn: Oh, totally! I so agree... I was always so in awe of people who would go to the front office, because I had lines, and it was great, and I had a lot of fun stuff, but people would go to the front desk and pick up like five scripts, like these really fat scripts that they had to learn on a daily basis! When you're on every day and you're in a big storyline with a lot of lines, it's a lot. It's truly a lot of work. A lot of actors who are amazing actors now, when you think of Alec Baldwin and Kathleen Turner and Marisa Tomei, Julianne Moore, all these people started on soaps, and that's where they really got their experience, as far as film and stuff. So, I was very honored to get to be a part of that and learn from it.
Soap Central: Do you remember any of the storylines that you were involved in?
McGinn: I remember one for a strange reason -- we got to go to Tad and Dixie's marriage, when they got remarried after they'd been split up for a while. They had this big wedding, because they were going to be together forever, and ironically, while I was on the set at this wedding, I got a call that my dad had died. It was a very strange thing, to be there and have my uncle call and [break this news]. Cady McClain came over to me and was so sweet and so kind, and she said, "If you need anything, just let me know." I wasn't really, really close to him, but still, it was just a weird dynamic, to be standing at this wedding, this big event, and have this other personal event happening at the same time.
Soap Central: Wow. I can't even imagine how that must have felt.
McGinn: I can also tell you, from a happier note, when they decided to bring the Glamorama back, because it hadn't been there for a while, Babs and I got to go back, and we were with Jill Larson playing Opal at that point. And I was there the first couple days of Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos doing their make-outs on camera [as Hayley and Mateo], and we were all sitting in hair and makeup going, "Look at these two -- they just met?!" [Laughs] We saw from the very beginning the chemistry between them, which was kind of cool. I was also there when Tad had Marcy [Walker, Liza Colby] and her mother [Marian Colby, Jennifer Bassey], when he was dating the mother and the daughter at the same time. That's when he was working at the Glamo and trying to sneak people in and out, so there was fun stuff like that. When Dorothy was there, Opal wanted to run for office or something, and we also had a big fire -- they set fire to the Glamorama, and that was a huge thing. It was just such a great time. I have stacks of scripts that I haven't been able to part with. I think, "Oh, I should donate them. Oh, I should auction them. Oh, I should keep them!" I go around and around, because it's such a good memory for me, of just being able to go back and look at them. Even when I wasn't in the scenes, you could watch on the monitors from your dressing room, or you could go sit downstairs and watch people on the different sets. It was just so much fun. I had a wonderful time.
Soap Central: I am so jealous that you were there for all of those times! The super classic AMC moments.
McGinn: I know! And when Jenny blew up on the boat, when they killed off Tad's sister, and for the wedding with Greg [Laurence Lau], oh, my gosh. There were so many things, and it was all just really fun. It went back to Billy Clyde Tuggle [Matthew Cowles] dating Donna Beck, and Phoebe was against it, and having Brooke, all those people.
Soap Central: And Erica!
McGinn: Yes, Erica! And Susan Lucci is the loveliest woman in the whole world. I've seen her a few times since the soap ended at some events. But the funniest thing would be, when Susan was on the show and somebody was really tall, they would stand her on a big box because she is so little! She's barely 5' 1", and so beautiful! But it's funny -- with Walt Willey, who played Jackson [Montgomery], they never, ever did that. But for the others, they did. Especially if they had a woman who was way tall, they would put Susan on a box. This was for Glamo -- she obviously walked around on her own sets and all that kind stuff, but if she had to stand with people and they wanted it to be more even, I remember her stepping up onto the box, and she was on her little platform. [Laughs] It was so funny. It was crazy -- they were all just really wonderful people.
Soap Central: You mentioned seeing Susan -- have you seen anyone else recently?
McGinn: I got to go to the One Life to Live/All My Children reunion event in Los Angeles a couple of years ago, and I also went to a service for Joan D'Incecco, who had passed away. She was the main casting director on the show for years and years before Judy Blye [Wilson] came to the show, so, a lot of us knew her and had gotten our parts through her or through her pushing for us. So, when she passed away, her family had an All My Children memorial luncheon, and it was just so lovely -- people told stories about her and how she got them jobs, and it was just so lovely. And you could just tell that [being a part of AMC] is fond memories for everybody.
Soap Central: Soaps -- and especially All My Children -- are special in that way. It really was a family, more so than a lot of other shows' casts and fans are.
McGinn: Exactly. I think maybe sci-fi people get that way, the Trekkies and Star Wars and that kind of thing, but I do think there's something special about soaps. And it's so funny, because I love General Hospital, and it's sort of my dream to be on General Hospital, but I've always felt like, while I want to be on there, I'm afraid to be on there, because they're so real to me, from watching the show, I just think, "Oh, my gosh, to step into their reality! Could I?" And it's funny, because I know Maurice Benard from All My Children, because he was on there [as Nico Kelly], and Babs, my friend, the two of us -- Ethel and Irma -- the two of us used to sit in the waiting room to watch TV or whatever, and we'd hang with Maurice. He was newer to the show, and then he got the big gig, the transfer to General Hospital, where he became Sonny Corinthos, and I think he is just brilliant on there. But it's just so funny to think of him sitting in the little guest room with us, just hanging out, watching TV and wondering about life. [Laughs]
Soap Central: I know you said you go back and forth, but truly, if the opportunity came up to be on GH, would you do it?
McGinn: In 30 seconds! Oh, my God, yes! [Laughs] I've sort of gotten into Days of our Lives, and I used to watch the CBS soaps when I was in college, but then I graduated to ABC, and then, between All My Children, One Life to Live, and General Hospital, Luke and Laura and all of that, I got hooked forever! So, I would go on General Hospital in a minute! I am based in New York, but I work in L.A. whenever there's work, so, I would be there in a second. Every so often, I get kind of mad when I see somebody on General Hospital and I think, "That could be me! I could be playing that part! Why can't I be that woman?!" [Laughs] And then I find out that it's James Franco's mom playing a character on the show, and I'm like, "Yeah, well, oh well!" [Laughs]
Soap Central: If you got to do another soap role, what would be your dream stereotypical scenario to act out?
McGinn: I'd love to play an evil twin! I get cast a lot as characters who are dangerously mean and scary, or I'm kind of the bitchy character with the dry humor, so, I would love to play twins -- a mean one and a nice one, and the mean one is posing for the nice one, pretending to be nice, because that would really create some layers. Then [viewers] would get to see that I'm capable of playing kind and sweet! Although, I was nice on All My Children; Irma was a good character. But then I'd also get to be mean and horrible, and you get away with all of that stuff on TV. [Laughs] That would be my ideal -- it would be so much fun. But really, I am so happy that the soaps are still on. I get worried every time when contracts are running out and things like that, because I think there's such a huge audience for them! And now I've heard that Kelly and Mark are bringing a nighttime version of All My Children... and I think it would be a cool, full circle moment for Kelly and Mark, to create something in the name of All My Children, from what brought them together and all of us that were there.
Soap Central: Before I let you go, is there anything that you have coming up that you'd like fans to know about?
McGinn: If people want to check me out in something more recent, I'm in Kidnap with Halle Berry, and I play a really horrible person, but hopefully they can remember that I'm actually a nice person when they watch the movie! [Laughs] I'm also in seasons two and three of Jessica Jones as the bitchy and dry bartender who gives Jessica a hard time. It's also the 30th anniversary of Silence of the Lambs, in which I am proudly the dead body on the slab! [Laughs] That's the role that got me a SAG card. All My Children got me my AFTRA card, and Silence of the Lambs got me my SAG card.
Soap Central: Yes, you were the "Autopsy Victim" in Silence of the Lambs, and I imagine that a lot of people probably think that was a quick process -- that they slapped some makeup on you and you laid on a table for a couple of minutes -- but I'm guessing there was so much more to it?
McGinn: Yes! Long story short, I got cast in the movie, and there was three months of prep for me, going back and forth to the makeup studio. It wasn't every day, but once a week or so, I was going to the makeup studio. They had to make plaster molds -- which were made out of oatmeal, thank God! -- of all of me: my head, my hands, my whole body -- the front of me, the back of me, everything. So, I had to go through that whole process. I also had to go get contacts made, because they wanted my eyes to look dead. And they had to do makeup testing, so, they had me come to see what the makeup was going to be like, and then they had test days to see how long it would take so they could tell the director, and so, the prep literally went on for almost three months before I even filmed. And then, when I actually filmed the scenes, it was a week in Pittsburgh. It was very cool, except that we filmed in an old Pittsburgh house that had been turned into a real mortuary. At the end of each day, I was covered in these oatmeal plasters and makeup, and, of course, they took a lot of stuff off of me, the prosthesis and stuff that they glued to me, but I was covered in glue and gross makeup and all of that stuff, and they would come up to me and say, "Would you like to take a shower before you leave? The only problem is, you'd have to take the shower where the dead bodies are cleaned." [Laughs] Honest to God! I was like, "Um, I'll wait until I get back to the hotel, thankyouverymuch!"
Soap Central: Oh, my gosh! And your first big movie! I would have been like, "What did I get myself into?!"
McGinn: Between All My Children, which was so popular at the time, and then the movie, which was also so popular, whenever I would get new auditions, people would say, "Oh, you're in Silence of the Lambs?" And I would say, "I'm striving to be alive in feature films!" That would be my line for like six months, because I could get away with it!
Soap Central: Is there anything else that you'd like to add?
McGinn: Just that All My Children is a wonderful memory for me. And it was so helpful for me, too. Besides making good money and working with great actors and all of that, I was just like, "Oh, my God, I'm in heaven!" It was one of the first things I really got to do as an actress, and it was pretty cool.
What do you think about our interview with Chris McGinn? What do you remember from her time as Irma at the Glamorama? Did you enjoy hearing about her Pine Valley memories? We want to hear from you -- and there are many ways you can share your thoughts.