Daytime fans couldn't get enough of All My Children's Livia Frye, a strong and successful lawyer who held her own against Pine Valley's most powerful residents. And if you've ever spoken with the character's portrayer, Tonya Pinkins, you can see why the role felt like such a perfect fit: the actress has Livia's backbone of steel -- and then some!
The Chicago native has used her strength and determination to achieve quite a lot in her career. Having grown up watching AMC, she dreamed of starring on the ABC soap opera, so she made it happen. She always dreamed of winning a Tony Award, and she made that happen, as well (with her performance as Sweet Anita in Jelly's Last Jam). She wanted to do a guest appearance on the series 24, so she wrote to the series producers to make that a reality, too! So, it's no surprise that when she decided that she wanted to make her own film, she was damn well going to make that a reality, as well. Thus, her 2021 film Red Pill was born.
"Red pill" is the term that's used to describe someone who infiltrates a group and then destroys said group from the inside, and that's the topic at play in the film, which is a dystopian nightmare that follows a posse of progressives who ride into red country on the eve of the 2020 election, armed with heart, humor, and naiveté. Described as a scary wake-up call about American politics, the divisive film has sparked some major debates, and it has also caught the attention of several film festivals: Red Pill garnered Official Selection at the 2021 Pan African Film Festival, Best Black Lives Matter Feature and Best First Feature at The Mykonos International Film Festival, and Best First Feature at the Luléa Film Festival.
Red Pill is currently available for viewing on services such as Amazon, Infinity, Direct TV, and Fandango, and Pinkins has been hosting virtual screenings of the film in the metaverse (more on that below!), one of which is coming up on April 1 with director and producer Warrington Hudlin.
Soap Central caught up with Pinkins to get the details on Red Pill, and we also took a walk down memory lane from her time working on AMC and ATWT. What she had to share is can't-miss material for soap fans!
Soap Central: I'm astounded by all of the accomplishments that you've achieved in your career. When do you find time to sleep?
Tonya Pinkins: I'll sleep when I'm dead! [Laughs]
Soap Central: It sounds like it. For instance, your film, Red Pill -- you wrote it, produced it, directed it, and starred in it, and then you actually went ahead and made it on your own, as well. Why did you decide to strike out on your own?
Pinkins: I tried to go the traditional way, where you apply to the different film programs, and I didn't get into any of the film programs, and then I asked a lot of different producers that I had worked with to let me shadow them as a director on their TV shows, and I did that for about three years, and then I asked them if they would hire me, and they all thought that I would be a great director, but no one would give me a job! So, I thought, "Okay, I guess I'm going to have to hire myself!" And that's what I did.
Soap Central: More and more people are choosing to go that route, but I can't imagine how much work is involved!
Pinkins: But when you're passionate about something, it feels so good. I've always been a person who enjoys work and enjoys the effort, so, to be putting that work energy into something you're excited about and you love, that's the best.
Soap Central: Red Pill is a horror, but also a comedy?
Pinkins: It's horror-slash-comedy, yes. I have a very dark sense of humor. I love horror, but my horror always has to have humor in it. The darker it goes, the funnier it has to be. I like campy, I like quirky. I don't really like blood and violence, but I know it's gotta be there in horror. So, yeah, that's my personal favorite genre. I could sit and watch horror films for six or seven hours. I love them. But I also like horror because it's a genre where you can say things that are not okay to say in polite company. I got to put in all of this divisive stuff in the film, and people could say, "Oh, that's so far-fetched," and be very dismissive, but I got to say it, anyway.
Soap Central: What was it you wanted to say that this film allowed? You've said in other interviews that it's about white women and their violence toward others?
Pinkins: Well, yes, it is about that! But I'm a person who is very pro-woman, and there's a phrase that I coined in the film called "Missogyny," which is women hating women. I think that women are the most hated beings on the planet, even more than Black people are hated. I really think women are the most hated beings. And because there are so many women who hate each other and hate themselves, we as women can't join together to really run the planet. So, I wanted to poke at that. People don't know the statistics, and a lot of these statistics are things that are thrown in my film, such as white women are the largest non-voting block in America.
Soap Central: Really?!
Pinkins: Yeah! So, if we could just get y'all together, we could run this damn planet! [Laughs] And then I feel like the other way in which white women get exploited is in media; white women are treated like they're this prize, and they're so beautiful, and they're so special, but in fact, they're being killed and they're being abused in huge rates, so there's this little psychological gift that's given to them, but it doesn't take away from the violence that they experience, and for me, it's like, "Let's shake you up! Come on, come on, come on! Gotta break out of this." Because if all of us women get together, we can do something.
Soap Central: Going with that, I feel like we don't often see close, positive female friendships on soaps; there are moments, of course, but it seems like there's a lot more backstabbing and arguing between females than anything. Have you noticed that?
Pinkins: Yes, and I don't think that's even true [to real life]. I think that's how female relationships are portrayed, because people think that leads to good conflict and drama. There was this Broadway show a few years back [called War Paint] with Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole. It was about the women who were the heads of Revlon and [Elizabeth Arden]. I saw a production of it in Chicago, and they had made it this catty, bitchy, "two powerful women hating each other" kind of show, and I was like, "Um, I'm sorry, but when you get to be as successful as these women are, that is a very lonely world, and you are not catty with someone who is just like you. You're like, 'Oh, my God, it's so nice to be around someone who knows what I'm going through every day!'" I told the producers that, and I think they took some of my notes, because by the time that show got to Broadway, they had leaned into the camaraderie that would be there between successful women. Because it's lonely! And when you get to certain levels of success, you need other people who can even understand what your problems are.
Soap Central: Do you have a good group of female friends that understand your world, making films and being in the entertainment industry?
Pinkins: Well, quite honestly, no. I'm always a frontrunner. I'm always doing things before anyone else is doing it and I get there before anybody else. So, I'm used to being the canary in the coal mine! [Laughs] Something everyone will tell you: "Tonya always lands on her feet," because I'm always risking my life to try some new thing, and it's like, "Oh, it worked out!" Most other people would be like, "Nah, not gonna take that chance." But I'm like, "Well, what's the worst that can happen? Let's try it!" [Laughs]
Soap Central: It seems you brought that attitude to the upcoming Red Pill screening that you are having on April 1. The event sounds very technology advanced, as it uses the metaverse and attendees join via an oculus. Can you explain how that will work?
Pinkins: Oh, my God, first of all, about three months ago, I had this nightmare time with customer service online, and by the end of it, I was like, "I WILL NEVER DO ANYTHING IN THE METAVERSE!!! I don't care! I want human beings!" [Laughs] But I finally got over it... You can fight reality, but then you're going to lose! So, I said, "Okay, I'm going to try to navigate the metaverse." And now I have my own movie theater in alt-space, I have my own art gallery in alt-space, I have a couple of homes in alt-space. You can access alt-space in 2D, which is the world we live in, you can just go to your computer and you can access it, but then you're just sort of swirling around in the room. If you put your oculus [headset] on, then you are an avatar who can walk around in the room with other people and talk to them and be surrounded by this 3D universe.
Soap Central: How will that be incorporated into your film screening? Will people be able to attend virtually with their VR headsets?
Pinkins: Harlem Film Space is hosting a screening of Red Pill in the metaverse, so [when wearing your oculus] you go into a movie theater, and it looks like a movie theater in the world that we live in, only you can sit anywhere you want -- you can literally sit on top of somebody. So, everyone gets the best seat in the house, because you can sit as close as you want, or as far away as you want, to watch the film. And then, we will close that room down, and we'll go to another room where Warrington Hudlin, who's a producer and filmmaker, is going to do a Q&A with me, and then there's going to be an afterparty and some live performances. Laura Bell Bundy [ex-Marah Lewis, Guiding Light] is trying to perform, because one of her songs is in my film. I think the first half an hour before the movie starts, people are going to have access to playing the Red Pill game, which is a future where the Red Pills have taken over. If you did it all, you'd probably spend four or five hours in the Red Pill universe on April 1.
Soap Central: All that virtual stuff kind of freaks me out, but I also see so many opportunities there. For instance, how amazing would it be for soap opera fans to join their favorite show somehow or be there on set to see the actors filming?
Pinkins: Oh, that totally could happen in the metaverse!
Soap Central: In the course of getting out there and doing your projects, do you encounter a lot of fans who recognize you from your soap work?
Pinkins: It depends on the city I'm in, but definitely, people recognize me from the soap operas more than anything else, I would say.
Soap Central: You were a soap fan growing up, having watched All My Children with your family. Do you remember what it felt like to land the role of Livia and to suddenly be working with all of these people that you admired while growing up?
Pinkins: My first soap opera was As the World Turns, but I had actually auditioned for All My Children a couple of months before I got World Turns, and then it was another ten or 15 years before I got All My Children. I had thought that I was going to get All My Children that very first time that I auditioned for it [for the role of Angie Hubbard], so it was like, "Aaawww! I didn't get it!" And I was so sad. So, to then finally get to be in Pine Valley was a dream come true.
Soap Central: Was there anyone that you met that you idolized when you were a fan watching the show, and if so, were they anything like you imagined?
Pinkins: Well, I'm not an idolizing kind of person. I just don't do that. People are people. I may admire people or admire their work. What I like the most is, I like people who treat everyone the same, no matter their status or anything. My favorite people are people who are real and who are very down to earth and don't put on airs and would treat the janitor the same way they would treat the president. Those are my kind of people.
Soap Central: Do you remember anyone at All My Children that was like that?
Pinkins: I think most of that cast was pretty down to earth. I'm still in touch with Jill Larson [Opal Cortlandt] and Bill Christian [Derek Frye]. They're just really wonderful people. I mean, truly, there were good people on that show. I can't say the same for As the World Turns. That was a tense, tense world.
Soap Central: Yes, you mentioned that in another interview recently. You said the writers were taking the actors' real-life situations and putting them into the scripts?
Pinkins: Hm-hm. Yeah.
Soap Central: Did that happen to you?
Pinkins: It didn't happen to me, but there were people who were sleeping with other people's husbands and stuff like that, and it would come up in the show. So, friends of those people who were friends off-camera would get this opportunity to go off on them on-camera, and because it was a real thing that was happening, it was very tense there. Very tense.
Soap Central: Wow. Well, fortunately, at least one good thing is you had the opportunity to work with some very talented actors, such as Meg Ryan [Betsy Stewart], Julianne Moore [Frannie/Sabrina Hughes]...
Pinkins: Oh, it was great! Soap operas are a great training ground, a great, great training ground.
Soap Central: Did you realize at the time that you were in this pool of mega-talent? Because so many people you were working with went on to become massive stars.
Pinkins: No, not at all. Not at all. But they did, Julianne and Marisa [Tomei, Marci Thompson] and Steven [Weber, Kevin Gibson] and Meg, yeah. There were amazingly talented people who came out of there.
Soap Central: Speaking of talented people, All My Children viewers definitely noticed YOUR talent, and they always wanted to see more of you on-screen. Were you aware of that fan support at the time, and did you share their frustration in wanting more material for Livia?
Pinkins: Yes, and that's one of the things that seemed to happen to me on soap operas. On All My Children, when they brought me on, they told me that the fans loved how strong my character was and they loved her spine of steel, and blah, blah, blah. And then, very quickly, they started writing that away. So, yes, I shared that frustration. Like, the very thing that they said the fans were responding to was the very thing that got removed! I mean, I only had the one major storyline in the 20 years on and off that I was on All My Children, and that was my love triangle with the two Richards.
Soap Central: Yes, Tom Cudahy [Richard Shoberg] and Lucas Barnes [Richard Lawson]! Do you have any fun, standout memories from that storyline?
Pinkins: Oh, my God, it was great! Those two guys were just fantastic, and I loved my wedding and my wedding dress. That was all so much fun.
Soap Central: I've come across some instances where Black actors cringe when they think back to their storylines in the 80s, 90s, and even beyond. One of the complaints is that their character is brought on in this glorious storyline, and then...
Pinkins: And then they get their spine cut out of them? Yep! I didn't have anything cringe-worthy on All My Children, but yes, it just would have been lovely to have more. But then again, as an actor, you always want more! You can never get enough.
Soap Central: Do you know what the fan reaction was to the relationship between Livia and Tom? Did you receive fan mail about that?
Pinkins: I didn't receive any negative fan mail about it. There were definitely people who wanted me with the other Richard, and there was definitely a divide between the fans about who wanted me with which of the Richards. [Laughs]
Soap Central: Gotta love it! That's the thing about soaps: they do those love triangles so well!
Pinkins: Yes! The love triangle is the staple of soap operas.
Soap Central: Rumor on the street is you're a little bit clairvoyant, and I'm hoping to tap into your psychic powers with this question: what do you foresee for the rumored primetime spinoff of All My Children that Mark Consuelos and Kelly Ripa are said to be producing?
Pinkins: Interesting! [Laughs] I've heard rumors about it for some time now, but I haven't really gotten any hits on it, and nobody that I know has talked about it. I don't know, really. When I think about the new show Promised Land, it very much feels like a soap opera. So, I think if they do it, they'd have a hit on their hands. But the thing they're up against is network television is just struggling, period. I was talking to one of the writers on Promised Land, and he was talking about how the networks are thinking that in five years, there will be no more network television. Everything is going to be streaming. Because why watch network television when people get to watch what they want when they want, in their own time?
Soap Central: Well, maybe streaming is the future home for the All My Children primetime series? If the spinoff does come to fruition, would you be open to reprising the role of Livia?
Pinkins: For a couple of episodes, sure. But I can't see myself committing long-term to anything. I so love the freedom I have in my life to create my own things. I'm writing a lot. I wrote a book called Red Pill Unmasked that I'm re-issuing... and I have a lot more book stuff that I want to do. I have literally like four other books, novels, and memoirs that I want to do. So, being locked into a place where I have to show up on somebody else's schedule, that doesn't interest me so much anymore.
Soap Central: But if they asked for a short-term thing, you'd be open?
Pinkins: Oh, of course! For a short-term thing, absolutely! It would be delightful to go back and play with those guys. I would love it.
Soap Central: Is there anything you can think of from Livia's life that could or should be re-explored? Or even anything you never got to do with the character that you'd love to do now?
Pinkins: One of things that's scary about even answering that question is when I did All My Children, so many of the things that I was doing on that show would come to pass in my life. So, I'm like, "Um, I better be careful what I wish for!" [Laughs]
Soap Central: Really? Like what? Did you have a love triangle in real life?!
Pinkins: No, but I lost custody of my kids when I was in the midst of Brooke's [Julia Barr] custody battle, so, it's like, "No, you don't want to go through that again." I was living my words, which wasn't fun. I've never had a love triangle [in real-life], so I could do another love triangle as Livia -- that would be fun. I had a relationship with Joe Morton when I was on Scandal, but I think I've only had those two love relationships [on-screen]. And I think Tom and Livia only kissed, like, once. Joe and I kissed way more in one episode of Scandal than Tom and I kissed in several years! [Laughs]
Soap Central: Well then, maybe you could come on for a quick, hot romance on a soap!
Pinkins: [Laughs] That would be nice. Isn't Bill Christian on one of the soaps right now playing a bad boy?
Soap Central: Yes, he's playing a very bad boy [T.R. Coates] on Days of our Lives. So, that would be fun!
Pinkins: Yes, it would be! And I know he's excited about [being on that show].
Soap Central: Your fans would go nuts if you joined him, so let's put that out there and maybe someone at DAYS will listen!
Pinkins: Yes! I would love that.
Soap Central: Is there anything else you'd like to add before I let you go?
Pinkins: Please let fans know that Red Pill is available on Amazon and Infinity and Direct TV and Voodoo and Fandango. There are a lot of platforms where people can view the movie. Also, my book, Red Pill Unmasked, is on Kindle and Audible. And I'll be reprising my role on Run the World as Whitney's mom; you'll get to see me one time this season on that, and that was a lot of fun. And also, I want to mention the Red Pill game! There is a Red Pill game that they can play, where they can test their ability to survive the Red Pill. That's been getting a lot of hits on our website, and people are anxious to see how they survive the Red Pill. You can find it on the RedPill movie website.
What do you think about our interview with Tonya Pinkins? What do you miss the most about her time as AMC's Livia or ATWT's Heather? What do you think about the premise of Pinkins' film, Red Pill, and the metaverse screenings that she's hosting? We want to hear from you -- and there are many ways you can share your thoughts.