INTERVIEW: As the World Turns' Van Hansis on soaps, EastSiders, and happy endings

Posted Monday, January 27, 2020 10:19:18 AM

Van Hansis opens up about his historic role as As the World Turns' Luke Snyder, the final season of his Netflix series EastSiders, and the continuation of LGBTQ+ representation.

It's been almost a decade since Van Hansis last stepped into the shoes of As the World Turns' Luke Snyder, but no matter how much time passes, his work on the soap opera will maintain its importance as the first stepping stone to the LGBTQ+ stories audiences can watch on television today. Luke's romance with Noah Mayer (Jake Silbermann) led to the first male-male kiss on daytime TV -- an expression of non-traditional love that, due to groundbreaking stories like ATWT's gay romance, is now commonplace on television screens across the country.

One show that built onto what ATWT started is EastSiders, a drama created by Kit Williamson that gave Van Hansis yet another opportunity to help change the landscape of LGBTQ+ representation. For the last eight years, Hansis has starred as Thom on the series that follows gay men, lesbians, drag queens, straight couples, and gender non-conforming people dealing with a host of issues like marriage, infidelity, open relationships, sexual fluidity, parenthood, and more. But now the Daytime Emmy-nominated show is coming to a close, with its fourth and final season currently airing on Netflix.

The moment is bittersweet for Hansis, who shares with Soap Central that saying goodbye to his EastSiders family has been tough. But he's also thrilled to be able to share what he deems a satisfying ending for the show's characters and the continuation of the important work he started on As the World Turns -- even though, as he admits, he didn't realize just how important that work was until many, many years later.

Soap Central: So, first and foremost, I want to say congratulations on the fourth and final season of EastSiders. This must be both sad and exciting for you.

Van Hansis: Thank you, and yes, it is really bittersweet. It's been something I've been doing since 2012, so for this to be the last seven years of my life has been a really, really cool thing. Also, to see how much the show has grown, because it started as a YouTube show and now it's worldwide on Netflix, that's such an accomplishment, and a lot of that has to do with Kit's really hard work in getting it out there. We had a premiere party in December in L.A., and it was really just kind of awesome just to see how much it has really touched people. It was kind of like a lovefest. So, it's bittersweet, but I know that the relationships I made on that show are going to carry over, hopefully for the rest of my life. I'm sad to say goodbye to the character, but I know that the people behind and in front of the camera are going to be lifelong friends.

Soap Central: How do you feel about the way things get wrapped up for your character Thom and the series in general?

Hansis: I think it stuck the landing in a really beautiful way for all the characters. I was doing an interview a few days ago with Kit, and he said he wanted to give a sense of finality but also to give a sense that these characters were going to keep going in their lives. So, it's not all wrapped up in a nice little bow with a happily ever after -- there's still more life coming for the characters -- but I do feel like there is a sense of ending and accomplishment for all of them. Something that I really do like that he did is that nobody really ended on a terrible note; there's a sense of hope for all of these people. Sometimes I've seen shows that I love so much, and as you get to the final episodes, you're like, "Wait, what? That's how you decided to end it?" And it just leaves so much either hanging or just leaves a bad taste in your mouth. But I really think that with this show, Kit was really attentive to the fact that this was the last episode, and it was not really where he wanted to end these characters' stories but to leave them, if that makes sense.

Soap Central: This final season shows a lot of the characters grappling with big questions like whether or not to get married and whether or not to become parents. Can you personally relate to indecision or nervousness on the marriage and parenthood issues?

Hansis: Of course! I've been in a committed relationship for a really long time, but even in relationships, how they evolve and how they grow and how they change, I think that indecision and [questions like] what is the next step, and how do we take the next step, is something that so many people go through in their relationships. I do like that in this final season, we follow four general relationship stories, and they're all sort of in a different place. But I think you hit the nail on the head, that it's all about evolution. And I think this whole series, from the very first episode, is about these characters evolving into maturity -- sometimes not so well! -- but that's what they're aiming for.

Soap Central: You're listed as a producer on the series, so what came first -- you signing on as an actor or you signing on as a producer?

Hansis: Oh, acting, for sure. And honestly, it's very nice that they gave me the title of producer. It was mainly in the third season that I would do little things here and there for them, because the third season was the road trip season. I think we only took eight people with us, maybe ten people, and we literally drove across the country and shot the thing, so they needed more hands on deck. But I wasn't making any creative decisions or anything like that. Kit would send me scripts and ask for my thoughts, and I basically just love anything he writes, so I wasn't very [involved]. I wasn't doing nearly as much as Kit and the other actual producers.

Soap Central: But you did get a taste of what it was like, so are you interested in pursuing more production work in the future?

Hansis: No! [Laughs] Directing, definitely, but I don't think people really understand what producers do, and it's such a hard job. Basically, your job is thinking about what the problem will be before the problem arises and then putting out that fire before it happens. Or it's the fire does happen, and you have to put it out as quickly as possible without alienating anybody. So, producing is a really, really hard job. I have some friends who are producers, and it takes a lot. Kit and John [Halbach] are amazing producers, but it's also a lot of busy work behind the scenes and trying to figure out everything; you're basically putting the puzzle together.

Soap Central: How did you and Kit first come into each other's orbit? Was he a soap fan?

Hansis: So, Kit, when he created the show, he had actors in mind. He and Constance Wu are good friends, and so he wrote the character of Kathy with her in mind, he wrote Cal with himself in mind, knowing that he was going to play that. The only two people who he had a hard time casting were my character, Thom, and Matt McKelligon's character, Jeremy. I was living in L.A. at the time, and Kit reached out to an acting teacher that he used to work with named Lesly Kahn. I was currently in her class, and she was actually the go-between. She was like, "I just got this script," -- and she had a very big studio, so it was very nice for her to think of me -- and I read the script and absolutely loved it. So then Kit and I met for the first time in Los Feliz at a coffee shop. He had me look at both Thom and Jeremy, and I honestly was leaning toward Jeremy at that point, and he was like, "No, you're Thom." And I was like, "Oh, okay, cool." [Laughs] But I'm really glad he saw that, because I love Jeremy as a character, but I love Thom more.

Soap Central: Kit mentioned that the early popularity of the show was due in large part to you and your soap opera fans following you to your new project. Do you agree that your soap fans were the ones who initially got the show going?

Hansis: I mean, I think that there was definitely some crossover, and I'm so grateful for the soap fans who did follow over onto EastSiders. But I also do think that, pretty quickly, people realized that EastSiders was its own beast and is a really, really amazingly written, produced, acted, and directed beast. So, while maybe some of the early fan base followed me over from World Turns, I think the show itself quickly got its own huge fan base, and I think that now, years and years later, the show is what the fans who stuck around with it are fans of. There are people from World Turns, and I still get messages on Instagram from soap fans who say, "I loved you so much as Luke," and it's super sweet. But I do think the show has so much of its own well-deserved fan base.

Soap Central: What kind of effect do you think Netflix has had on the series and also you as a recognizable star? It's such a wide, wide platform.

Hansis: I mean, it's huge. We only started on Netflix in the third season, and they bought the first and second season, as well, so they have worldwide rights to the entire show at this point, and they really changed the game for us. Also, their decision to make it worldwide was big. Hearing from people from these countries where being gay is incredibly persecuted, to have a show that they can watch and that they can connect to, is absolutely phenomenal. And I just think that the reach that Netflix has really allowed us to kind of step up to a higher level than what we would have been able to do on our own. That being said, we still had to do crowdfunding for each season. But having a platform like Netflix behind us really, really opened us up to the world, and we were able to get more eyes for sure on the show than we would have ever without Netflix, so being on Netflix has been incredible.

Soap Central: I feel like so much has changed in the last ten years for LGBTQ representation. I remember when the Luke and Noah kiss happened on ATWT, it was such a big deal, and now things like that are happening every day on soaps and on television in general.

Hansis: Yes! I remember the first kiss with Luke and Noah, Entertainment Tonight was there, and it was this whole big thing because it had never been done before. I'm always honored to have that little part of history have my name attached to it -- that's awesome. But also, you know, thank God. Thank God it has become commonplace. Because it should be. There are LGBTQ people everywhere, and their stories deserve to be told just as much as anybody else's. I don't follow soaps too much anymore, but if I'm at the grocery store, I'll flip through the soap magazines and see who I remember and who I know and all of that stuff, and I have noticed that it is out there on every show, and I think that's absolutely fantastic. Luke and Noah and [All My Children's] Bianca [Eden Riegel] were sort of a litmus test to see where the audience was, and I think it's really refreshing to see that the audience was so on board and clamoring for stories like that. I think a lot of it was sort of taking a test of the culture, and I'm so glad that it was responded to so positively.

Soap Central: When you first started at As the World Turns, did you have any idea that you would be a part of history and changing the way TV audiences view LGBTQ romances, or were you just a kid excited to have a job?

Hansis: A little bit of both. [Laughs] Going into it, I knew that the storyline was going to be Luke coming out, but also, I wasn't on contract for I think the first year and a half that I was there. I remember hearing that if the story didn't go over well, then Luke would go off to boarding school.

Soap Central: Are you serious?

Hansis: Yeah! Because it was a big deal at the time and untested at the time. And also, at the time, I don't think Jake nor I really understood the magnitude of what was happening in the daytime world. Neither one of us came from families who followed soaps, and for both of us, it was our first big job, so for us, it was more like, "Oh, cool." I mean, we both grew up in very liberal families in liberal places, so it wasn't a huge deal for us to be telling that story. But I think for a lot of people, it was a huge deal to see that story. So, no, I didn't realize the magnitude of what was happening at the time, but hindsight is 20/20, and in retrospect, with a little bit of age and hopefully maturity, I'm thrilled to have been a part of it.

Soap Central: And now, here you are again, in a situation where you are telling these stories and continuing to bring LGBTQ romances to life. Is this something you'd like to continue doing as you move forward in your career?

Hansis: Yes. If the work that I do can resonate with people, whether it's the LGBTQ community or whatever community it is, then yes, I love being able to be a part of that. I love being able to tell stories that matter, and I love telling stories that can maybe shift the zeitgeist a little bit. So, yeah, I think that's what any sort of artist wants.

Soap Central: I know the Luke and Noah storyline was really big for you in terms of the memories you have from As the World Turns, but what other memories do you really hold dear from your time on the show?

Hansis: When I look back, and I don't really watch myself too much -- I usually just watch everything I do once, and I don't really circle back and watch again -- but I remember at the time, I was living a normal life, going to the show and doing the show, but Luke was being kidnapped and was in a wheelchair and he was an alcoholic. It was almost like living a double life, and that double life was so much more fun interesting than my own! [Laughs] But the memories that I really do have, because [the ATWT's studios] were way deep in Brooklyn, in Midwood, which was a very Hasidic community, so there wasn't much around, not even really restaurants way out there. So, we were all just in the studio all day long, and the community that formed was great. And to this day, whenever I do stuff in the city now, like I just shot a guest-starring role on a show this past week, and one of the hair women from As the World Turns was there, one of the wardrobe guys from As the World Turns was there. I did First Reformed, which was a really beautiful movie with Ethan Hawke and Amanda Seyfried, and the head of the makeup was Eldo Estes, who was our head of makeup on World Turns. So, I've never done a show in the city where I haven't known somebody from World Turns specifically -- usually behind the scenes, but sometimes in front of the scenes. I did a movie [called Devil May Call] with Daniel Kelly, who played Noah's dad [Colonel Winston Mayer]. It's such a small world, and the friendships that you make are so fun, being locked basically in a studio for twelve hours a day. You get to know people really well, and to be able to see these people when you go to a new set, where you have a couple of scenes in an episode and you don't know anybody there, it's always fun to see, "Oh, I actually do know these people!" And there are people to talk to and reminisce with. It's so nice.

Soap Central: What was the series that you did a guest star appearance for?

Hansis: TV is so weird now and they don't let you tell anything you do until it's basically on, but I think the episode will be out in the next couple of months, and I will let people know via Instagram when I'm allowed to say. It's really fun, and that's the next thing I have coming out.

Soap Central: Have you ever considered going back to daytime?

Hansis: Yeah, if the stars aligned in the right way, that is definitely something that I would want to do. I've auditioned for some soap roles in the past, and there was something that looked like it was going to happen but didn't. But yeah, I look back with nothing but love and respect for my days on a soap, and it would be really fun to go back and dip my toe back into that world a little bit.

Soap Central: Is there anything else you'd like to add before I let you go?

Hansis: Netflix would have never picked up EastSiders if it hadn't been for the fans, and also, because of the crowdfunding we did to make each of the seasons happen, it all goes back to the fans and to the people who wanted to keep seeing this story continue for four seasons. So, we are incredibly lucky to have the fanbase we do, and we are so grateful to them.

The fourth and final season of EastSiders is currently available for streaming on Netflix, as are the first three seasons of the Daytime Emmy-nominated series.

Fans who are interested in the making of EastSiders can learn more in a brand-new documentary that chronicles the show's unusual journey from YouTube to Netflix. Available to view below, the free documentary features behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast, including Hansis, series creator Kit Williamson, Traci Lords, Brea Grant, John Halbach, Daniel Newman, Jake Choi, Jai Rodriguez, original cast member Constance Wu, and drag sensations Willam, Katya, and Manila Luzon.

What do you think about our interview with Van Hansis? How do you feel about the four-season run of EastSiders? How much do you miss seeing Hansis on a soap opera? Would you like to see him return to daytime? If so, on which show? We want to hear from you -- so drop your comments in the Comments section below, tweet about it on Twitter, share it on Facebook, or chat about it on our Message Boards.

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