OLTL alum Renée Elise Goldsberry reveals what it's REALLY like to be a Black soap opera actor

Posted Wednesday, August 10, 2016 10:59:55 AM
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OLTL alum Renée Elise Goldsberry reveals what it's REALLY like to be a black soap opera actor

Tony Award-winning One Life to Live alum Renée Elise Goldsberry (ex-Evangeline Williamson) delves into her history in Llanview and opens up about the unique challenges black soap actors face.

One Life to Live's Renée Elise Goldsberry shot to super soap stardom in the mid-2000s, when her Llanview character, Evangeline Williamson, got involved in a front-burner triangle with Michael Easton's John and Melissa Archer's Natalie. The exciting storyline landed the actress on covers of magazines and on fan-voted lists of favorite actors. But Goldsberry says she was one of the lucky ones, because being a black actor in daytime is usually an uphill battle that rarely leads to major success.

"The formula of soap operas makes it really hard for an African-American to get any traction," she explains to Cosmopolitan, adding that she felt extremely marginalized when she joined OLTL in 2003. "There's always a family that's central to the story on a soap opera, and if the show loves you, you will turn into the long-lost brother or you will get married, which is easy to do for a white character. But as an ethnic person, they bring you on to be smart. You get to be the lawyer or the doctor for the family. No one sees where you live, they never bring you home. There might be one episode in February where they talk about your family because it's Black History Month. Your character might be on once every three weeks. You walk into a room and you say something really smart and noble, and then you walk out. And you only make money when they write for your character. You couldn't win the game as a person of color, no matter how talented or beautiful you were."

As luck would have it, Goldsberry did become one of the few African-American soap opera actresses to reach major success, but she ultimately decided to walk away from daytime in 2007. "The love triangle was interracial, there was drama, there was a war between fan groups -- it was the best thing that had ever happened to my career," she says. "[But] I wanted to evolve and do the next thing in my career. I used to joke that I wanted the Kelly Ripa [ex-Hayley Santos, All My Children] deal. But I didn't see that future for me in soap operas. Why would I give up another four years of my life for a new contract if ABC primetime's not going to call me to do a job?"

Fortunately, Goldsberry's gamble of walking away from ABC Daytime proved to be the right move. She recently won a Tony award for her role in Broadway's Hamilton, is the star of the upcoming HBO film The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks opposite Oprah Winfrey, and has had numerous successes in her career following OLTL, including roles on The Following and The Good Wife. But she serves as a reminder that as groundbreaking as daytime might be, the genre still has a long way to go.

To read Goldsberry's entire Cosmopolitan interview, click here.

What do you think about Goldsberry's view on the unique challenges black soap opera actors face? Do you agree that the formula of soaps makes it difficult to write for and include more black actors? We want to hear from you -- and there are many ways you can share your thoughts.

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