INTERVIEW: Elizabeth Leiner gives the scoop on Tara Locke and her explosive The Young and the Restless storyline
Posted Wednesday, March 10, 2021 6:01:48 AM
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INTERVIEW: Elizabeth Leiner gives the scoop on Tara Locke and her explosive The Young and the Restless storyline
Not sure what to think about The Young and the Restless' Tara Locke? Portrayer Elizabeth Leiner shares what viewers can expect from the "fiercely protective" mother of Kyle's (Michael Mealor) child and why Tara is with a power-hungry maniac like Ashland (Richard Burgi).

When Soap Central first reported that actress Elizabeth Leiner had joined the cast of The Young and the Restless as Tara Locke, we predicted that this new character from Kyle's (Michael Mealor) past would be trouble with a capital T. But after chatting with the actress about what's to come once Tara hits Genoa City with her powerful husband, Ashland Locke (Richard Burgi), we predict that Tara will be trouble with all of its letters capitalized!

In her first interview since joining Y&R, Leiner gives Soap Central the scoop on what kind of woman Tara really is, why the character chose to keep her son's paternity a secret, and what Tara worries about when it comes to Ashland's ruthless personality. The actress also opens up about her personal life, including how she turned a Master's degree in Social Work into an acting career and which surprising soap opera acting tip she learned from her real-life friend, legendary Days of our Lives star Alison Sweeney (Sami Brady).

Soap Central: We're really excited that you've joined The Young and the Restless. Are you having a lot of fun so far?

Elizabeth Leiner: I am! It has been a blast. It's a dream.

Soap Central: Some characters are slowly introduced to the canvas, and it takes some time for viewers to get to know their secrets, but not Tara! She exploded onto the scene in a super scandalous storyline. How has it been for you to hit the ground running?

Leiner: It felt a lot like showing up late to a really great party. [Laughs] It's been wild. But everyone has been incredibly welcoming and supportive, so it's been a great experience.

Soap Central: What did you think about Tara when you were first presented with the role?

Leiner: From the start, I loved Tara's strength and complexity. I mean, she made this decision to marry for status, money, and power, and the more I play her, the more I realize that she has zero regrets regarding that decision. She is quite happy and satisfied with the life she chose, and she is fiercely protective of it... I researched some really powerful women roles [before I started]. Like, I watched The Devil Wears Prada and kind of observed how Miranda [Meryl Streep] entered a room and how she left an elevator or talked on the phone, that kind of thing to help me step into the role.

Soap Central: Did you know anything about Y&R before you started, or did you have to do a lot of research about the show and the characters that you'd be interacting with?

Leiner: You know, I was surprised by how many characters I recognized when I started researching it. Apparently, I had all this knowledge about storylines just because it's such a beloved, long-running show, and I think it's had such a strong presence in our media that I knew more than I thought! So, it's been great.

Soap Central: It must be especially fun for you to play this powerful female character, because that's what Y&R does best -- they have so, so many of them! Was there anyone that you knew of previously that you were excited to meet or work with?

Leiner: Well, for the females, I had been following Hunter [King, Summer Newman], and I was really excited. I've had a couple of scenes with her where we've had to go toe to toe and have some conversations, so that's been really exciting.

Soap Central: I feel like Hunter King has a lot of experience with toe-to-toe and head-to-head scenes like that -- Summer is always such a troublemaker!

Leiner: Absolutely! [Laughs] I feel like that's a common theme.

Soap Central: Did anyone show you the ropes on your first day or take you under their wing and show you around?

Leiner: Oh, my goodness, every single person on set from the cast and crew have been beyond supportive, particularly Michael, Peter [Bergman, Jack Abbott], Richard, Courtney [Hope, Sally Spectra], Hunter -- they all immediately offered to rehearse with me and answer any questions. And the directors that I worked with in those first days, Owen [Renfroe] and Steven [Williford], have been incredibly patient and helpful. And even personally, friends have reached out, like Alison Sweeney, who offered invaluable guidance and advice. So, it's just been overwhelming how generous and kind everyone has been.

Soap Central: How do you know Alison Sweeney?

Leiner: Oh, we have a friend in common who introduced us, and when she found out I booked the role, she was so excited and immediately called and gave me really great tips from her long legacy of working on a soap. It was things I hadn't even thought of, and that was really great. She's been lovely.

Soap Central: I love hearing stories like that, because it's such a reminder of how small the world can be, you know?

Leiner: Absolutely! Everybody crosses paths, and there's just one degree of separation! [Laughs]

Soap Central: You mentioned Michael Mealor, who I imagine you've been sharing a lot of scenes with. What has it been like working with him?

Leiner: The first scenes I filmed were with Michael, and I couldn't ask for a better scene partner. He is so prepared and easygoing and generous with his time and just such a dynamic actor with great instincts. It's been a lot of fun working opposite him.

Soap Central: Everybody was dying when they heard the news that Richard Burgi had been cast as Tara's husband, Ashland. What has it been like working with him?

Leiner: Oh, my goodness, I know! He is amazing. And particularly in this role, he plays such a strong, formidable character, and it's been such an exciting challenge as an actor because I'm constantly having to go toe to toe with him. He's got such a wealth of experience and talent. We have a lot of really intense staredowns, which has been fun! [Laughs]

Soap Central: How have you adjusted to those long shots where you have to hold a dramatic look on your face? Soaps do them a lot!

Leiner: Yeah! It was one of the tips that Alison Sweeney gave me, actually. I said it was so foreign to me, that idea, because I was waiting for [the directors] to call the scene, and it just kept rolling! And she said absolutely, you have to stay alive and kind of continue to maintain your life in that moment, and I actually kind of really [enjoy it]. I think it's a lot of fun, because you do get to linger in those emotions that are left over from the scene. So, once I got it, it's been a fun aspect of soaps.

Soap Central: So, for the big question everyone wants to know: What can viewers expect from Tara's arrival in Genoa City with Ashland?

Leiner: Oh, boy! [Laughs] Tara, she has her hands full, and she is trying to do damage control to protect her marriage, her secret, and most importantly, her son. I think Kyle is asking a lot of questions and pressuring Tara for answers, and she's doing her best to convince Kyle to leave well enough alone. And then she is trying to navigate what Ashland is up to and trying to figure out what his agenda is or if he has ulterior motives. So, I think she has a lot on her plate right now.

Soap Central: She's really been keeping this secret for a long time, which must have been extremely difficult. How does Tara feel about everything suddenly coming to light?

Leiner: I think Tara did a really good job for a really long time, not only keeping her affair with Kyle a secret, but also the fact that Kyle is actually Harrison's father. She is super smart, but I think she is being challenged now with this new landscape and having to navigate the new players of this game. So, I think she's seeing that there is this huge obstacle that she's going to have to figure out a way around.

Soap Central: Do you think viewers will feel any sympathy for her?

Leiner: Oh, that's a good question! You know, I think she's doing her best, and I think you can kind of tell that she has always done things for love. She has always tried to act from her heart, and I think people will always gravitate toward that. So, I think there are elements of her that are relatable, because she's such a fiercely protective mom, and I think that fans will hopefully gravitate toward her for that reason, if nothing else.

Soap Central: Speaking of Harrison, this child actually bonds Tara to the super popular Abbott family, which is legendary on Y&R. How do you feel about being connected to this major family on the show right out of the gate?

Leiner: I hadn't fully appreciated how meaningful it would be for fans or the long-term impact it would have, bringing this next generation of the Abbott family into the story, so that was a really big revelation for me, to realize the magnitude of having an Abbott child on the show. So, it's been a dream.

Soap Central: How did you originally get into acting? Is it something that you always knew you wanted to do?

Leiner: I've always been in love with storytelling, across the board. Literature, movies, plays, music. And I took acting classes when I was young, but it wasn't really until after college and working in social work that I felt this strong pull to pursue acting full-time. I wanted to tell stories that connect people, and I really love how a powerful story can broaden people's empathy and understanding and help them see the world through a different lens.

Soap Central: Yes, I read that you have a Master's degree in both Social Work and Literature, which is really impressive. What made you want to study those subjects?

Leiner: I've always been interested in people's life narratives and how past experiences shape their stories. In college, an acting career wasn't really on the table, but I knew I wanted to help people, so I studied social work, and then I worked for quite a few years in the field. I had all these really deep personal experiences with the human condition, and then once I started to pursue acting, it was like, everything kind of shifted and clicked into place, from an emotional standpoint, with characters. And it all kind of just came together.

Soap Central: That's a really unique career background, I think. I haven't spoken with an actor who studied social work and was able to parlay that into an acting career!

Leiner: It's very similar. The way that you handle social work and psychological assessments is very similar to how you break down characters, right? It's all about their past history and what created their story, so it's two sides of the same coin for me.

Soap Central: Something that soap operas do so well is they have a strong ability to tackle social issues storylines. Soap operas have generally always been the first to portray things like abortion, interracial relationships, those kinds of important issues. If you were to continue on in the genre, is that something that you'd want to be a part of, a social issue storyline?

Leiner: Absolutely! That's a really great point, and I had not thought about that. I appreciate the more stories that are told about those topics, because I feel like the more you see different ways of presenting it, the more compassionate you become toward those topics. And you get to see it and play it out in a lot of different ways, because, obviously, it doesn't come out the same way every time. So, the more we see it, the more I think we'll be able to understand it and be passionate and help make it better.

Soap Central: Several years ago, you starred in this film called Hamlet & Hutch with the legendary Burt Reynolds. What was it like to work with such a big star, and were you intimidated at all?

Leiner: It was an absolute dream to work with Burt. He is exactly what you imagine. He was charismatic, charming, talented, and he has an incredibly emotional, open heart. So, as an actor, I just remember how effortless it was to connect with him in scenes, and I tried to carry that on with me in my own work because it brought the scenes to life. He was just so present and so available. He was fantastic.

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A post shared by Elizabeth Leiner (@elizabethleiner)

Soap Central: You also appeared in the film Nanny Killer with someone very familiar to the Y&R fans: Morgan Obenreder, who played Crystal Porter. Did you guys work together on the film?

Leiner: We didn't have any scenes directly together, but we had lunch together, and she is fantastic. She is lovely and was incredibly welcoming. I had not at the time known that she was on soaps, but it is a small world! And she was a delight. She was very kind and supportive.

Soap Central: We couldn't help but notice that you don't post very often on social media! Is it just not your thing?

Leiner: [Laughs] You know, it's not something that I've ever been active on. However, since joining Y&R, I've realized how passionate fans are, and I am going to try really hard to do my very best to engage a little bit more. I do think it's such a symbiotic relationship with the fans on the show, so I'm going to try. Baby steps!

Soap Central: And finally, has starring on a soap opera been anything like you expected it to be?

Leiner: You know, I don't know what I expected, but it's definitely better than I could have ever imagined. It's like being part of a really amazing theater troupe. It's very challenging and exhilarating, and it's a lot of fun. I'm basically falling in love with it, so, it's pretty great!

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A post shared by Elizabeth Leiner (@elizabethleiner)

Soap Central: You also appeared in the film Nanny Killer with someone very familiar to the Y&R fans: Morgan Obenreder, who played Crystal Porter. Did you guys work together on the film?

Leiner: We didn't have any scenes directly together, but we had lunch together, and she is fantastic. She is lovely and was incredibly welcoming. I had not at the time known that she was on soaps, but it is a small world! And she was a delight. She was very kind and supportive.

Soap Central: We couldn't but notice that you don't post very often on social media! Is it just not your thing?

Leiner: [Laughs] You know, it's not something that I've ever been active on. However, since joining Y&R, I've realized how passionate fans are, and I am going to try really hard to do my very best to engage a little bit more. I do think it's such a symbiotic relationship with the fans on the show, so I'm going to try. Baby steps!

Soap Central: And finally, has starring on a soap opera been anything like you expected it to be?

Leiner: You know, I don't know what I expected, but it's definitely better than I could have ever imagined. It's like being part of a really amazing theater troupe. It's very challenging and exhilarating and it's a lot of fun. I'm basically falling in love with it, so, it's pretty great!

What do you think about our interview with Elizabeth Leiner? What are your first impressions of Tara Locke? How do you think she might play into storylines in the weeks ahead? We want to hear from you -- and there are many ways you can share your thoughts.

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