ON AND OFF-CAMERA, ATWT’S MARY BETH EVANS JUGGLES WORK AND MOTHERHOOD

By Tonya Lensch

Photographs by Robert Milazzo

Daytime vet Mary Beth Evans has played a mom before on Days of Our Lives, her Kayla Brady Johnson was the embodiment of a loving mother to her daughter, Stephanie—though more recently, as General Hospital’s Katherine Bell, she hardly got to play the maternal type (bedding a guy who was almost young enough to be her son was more Katherine’s style!)

With her latest character, As the World Turns’ Sierra Montgomery, Evans has reverted with ease to the kind of mother about whom Hallmark writes poetry—and there’s a very good reason why.  Just as family relationships are the cornerstone of life in Oakdale, so it is in the off-camera life Evans shares with her husband and their three children.

“Sierra’s very sincere about her relationship with Bryant,” Evans explains.  “My son is a teenager, and to being that to the Bryant/Sierra relationship is a new area for me.”  While Evans loves sinking her teeth into all of Sierra’s complicated entanglements, the humor of playing a grown son’s mother isn’t lost on her.  “My lover on my last show was that age!”

Sierra returned to Oakdale last week, struggling with her feelings for estranged hubby Craig.  She finally signs their divorce papers this week, so he’s free to marry Barbara.  Sierra is clearly back in the thick of things, which is where she’ll stay until she leaves town again at the end of April.

“I have such a great time on the show because they have written her so multileveled,” praises Evans, who assumed the role for a month-long gig last December, garnering raves from both fans and critics.  “Sierra’s a good mother, she cares about her children.  She adores her mother, but her mother drives her totally insane.  I have some great scenes with Hal and Barbara.  I get to be the other woman, and have a feisty little catfight with her.  And then, with Craig, I have these sentimental scenes.  In one week’s time, I’ve played everything!”

While the California-based Evans packs all of Sierra’s punches in one taping week in New York, the working “holiday” suits her fine.  “It’s been a fabulous experience for me to focus on [acting on a soap], instead of how I’ve normally done it, where I’m juggling carpools and dinner and getting the kids to bed and trying to learn my lines, too.”

But this daytime mom knows how lucky she is to have a career and time at home with her kids, Danny, 13, Katie, 11, and Matthew, 8.  “I always worked until about a year and a half ago when I left GH, so that’s all they knew,” she explains.  “Now that I’ve been home more, they understand me leaving.  I want my daughter to see that a working woman is a good thing.  I have that conversation with her a lot, about how it’s important to take care of yourself and your goals and what’s important to you.  And even though they don’t really like me going away, I think they understand that.  And I love acting, so it’s wherever that takes me.  They get used to me being around, so it helps them be independent and taking care of themselves, and being on good behavior when I’m not there watching them.”

Evans also has a great support system in husband Dr. Michael Schwartz who, she says, steps up to the plate while she is away.  “It makes him get home on time and organize a haircut, or who’s going to be at which ballgame, and I think he really loves that.”

But Evans isn’t a mother who pushes her kids to get involved in a slew of activities.  “I try not to get too carried away with that,” she says, shaking her head.  “I really believe in, ‘Let’s play at home, too.’ My boys are on Little League teams, and my daughter does little things, but I’m not a person who overbooks them.  I don’t think they need to be these huge overachievers when they’re in second grade.  I want them to be kids!”

Evans herself could be called an overachiever, with three soaps on three different networks under her belt.  “I didn’t mean for it to happen! I thought I would be on Days of Our Lives for the rest of my life,” says Evans, who is still remembered for her portrayal of the popular Salem heroine.  “Soaps are all different, and I think this show feels more how Days of Our Lives was in the ‘80s when I was there.  It’s more story-oriented, more relationship-oriented, where I think Days is [now] more into other things.  I love relationships and the personal stories.  That is my favorite thing to do, and that’s what this show does. And I like the character.  There are reasons why she is the way she is, or why things have happened.”

Not so GH’s Katherine.  “On General Hospital, there was never a reason why the character behaved the way she did, so there was a little confusing for the writers, the producers, and for me.” 

Evans admits it also was hard for her and former co-star Stephen Nichols to try to re-create Days Kayla/Patch magic with GH’s Katherine/Stefan.  “I don’t think they ever worked it to what they could have,” she contends.  “The characters were so different.  His character on that show is so different from Patch.  He not sentimental.  And that was really the great thing about Patch—he had such a soft side.”

Rumors persist—and many fans wish—that Evans will return to Days.  “People always ask me that,” she claims.  “He’s (Ken Corday, Days’ executive producer) never asked me.  We have joking conversations, but he’s never come out and asked me, and I think he would always want Patch and Kayla to come back together.  We’d be like Grandma and Grandpa Horton by the time we ever get back there.  And I don’t know how that patch is going to look when he’s 80!”

Evans remains close with Nichols, both personally and professionally.  “We did the play The Night of the Iguana in LA, which was so difficult.  I spent the whole week with my head in my lap, thinking I was going to be rotten, and it came out so fabulous.  We had such a great time.  We love each other tremendously as friends.  He was driving down PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) with the ocean and sunset, and called me for my birthday, and I was like, ‘I love you so much.’  We always work so great together because we’re very comfortable with saying, ‘If you said that line like that, that would be so great,’ or ‘Maybe if you did that…’  We don’t get offended; we’re very encouraging.  If he got cast in something and there was a part for me, I’d be knocking on the door, saying, ‘Can I be with him?”

Matching their devotion to each other is the loyalty their fans still have for them.  “Soap fans are such amazing people,” Evans raves.  “They want me to go back to Days with Stephen.  That’s always a constant theme.  But, more importantly, they’re just happy to see me on daytime, which is very sweet.  It’s nice to know that I can go home and garden and hang out with my kids and whatever, and they still want me to come back.  You always want to be wanted.”

As for making this recurring ATWT gig a little more permanent, Evans offers, “We could talk [about it].  It seems like it’s working.  This time worked out great. I just had to get a refrigerator in my hotel room; you know, a few little things so I don’t feel so out of my life.  I don’t know, maybe.  It’s so fun.  That’s the thing now—I’m hooked, so I really want to come back.”