Dr. Reid Oliver (As the World Turns) was actor Eric Sheffer Stevens’s first recurring role in a soap opera. Here, he talks with a writer from that show about how he coped with the huge amounts of complex text he had to memorize, his process of breaking down a script, and the freedom that came with having to work so fast.
Eric Sheffer Stevens: I think I didn’t have an appreciation for how difficult it was, how much memorization would go into it.
Susan Dansby: We write 90 pages. They shoot maybe 80. And of that, 30 or 40 pages could be all you.
Eric Sheffer Stevens: Right. There were definitely days where I just went, “Oh, my gosh,” as I was going through the script.
And I got to a point where I would kind of start with that script two days ahead of time. Even if I were shooting something the next day, I would at least get to a certain point with that other script two days before, so that the day before it was easier to get it in your head. Then the next morning, I would go over it over coffee and cereal before I headed out to the studio.
The first day, I definitely wasn’t – I’d memorized as much as I would normally do for a regular TV show. But you shoot that episode over a week or 10 days, and you have tons of rehearsal, and there’s tons of coverage. By the time it actually gets around to you, you know it so cold. And I was a little bit shocked that first day at how little you go over it before they just tape it.
And then they keep it! Even if you walk into a wall, or you wanted to do something differently, they just go, “Okay, that’s a buy,” and move on.
So, after that first day, I came home and just really buckled down; because I was having speeches to judges and policemen, and all this stuff. And there was medical jargon. So, I really wanted to have it in my head, so that I could have the freedom to kind of play with it when I was actually shooting it. If you don’t know well, when you’re just thinking of what your lines are. And that shows.
Susan Dansby: And what is your process when are studying a script? What kind of questions do you ask yourself a few get that first look at the script? Do you break it down into beats?
Eric Sheffer Stevens: I do — not for playing it, I do for memorizing it. Because reading it, I’m not really sure how to play it. It’s not until I actually memorize it that I go through, and I go, ‘Okay, I know what the direction of this is.’
But I do break it down into beats, because there are definite beats in a scene as it goes together. And as far as — I don’t articulate what a character wants, or what a character is going for. Just the more I go over it, and as I’ve broken it down into beats, that becomes clear to me.
Susan Dansby: What will you take it away from this experience on World Turns?
Eric Sheffer Stevens: A few things. I really love working with those people. It’s a really warm, generous group of people. That was another aspect of it that I — I’m not sure I had any preconceived notion of it; but everybody was very humble, very helpful, very gracious. It was great group; so, it left me a lot of great memories, even though it was only nine months that I was on.
It was a fun time to be on, at the end of that show. I got very sentimental about it, even though I hadn’t been part of that community for very long. So, that was really fantastic. And also, I think, what we talked about before. It really developed a whole different set of muscles; and having to make decisions that quickly, and shooting that fast, helped me a lot as an actor. I think it developed — I don’t know — a whole other set of tools or something. To be able to read a script, and react to it that quickly. That’s definitely with me in anything else I’m going to do or audition for. So, that’s very helpful.