From Kendall to Sara:
Alicia Minshew’s Rise above ‘Soapy’ Stardom
By Mende Smith
A conversation with actress Alicia Minshew reveals that life after daytime television can be beautiful. Born and raised in the South Florida sunshine, Alicia was the third of four girls. A minister’s daughter, she began acting and performing plays for her family and soon realized that the acting bug was going to stay with her all of her life. Cast regularly in community theatre productions and high school musicals, young Minshew received a musical theatre scholarship to Indian River College. Alicia believed her next spot would be on Broadway.
“I knew at a very young age that I wanted to act,” Alicia said. “I just remember saying I actually wanted to be on Broadway. I wanted to be a theatre actor, and it was something my parents always supported.”
Alicia landed her first commercial while still in high school. And although she did attend almost two years of college, once she started making money doing what she truly loved, college aspirations faded out like the small set lighting of the local theatre and the spotlights on her were ever-growing. As an MTV-style VJ on a small satellite TV show, she really got the fever. “I said, ‘You know, the heck with college. I‘m making money.’ So, I started acting classes and eventually moved to New York City with my boyfriend at the time.”
In New York, Alicia found an intensive acting school. The William Esper Studio prepared her for television while she made a living doing commercials for her first year in the big city. Soon after Alicia's first film role with actor Richard Lewis and a few indie projects, she auditioned for All My Children. The soap opera set was soon to be her professional home away from home. Cast as Erica’s daughter, Alicia found herself on stage with daytime TV icon, Susan Lucci.
“When I auditioned for All My Children, it was kind of a secret role. They didn’t really tell us who it was going to be. I think they wanted to keep it a secret. So when I finally got the part, they said, ’By the way, you’re playing the part of Kendall Hart, Susan Lucci’s daughter,’ and then I got nervous. [Laugh] Because she’s the queen bee, she’s the queen of daytime, and I wasn’t sure how she would react to me. Thank God she is an amazingly sweet, grounded, awesome woman and kind of embraced me from day one and we’ve been friends ever since. It was definitely my first big job,” Alicia said.
For almost a decade she played the role of Kendall Hart, memorizing a 30- to 40-page script every single night before filming the next day. The makings of steady work in television came with a price. Alicia worked through the last era of daytime TV, when there were fewer cable channels drawing viewers from prime-time stations. From there, she moved into the film industry.
“It’s funny,” Alicia said. “When I first got the job, I was happy … people make fun of soaps and, listen: there’s silly story lines, people come back from the dead, there’s evil twins, all that stuff. But, if you can kind of just suspend your belief, act like it’s real and have fun with it, it’s a really fun gig.”
Alicia never thought her first TV gig would become a 10-year role. She said she had hoped for three years and held fast to the idea of moving on after that, but the lifestyle that soap opera stardom afforded her proved hard to leave.
“Once you’re in it and you have this lifestyle and you’re working with these people that become your family, it’s a hard job to walk away from,” Alicia said. ”It was inevitably going to come to an end. I watched a ton of other soaps slow down and get cancelled. It was a long time before our show did, but we all knew it was on its last leg.”
By the last season of All My Children, Alicia had already given birth to her first child and was contemplating her withdrawal from the role before the show was cancelled. She recalls planning to leave the show when her contract ended, longing to “spread her wings” by trying different things. When she left the show, there were tears. The family that Alicia had been working with every day for years was coming to an end.
“I was sad for the fans because the fans are really die-hard and really love the show, but there was also a part of me that was excited to start this new chapter,” Alicia said.
The auditions that followed came easier then. As a seasoned television actor, Alicia embodied a new confidence in her abilities after acting every day for the past 10 years. She was still challenged by being “the soap actress,” and so part of her life after All My Children was focused on reinventing herself as an actress, not “just the girl who played on the soap.”
“People still see (me) as the actor who played Kendall Hart, so I am trying to do other things and move past that,” Alicia adds. “At least my acting muscle was being used every day.”
Alicia was glad to learn that she landed one of her film roles last year because the producer was a fan of All My Children, and felt that casting Alicia in her American love story Desires of the Heart was a little bit like paying it forward for the show’s fanfare. Desires of the Heart, screened this year at the Cannes film festival last night.
“When I go on auditions, I have casting directors say, ‘We really loved All My Children,’ and I do think that audiences are kind of used to seeing people cross over now. We have reality stars, people from American Idol who are doing TV shows, and I think people are getting used to seeing different personalities in TV and movies now, which is great for people like me.”
And although Alicia is moving from the face of daytime television to the big screen, she is still an active mom to a 4-year old. While Alica was wrapping up the show, Willow volleyed between Minshew’s husband and their “wonderful nanny.” She recalls how fortunate she was to have a team for Willow’s early years. Today, Alicia plans her working schedule around her daughter’s birthday parties and family events. She said all the juggling can sometimes become a struggle, but she wears her life well.
“I think it’s really about balancing. When I’m in work mode, that’s really what I focus on and when I’m home with (Willow) and taking her to her gymnastics classes, I’m all about her. Again, it was harder in the beginning but now I've kind of found my groove. I finally found my groove.”
Dancing is another passion that Alicia has pursued since she was a child. Whenever she gets a chance to get out on the dance floor, she said, she is right there. She said that if she was not an actor, she would have become a professional dancer. In her spare time, Alicia takes classes and dances with her daughter. Her grandmother, now 103 years old, dances at family gatherings and parties, too.
“I guess it is in the genes,” Alicia said with a laugh. ”We could all learn something about celebration from my grandmother.”
Alicia's career has taken her from New York City to L.A., to Atlanta and even Canada. Her husband, Richie Herschenfeld, owns a string of restaurants in New York. Alicia said she can work as an actress anywhere!
In one of her most recent, diverse roles, on Crystal Chappell’s lesbian-centric web series Beacon Hill, Alicia plays one of the lead roles, Sara, a reporter who is very much in love. Alicia described the script as Dallas meets The West Wing.
“There is some really great writers working on this show,” Alicia said. ”I got to work with some people that were on All My Children with me and I got to work with people that I’d never met but whose work I’d always admired, especially Sarah Brown, who plays my girlfriend. She was on General Hospital and I always loved her work, so it was really cool to meet her and get to work with her for a while. Beacon Hill is streaming now on the Beacon Hill website. And Season 1 DVD will be available later in the year. It was really fun and different. I had never done a Web series before.”
Alicia credits her family with being her biggest influences. Her parents supported her through the ups and downs of her career, emotionally and financially. Growing up with their support, she said, saved her. She aspires to be as great a parent to her daughter as her parents and grandparents were to her.
“My grandfather was really the only other actor and performer in my whole family,” Alicia adds. “He used to do Vaudeville and he used to put on little shows, and we used to kind of sing and dance and do silly little shows together. So I think I would watch him perform and that inspired me: ‘Oh, I want to do what Grandpa’s doing.’ He only did it at local theaters and stuff, but I thought, ‘This is really cool!"
When asked if she would do any of her life differently, Alicia said no, adding that she has been blessed with a great support system and credits her close-knit family for her success. She offered advice to young actors, saying if they share her love for the craft, than they should never give up.
“Not to sound cliché,” Alicia said, “but you really have to believe in yourself because it did take me several auditions and several acting classes and several restaurant jobs before I got the steady job on All My Children. I just had to believe in myself and be very, very persistent and don’t take things personally. Just because you didn’t get the job doesn’t mean you’re not good. It just means that you weren’t the right person for the job but you’ll be right for something else. So I really believe you have to do it because you love it. Don’t do it for the money, don’t do it for fame. Do it because you love it and just be persistent. Just keep at it, keep at it, keep at it.”
Alicia feels just as passionate about education as she does about her acting career. The community literacy support organization City Year is one of her favorite ways to give back.
“I actually learned about (City Year) when I was in Los Angeles,” Alicia said. “I actually visited one of the schools in Los Angeles and…I've just reconnected with the City Year here in New York. …City Year is…an organization that finds low-income schools where the dropout rate is really, really high, and it’s this program built to keep these children in school. So when I was in California, for instance, I went to a school in L.A. that was not in a very safe neighborhood and it was just a lower-income school. (City Year is) a really wonderful program that … encourages the children to do the after-school programs and to do something good with their time after school, and they’re basically just trying to get the kids to stay in school. The organization is making leaps and bounds for these kids.”
Now, Alicia fanbase spans from TV to the web, active Twitter users, and to the community of education.
“I love that even though the projects I am working on now is not a soap, the fans just want to be supportive,” she said. “So I think for that, I have to just have a lot of gratitude to the fans…soap fans are the most loyal fans and even if you move on from soaps and do other projects, they are always there to support you and that’s another thing I’m really lucky to have, is people that support the new things that I work on.”
In the years since portraying Kendall Hart, Alicia has come full circle in grace and beauty. Her story offers hope to the modern American family, to the continuing study of acting, and to the brightest of television’s rising stars.
Photocredits: Top Photo: Peter Hurley, Desires of the Heart Photos Marayann Bates