Back Where She Belongs: AW's Alice Barrett-Mitchell

Same face, different name. Alice Barrett-Mitchell has returned to AW as the mysterious Anne
by Meg McCaffrey, March 17, 1999

"It's not an easy thing to be let go," reflects ALICE BARRETT-MITCHELL (Anne, Another World) of being fired from the soap in 1996 after playing the role of fan favorite Frankie for seven years.

Time away from the New York City-taped AW was challenging for Barrett-Mitchell both personally and professionally. She landed gigs on L.A. primetime shows (Profiler, Murphy Brown), but that meant time away from her musician husband and two daughters, ages 11 and 7, who remained settled in the family's East Coast home. But despite the intermittent acting work, she harbored a share of doubts about her career.

What sustained Barrett-Mitchell was family -- and AW viewers. "It meant a lot to me to know they cared," the actress enthuses of the soap's fans who never stopped sending fan mail. "It sustained me... I can't tell you how much their support meant to me when I was leaving and coming back and even while I was gone, there was a part of me that knew people were pulling for me. I felt it. I really did."

Returning to the AW set to take on a new role was a homecoming of sorts for Barrett-Mitchell. However, the actress found about half her family had been, as she puts it, "purged" since she left.

"It's a big change-over in the cast," notes Barrett-Mitchell, ticking off the names of at least ten castmates let go since her own departure. (In fact, the low-rated soap has had a virtual cast cleaning of house since the popular actress left. Her return is undoubtedly a sign that the show wants to lure back longtime viewers.) "I walked in and was like, 'Hi, I'm Alice.' They didn't have a clue as to who I was and why should they."

Meanwhile, the actress doesn't have many clues as to who she's playing these days on-screen, the elusive Anne. "I've been trying to give her little ticks specific to her as opposed to Frankie, but so far I haven't all that much to go on," she points out. And while everyone's betting Anne will soon steal Cass's (Stephen Schnetzer) heart away from Lila (Lisa Peluso), Barrett-Mitchell has her own ideas. "Wouldn't it be funny if I meet Matt and go, 'Who is that handsome god?' " she laughs. "That would really throw things around, wouldn't it?"

Below, Alice Barrett-Mitchell talks about how Julia Roberts and Alan Alda got her thinking about her career, her AW return and why getting fired the first time around still stings.

DIGEST ONLINE: So what was it like for you the first day back at the AW set?
BARRETT-MITCHELL: It was a little bit nerve-wracking. The circumstances under which I left were not choice, so I was a little nervous. There have also been a lot of changes here, of course. You know, half the cast doesn't have a clue as to who I am. [Laughs] And I knew I wasn't coming back as Frankie, which is I guess safe to say at this stage. That was a little trepidation for me because my feeling about it was everyone knows and loves Frankie and I don't now know who exactly I'm going to be putting out there yet.

DIGEST ONLINE: Didn't the fact that you were creating this new character make it half scary and half exciting!
BARRETT-MITCHELL: Yes. Exactly! The prospect of doing something completely different is very exciting, because it's something you don't usually have the opportunity to do on a soap, unless you become a schizoid or develop a drinking problem. There are situations on soaps where you get to stretch the envelope, but rarely do you get the opportunity to truly transform. This is beyond transformation -- this is somebody else entirely. I've been trying to give her little ticks specific to her as opposed to Frankie, but so far I haven't all that much to go on. I'm just waiting for the story to build naturally and trying to keep myself patient and know we're we are at. Because I don't really know a whole lot of where we're going.

DIGEST ONLINE: What backstory did the show give you about your new character?
BARRETT-MITCHELL: They gave me one major fact which I think is best to let remain a mystery.

DIGEST ONLINE: What can you share about Anne: is she good, bad or in that grey area?
BARRETT-MITCHELL: I have a suspicion she's going to be a good person. I think the main thing is that she's very different from Frankie in that when Frankie came on the show 10 years ago, she came on with an agenda. She came on bursting with energy: "I'm going to throw Felicia Gallant in jail because she killed my uncle!" I knew where I was headed and I was going to make my mark on Bay City. I was going home to family and Sharlene. Frankie came in charged.

DIGEST ONLINE: All guns blazing.
BARRETT-MITCHELL: Yes. Whereas Anne is coming in knowing no one and that's the whole idea. She's coming in to find a small studio apartment where she'll keep the shades drawn and lick her wounds and heal from something. As I said, that event is something we should keep under wraps. But all that adds up to a huge difference in terms of the energy that you bring in with [a character]. Also, just to walk into a town where your face has so many repercussions is far from what Anne expected.

DIGEST ONLINE: What's your take on Anne?
BARRETT-MITCHELL: It's hard for me to say because I don't know have a whole lot of knowledge of where she's coming from or going to. But I just have that one tidbit to hold onto about my past. I know obviously they also brought me on to mess up the Cass/Lila storyline. [Laughs] So I have a pretty good idea of where I'm going in terms of the immediate relationship. I think that because of me playing her, she'll have some things in common with Frankie. Already, they're drawing her strong, even though she's sort of in hiding. She's opinionated, bright. I like to think she's going to reveal some wit. I don't believe she's going to have Frankie's eccentricities. She may have other ones, which would be fun. With Frankie, you had such an open canvas, because she had an open sensibility... it was no holds barred whereas this is a person whose backgrounds implies some sort of comportment. What would be fun is when you see someone reveal the opposite of themselves... Once we do the reveal as to why Anne is here and what's she's running away from, you'll see what I'm talking about.

DIGEST ONLINE: My curiosity is even more piqued.
Have you stumbled upon to fans on the street and if so, what has been their reaction to you coming back to the soap?
BARRETT-MITCHELL: People who are bothering to speak to me, that is if they recognize me, say how happy they are. I got seated in a restaurant in New York the other day, and the maitre'd whispered in my ear, "So nice to have you back." So I'm getting some response. I'm not one of those actresses who is necessarily recognizable when I walk down the street because I don't look like me. [Laughs] I'm a just a mom when I walk down the street. I don't advertise myself like, "Look at me, I'm on a soap." [Laughs] So it's not very often that I got recognized. I never did get recognized very often. Generally speaking, I think people are happy. I think that in a lot of ways, it's a great space in terms of timing on the show. You know, Cass is finally involved with someone else. The time is right for a monkey wrench. I think what's great about the story is there's just the right amount of tension. I hope there is anyway.

When you see my face with Stephen's [Schnetzer, who plays Cass] on screen, there's history that pulls at you whether or not it's Frankie. And Matt and Lila have their history and Cass and Lila have their history, so there's just the right amount of tension pulling in four different directions that will make things interesting. I'm sure there will be that ping pong or rubber band effect where one week Cass will get pulled in one direction [toward Anne] and the next week, he'll get pulled back to Lila. Meanwhile, Lila will want to be Cass and then she'll feel guilty about Matt and go back and forth. That'll be going on, unless Matt and I hook up. [Laughs]

DIGEST ONLINE: That would be fun! I believe there was an immediate emotional investment in Anne, the minute you first appeared on screen.
BARRETT-MITCHELL: I like to think so. I must say that part was heartwarming. I've already received some mail just saying, "It's so nice to have you back." When I left the show, the fans were so amazing in terms of the outpouring of support and continued support all that time whatever ways they could be in touch with me. I was not easy to find. I was basically running back and forth between two coasts and trying to maintain a family life under those circumstances. But I always had the impression that somewhere out there, people were pulling for me which couldn't be more helpful to my soul.

DIGEST ONLINE: When you left the show, Digest was inundated with angry mail directed towards AW and NBC. When you were told that the soap was killing Frankie off, how did you take the news?
BARRETT-MITCHELL: Getting fired is hard. There's no getting around it. They can put any euphemism around it they want -- for lack of story, storyline purposes -- but what that boils down to is that someone has decided that you're not worth writing for anymore. That's painful. I had invested seven-and-a-half years in the show, and I believed that the character was still loved. I believed I was still part of the fabric of the show. From the response I got from fans, I believed that they believed it.

I was baffled, I didn't understand why that decision got made. But this is called show business, not show family. In the end, it is a business and someone made a business decision. As soap actors, we are very spoiled. Ninety-nine percent of the actors out there finish a job after a couple of weeks and have to look for work again. There's only a handful of actors out there on daytime or on long-running primetime shows that have a sense of security. Even then!

I did a Broadway show with Alan Alda and how much money can Alan Alda have. You think he's ever got to worry about paying his mortgage again? I don't think so. [Laughs] But we were at the end of the run on Broadway, and at this time, Alan knew the show was moving to L.A. and he was working on a Woody Allen movie. Even still, he went, "Oh my God, the show is ending this week." I wanted to look at him and slap him. [Laughs] 'You're Alan Alda! What are you worried about?!' But it's just the nature of the business is that eventually, you're out of work. When you're on soaps, you forget that.

Some of us are lucky to be on these shows for a long time. I was on the show a long time. As much as I was hurt and baffled and all the things I mentioned, in the end, I could be nothing but grateful for what I had had and hopeful for the opportunity to do something else. It's not like I went out and burned up the world in those two-and-a-half years obviously, but I did do things which were important for my personal growth and I think important for my career. We shall see. One of the things I learned in the two years I was off the show is that even difficult times are worthwhile in the end.

DIGEST ONLINE: One tend to learns more from the difficult times.
BARRETT-MITCHELL: Exactly. You really do. In difficult times, it's so hard to look around and to see what to be grateful for. That was my exercise because I had some scary moments when I was off the show. I wondered if I was ever going to work again. I won't bore you with the details of my travails, but I had some scary moments and what those moments taught me is that I have a husband who loves me, children who are happy, both my parents are still living, I ate food today, I have clothes on my back. Life is really pretty good. So every single day, I found something to be grateful for and that's a powerful lesson. Because sometimes things are going so well, that you don't even bother to notice. So I'm very grateful for everything that has happened in my life.

I'm grateful for the opportunity to be back. Right now, it's a big question mark. I don't know the plans for Anne right now. Everyone's having fun with the idea of throwing somebody with my face into the mix, and seeing what happens and seeing how people respond. As I've told everyone, I've played this storyline with the shoe on the other foot. So I know the audience has very strong opinions about it. The Cass and Lila fans are probably not happy to have someone with Frankie's face back.

DIGEST ONLINE: I don't know about that. I think they're happy for a great story.
BARRETT-MITCHELL: I'm glad. That's the best response to have. I think we're in a good position. As I said, there's the right amount of tension everywhere in the story to make it a lot of fun. I look forward to that. I have no delusions that I'm going to walk in and push Lisa Peluso off the map. [Laughs] I wouldn't want to do that anyway. I adore Lisa. That's been one of the delights in coming back. Lisa's been such an angel and was the first person to greet me at the door and say, "Oh, everyone's so excited to have you back." Lisa's the person who had met me very briefly years ago. I'm delighted to have met her and make friends with her.

DIGEST ONLINE: So what did you do personally and professionally while off AW these past few years?
BARRETT-MITCHELL: Professionally, I decided to commit a lot of my time to California because there wasn't a whole lot happening for me in New York. So I made a lot of contacts in California. I did an episode of The Profiler. I actually worked on the last episode of Murphy Brown. I wasn't on the air, because I was playing [the role Julia Roberts played on air] in rehearsal. Obviously, when Julia Roberts showed up, they wanted her to do the role. [Laughs]

DIGEST ONLINE: She's Another World fan, I hear.
BARRETT-MITCHELL: Yes. I was asked to come in for the last episode of Murphy Brown to work with the crew and cast, because they had guest stars all that week. Julia was only set to come in on the days she was shooting. She wasn't going to rehearse for ten days, because she has a busy schedule. But they wanted an actress to work with the cast, and I had a ball working with everyone. The star on my forehead was when Julia Roberts walked up to me and said, "You were Frankie, weren't you?!" And she threw her arms around me, and told me how much she loved me in front of everyone. It was delightful. It was one of those great working experiences, but you don't actually have anything to show for it because it's not like I can walk up and show people my tape of when I was on Murphy Brown. But I did work on it for two weeks and I got to meet Julia and learn the ropes of [sitcoms].

DIGEST ONLINE: What a great memory. Regarding Julia, was she upset about Frankie getting killed off?
BARRETT-MITCHELL: Julia was very upset. She said, "I cried and cried."

DIGEST ONLINE: How flattering to you!
BARRETT-MITCHELL: You know, her brother Eric Roberts (ex-Ted Bancroft) was on Another World. Maybe she started watching it then?

DIGEST ONLINE: So what was the time off the soap like for you on a personal level? You mentioned it wasn't always an easy time.
BARRETT-MITCHELL: I spent a lot of time alone, which is not something I would have made a choice to do. You know, I have two small children, but it was interesting to spend time alone again.

DIGEST ONLINE: Which can be hard.
BARRETT-MITCHELL: Yeah, but again, it was all for the good for me to rediscover who I am as myself as opposed to part of a unit. That's true across the board -- I was part of the Another World family and my family and then all of a sudden, I was out on another coast with people who had never seen me before... all by myself.

DIGEST ONLINE: You husband and kids stayed on the East Coast?
BARRETT-MITCHELL: Yes. Basically, we felt we didn't want to make a decision to move until I tested it out there and see if it was worthwhile. We also weren't sure what we wanted to do with my kids in school and all that. The irony of it is we had finally made the decision to move and did in fact move, and five weeks after we moved to California, I got the call to come back [to AW which is taped in New York]. So I'm now commuting in the opposite direction, with my kids and husband in L.A. and I'm working [in New York].

It's all still tentative -- whether or not the show will get picked up is still up in the air... Ultimately, [AW] made me an offer I couldn't refuse in terms of coming back. We'll do this for awhile and see what happens.