Get out your scorecards: Ellen Wheeler originated the roles of Vicky and Marley in 1984, and played the twins until 1986. Anne Heche took over until 1991, when Jensen Buchanan assumed the mantle. The show sent Marley packing in 1994 when the rigors of playing two roles wore down Buchanan, but The Powers That Be decided to reactivate the character full-time earlier this year, with Wheeler playing the role again. The writers concocted a fire/reconstructive-surgery storyline to explain the fact that Wheeler and Buchanan don't look alike although they're playing identical twins.
Confused? So were most viewers, but once you suspend disbelief you realize that the twins are finally full-bodied women rather than archetypes. And how can you lose with two Emmy-caliber actresses pouring their hearts, souls and minds into a story they care so much about?
It's a move that's odd and intriguing, for sure, but only time will tell if the gambit proves successful where it really counts with the viewers. A final note just to confuse you even more: Emmy winner Cynthia Watros (ex-Annie Dutton Lewis, Guiding Light) will play Vicky from Aug. 21 to Sept. 3 while Buchanan takes a brief medical leave. Jonathan Reiner
Before Ellen came back, had you two ever met?
Ellen Wheeler: Not really.
Jensen Buchanan: Just in passing, at an awards event, I think.
Are there any regrets about letting go of the other character?
JB: Well, it's very hard doing the work of two people...
EW: You're doing the work of three people, I think.
JB: I don't know about when you came on the show, but when I started...
EW: They were both front-burner...
JB: So I was a little sad to be letting go of Marley, and there was a sense of relief, but there were no regrets.
When you were playing both characters, did either of you ever hold something back? This is going to sound confusing, but I guess you have to keep secrets from yourself when you're playing both roles.
EW: You do... otherwise they become exactly the same. There are parts of Jensen that she can't ever share with one of the characters.
JB: When you're playing both, you're limited by who you are and what your life experiences are. So, yeah, while I was sad to let Marley go, I was really excited about the thought of someone else's life experiences being brought to the character of Marley. I just think, ultimately, that makes Vicky richer, too.
Ellen, what were your feelings about coming back to the show but only playing Marley?
EW: I felt all those same things Jensen just mentioned but mostly that it was going to be freeing. For one thing, just to worry about only one set of emotions is freeing. I don't have to worry, "If I do this with Marley, how does this affect Vicky?" I don't have to do that anymore. She [Jensen] has to worry about how it affects Vicky. And that is so freeing.
JB: Yeah, I agree.
EW: I have two kids, too, so I don't know if they had called me and asked me to do both roles if I could have said yes to that. You already go home tired. When you play both, it's not like you go home just doubly tired you go home more tired. Not only do you have to do everything twice, but during that you have to like yourself and hate yourself, and it's so confusing. I don't think anyone can recognize that unless they do it, unless we call David Canary (Adam/Stuart, All My Children). I don't think you can understand that process hating yourself and loving yourself.
JB: It sounds crazy, but it's true.
EW: It is crazy! It makes you not well.
Did you guys ever compare notes on the rigors of playing both roles?
JB: No, we haven't really talked about that, and I think part of that is because it's a given that we both know what it's like. I wouldn't expect to sit down and talk to her about it and have her say something completely different from what I experienced which was the most fabulous and the most horrible experience at the same time.
Have you commiserated over the fact that now you can't play the other twin again?
EW: That's not true! Would you have ever guessed that they could have separated us? I'm not saying that one of us will all of a sudden play them both again, but nothing is impossible on a soap.
Jensen, how has Vicky changed since you started playing her? It seems to me that she's the more stable twin, while Marley is the one who's "out there." There was a time when Vicky was the saucy one, while Marley was the quiet, stable one. Do you think the twins' roles are reversing?
JB: Maybe for now...
EW: Vicky may be stable, but she's still saucy. That hasn't changed.
JB: Even so, I've always hated that: Vicky is the bad one, Marley is the good one. No! Vicky is both and Marley is both. Good people do bad things, and sometimes bad people do really nice things. I could never stand being pigeonholed into saying, "Oh, she's the good twin." That's never how I wanted to play it. The other thing is, let's face it, I'm older now than Ellen and Anne were when they first started playing the parts, and Vicky is older, too. She has two children on the show, which is wonderful baggage, don't get me wrong. But this character is more mature, and when people grow up they also change. I was just watching some scenes today, and I thought, Vicky is still Vicky... it's just that her life has changed a bit.
EW: That's what I meant when I said she's still the saucy one. She has things in her life that give her a certain sense of stability.
JB: It's the same with Marley. Not everyone can be whacked-out every second.
When you guys have scenes together, do you ever start going over the other twin's lines, like you used to?
JB: I did it.
EW: Occasionally I'll even circle the other's lines, too.
JB: Me, too. In the beginning they'd call for Marley on the loudspeaker, and I'd go running up to rehearsal. But I don't do that anymore. I've totally let go. I don't have that kind of craziness going on, thank God
EW: And not at all while we're working.
JB: I never had it while we were working. But I had this sensation the first day Ellen and I were working, a connection. And I looked into her eyes after she had been unveiled as looking so different. And I just had this sense of looking into my sister's soul. It didn't matter what her face looked like. I felt a connection to her a) because I like her, and b) because I feel like we're kindred spirits because of our life experiences and what we've gone through.
EW: What Marley is today, it took both of us to create.
JB: There are some people who expected a rivalry when she came on, but there is none.
EW: None. Even on the first day I came to the set, before the deal was done, so they could see us together, we got along amazingly even in those first seconds.
JB: It was odd.
EW: It was odd to get along so easily. It shouldn't have felt that comfortable.
Does the fact that you guys have such a good relationship help or hurt, given the material that you're playing now?
EW: Oh, no, it only helps. As mad as I get at my sisters in real life, I still love them. I'll always love them. I can't erase that.
JB: And it takes a lot of trust to hate someone down on the [studio] floor, or to hurt them and know that it's OK. And I think ultimately and I don't want to put words in your [Ellen's] mouth that I trust Ellen completely. She doesn't have a lot of mind games going on. That's an enormous safety net. She doesn't have some kind of an agenda. She's just an actress who comes in to do her work, and then she goes home to her life. And that's like a dream.
EW: I think that's part of the reason we get along so well. We both have our two kids and our husbands. Our lives are actually a lot alike. It's wild. And we both approach our work the same way. Neither one of us is here to be big stars.
JB: Well, we've done this for a long time, too.
Through all the women who have played the twins, Jake has always been center to their lives. Is it hard playing opposite the same man with another actress playing one of the twins?
EW: No. It's easier to have a triangle with three people than it is to have it with two people. A triangle with two people is a very complicated thing. It's a great feeling, a great sense of relief to know that if I'm having a bad day that, in rehearsal, she'll be having a really good day and be able to show me things. That helps me a lot.
It sounds like you guys have that "twin connection" that real-life twins have.
JB: I don't mean to sound crazy, but...
EW: I know this sounds silly...
JB: And it feels silly sometimes, but I shouldn't be feeling like this.
EW: We're not trying to talk all cosmic, but it's true, and it's a fun thing.
Do you find yourself looking at the other twin from a viewer's point of view, rather than as her portrayer?
JB: Oh, yeah.
EW: Definitely. Jensen was just saying to me, "Doesn't it make you feel good when people say, "Poor Marley"? And I said I didn't know, because I haven't been able to think about that yet. And she said, "Well, it makes me feel good for you." She's able to be happy for Marley in a way that she was never able to before because she was playing the character.
JB: Exactly. I heard one of the crew guys say, "Poor Marley," and I was like, right on! That means Ellen is doing her job. I was so psyched when I heard that.
OK... let's get to the important stuff: What's the fan reaction been like?
EW: In the beginning it was rough. I got a lot of, "Oh, we're so glad you're back," letters, though. People were just asking why why did the show do this?
JB: Why not? Seriously, I don't take that stuff on anymore. I don't know why they did it, but they did it. And I look at it as a new acting challenge. The fans have been patient. My whole feeling about this storyline and I'm trying to work this into my philosophy of life is that as easy as it is to say no, it's just as easy to say yes.