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The Lauralee Bell Interview – Family Dinner

lauraleeMain.jpg
She is a member of daytime drama’s number one family…. the Bells. She is an actress, entrepreneur, wife, mother of a two, and now she can add “director” to her life credits. Lauralee Bell is one of soap opera’s most recognizable performers from her 18 years on The Young and the Restless playing “Cricket” as a young teen, to the more mature version of “Christine”. Reprising her role on occasion, the actress left the show full-time several years ago to pursue outside projects and interests. One, being her successful clothing store, “On Sunset”, which has a long list of celebrity clients who frequent its home on stylish Sunset Plaza, and the other, continuing to play different roles in prime time episodics and film.

However, today is a big day in the accomplishments of Lauralee. In a new project created and produced by her and her husband, Scott Martin, a new three-minute web series, “Family Dinner” launches online at www.familydinneronline.com. and www.funnyordie.com. In it, she plays an attention-starved mother, who along with whacked out family members and special guests, discusses anything but what to eat for dinner! Co-starring the legendary Phyllis Diller, the sexy and funny Dan Cortese, and the hilarious Aaron Lusting (Ex-Dr. Tim, “Y&R), you can expect one dysfunctional family gathering after another. The second episode will be posted the following week and premiere on June 17th at www.familydinneronline.com, with more hopefully on the way!

With the dramatic returns of Thom Bierdz (“Langley” or Phillip Chancellor III) and Tricia Cast (Nina) to the canvas in Genoa City, many soap fans are now clamoring for Lauralee’s return to “Y&R”. It’s something she tells me could not be so far out in the future. In this revealing interview, Lauralee discusses what it was like as a teen working romantically with Bierdz, who later would come out and admit he was gay. Having your father being the legendary Bill Bell, your brother being the Daytime Emmy-nominated Brad Bell, and your mother being Lee Bell, a legend in television herself, could be quite intimidating, but Lauralee excelled on her own. One of “Y&R’s” all-time most memorable heroines shares with me emotional moments and thoughts about her dad, and what she thinks of “Y&R” these days under the expert hands and guidance of sister-in-law, Maria Arena Bell.

So, what was dinner like at the Bell house? How does she feel about Bierdz, now? How funny is Phyllis Diller? And, when can we expect her back in Genoa City? Only the one woman who grew up living and breathing soaps, who searched and found an identify all her own apart from her family’s legacy, would know. Here’s Lauralee!

Listen to the audio:

[display_podcast]

MICHAEL:

We are sitting at your store, “On Sunset” in Los Angeles conducting this interview. And your retail-clothing store still seems to be going strong. Did you ever think it would last this long?

LAURALEE:

It’s been almost nine years ago when I started this. I put too many things on my plate and I always thought I could handle that, but now I realized you have to prioritize. I am going to “ixnay” a few on the way. I can’t lose the husband and the kids! (She laughs) The store is managing through this difficult economic time, and it’s definitely another agenda in my life.

lauraleeSunglasses.jpgMICHAEL:

Your new web series, “Family Dinner”, premieres today online and I laughed
so hard at the trailer! How did this come
about? Is it your brainchild?

LAURALEE:

It is. I thought of it years ago and put in on the back burner. As time has gone by, I realized it was a one set feature with a low budget, which in this day is necessary. What my parents taught me is that a character-driven show will attract people, and you will get to know the characters and you don’t need all the hoopla. If you have great actors and sit them down at the table, and get them involved in their lives, you have something there. It is a three-minute episode, with time to get to know the characters, and we will talk about different things. Everyone needs a good laugh. At the end of the day with these hard times, everyone goes back to his or her families, because that’s all you got. And here is this crazy group. So, you can judge your family against this nutty family, and calculate how crazy your own family really is!

acting.jpgMICHAEL:

You had told me for years you strived to play the “bitch” after playing Miss Goody-Two-Shoes for so long on “Y&R”. This new character you play, strives to be on “Oprah”?

LAURALEE:

She does. She is just a burnt out, attention-needing mother, who is unfulfilled in her marriage. She loves her kids, but she just wants some “me” time, which any mother who has children, can relate to. You kind of get through the infant stage, and the time flies by and you lose a little bit of yourself. In “Family Dinner”, her kids are grown and now she thinks, “It should be about me. Everything should be about me.” She is nuts in the first episode and a little tamer in the second, and if we make a bunch more, she will only get more and more out of her mind. It’s very easy for me to play, as I lived this to a tinier degree, but I am in the same spot. OK, the kids are now in school and I am crazy to do so many other things. The Young and the Restless taught me it’s OK to make insane faces on camera and push it and scream. So I have incorporated that… and then to sit across from the amazing Phyllis Diller, you can’t help but be inspired by her level of great comic genius.

MICHAEL:

How did you get Phyllis involved in the project?

phylllisDiller.jpgLAURALEE:

My mother, Lee Bell (co- creator of “Y&R” and “B&B), has known Phyllis for years. I had seen Phyllis here and there, and only recently have they become inseparable, which is so cute. I told my mom that Scott and I were going to shoot this, and I said, “We are having a hard time casting grandma,” and she said, “Well, I am seeing Phyllis tonight.” I thought, “That is very sweet mom. But, she is Phyllis Diller and we are doing a three-minute web series. OK, you can try.” Then the next day, my mom did not mention anything about it. So I thought, that was that. Then the following day, my mom called and said, “Phyllis just called and she has to play grandma. She wants to play this woman,” and I said, “C’mon!” By later that afternoon, Phyllis and I were on the phone like two little girls giggling about how she should look and what she should wear. I was like, “You can wear and look however you want, if you really just come to this table.” And sure enough, three weeks later, she showed up and everyone on the set was blown away. She brought books and autographs and signed everything, and she steals the show!

MICHAEL:

Dan Cortese also makes an appearance as a reality show producer, who is considering doing a reality show on this dysfunctional family!

LAURALEE:

Dan and his wife, DeeDee…we have been best friends for years. My husband Scott and I, have dinner with them once a week. I have never asked him for a favor, so I said, “It’s a weekend. I know you are doing other things,” but he showed up. Aaron Lustig (Ex- Dr.Tim Reid), and I have been friends since his time on “Y&R”, and as soon as I knew we were going to do this I said to Scott, “There is no other husband to me than Aaron… Sorry”. (She laughs)

danCortese.jpgMICHAEL:

Who else is involved?

LAURALEE:

Phyllis is the middle of a line, and we hear this crazy voice, and its Jo Anne Worley from Laugh-In. Then, Cheri Oteri from “SNL” came over! She said, “I have been the biggest fan of yours since “Y&R”, and I am freaking out. I said, “You think you may want to come and join us for dinner?” I think we shouldn’t be surprised if we see her in the future.

MICHAEL:

So where can fans see all the hilarity?

LAURALEE:

On June 8th we would love for everyone to go to www.funnyordie.com, because it’s a great site, but our home site is www.familydinneronline.com.

MICHAEL:

Do you have more dinner-table scenarios, past the two episodes that will run online?

LAURALEE:

I have written episodes three and four. I would really like to incorporate fan ideas. Right now, it’s so hard to get anything published, and it’s very slow here in LA. So, if a “John Smith” from Tennessee comes up with a great idea, we will shoot his concept idea in LA, and put “Concept by John Smith” and we will give him a writing credit. We are going to do that, and we have recipe ideas, because who knows what we are going to have on the dinner table. We have a lot of little side goals that we hope to do in the future, but yes, I have many ideas.

lauraLeeScott.jpgMICHAEL:

You also directed “Family Dinner”. How was it to be in charge?

LAURALEE:

I have to be the actress first. But, I liked being in charge of this because everyone was so talented, that directing this was a piece of cake.

MICHAEL:

So, you and your husband Scott, started your own production company… Martin-Bell Productions.

LAURALEE

We started a production company. We have something in pre-production for possibly October, and it was great to work with Scott. He is so visual and an amazing photographer.
To be at that table, I needed someone’s eyes to watch all the monitors.

MICHAEL:

Switching gears, Lauralee, in my recent interview with openly gay actor, Thom Bierdz (“Langley” or Phillip Chancellor III “Y&R”), I asked him, “When you were the part of the “darling” couple on the show as Cricket and Phillip, did Lauralee know of your sexual orientation back then, and did you have any discussions with her about it?” He replied, “You know, I really have to have a talk with Lauralee and find out what she did know then. In my recollection, we had one discussion about it at a very awkward time. I don’t know her take on it. I know that Lauralee is an extremely open minded person today, but she was a teenage girl at that time and I was ten years older than she was. I would love to talk to her more.” Can you respond to that? At one point, did you have a crush on him?

LAURALEE:

Did I know with Thom? Sure, I had a crush on him. Probably, when I was working with Thom, I was fifteen or so. I am about as open as they come, and I think there are a lot of woman who are quite hot myself. In fact, our website guy and editor, left last weekend to go ride the San Francisco to Los Angeles AIDS/Lifecycle cross state challenge. I gave them huge checks and I made them “Family Dinner T-Shirts”. But back to Thom; what’s so crazy is when you work on a soap you learn so many lines and forget them so fast, and so my recollection is not so good, but I felt we did have the “talk”. I almost feel it was when we were off the show, though. And if it was, as I say at the end, then he knew it would be such a non-issue to me. So, I believe we talked about it when I was a bit older. We have stayed friends.

bierdz.jpgMICHAEL:

Are you happy the show brought him back, with a potential for him to be part of a gay storyline?

LAURALEE:

I am so glad Maria Arena Bell (co-executive producer and head writer, “Y&R”) is bringing him back, and hopefully, it should be a storyline where everyone learns from it. I wish Thom could get married to a man on the show. It would be so great. We need that.

MICHAEL:

Are you considering returning to “Y&R”? Now, seems like the perfect time!

LAURALEE:

Of course it’s possible, when you bring back Thom Bierdz and Tricia Cast (Nina)…

MICHAEL:

We are all waiting for you!

LAURALEE:

Well, that’s very kind, and if it’s the right thing, I would. I am so geared up into my own little projects right now, but there are a couple of things where it would make sense. For the funerals, and when Danny came back for our party, that kind of made sense. But, I knew it would be a couple of lines here and there, and wouldn’t have any meaning. And if I come back, I really want it to count. I wanted it to be a helpful discussion for Phillip, or Nina, or Paul. I don’t think I would come back for a long period of time. But, I certainly would be open to it.

MICHAEL:

Has Maria talked to you about returning yet? I am assuming that call to you happens quite often!

LAURALEE:

I get the call every two months. I think it’s understood with the right time and the right people. As I say, with Thom and Tricia back, my curiosity with each person piques more and more. It does make sense for me to come back into the fold now, and I would love to work with Thom. I saw a flashback the other day with Nina and Phillip. It was so weird, when you see all those scenes… and oh, the hair! Michael Damian (Ex-Danny) and I had bad big hair back in that day! (She laughs)

lauraLeeMaria.jpgMICHAEL:

“Y&R” has been on fire lately and it’s been an extraordinary show since Maria took over the reigns and Lynn Latham left. Why do you think it’s working?

LAURALEE:

I think it’s because Maria studied with my dad. (The late Bill Bell) I remember my brother, Brad Bell (executive producer and head writer, “B&B) and Maria sitting in conference call meetings. I would peek in and I knew they were on a couch for five hours, and then they weren’t even done. Maria has written tons of things, and as always, had great remarks whether it be for her magazine articles or scripts. She is extremely familiar with the show, which is important. You can’t come in and watch 20 episodes from the past of “Y&R” and think you get it. She knew my dad, and she knew his formula, which was again, characters and the people. I love how much Maria is using Jeanne Cooper (Katherine). I mean, how can you not?

MICHAEL:

When you turn on “Y&R” now, what stories are captivating you or tantalizing you?

LAURALEE:

Again, being so close with Tricia, I am just so glad to see her there. I am watching Paul and Nikki pretty closely. I start to itch a little bit when I see them kiss! Just because I have grown up with Jeanne Cooper, anything she is doing I am excited about. I have a special place for everybody, and I love seeing the show. I did not see it for the last few years, because I would be dropping off my daughter at school at that time. I would feel terrible when people would say, “Did you see it?” I am not a TIVO person. So by the time I get everyone situated and done, I am tired. I don’t want to have an accumulation of 6,000 shows to view. So, this is the first year I have been able to watch “Y&R”. With Maria at the helm, and so many of my friends back, it’s wonderful! I race back home with my salad and watch it. I am watching it on SOAPnet, too. What a gift that is. It’s so nice to have an option!

lauraAndLauraLee.jpgMICHAEL:

Did the Abbott dining room scenes from the past give you any inspiration for “Family Dinner”?

LAURALEE:

Yes, and what I used to love about the show was the Abbott dining room scenes. When I would watch Terry Lester (Ex-Jack) eat and talk at the same time, it was such brilliance that I could not wait for the next Abbott dining room scene. “Family Dinner” is a quirky, dysfunctional take on it and what people do as a family.

MICHAEL:

I had read in the TV Guide interview that your family dinners at the Bell house were not your presumed stodgy dinners. Tell me about dinner in the Bell house.

LAURALEE:

It was called a tray table. On Sunday we would have tomato soup and noodles. We would go from Lake Geneva, Wisconsin through Genoa City, and stop at the Cheesebox and get a hunk of salami, and a hunk of cheese. We would grab our trays, and walk by this kitchen counter that was never secure, and would catch on your clothing and snap back. No one ever fixed it! We would walk to a room and watch some sort of game show. As long as we were together, and yelling out answers, we would not talk. People would say, “You are a very close family, but you never talk!” and I would say, “My parents’ life was TV. It was a release to not think, and just eat. There was no formality at all.” It cracks me up that people think we had these traditional Bell family dinners.

billBell.jpgMICHAEL:

Do you miss your Dad?

LAURALEE:

I miss Dad more now then right when he passed away. It’s just different. I remember him not sick. I think about him all the time, and my kids love going to his gravesite, which is so cute, and so beautiful. I have gotten certain projects on his anniversary, or his birthday, or close to Fathers Day. This one is launching close to Father’s Day, so it’s weird! I know he would love the humor in “Family Dinner”. He was the most comedic guy around. I would say to him, “Can’t Cricket be funnier?” and he would say, “Well?” He was a serious writer, but to release it all, he was “Mr. Happy-Go-Lucky”. I kind of see it mirrored now with how actors approach my brother, Brad. My dad’s door was always open, and he would joke and pat people on the back, and be a bit sarcastic. He was a bit of a hound dog, too. He was funny and casual.

MICHAEL:

What do you think he would say about “Family Dinner”?

LAURALEE:

He would love that I am doing something with Phyllis Diller and he would probably say, “He loves that it is character-driven”, and he would say, “That it is a little goofy, and you should drag the story a different way,” but I am purposely doing this. But when you get kids at the dinner table things get thrown out constantly that are like, “What?” That’s real life. I don’t think people sit down and say, “Well, tell me about your day?” This is talk about peas and carrots, and dogs peeing, and just chaos. If you have young kids, really that’s your life!

michelleandLaura.jpgMICHAEL:

Brad got nominated for a Daytime Emmy for “B&B”, for Outstanding Drama Series.

LAURALEE:

He is amazing, and how he juggles four kids, a great wife and all of this, I have no idea. But I just hope this is his year that would be a dad’s dream come true. My dad could never believe we all were getting into the family business. He wanted it, if we were qualified. He was tough. I remember the first time he felt I really gave it to Phyllis on “Y&R”. He would come up to me and go; “You really gave it to her today. Michelle Stafford (Phyllis) did her thing, and you really gave it back!” That was such a great day for me. He was tough with Brad. He would be very proud and so would my mom. Brad in his own right, is a great boss, approachable, likeable, and fair. I don’t understand any other way to be, honestly.

MICHAEL:

What would you like to see happen with this project?

lauraLeeCute.jpgLAURALEE:

I just want the opportunity to have all that swells around in this brain to come out. When I was holding the slate for “Family Dinner” and it said “Director”,
I looked down and went, “How did this happen?”

MICHAEL:

In closing, if you were to tell people why they should watch “Family Dinner”, what would you say?

LAURALEE:

I would say, “Make sure you watch “Family Dinner” because there are great things to smile about in the world right now, but sometimes you need an extra boost. Hopefully, in these three minutes
it will put one on your face.”

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