Most days, Hyde Park resident Kate Collins plays the role of mom to her two sons, ages 17 and 14. But every once in a while—like earlier this summer—she reprises a very different role on All My Children, the ABC daytime drama that concludes its 41-year-run Friday 23. For seven years starting in 1985, Collins starred as the beautiful vixen Natalie and, later, as her hilariously psycho sister Janet. In 1992, she left the soap and married Charles Newell, whom she’d known since junior high. They moved to Chicago in ’93 when Newell became artistic director at Court Theatre, a title he still holds. Although Collins has performed at the Court and also at Goodman Theatre, she’s chosen to focus most of her time on raising her children.
In light of ABC’s cancellation of the show fondly known to millions of viewers as All My Kids, we talked to Collins, who studied theater at Northwestern University. (We also interviewed her fellow NU alum, creator Agnes Nixon.) Collins phoned us from Idaho, where she was about to enjoy a white-water rafting adventure with her older son, to chat about her memories of the long-running soap—and the possibilities that it will be revived next year as an online-only entity by a new production company.
In the last few months of All My Children, the show has brought back many beloved characters for swan-song appearances. How did yours come about, Kate?
They had this idea about how a whole bunch of Pine Valley-ites end up in Oakhaven [the mental institution], and wouldn’t it be fun if Janet were there? I laughed. You know, they’re very nice and they’re very professional, so they call me and say, “Might you be available and interested?” and I almost dropped the phone. I said, “What do you mean, ‘Might I be available and interested?’ It’s going off the air; of course I’m available and interested! I will be there tomorrow if you want.”
What are some of your favorite memories from the show?
Recently? When we were shooting the scenes in Oakhaven with Susan Lucci [Erica Kane] and Jill Larson [Opal Cortlandt]. We all were there in the mid-’80s when I started.
Back then, the show was taped in a very different way. The rhythm of the day was different; it was more of a theater production. You rehearsed all day together; you got your notes together; you saw each other’s work. We were just reminiscing about it, how that process was so wonderful and communal. Those are some really great memories, when I would watch James Mitchell [Palmer Cortlandt] work on the set across from me, while I was trying desperately to tread water and keep up with David Canary [Adam Chandler], and Susan’s down the hallway over there and I can see her doing her scene. It was very exciting, very energetic.
Do you have any idea if the show will really be revived next year on the internet?
I’m very hopeful about the online format, depending on how it’s regulated. But if episodes are available whenever people want to watch them, I think it has the capacity, once again, to really serve as a connector between generations who embrace character-driven storytelling.
Would you return as Janet online?
Of course I would love to be a part of that and do Janet again. But mostly I want to continue having it as my entertainment, as it has been for 35 years. I’m a fan of the show. I watched the show before I ever got on it. It’s my show. I’ve been watching since the mid-’70s! That’s my real grieving process here: I’m losing my entertainment.