Colleen Zenk Pinter Discusses Life on ATWT
Colleen Zenk Pinter (CBS)
This year will mark Colleen Zenk Pinter’s 30th year on As the World Turns. It’s hard to believe she’s been causing trouble in Oakdale for that many years as Barbara Ryan, but at the same time, it’s hard to image the place without her. The actress recently received an Emmy pre-nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress and is currently involved in a storyline that is her most personal to date. With so much going on with Colleen, we felt it was the perfect time to catch up with her.
After I congratulated her on the pre-nom, Colleen downplayed it by stating it was too soon for congrats, but added, “I’ll take it anyway!” Noting that the material she’s been given to play this year is stronger that what she had in 2007, she told me she was grateful for ATWT producer, Vivian Gundaker’s input on selecting scenes to submit for Emmy consideration. “I just said, ‘Ok you tell me’ and she gave me a list of shows to look at and I made my choice from there,” she recalled.
Once she reviewed her options, Zenk Pinter settled on scenes where Barbara was exposed for her role in the baby adoption debacle. As she explained, “There’s a real nice little through line to it. There’s comedy; it’s very sad; it’s, you know, you feel for Barbara and yet, you know she’s blown it again. So, they’re nice scenes; they’re fun.”
But that was last year. This year Colleen is using her personal life to help tell the next chapter in Barbara’s story. After successfully battling oral cancer herself, the actress and the producers wanted to incorporate her struggle into her onscreen persona’s life. While she wishes she had a little more air time, she is quite pleased with how they are handling Barbara’s battle thus far.
Since she has a first hand account of what it’s like to live with oral cancer, Colleen was able to add some input into how the storyline would be written. “It’s one of those rare, rare, rare occasions where because, yes I experienced this in real life and have a lot more expertise on the subject matter than the writers ever could, that when we first started talking about it, well before the strike, I sat down with them and told them point by point my entire story, you know down to the smallest, minute little detail.”
Colleen was quick to point out that while they are basing the story on her experience, the writers altered her account for dramatic affect. “What we talked about was telling it in a different way than what I experienced, because even though it was very dramatic to me, when I was going through it, it would not be dramatic as a story, as a way to tell a story to the viewing public,” she explained. For example, in Oakdale, Barbara waited to tell her family she had cancer, which has added to her torment. In real life, Colleen immediately turned to her family for support and mapped out a plan to fight her disease.
While she is cancer-free now, Colleen still deals with the after affects of her treatment on a daily basis, telling me, "I work on things every day. Still. Because my speech still up to this point changes daily. I mean, and throughout the day it can change depending on how much swelling I've had in the morning or even what I've eaten or what I've had to drink throughout the day." She doesn't know if that will ever change, as because everyone heals differently, the doctors can't tell her if she will ever completely recover from her treatment, which included having part of her tongue removed.
Thankfully Colleen is on the mend, but her character's battle is just beginning. Taking a step in the right direction, Barbara finally told her children about her disease last week, but must now deal with her son, Will and daughter-in-law, Gwen moving away with their adopted baby. When I asked how she felt about Jesse Soffer and Jennifer Landon's exit, Colleen responded, "I'm heartsick. I'm absolutely heartsick." She went on to share, "You know, they were like my own kids. In fact, both of them became very friendly with my own children and so they are like an extended part of my family and I miss them."
Jesse and Jennifer aren't the only ones to have left the fold as of late. With so many cast members leaving ATWT, including Grayson McCouch (Dusty), Scott Bryce (Craig) and Martha Byrne (Lily), Colleen let me know, "The dynamics at the studio changed a great deal... I think everyone is very heartsick about all the departures that we've had over the last couple of months and it's hard."
With thirty years under her belt and a strong storyline to play, it would seem Colleen's job is secure for the time being, but just how has she managed to play the same character for so many years, while still keeping it fresh and interesting? According to the veteran actress, the varied and wild antics of Barbara has been enough to keep things exciting, but she admits there was a time when she wasn't so thrilled with her alter ego. "I think the only time I ever was really bored with Barbara was...in the period of time after Doug Marland (former head writer) died and we had a [variety] of head writers one right after the other that would come in and just didn't know what to do, obviously with Oakdale, certainly not with Barbara. I went through a period about five or six years that I was just bored silly," she recalled. Since she had a couple of young children at home, her lagging storyline actually worked to her advantage, as she felt she would have been overwhelmed had she also been involved in a front burner storyline during that time.
As for her fondest memories of working on ATWT for the past three decades, Zenk Pinter's favorite times were when her husband Mark Pinter (ex-Brain McColl) was on the show, the early Hal/Tom/Margo/Barbara era and her storylines involving James Stenbeck and Gunnar St. Clair. She also shared her fondness for Barbara's wicked side, stating, "I loved Evil Babs! I know she got cartoony for awhile, but I actually loved her. I miss that."
As for her future on the show, Colleen is interested to see how the Paul/Sophie storyline will unfold and also mused, "Barbara needs a man. I'm not sure Barbara will ever get a man again, but Barbara needs one! I would like to have a man to work with."
I'd like to thank Colleen for our lovely chat and wish her good health, a juicy love interest and many more years of continued success on ATWT!