Some like it hot, not homogenized. As her Daytime Emmy nomination for best supporting actress suggests, Rena Sofer is challenging the idea of a soap heroine, which too often is little more than a professional anorexic with the emotional depth of a Barbie doll.
As Lois Cerullo on “General Hospital,” Sofer has latched onto more substantial dimensions: picture Scarlett O’Hara transplanted to Port Charles with a Brooklyn accent, French manicure, and an encyclopedic knowledge of rock ‘n’ roll.
Whether she wins or loses come May, “GH” fans always will have Lois. In a storyline straight out of a ’30s screwball comedy, Lois is up-she falls in love with and marries Eddie the rock star (played by her real-life boyfriend Wally Kurth whom Sofer met on the set). Then she’s down when Eddie turns out to also be Ned, a rich business guy who happens to have another wife.
When the awful truth comes out, belly laughs turn to crocodile tears, and Lois got steamed.
“Lois is basically a good girl,” explains Sofer, “but she doesn’t get stepped on. That’s her saving grace. I am mostly trying to get away from the stereotype of the soap heroine, where there’s a good girl, a bad girl, a bitch, a virgin, a good guy, a bad guy.
“There are not a lot of characters who get to be rounded out. I’ve made Lois a lot quirkier than she was written and I was encouraged to do that.”
The foundation for the Lois character, Sofer says, was a slim description from writers: “Someone from Brooklyn with long fingernails. There were so many ways to take her, which for me was thrilling. I’m a character actress. It doesn’t mean I can’t do leading roles; I don’t think of myself as a leading lady.
“There are many actors who, whatever they do, they pretty much play themselves,” Sofer continues. “As much as I love Lois, I don’t dress that way, don’t have those fingernails, I have a different style of walking and talking.”
Sofer, 29, was born in Los Angeles. After her parents divorced, she moved with her father and older brother to the East Coast. She was discovered by an agent and asked to model at 15.
“I never thought I was beautiful,” she says. “My father said, `Would you like to get into it?’ I said `Oh. OK.”‘
Modeling led to acting, but Sofer insists she had no burning ambition to be in the limelight.
The actress appeared on New York-based “Loving” for what she says were three “boring” years. Then she drove to L.A. and was cast as a French-speaking Hasidic Jew in Sidney Lumet’s film “A Stranger Among Us.”
Sofer joined the revived edition of “GH” in 1993 and was encouraged to give input on her character by producer Wendy Riche and headwriter Claire Labine.
Sofer could follow in the footsteps of “GH” alum Demi Moore and become the next big breakout artist from the daytime community, but for now she says she’s content with her current status-she has more than a year left on her “GH” contract.
“The cast here is incredibly unique. We’re all trying to get away from the stereotypes; we’re not restricted at all. Lois can go as far as I can take (her).”
While her free-wheeling character seems to be an open book, Sofer herself comes off in conversation as a private, case-closed interview subject. “There are some things that shouldn’t be talked about. I get asked questions like `How do you work?’ It’s nobody’s business. Don’t ask me how I do it because it’s mine. I can’t explain it. It’s a very internal thing,” she says, then adds affectionately, “With Lois, I don’t take her lightly at all. She’s very much a part of me. I never thought I’d love her this way. I never thought I’d have so much fun.”
By Marla Hart
April 13, 1995