Before the first question is asked, Rena Sofer makes it plain she’s reluctant to sit through an interview. She’s been burned twice, she says, and was especially dismayed when facetious comments she made about being single in New York, appeared in print, and “made me look like I was desperate to meet somebody.” The trouble is, as Rena herself admits, “I’m a really open and honest person, and I love to talk.”
At twenty-one, Sofer possesses all the youthful, enthusiasm, and spunkiness of Rocky McKenzie Domecq, her character on LOVING. She has strong feelings about feminism (pro) and modeling (con), among other subjects, which she shares over a brunch of waffles, lemonade and strawberry shortcake near her West Side apartment. Her ice-blue eyes and thick dark brows and hair make a striking impression, as a talent agent agreed when she spotted Rena at fifteen in a Greenwich Village jeans shop.
“It’s such a silly story,” says Sofer now. “People always bring up the fact that I was ‘discovered,’ but it took six years of hard work, classes and auditions to get where I am now.” At the time, she says, she’d never given acting a thought, “I was a geeky-looking kid – my teeth were weird and my hair was never cut right. I always thought I was ugly.”
Yet when the opportunity presented itself, Rena welcomed a distraction from her unhappy routine at a conservative Jewish private school in suburban New Jersey. As the daughter of an Orthodox rabbi, she attended academic and religious classes every day until five in the afternoon.
“They told me I was stupid because I wasn’t as religious as some of the other kids,” she recalls of her teachers at the yeshiva. “I was a loner, and I’d argue when the principal said non-Jewish people would try and convert us. They were bringing up these kids in a close-minded way, and it drove me nuts.” Before her senior year, she was asked to leave, and ended up graduating with honors from a public school. Still, the scars run deep. “I’m very close to God and I pray every day, but I don’t go to temple. It makes me resent religion and feel guilty.”
Luckily for Rena, her father was supportive during her trials and tribulations at school. “When I cried over being kicked out, my father said, ‘Everything happens for a reason.’ He’s the best father anyone could have. I love him more than anyone else in the world.”
Rabbi Sofer raised Rena and her older brother, David, alone after his marriage ended when Rena was two. Her mother, who was then in her mid-twenties, eighteen years younger than her husband, gave up custody of her children to go back to school, a choice Rena says she always understood and supported.
“They made a serious, honest decision, in which he said, ‘I’ll take care of the kids,’ and she said, ‘I’m going to go to school and start a life.’ She knew she couldn’t support us. It was very hard on her of course. She was the outcast for ‘deserting’ her children, but she did what she had to do, and I’ll never hold it against her.”
Concerned about the effect of the divorce, Rena’s father put her in therapy as a child. She laughs when she recalls a typical exchange with her therapist: “He’d say, ‘I know you blame yourself for your parents divorce’ and I would say, ‘No, I don’t. The just can’t live together anymore because they are very different people.’ And he’d say, ‘But you really blames yourself for it.’ It’s weird, but I always understood it, even though I’d sometimes go through a ‘Does Mommy love me?’ stage.
Today, Sofer has a “wonderful” relationship with her mom, who lives in Boston and works as a developmental psychologist, part-time paralegal and teacher at the University of Massachusetts. Thanks to her influence, Rena is an outspoken feminist. “I hate society’s perception that women have to look like Christie Brinkley or Paulina in order to be considered beautiful,” she declares. “I look in the mirror sometimes and think I’m fat. Me! I’m not stick-thin, but I’m not fat! I’d never be a model because it’s just a matter of being a piece of meat for those photographers.”
Rena takes pride in having instilled some of her feminism in the character Rocky. “When I started on the show, they had me saying things that were so sexist, and I’d say, ‘I’m not going to do it.’ So many women watch the soaps, I wish there could be a woman on the show who is strong and successful and confident and not a bitch. They always write these strong, bitchy women and bring in a man to ‘tame’ them. Well, excuse me, but I don’t want to be tamed – I’m not an animal!’
Fearing her remarks may sound angry, Sofer quickly adds, “I don’t hate men. I love for a man to take me out for a beautiful dinner at a country inn or send me flowers. I’m an incredible romantic. I just see the injustice of what is happening to women and I will not support it. When women stop going after men who treat us like sh-t, like Andrew Dice Clay, and start saying no to our oppressors, then we’ll stop being oppressed.”
Rena laughs happily when asked about her current state of her own love life. “My boyfriend is a businessman. He’s very wonderful, and I hope I’m still with him when this article comes out,” she says. “It’s so nice to date someone who’s not an actor, though it’s hard for him to understand [some aspects of acting]. My boyfriend won’t watch me doing love scenes because he can’t understand how I can separate my feelings and not really be sexually attracted to the person. I tell him, ‘Honey, sometimes I’m doing a love scene with someone and I hate his guts!”
Rena’s feelings are apparently warmer for her current on-screen husband, Rick Telles (Rio). “Rick and I hit it off well when we met at his screen test,” she says. “I think our chemistry is good.” She pauses. “I really haven’t had a front-burner storyline since I started on the show.” Rena’s contract expires this month, and she’s clear about what she wants from LOVING. “It’s up to them to pick up my option for a third year, and I’d like to stay.”
Sofer had plenty of time to think about her career last summer during an all-female backpacking trip in the mountains above Santa Fe, New Mexico, a sojourn that included a forty-eight-hour solo fast. Her conclusion: “I don’t think that I’ve taken the job as seriously as I could have up to now. If you just spit out words and fly by the seat of your pants…..” She trails off. “I’m so lucky to have gotten this at such an early age. LOVING is a really good stepping-stone for me.”
When she does leave the show, Sofer figures she’ll make the trek to Los Angeles and try her hand at feature films. “Everyone always does,” she notes. “One of the silliest questions you can ask a soap actor is, ‘So what do you want to do after this?’ Any actor really wants to be in movies.
For now, though, Rena enjoys coming home to her apartment, reading and relaxing. “At first, I was so petrified of being alone with myself for twenty-four hours,” she remembers. “I’d go to friends’ houses or the movies, and then all of a sudden, loved being alone. My favorite times are sitting in my apartment, which looks just like me, with a pint of Häagen-Dazs chocolate-chip ice cream watching my favorite movie of all time, Mary Poppins. My dream would be to do a movie Technicolor or with Maureen O’Hara. I wouldn’t want to have been born in those time, but I love them”
Just The Facts:
Birthday: December 2
Birthplace: Arcadia, California
Hobbies: Traveling, reading, watching old Disney movies
Former hobby: Firewalking. “It’s a metaphor for having no limitations – if you can walk over hot colas and not get burned, what can’t you do? That’s a part of my life that’s over.”
Why She Doesn’t Regret Skipping College: “I don’t drink, so I would have been a complete bomb at college.”
December 11, 1990 issue of Soap Opera Digest