Secret rooms, long-lost daughters, murder mysteries and people on the down-low; sounds like a recipe for a soap opera to me! The aforementioned dramas are just a few of the scandalous goings-on which make up the world of Brian Hewson and Gregory Turner’s campy, fun web soap opera Empire, which premieres its third season on Nov. 9
I recently caught up with Turner for Daytime Confidential to dish about how Empire came to be, what separates it from other online webisoaps and what’s in store for the upcoming season. Turner dished about how he managed to snag Guiding Light alums Tina Sloan (Theodora) and Orlagh Cassidy (Colleen) for plum parts in his web sudser, as well as what fans can expect from the arrivals of One Life to Live alum Nicholas Rodriguez (Landon) and As The World Turns’ Yvonne Perry (Valerie). He also gives us a sneak peek at what’s in store for those dysfunctional Havens!
Daytime Confidential: How did Empire come about?
Greg Turner: Brian and I were friends from NYU and we were roommates after college. We both wanted to break into soaps, specifically as writers, but that started to look less and less likely, especially in New York. One day my boyfriend told us that we have the ability to do our own soap for the web and he encouraged us to do that. So we just started writing.
Originally the Havens were a family of chemists. Brian changed that and we came up with the tabloid angle. We wrote the whole first season with the fight in the study and the disappearance of Sandra and Cubbie Haven causing the Haven brothers to reunite and when we were done writing the episodes we held a casting.
When we found our cast, we said, “Oh wow, now there are more people involved so we can't back out,’ which was great because at that time we were going to definitely produce this show. Of course we had no idea what went into it, or at least we couldn't have known everything when starting out. Thankfully we got that first season up and kept moving after that. You can tell if you watch every episode that we learned a lot from shooting season one.
DC: How does your show differ from the other web series out there?
GT: When we first started filming Empire, we had no idea that there were, or would be, other web soap operas. This was before Venice and Gotham and other shows, and the ones that existed we didn't know about at the time. When we heard Crystal Chappell and Martha Byrne were starting web soaps, we were really excited, because legitimate daytime faces—heroes of ours—were doing what we were doing.
It is great to think we are in this sort of community now as our show grows and new shows come along. I like to think that Empire has a focus on story and character. We use our time wisely. We don't have long episodes, but we try to get everything in, move the story along at a good pace and we tend to be cliffhanger-based. I really think that that's something that daytime has lost, with the culture of spoilers and everything. There really isn't the Friday Cliffhanger that there was when I was growing up. When I do see a good cliffhanger on a soap nowadays, they usually immediately undercut it by showing us a clip from the next episode.
It's been really hard for Brian and I and our cast to keep our lips sealed on some stories that we are really excited about, but I know that makes it so much more fun to see when you aren't expecting what's around the bend.
DC: Some fans are confused as to whether Empire is a soap or a spoof of a soap? Which is it?
GT: We definitely think of Empire as a soap. We embrace our share of camp. We like it a little over-the-top. I don't think we're comparable to Passions, but I will say, that I found myself thinking the other day, if I were an actor on a soap and met someone randomly at a casino in Vegas who said, "you look familiar, how do I know you?" I would rather be able to say "I'm the soap with the talking doll, the chimp-nurse, the half-man/half-woman and the 300-year-old witch" than "I'm on the soap with the love triangle and the betrayal and the money thing and something to do with a company takeover that no one really understands." Because when I say that, it could be literally any show, they get vague and they bleed into each other and tell the same stories that everyone else tells. That said, Empire will have love triangles and betrayals and lots of hostile takeovers—hopefully ones that you will understand—and Empire probably won't have a talking doll or a chimp-nurse or a 300-year-old-witch. But we can tell the classic stories in a way that makes them exciting and noteworthy. Sometimes that will seem over-the-top and campy, but we are going for something unique, for new twists in an old, familiar genre that we love to death. I'm hopeful that people who watch will recognize us as a soap and not a spoof. Also, if Brian and I ever do write a soap spoof, it will be non-stop hilarity.
DC: Guiding Light alum Tina Sloan's character Theodora pulled a major power move on The Haven clan on Empire last season. What else does she have in stored for them in the upcoming season?
GT: Theodora is a delicious character! I just love her and I just love how Tina plays her. Theodora came in last season guns blazing. She really just doesn't let up. Every move she makes is focused on her endgame. She's smart and the people around her, even the people on her side, have no idea what her plan is, but you'd best believe she has one. She learned her dead husband fathered two kids (and tried for a third) with her sister-in-law. Yes it was 20 plus years ago, and yes he's dead now and the kids are grown men, but she's still mad as hell and wants revenge. She's patient and precise in how she goes about getting that revenge.
DC: How did you get Sloan to sign onto Empire?
GT: A friend of ours, David Brandon, was a producer on Guiding Light. When they went off the air we called him up and asked if he'd like to help us out with our second season. He was more than happy to help us, which was really awesome. We had a table read thru with our whole cast together in one room reading all of season two and David was there to listen. Brian and I had created two new characters, Theodora Haven and Colleen Lively. We hadn't found actresses to play Theodora and Colleen yet so Brian and I read those parts at the table read... and of course they are so delightfully bitchy that we loved reading them, but we weren't going to play them on the show, even though as people have told me, it worked for Tyler Perry! After the read, David said, "I'm calling Tina Sloan and Orlagh Cassidy for you. They would be phenomenal in these parts." And thank goodness Tina and Orlagh loved David enough to consider it and they liked the script and they signed on. Now I can't really imagine who else could have played either role.
DC: Nicholas Rodriguez will be appearing in Empire this season. Can you give us some details on what’s in store for his character?
GT: Nicholas is a very cool and amazingly-talented man. We loved the whole Kish story on One Life to Live that he was involved in and we're so happy to have him joining us on Empire. He'll be introduced slowly, so I don't want anyone getting mad at me saying they were promised more Nicholas Rodriguez. We are writing a long-term story for his character, Landon. He just came aboard recently as we are finishing up filming our third season so we snuck him in briefly for the third season, but most of his story will really get fired up in season four.
DC: What else can we expect to see this season with Empire and those crazy Havens?
GT: Okay, so now here's where you want spoilers! Well, what can I divulge? Well our little teaser scene that we put out shows Cubbie (Richard Flight) discovering the empty secret room, where Sandra (Kathryn Neville Browne) was holding his daughter hostage, so I can say that she gets out and he finds out, which is sure to launch a lot of drama. Cane (Ryan Clardy) is fully in detective mode trying to solve Alex's (Fabio Taliercio) murder. Thomas (Chris Douros) is out of prison so that spells trouble for Evan (Nick Lewis) and Marin (Kate Forsatz). Lucy (Afton Boggiano) and Jake (Toby Levin) have to deal with the aftermath of their one night together, which is going to be huge. Meanwhile, Colleen ( Orlagh Cassidy) has to deal with Lucy, which is never easy, and she has her friend Valerie come in for backup. Valerie will be played Yvonne Perry from As The World Turns and I know you guys will love Valerie and Colleen and their shenanigans as much as you love the crazy Havens. And the first scene of the season is a funeral. But I'm not telling you whose!