UP2LATELY: Martha Byrne Dishes on Her ‘Crisis’ Role, Her Dream Daytime Gig and Why Soap Fans (aka YOU) Are the Best Ever!
Former “As the World Turns” star Martha Byrne (ex-Lily Snyder; ex-Andrea Floyd, “General Hospital”) is making her debut on NBC’s drama series, “Crisis,” on Sunday, April 6, and it looks like she may be doing it with a literal bang! A teaser trailer featuring the actress wearing a suicide vest has already racked up over a million YouTube views, with the number growing every day. Soap Opera Network caught up with Byrne to get the scoop on her emotional “Crisis” arc, how it might be a game changer for her career, what she thinks of soap fans and more!
“It’s very intense,” the actress raves of NBC’s thrilling new series, which centers around the shocking ambush of a Washington D.C. school bus carrying some of the nation’s most important people’s children. “I’m using that word a lot, but it truly is. It makes your heart race, it really does. We were watching one of the episodes over lunch in Chicago, and you couldn’t take your eyes off the screen, it was so good. You really have to pay attention to the details of what’s happening and the clues in the show, which I really like. Any show that makes me think, especially in that genre, I’m hooked.”
Byrne plays the recurring role of Marie Wirth, the mother of one of the kidnapped children — and it’s a part she seriously vied to land. “As an actor, there are very few times that you audition for a role that you think, ‘This is something that I really think would be a great opportunity for me to showcase my ability,’” she explains. “Sometimes you’ll get auditions where you go, ‘Ok, that’ll be great, but it’s not going to change anything careerwise,’ or ‘It’s not going to give you opportunities to show your range or challenge your range as an actor,’ but this is one of those parts. It’s just one of those parts that everybody would want, because it’s so challenging.”
And because of that, waiting to hear if she’d landed the role was excrutiating! “Michael Park [ex-Jack Snyder, “ATWT”] read with me on tape for the audition, and working with Michael, I have a comfort level there that was huge. So I put myself on tape, Michael read with me, and I trusted him as far as like what I should forward to casting… and when I finally heard back, I was so relieved, because the stress of waiting was so difficult!” she says. “It’s a great part, and it’s really wonderful to play this kind of emotional arc on the show.”
So what exactly can fans expect from the actress’ new alter ego? “She’s a very strong woman, she’s in politics, and her husband is also in politics, but she wears the pants in the family for sure, which is pretty much established in the first scene,” she explains. “ Obviously, she’ll do anything for her child. She runs the ship, she runs the entire task that has been given to her and to her husband, to save her daughter’s life, so there’s kind of tunnel vision for her as a character to have hope that this will work out in the end. Unfortunately, there comes a point where she realizes there’s one option that will cost her her own life, which you see in the commercial, where she’s going to possibly blow herself up. And making that choice to do that, and how that all comes together, is actually really interesting, and the twists and the turns as to how Marie ends up with the vest on, I love.”
In fact, Byrne is pretty much in love with every aspect of the show, from the way its written, to the cast, which includes Gillian Anderson (“The X-Files”), Dermot Mulroney (“August: Osage County”), Lance Gross (“House of Payne”) and Rachel Taylor (“666 Park Avenue”). “Something I really loved about the script is that it’s not predictable, it’s not obvious, and it’s not cookie cutter in any way,” she says. “There’s an emotional arc for my character, there’s a journey for the character, and you actually get to see her make decisions on the spot with incredible strength, so it’s a really wonderful role to play. You don’t get that opportunity very much, where you get to see the arc of a character as a guest. So to have that much responsibility is a huge pressure, but I welcome that kind of pressure. I enjoy it. I love a challenge, and I took a lot of risks, which I hope comes across on the screen.”
Byrne hasn’t worked with Anderson or Mulroney yet, but she did share scenes with both Taylor and Gross. “They are incredibly kind and supportive,” she enthuses. “I was working with Rachel in a scene where I had 90% of the dialogue, and they did my side of the scene first. It’s incredibly emotional stuff, and we turn around to do Rachel’s side of the scenes, and we hear saws because they’re building a set in the other studio! And it’s really loud, so we have to keep cutting over and over again, and she was so amazing. She was like, ‘Ok, let’s keep going, let’s keep going,’ and then, when we were done, she came up to me and was like, ‘I am so glad that that happened on my side and not yours. I’m so glad that you could focus on your work and not have to worry about what was going on on the other side of the walls.’ And she didn’t have to say that or come up to me and say anything, but she was just so complimentary and gave me 100%.
“And Lance was the same way,” she continues. “Lance was in a scene with the suicide vest, and that scene probably took about nine hours to tape from beginning to end, maybe longer. And Lance, even when taping my side, was right next to the camera giving me every ounce of character and intensity, and you’re not even seeing him onscreen! He’s just there to support my side, and in every single take, he was right there emotionally, physically, and just a sweetheart. They’re both incredibly sweet, and I want them to have a successful show, because again, they’re really good on camera together and they’re incredibly nice people. I just enjoyed them so much. And when I would come back, it was with open arms, like, ‘Oh, we’re so glad you’re here! We missed you!’ Just so nice. It was a pleasure.”
For soap fans hoping to see a bit of Lily in the role, the actress says you’re in luck! “Lily was always one to literally jump on a grenade if necessary,” she says with a laugh. “This character is definitely a heroin cut from the same cloth, doing anything for her children, and obviously, Lily did so many things for her children to save them. She put herself at risk many times to save her children. And I think that’s a similarity. The difference is… Marie is extremely strong, and I don’t see any weakness as far as her vulnerability. Lily was always vulnerable all the time. Lily was always upset about something or crying about something and always sad and in trouble. And this woman, there’s no time to reflect. Once this character has time, if ever, to reflect and break down, it will be a mess. But it’s all action right now. In fact, it’s a sustained adrenaline as far as the character goes, throughout the entire story arc. It’s constantly on 10. There’s no downtime with this kind of show. So you can’t relax at any point. You really have to always have it on and be on top of your game.”
As for soap operas, Byrne has been pretty vocal about her openness to return to the genre once more, if given the chance. “I would absolutely do it in a second,” she enthuses. “I love daytime. It’s a great environment. It’ll never be the same, what it was, for me. And it never can be. Like what Kim Zimmer [ex-Reva Shayne, “Guiding Light”] said, you can never repeat that. It’s unprecedented, the amount of hours and years you spent with that family. But going on a set where the arms are open to you, like with ‘Crisis,’ where you’re hanging out in the hair and makeup room, it’s so familiar. I mean, from the time I was 10, I was a part of that environment, so that to me is normal. So when it’s not there, that’s a bigger adjustment for me. It’s a bigger void. And I loved working on ‘General Hospital,’ even for a brief time, because everyone was so kind. It wasn’t the same, but it was familiar. And I’m very big on familiar.”
In fact, if she were to ever head back to daytime, she thinks it would be important that the character be just that: Familiar. “I love that word, and I think it’s important for daytime audiences, that they feel comfort,” she explains. “So I feel that my dream role would have to be a role that has some of the qualities of the Lily character, for people to identify me as that character. I’m not saying it has to be Lily, but I feel like that it would have to have that much depth as far as the layers of her personality and emotional range go. I think it would have to be something similar in order for the audience to go, ‘I know they’re not calling her Lily, but it feels like part of my comfort zone is back.’ I feel like that would be important. But the fans are wonderful. They’re so accepting, and they’re just so happy to see you. You can’t beat the daytime fans; they’re just amazing.
“I get the most support from the daytime community,” she continues. “I’m always humbled by their support, and I’m not unaware that I would have nothing as far as my career and my life without the fans’ support… so I just want them to know that I’m thankful for it. I’m thankful for all of the years that they’ve given me, and I’m so thrilled, even if it’s brief, that I’ll be on a show that they can support. I’m very humbled by it. And it doesn’t go away! I’ll put up a picture on my Facebook page of say, Elizabeth Hubbard [ex-Lucinda Walsh, “ATWT”] from 15 years ago, and I’ll get more hits on that picture than anything else that I put up. It’s really wonderful that that is timeless.”
Tune into NBC’s “Crisis” on Sunday, April 6 at 10/9C to catch Byrne’s series debut.