When Melissa Archer was a kid growing up in Plano, her favorite soap opera was The Young & the Restless. Her mother, on the other hand, was partial to One Life To Live.
No slam against Y&R, but maybe Mom knew best all along. Perhaps she had some kind of prescient feeling about her daughter’s future.
Because the TV show that ultimately turned out to be Melissa’s breakthrough as an actress was none other than One Life To Live in July 2001. Archer is the fiery redhead who plays Natalie Buchanan.
Her history with the soap, Archer says, has been one remarkable experience after another.
“I don’t think I could be more blessed,” she says. “It’s still exciting to be on this show and to play this great character.”
Monday marks the 45th anniversary of One Life To Live. It’s one of the all-time classics — not only in terms of daytime TV, but of any television genre — and it’s currently enjoying new life on the Internet.
ABC devastated legions of viewers when it canceled the show, its farewell episode airing on Jan. 13, 2012, but One Life To Live made a triumphant comeback online 15 months later on April 29, 2013.
The show is currently available on Hulu, Hulu Plus and iTunes.
“It’s been an interesting transition,” Archer says of the show’s Lazarus act, one that proves the title is inaccurate, because this show has had two lives to live. “I always thought, ‘What a smart idea, because the Internet is how so many people are watching television these days.’
“Once it started happening, I kept up with the popularity of the show on Hulu and on iTunes and it’s been crazy successful. We’re doing really, really well. We’ve got a lot of new viewers, which is great, as well as a lot of the fans from before who are still watching, which is awesome.
“So it’s been a really exciting journey and I’m glad to be part of this new groundbreaking experience for soaps.”
Meanwhile, Tuesday marks a different anniversary: 12 years since Archer’s first episode aired on July 16, 2001.
Back then she was Natalie Balsam. But before long, she shook up Llanview’s most prominent family by revealing she was Victoria Buchanan’s daughter.
“What I like about playing Natalie is that she can be so unpredictable,” says Archer, 33. “You can kind of go any direction with her. She started off bad, then she became good and even now you can find a way to do a little of both with her.
“You never know when she’s going to snap and revert to her old ways and you never know what might trigger it. That’s fun.”
Given that Natalie turned out to be someone other than who she originally seemed to be, it’s fitting that Archer originally auditioned for the role of Jennifer Rappaport (which went instead to Jessica Morris).
“I auditioned for Jen and then shortly thereafter I got called in for this other role,” Archer remembers. “I think her name was Anna. Then, when I did the screen test, it was changed to Valerie. By the time I booked the job, her name was Natalie.”
Erica Slezak, who has played the iconic Victoria since 1971, has only good things to say about her TV daughter.
“I adore that girl,” Slezak says. “She is not only an extremely fine actress, but she is also a delightful human being. I always say she lives on another planet, but thankfully she deigns to come and visit us on ours.
“She is able to create a reality about her character that very few people have. It’s so completely truthful. You never see her acting, which is wonderful. She has an energy and a sweetness about her that is extraordinary, which is to her credit that she can play this character, who in the beginning was certainly not very nice.
“It took me a couple of weeks to absolutely adore her, because in the beginning I thought, ‘Whoa, where’s all this energy coming from?’ But I absolutely love her and I am so proud of everything she has done.”
Adds co-star Kassie DePaiva, a 20-year One Life To Live veteran who plays Blair Cramer: “I think Melissa has grown so much. She joined the cast as a girl and she has evolved into a stunning woman. She really knows who she is now and it’s nice to see her evolve personally as well as professionally.”
Texan at heart
Melissa Archer was born in Dallas. She’s a Plano East High School grad. Her original ambition in life was to become a dancer.
“But I realized by the time I started going through puberty and developing that I was not going to be a ballerina,” she says. “Once I realized that, I thought, ‘OK, what can I do for a career?’ At about that time, a friend had gotten me to do a play [ A Country Christmas Carol, staged at KD Studio in Dallas].
“I remember going to my mom that night and saying, ‘Mom, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.’ When she looked at me funny, I said, ‘I’m serious. It’s all I want to do.’
“And that’s what we did. We found ways to get involved and to take classes and to connect with all the right people and then I finally came out to L.A and got somewhere.”
Archer moved to New York after she landed the role on One Life To Live. Yet she still sees herself as a dyed-in-the-wool Texan.
“My family is all still there, so I definitely come back whenever I can,” she says. “I love Texas. I’m often like, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could combine all the great things in California and New York and put them in Texas?’”
Besides her family, the thing she misses most about Texas is the food.
“You can’t get a better steak anywhere else,” she says. “You can’t get better Tex-Mex. That’s one of my favorites. Don’t get my wrong. Mexican food in California can be pretty amazing as well. But no one makes chile con queso the way Texans make chile con queso.”
As for One Life To Live on the Internet, she couldn’t be happier about the way everything has turned out.
“Once I knew what they were planning, I was definitely on board,” she says. “And it’s not just about being on the Internet. It’s about making the show available for people in as many ways as possible. We’re even coming back to TV, with 40 of our episodes going on the Oprah Network.”
Beginning Monday, OWN will air 10 weeks of the revived One Live To Live Monday through Thursday. All My Children, which also thrives now online, will also air on OWN.
Archer has embraced TV on the Web for quite some time.
“I’m a Hulu kind of girl,” she says. “In fact, for the past year, I haven’t had cable at all. I have an Internet-capable TV, so I have the Hulu app on the TV and I love watching that way. Now I can watch whenever I want. It’s so much easier.
“I think more and more people are finding it’s not as difficult as they thought it would be. It’s exciting that our show has embraced that technology.”