Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.
Another life to live. TV viewers know actress Patricia Mauceri best for the 14 years she spend playing diner owner/widowed mother Carlotta Vega on the ABC soap One Life to Live. While her successful career had led her to numerous others roles, including appearances on Law & Order and The Sopranos on television and Saving Grace and Die Hard with a Vengeance at the movies, it is Carlotta with whom she most identifies and is most identified with.
In March of 2009, Patricia Mauceri was fired from One Life to Live over a dispute with the producers over a scene in which her character — a rosary-praying Catholic — would give full-throated endorsement to the gay lifestyle. Mauceri felt the scene not only violated her personal beliefs but was also completely inconsistent with the character she had spent nearly a decade and a half developing on screen. The issue sparked a media firestorm. (Note: an earlier post of this paragraph used the term “gay marriage” instead of “gay lifestyle” but when I went back and read the interview I realized the word marriage wasn’t actually used. So, in the interest of accuracy, I made the change.)
Following her ouster from the show, Mauceri found herself branded a “hater” by some of those who, ironically, presented themselves as standing against judgmentalism. She recently shared her story with me.
JWK: Were you raised a Christian?
PATRICIA MAUCERI: I had a very marginal understanding of what faith in God was growing up because, although I went to a Catholic school, without having parents who really were actively involved in faith there was no reinforcement of it. So, as a result of that I guess I just kind of thought that God was somebody that you put in a box and you put Him on a shelf and you called on him when you had crises. Prayer was a good thing and there were rules and regulations . Actually, in grammar school, I went to eight o’clock mass pretty much like four days a week.
JWK: What school did you go to?
PM: Blessed Sacrament in Brooklyn. The nuns were very loving and gentle. If I could look back at the seeds of faith, they were planted back then. I remember in my early teenage years — when, naturally, we become more rebellious, prideful, self-directed and self-willed — I had this nun, Sister Mary Martinella, I’ll never forget her — only because of one thing that she said that stuck in my spirit. And it was a rebuke. I didn’t really understand it fully then but I felt the (impact) of it. I was dating boys in junior high school — you know, starting to think of myself in a certain way. She saw me change from a sweet, innocent 12, 13 year old…She (called) me into her office one day and she and she very gently looked in my face and took hold of one of my hands. She said “Patricia, you’re becoming common.” And those words pierced me. I really didn’t understand fully what that meant but it was something that has reverberated all through my life. And that was, I think, God setting the foundation. You know, “I created you for a purpose and you’re not to become what the world wants you to become.”
It wasn’t until many, many years later that I developed a personal relationship with Christ…Being on Broadway (and) television, people asking for your autograph, having financial security from doing the profession that you love that so many people can’t earn a living from — it’s really a very small percentage that have that privilege — all that was taken away from me in a certain way. When my marriage fell apart I started reevaluating my life and I started to call on the Lord.
JWK: You were a very successful actress. You were on a very successful soap opera, you had roles in movies and on prime-time television. Everything was going great for you.
PM: I did regional theater. I was doing big roles and, yeah, everything was going great. In the midst of all that, I guess I had already become common in the sense that I became formed into what the world wanted me to be. My desires and my goals were (identified) by the world — the things that would make me (successful) in the sight of the world and would give me a status that I thought was security…I got on the TV show at 40 and that is something very rare. So, I know that God gave me that role (on) One Life to Live — the role of Carlotta, the role of a mom. I was playing more moms. I started my career off replacing Rita Moreno in a Broadway show. I mean, can you imagine?
JWK: What role was that?
PM: It was the role of Staff Nurse Norton in a play called The National Health. It was playing at the Circle in Square, right up the street from the Times Square Church. So, at one end of 51st Street at 8th Avenue was the Circle in the Square and then there was the Winter Garden Theatre another Broadway theater at 51st and Broadway where I performed Othello and Times Square Church in between — where I belonged and would ultimately land. I didn’t know that then.
You know, you get typecast. You have to find a niche in this business. So, the roles that I got cast in were the Latina or the Italian spitfires. The woman with a passion and the woman who didn’t want to listen to anyone, did everything her own way, very self-willed — just the exact character that Sister Martinella was identifying when she warned me that day in her office all those years before.
As I got older, the role that I ended up (playing) on One Life to Live was a mother because, by then, I had a stable marriage — so I thought — and a beautiful son and mother roles became what I was doing well. I was still the Latina mom who very much related to people who love family. All those traditional values (were) coming back into my life.
JWK: What did your husband do?
PM: My husband was a New York City police captain.
JWK: What happened when you broke up?
PM: That created a crisis…in every circumstance because a family gets blown apart. We all know what that does to a child. We all know what that does to a woman’s identity. But, at the same time, it caused me to start to reevaluate all those things weren’t able to stay intact — all the people’s attention, all the success, the financial security. It didn’t have any value. It couldn’t build a foundation that was solid. There was no foundation there. Everything was shaken.
Little by little, I started turning back and asked myself “Well, where is security? Who am I really and who am I supposed to be if I am to be a person who is going to feel secure?” It was one thing to present this persona to the public. I continued on the show but I believe out of that experience (my portrayal of the character) really deepened and the wisdom of the woman I portrayed shifted. Even the people on the show who I know (said as much). The producers said the demographic of the people watching, the market share, that Nielsen needle (all showed that) people really became engaged…in my character.
I gave my heart to Jesus. I accepted him as my Lord and Savior, started reading the Bible, started going to a church (and) started a relationship with Jesus. God sent me a woman who was an older woman — who wasn’t much older than me but she was older in the sense (of her relationship with) the Lord…She started guiding me. She was very much a model for my life and also a model for the role because she has a Latin background and was a mother who had great integrity. That’s what I wanted my role to portray. This was in the early years of portraying Carlotta. This was like in about year two and three. I was on the show for 14 years. So, those early years formulated the character. They (the producers and writers) did give me great latitude in being able to fashion the character. So, as my spiritual life was evolving the character was being affected or influenced.
JWK: So, your own spiritual growth was reflected in the character.
PM: It just naturally happened. They were exploring who this character was. It takes a couple of years for the character to really become fully fleshed out.
JWK: Was she portrayed as a Christian?
PM: She was portrayed as a Catholic woman — a marginally Catholic woman but a woman of faith. They would throw rosary beads (into the script) once in a while. You know, she’s in church, she’s praying the rosary or whatever. (Carlotta) was a very, strategically public character. All the people in town came through (her) diner and (she) had conversations with people. So (she) had opportunities to say “Well, I’ll pray for you.” (Other characters) would ask (Carlotta) for advice. So, she became the wise woman in town and I was able then to start using Scripture or biblical concepts when I advised people.
JWK: So, you’d consult with the writers and they’d let you do that?
PM: They’d just see the things that I’d say and then they would be influenced by it. I’d say “You don’t hate anyone. You just hate the sin but love the sinner.” Little by little, they’d pick up on that theme and that was who my character was becoming. That just became what came to mind as they continued to write her. So, we just mutually influenced each other. There were no formal meetings or anything like that. But the interesting thing was the character just took off…I had a very heavy storyline at one point where my son had disappeared. You know that goes to the heart of a mother (for whom) children are everything. Especially (Carlotta). She was a widow. So, this son had disappeared and there was this time of deep grief, deep pain in her life. She would be reading the Bible — Psalm 27, Psalm 23 — praying with somebody Psalm 91, whatever it was. And I’d be able (to do that) because my faith was real and…when I’d say it on camera they knew it and it became part of her.
JWK: How many children do you have in real life?
PM: I have one son in real life. (I also had) two sons on the show. Many times we’d get together at Christmas parties or whatever and they’d stand together and it was amazing because they looked all three like they could be brothers. It was amazing. That was just good casting on their part.
JWK: What was the name of the actor who played your son on the show?
PM: First we had Yorlin Madera, then David Fumero as my younger son Cristian and Kamar de los Reyes played Antonio, the older one, the real heartthrob, an Antonio Banderas type. De Los Reyes means “Of the King.” Kamar is Puerto Rican and David Fumero is Cuban. I have had the pleasure of going to both those young men’s weddings. They are both happily married. It really became like a true family over those years.
JWK: So, your character was very popular. Then they introduced a gay storyline in 2009.
PM: Yeah, and it wasn’t so much that they introduced a gay storyline. Before that happened…they started veering away from my character. In other words, my character was being minimized on the show. They were using her less and less. The oldest son had left the show for his own career reasons. While I still had my younger son, they were just using the character to promote storylines. I guess they wanted to promote a…gay storyline and they decided to use my character in a way that was a total 180 degree departure from what her strength and identity was. Her identity was rooted and grounded in her foundational faith, her belief in certain value systems. She had a strong relationship with her son because she was a mother who had boundaries. She would tell him the truth that she really knew in her heart would lead him in a good direction. And that’s what the strength of the character was.
I got the script of out of the blue that said I was going to make a joke — My character didn’t know it was a joke at the time — (and) say “Oh, I see this book you have (about) how to tell your parents you’re gay. Now, you’re gay.” He goes “No, it’s for someone else.” And she’s trying to convince him that he is gay and she loves him and that God created him that way. That was a complete departure. Everything the character — and my life — had been about — everything that was truthful would now be contradicted by what was coming out of my mouth.
JWK: Do you think they were minimizing your character out of discomfort with the Christianity that she espoused?
PM: It is very possible. I can never say that. I won’t know until I meet Jesus and ask him.
JWK: But you were definitely uncomfortable with the situation they put you and your character in.
PM: I was not only uncomfortable but I knew that it was going to be a betrayal of my character and my life.
JWK: If you could have written that scene, what words would you have had your character say?
PM: Great question! You know what?…I actually did rewrite the scene. I actually did exactly that because, before this whole thing came to a head, I wanted to be reasonable and to present what I thought, in that circumstance, would be the truth of the mother’s response…My character’s truthful response would have been “Are you confused about your identity? I understand if you have confusion and questions…Let’s talk about it. Let me pray for you. I won’t judge you. I will continue to love you no matter what direction your life takes.” But to…try to convince him that he was gay and that God created him that way. That would never come out of that mother’s mouth.
And then, further on in the script, they had another scene where his (female) roommate — who knew that it wasn’t his book, who knew that they bought it for a friend of theirs and she was playing this game…to try to force his mom to pressure him into saying that he was gay. The (roommate) said something like “Mrs. Vega, I’m so surprised that you’re supportive of your son being gay.” And her son chimes in “But I’m not gay!” And she’s like “Yeah, right”…And they had written for my character to say “Well, I know what my Bible says. I know what my church says. But I’m going to think for myself. I’ve taught my kids to think for themselves. I’m going to think for myself.” Which means, I’m going to depart from those values,
JWK: Did you suggest a change in that scene?
PM: Oh, yeah. I did an exchange on that as well. That was part of the three scenes that I had that day. And I said (my character) would never say that.
JWK: Did they show any willingness to negotiate this?
PM: The short answer is no but the way it went down is that I spoke to the producer. I said “Look, I’ve rewritten scenes before in the past” and he basically yelled at me and said “Do you think you know your character better than the writers?” Now, the new set of writers had only been there for a couple of years. I’d been there 14 years. I think I had every right to say “Yes, I do know my character better than the writers.” But I said “I’ve rewritten the script and the scenes. I’ve faxed it over to you.” He said “Well, I will take this to the network.” He presented the script to the network — or says he did — and he said he’d get back to me. He was quite angry — almost irate. Within 40 minutes or so he called me back and said “The scene stays as written.” That was the challenge — that either I do it or else.
JWK: What happened then?
PM: You know, in the power of the Holy Spirit, I didn’t even know how I would respond because I didn’t know what he was going to say when I picked up the phone and said “It stays as written.” I said “Thank you, very much for 14 years and this great opportunity. God bless you” and he said “Goodbye” and that was it. Then next thing I said after I hung up was “What did I say? What did I do?” It was the peace of God that just came upon me. I think God had been preparing me. As the characters presence on the show was diminishing, I think The Lord was kind of preparing me…We try to hold onto things that are good at a certain point in our life but there comes a point when they are no longer what God wills for us. It’s time for God to move us to maybe a deeper place in our spiritual walk or use us in a different way. I think God definitely did that. What happened was, once I got my bearings and called my closest friends, panic came and then the peace came to override that — a supernatural peace.
JWK: So how did they handle your sudden disappearance on the show?
PM: I called the actor who played my son. It was no less than maybe 12 to 15 minutes after the conversation with the producer. When I called him, I said “David, I have news for you.” He said “Oh, yes, I know.” And I said “I will not be in rehearsal tomorrow morning at 7:00 AM to do our scene.” And he said “Oh, I know.” Then I heard him — the second time he said it. I said “You know?!” He said “Yes, they called me. So-and-so will be playing the role tomorrow.”…That means they had someone all ready (when I spoke with the producer earlier). So, in a sense, it may have been a set-up. Certainly, at the very minimum, they knew that there was a very good possibility — knowing who I am and how I played this character….I poured my heart into that character truthfully. So, they had another actress playing her. They were already prepared.
JWK: What happened after you left the show?
PM: I didn’t realize all the repercussions that would come. I got the bad press and the blogging and the email threats because people really didn’t understand. They thought I was anti-gay. That’s not true at all. My spiritual mom has a gay son. Even he was telling his friends “No, that’s not true. She’s so accepting of me.” That doesn’t mean I accept his lifestyle. It means I accept him as a human person and as a creation of God and a person of value.
JWK: It seems to me that the producers and writers lost the opportunity to get across the message that people and still love and care about each other even when they profoundly disagree on some basic issues. After all, isn’t that what tolerance really is? It’s loving, respecting and caring about someone with whom you disagree. It’s not everyone thinking exactly the same about everything.
PM: Exactly. What you just said is the quintessential explanation of what I was going for. We don’t know (but) that could’ve been single-handedly one of the things that kept that could have kept that show on the air because a year and a half later it went off the air.
JWK: Is it online now?
PM: It went online for a short time and then Oprah picked it up and it was on OWN for a little bit and then there are so many lawsuits right now and there’s such turmoil around it that I think it’s pretty much dead. And, you know, all those actors losing jobs, it didn’t have to happen. The executive producer — I think he’s out in LA — is the only one still working on the show. All those actors and all those families needed those incomes. Actors are always the pawns. They’re the last ones in the food chain.
JWK: I think your story is really emblematic of the way network television is right now. They don’t tell stories anymore about people learning to understand and live with each other even if they think differently. It seems that the message is that everyone must think alike.
PM: Exactly. They want a homogenized world view and, at the end of the day, they cut their nose to spite their face. The shows fall away. They’re just trying to influence the culture in a way that makes everyone have to conform to one way of thinking — which is why I feel like God has moved me into a different way of doing things because that’s the second half of the story…
…I teach basic on-camera acting class called Acting 101…In my classroom, the students get every ounce of encouragement and craft and anything I’m able to give them to make them, from the time they walk in there, feel that they’re valued and that the excellence of their craft is going to increase by the time they walk out…I have some more experienced students and I have some less experienced students in the same classroom. (We have some rules). We don’t take the name of The Lord in vain. We don’t use foul language when we mess up on camera…There’s a climate of safety…They feel very protected. They feel like in my classroom that they’re not going to be embarrassed. There are so many acting teachers out there — and I hear this from the students because I wasn’t aware of it — who kind of berate the students, who embarrass them, who mock them, who tell them they’re bad and who present very sexual material all the time. It’s very hard to find good and wholesome, edifying and challenging writing for the students to perform. In my classroom I strive to do that as best as I can. Of course, I’m not preaching the Gospel there. I’m there teaching them the craft. The experience I had all those 40 years of working on Broadway and working on television, I bring it to them and I let them kind of drain me dry but they all feel at the end of the class that they are getting so much out of it. The students grow in my classroom because they feel safe. They don’t feel like they’re going to be yelled at. They don’t feel like they’re going to be embarrassed…and (because of that) they work harder for me. Believe me, they want to grow in their craft and show that they’re putting in their best effort. If they drop a line or if they come in unprepared or they had a bad week, I’m like “Okay, you’re a human being first. You don’t have to come in this class and prove yourself.” I’ve heard (of teachers) that actually say (things like) “Get off the stage! Your work is not even worthy to be seen tonight! You’re wasting our time!” A lot of teachers don’t want to work with less experienced students because they have no patience for them.
JWK: What else are you involved in?
PM: I had known David Ham and Marco Santiago from having met and worked with them on The Cross and the Switchblade which we worked on together at Times Square Church. It was a wonderful experience where God used the vision of Pastor Dave (Wilkerson) to continue to reach souls for this young generation. It (became) something I never expected it to become — nor did they.
PM: Out of that, we realized that there’s a great need in many churches to use the power of the media…There are a lot of different ways to preach. You can preach by praising. You can preach by preaching sermons. You can preach by just giving someone food when they’re hungry. There are people who will never darken a church door but they will come to see a play. When you hit the things that are relevant to the next generation, — it’s a way for young people to feel like “Somebody understands me. Church is not irrelevant. I feel that my hurts are being addressed. Things that I am concerned about are being talked about.”…So, we joined together as Trace Life Media to be a directing/producing team to be able to assist…churches in the production of a play in their own community or to bring a fully-produced productions– something that will be ministering to the Body of Christ.
JWK: I think that’s a great idea. You bring your professional expertise to churches to help them get out their message through stage.
PM: Yeah. Many of them have drama teams but they’re very embryonic.
JWK: Do you have a website?
PM: We don’t have a website yet but we’re working on it. We’ve been so busy doing the actual plays that we haven’t had time to do the social media stuff…Right now, we have two plays…One is called Change the Station. That is a one-woman play.
JWK: These are original play.
PM: This is an original play. It’s Tiffany Michelle’s testimony that she wrote. We helped to develop it and put it in workshop. It has six original songs written by her and I think maybe David helped her with one song…There’s a Facebook page for it…
…We’re also bringing Innocent Rage, another play (like The Cross and the Switchblade) about gangs…David Ham wrote that…That is going to be done at Park Slope Christian Academy soon.
JWK: So what is your role in these productions?
PM: All three of us are directing. Mostly Marco and I are doing the directing. Marco wears many more hats, including guiding technical aspects. David has a lot of producing on his shoulders, you know, getting a lot of things together. We all pitch in together. The theme is “the three-(stranded) cord is not easily broken.”…You can’t do it alone. We have multiple productions and we all have other things in our lives. We are in need of support…prayer and resources. We are doing these plays and offering them to the churches free of charge (with) free admission. At the Salvation Army we will do a love offering but we are looking for supporters and underwriters…
…When we go in and we minister through Trace Life Media — when we direct a play — the first ministry is to the Lord but the second is not to the audience, per se. It’s to the kids in that cast because they learn values and strengthen their faith as they rehearse in those parts. They are being asked to raise themselves to a certain level of excellence — and they’re not professionals. Along the way, if they’re going through personal things, we’re able to pray with them. And we teach them to pray for each other.
Note: If you would like to support Trace Life Media contact TraceLifeTLM@gmail.com. In addition, for more information regarding Patricia’s private and group classes you may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Below, Patricia portrays “the woman at the well” as she converses with Jesus (played by Rich Swingle).
Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11