New Logo riveting riffs magazine Rebecca Staab Interview Part Two - Acting with Gratitude
Rebecca Staab Photo 1A

If you are catching up on our interview with film and television actress and former supermodel Rebecca Staab, we left off with her return to New York City after three and one-half years as a highly sought after model throughout Europe and in Japan. Her image graced the covers and inside pages of most, if not all of the most prestigious fashion publications. Upon her return to America the agency sent her out for an audition for the soap opera Loving (Part One of the interview is here).

“I had never been on an acting audition in my life. I walked in and I booked it. My character was Cecilia. She was a little Punk Rock teenager and it was about the same time as Cyndi Lauper and Madonna first came out. It was that “Material Girl” kind of a thing. It was so funny, because when I went on the audition, I had a booking for JCPenney’s right after it and I had to be camera ready for JCPenney. I auditioned for a Punk Rock teenager looking like JCPenney. I remember walking into the audition and all of these other girls are in there with their ripped up fishnets and their Doc Martens and their hair all ratted up.

I thought I have to get in and get out of here, because it was over at ABC on the west side and I had to be at my JCPenney booking on the east side and I had to be there at 11:30. By the time I got to the east side and I showed up for my JCPenney booking they said your agent just called and you are supposed to call him. I was okay, that was odd (She recalls in a tone of voice like what is up with that?) (I called) and he said you just booked Loving. Then it was so funny, because when I went in for the fitting it was Betsey Johnson (designer). There was all this kind of wild stuff,” says Staab.

Then day came when Rebecca Staab would shoot her first scenes for Loving and she says, “I had never acted (professionally) before and I had never worked on a TV show. I was used to modeling. I am really good with hair and makeup, as I had done it for the past three and one-half years all over the world. I walked in to play this young Punk Rock teenager and I just wanted to do my own makeup, because I am really good at it. I did all of this funky stuff and my hair was still relatively short, so I ratted it up and put it up in kind of a Mohawk. I am sure the hair and makeup people were thinking who is this girl that just walked into this room? She seems to think she is going to do her own hair and makeup? Then they were like, but she seems to know what she is doing. To their credit they let me do my own hair and makeup. I put on these fake eyelashes. I just went to town and it was whoo hoo.  Look at who I get to play. It was that innocence and the (fact) nobody told me what I couldn’t do, as opposed to what I was supposed to do.

When this opportunity came up I knew I could play this Punk Rock teenager. I was okay. At first I didn’t really know what I was doing. I had been in theater, so to me it was like being in a play. In a soap opera you have just three camera shoots and you do the scene once. If nobody screws up you pretty much move on.

Staab credits her high school drama teacher for her early success and she explains why, “His whole thing was just make a picture. This is a visual medium. Make it look interesting. Don’t ever just stand there.  You need to make it look good and you need to be doing something. You should have movement. That was basic high school theater.  

Rebecca Staab Guiding Light PhotoNow I was a Punk Rock teenager and I was going to be in these scenes. I didn’t understand what blocking was (She is laughing, almost giggling), so I thought I am going to go over here and I am going to do this. I always had gum. When I would walk into a room, my character Cecilia would just do whatever she wanted, because that is just who she was. She was this little mousey, bossy (person) and nobody was going to tell her what to do. If I had a scene where I was in the rich people’s house and if there was a couch I wanted to see how bouncy the couch was. I would just walk around the room in the middle of the scene doing whatever I thought Cecilia would do. She is just going to check it out. I am sure that the producers and directors were going hmmm I guess we should let her do whatever she wants to do. I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to do that. I thought I am going to make this interesting. While they (other cast members) were talking I was not just going to stand there, so I found something to do, while the scene was going on. It worked with the character.

Then the character kept staying on. There were six episodes, eight, ten, twelve and I was on there for six months. They kept Cecilia and I had a story. They had to give me a back story, as to why she was a brat. You end up finding out that I never had a mom, my dad was abusive and then you get two sides to Cecilia. Then I got a set. When you are on a soap opera and there is a set for your character then you know you are going to be here for a while.

All of a sudden I had a house. I had a dad whom I lived with. I was an abused teenager at home, so that gave me all of this bravado when I went out. It just turned into the most interesting character and that was Cecilia. It wasn’t so regimented and everybody just ran with it. To this day that was the most fun and most interesting character I ever had. (She starts laughing when she says) Cecilia is responsible for my career.

That was how I started in New York and I was still modeling at the same time. I was modeling and on the soap. I was not under contract. I was still just a day player on Loving. They never put me under contract. I was still auditioning for other stuff. I auditioned for Guiding Light and that was a contract role. I booked that and I literally did my last day of work on a Friday (at Loving) and I started Guiding Light on a Monday.”

Rebecca Staab is a unique package. She had a career as one of the most highly sought after models without ever planning on a career as a model. We think it is fair to say that she stumbled into acting and drawing upon limited experience in high school and college productions she did not invent the character of Cecilia, but she made her and in doing so she launched an acting career that has spanned slightly more than three decades. Yet, she continues to be a sponge for learning new things and that appears to be in her DNA.

Rebecca Staab explains, “I love when I work and I learn. You have to constantly keep learning. I always love when I am on something and I start to learn from people something that I didn’t expect. For example I did a Columbo movie (in the role of Tina, in Columbo Cries Wolf) and Peter Falk was that character. He could just waltz in, do it and leave. From the minute I saw him come out of his trailer or at craft services or on the set in the morning, Peter Falk was working. If it was a simple scene, if it was how to pick up the fork and put it down, he would work it and work it and then we would block it. Other people would go off and start goofing around, but he would stay there on set and do it again and again. I thought if Peter Falk is doing this sixteen times in between every take that we use, so he can perfect it wow, everybody else is lazy.”

Despite Rebecca Staab’s proclivity for happy career accidents she also recognized the need that every actor has for continuing to learn and to develop one’s acting skills. She turned to two-time Tony Award winning actress (for Best Actress), former Emmy Award nominee and the lady who was Martha in the 1962 Broadway premiere of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?, and renowned acting teacher Uta Hagan. A very small sampling of Hagen’s former students, include, Robert DeNiro, Liza Minelli, Jack Lemmon, Faye Dunaway, Jason Robards, Hal Holbrook, Barbara Feldon, Sandy Dennis and Lee Grant.

“I started with Uta in New York and it was a given, because she was the best at the time. It was like if I am going to study with anybody, I will study with Uta. The nice thing about Uta and I think about any good acting teacher is they work with plays and the material of playwrights. I am trying to think of what adjectives to use to describe how much I loved her class and how enlightening it was, because it was mastering the simplicity of making things that are not real, real. The only real way to do that is to mimic real life. She taught us to watch ourselves and to watch other people. It all became about observation. So much of acting is how would you be if the situation was real?

It (consisted) of exercises of what do you do when you are on the phone? How do you talk on the phone? I walk, I pace, I do this. You play with your hair. It was putting all of those real life things and putting them into that. How do you talk to different people differently? We did a lot of phone exercises, for instance you are on the phone with your three year old nephew or you are on the phone with the boss that fired you from your first job in high school. You are on the phone with somebody that you admire the most in the world and now you have five minutes to talk to them. It was expanding so many of the what ifs? It was taking these real situations and heightening them.

We were really lucky, because she was writing her second book during our class, so the group that I was in, is the group that is in her second book. It was really fun for her too, because our class was different for her. She wanted to try different things that she hadn’t done in other classes and which she didn’t do in her first book. It (included) breaking down and doing script analysis. A scene of course has a beginning, a middle and an end, but it is also all of the beats of a scene and sometimes it is just two lines or three lines and then this shifts. There can be twelve scenes within a scene. She taught us how to break it down into beats. First this changes and then that changes (versus) one fluid thing. We worked a lot as a group and we worked a lot on individual things together.

The funny thing is I was so rich from her classes that when I moved to LA and I was looking for acting teachers in LA they would all use scenes from what was on TV or in a movie and I was like you can’t learn from this. You have to learn from these playwrights and then it easy to apply to TV or film. I was thinking why are they working on this crappy material from some bonehead TV show that isn’t even on the air anymore? I just couldn’t understand the material and how that material could teach you anything. There was not even a lesson in it.

The climate was different too. In New York you had to be working really hard and to know what you were doing and focused and to make all of the sacrifices to stay in New York, because if you didn’t you were going to get chewed up and spit out. Well then I came to LA and everybody was happy, everybody was nice, everybody was encouraging and everybody wanted to be a star. It was hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, because you could die from encouragement. Where was the hard part? Where was the struggle? Where was the work? The classes were almost like therapy? What was going on? It was so worthless? I got to the point where I wasn’t even going to classes, because I knew what I knew from Uta and books. Rebecca Staab CSI Photo

I had studied voice with Tom Todoroff in New York and Tom is a really reputable acting teacher. I learned a ton from him. There are really good ones and there are a lot of not very good ones at all. There are more classes and teachers that waste the time of actors than really help them. You have to work. That is the bottom line. I found that a lot of people want things to be easy or they don’t really put in the work.

Wil (Staab’s partner, actor William deVry) studied with Larry Moss for years and Wil said Larry is the guy for you, because you don’t get away with anything. Nothing is easy with Larry. You had better know it up one side and down the other, inside out and backwards and forwards. If you are going to do a British accent then you better know what part of London and which street in London. If it is a southern accent, (you better know) which state, which city, which neighborhood? Where were your parents from?

Larry was the master of precision. You couldn’t get away with being lazy. That is why his class is a master class, because you realize how many people don’t want to work that hard or how many can’t take the criticism. If you want to improve you have to let go of bad habits and retrain yourself with good habits. Now that I have studied with Larry it is hard to go back into another class. Somebody is going to get this role and it is whoever works the hardest. Is it you? How long did you really work on this? Did you memorize it and can you do it? How many times did you do it out loud? How many times did you ask a friend to do it with you? He says just work it, work it, work it, so when you get in the room, whether you get it or not, you were the actor that worked the hardest on it. If it is not based on they need to get a name or they have to have a brunette or you have to be six foot four and if there is not a physical reason you had better earn your time in the room. Larry was pivotal in teaching me personally that I am enough. You can put all of the work into it, but then you have to realize that it is really me that makes the difference and whatever makes me unique.

Working as an actor isn’t just auditions. As an actor that’s your job eight hours each day. Your job is you need to be physically fit. You need to go to the gym. If you have a quirky voice then you should be in voice classes. You need to be in movement and dance classes. Larry’s whole thing is your job is eight hours a day. Your job is eight hours a day whether you have a job or you have an audition you better put eight hours of your day into your craft and into yourself.

You had better be a really solid person and have the stamina to live eight hours a day as an actor, whether you are working or not. You need to have other interests and other curiosities and read things that stimulate and trigger your curiosity. You better take care of your money and you better have a solid financial plan, because sometimes you have money and sometimes you don’t. It has so much to do with endurance and longevity. You have to be a real person in the midst of all of these other things that you can’t control,” says Rebecca Staab.

Fast forward to the summer of 2017 and the ABC miniseries Somewhere Between, which consisted of ten episodes and in which Rebecca Staab was cast as Colleen DeKizer.

Staab talks about her role, “The joy of acting is you get to be everybody that you can’t be in real life. Playing evil and playing mean, that’s the fun part. A lot of my characters throughout the years it was like I had the “ice queen bitch” role down. For years it was if you need an “ice queen bitch” call Rebecca Staab. It was hilarious, because my mom would watch me in these roles sometimes and she would say, ‘Becky what do they know about you that I don’t know? (Staab starts laughing) Where did that come from? How can you be so vicious?’ I said, well we all can be obviously, but then you finally have the license to just let it roll. Now you get to do everything that you never get to do in real life, every ounce of evil and hottie, entitled and selfish. Being bad, there’s nothing better. Playing the good characters is just boring.”

Rebecca talks about even though she showed up in Paris at the age of sixteen and looking as all American as could be her shoots were always done with attitude and very much avant-garde versus being a wholesome, happy, clean faced teenager from Nebraska.

“I was a chameleon and that is what I loved. Who am I going to be today? I was never Becky Staab, while modeling (in Paris and Japan).

Even when acting I was this Punk Rock teenager and I always got to be somebody other than I was. This whole chameleon thing was my forte. That is what I loved and that is what was exciting.

What got frustrating was when I wasn’t allowed to do that, because of how I looked. When I got typecast I always had to play the beauty queen or the waspy this or I had to be the cheerleader when I would go I am really the bookworm girl in the library and I really wanted to do that role, but they would say no you have to be the cheerleader (You can hear the frustration in her voice). If you had two sisters you always had a quirky, funky, disorganized, artsy sister and then there was the perfect, prim and proper little do good and I always had to play that sister. I would say you just want me to play that sister, because that is the way that I look. I am really the other sister. It got really frustrating.

The best compliment that I ever got and I wish I could remember which casting director told me this, because whoever she was I want to give her credit. She said you are really a character actress in an ingénue’s body. I said (She recalls the sense of relief with her tone of voice) thank you. Finally somebody gets it,” she says.  Rebecca Staab Moonlight In Vermont Photo

She also recalls a conversation with another casting director, “Megan Branman said to me ‘What fascinates me about you is that you have such sadness behind your eyes that I don’t think anybody ever sees.’ I went wow! She said those are the characters that you need to be playing. I said I know, I know. Will you tell somebody? Will you let me?

That is when getting to play the bitch through the years was the closest that I ever got to being a character actor. I could still look like me, but play those parts.”

Now we circle back to Colleen DeKizer and Somewhere Between, “When I got to play Colleen I would just put that wig (brunette) on and with no makeup I could get away with things in a way that, less is more. I didn’t have to play it, it is just who Colleen is. I have to give one thousand percent credit to Stephen Tolkin who is the executive producer and the writer.

This whole project is very tight lipped, because it is a thriller. You can’t know anything, because it will give it away. We knew nothing. Even in auditioning for this role I had a little teeny, tiny two page scene and Colleen has literally three lines. She is the governor’s wife and that is all I knew.

I went to the audition looking like what would be the quintessential governor’s wife. She is upscale and classy, but maybe a little overdone, because she is bigger than life. I went in how I would (envision) the governor’s wife. Stephen wanted me to audition again, but they wanted the beauty part out of it. She is the matriarch. She is strong and she is the leader. Now I went back and I had the French twist and the pearls. He said no, no, no. Put your hair down and no pearls, no jewelry, no makeup and don’t do anything to your hair. The beauty of doing this with Stephen is he knew what I could do with this character, but he also knew who Colleen had to be.  He refused to toss me out with all of the other blondes, thinking well she’s not Colleen. She doesn’t look like that. He said she’s like Warren Buffett’s wife. She is like Susie Buffett. I thought I am from Omaha and I know who Warren Buffett is. They are so wealthy and so powerful, but you wouldn’t know. Warren Buffett’s wife didn’t go around saying look at me I am Warren Buffett’s wife. I get it. I get who Colleen DeKizer is supposed to be. I realized she has to come in under the radar. She cares about other people more than herself. She is so rich that she doesn’t have to do her hair. She doesn’t care. She is into her projects and they are her passion. She is not pretentious and she’s not showy. I get it, I get it. He had the patience to mold me for six auditions and not my acting, but just the look.

The audition that I did when they moved me forward was no hair, no makeup. I just had on a tee shirt. It was just all about the scene with my son. All I had to do was to love my son and that was my passion. Nothing else really matters. When I booked it they said you have to go to hair and makeup, because they are fitting you for a wig. I said I knew it, I knew they were going to make me a brunette. It was a short dark wig. It was not about me. There was such a physical creation of Colleen in Stephen’s mind that he knew who she had to be and for that I have to bow to him. He saw something in me, knowing that I could be his Colleen even though I looked nothing like Colleen.

I knew nothing. I just knew that I was the governor’s wife and I had these two little tiny scenes that didn’t give anything away. Even at the time I was cast I showed up for wardrobe and they said oh my god don’t you just love this part. (She recalls saying with hesitation) yes I do. What do you mean? It’s who you are and what happens. I thought what happens? I don’t know. When she realized I didn’t know she said I can’t tell you. You have to sit down with Stephen and see how much he is going to let you know.”

Now the cameras were ready to roll.

“There were ten episodes and we shot them in two episode blocks. We were given the scripts number one and two and we shot those. When we wrapped on those we were given three and four and then five and six. Nobody knew anything about what happened (in the episodes) other than the blocks that we were in.

I sat down with Stephen and I said you have to give me some idea of what is going on. All I really knew was that I was involved. He said you are under the radar and I don’t want anybody to suspect anything. Rebecca Staab Photo 4 A

Even my wardrobe was so artistically created, because he always had me in taupe, beige and gray. I had to be there, but not really be seen. He said the moment that I put you in red or pink or unmask you as a blonde they will pay attention to you. It was the master plan all along.

In the first few episodes she was so nice and Colleen was everybody’s mother. She takes care of everybody, so it was the greatest red herring. Who is going to suspect me? They just said be nice, be nice, be loving and care.

Even when it turned to desperation she didn’t do anything, because she was evil. She is just trying to save her son. She is not a horrible person doing anything horrible. She could justify (her actions), because she thought she wasn’t doing anything wrong, but she had to protect her boys. Stephen would say to me, you say this, because you are worried or you say this, because it is about love. It took some of the edge off of some of the evil. It still was all based in love. I am still just trying to protect my boys. It was such an incredible twist when Colleen was allowed not to feel. It wasn’t that she didn’t feel, but she had to stay focused. I will always defend her, because she wasn’t cold and calculating. It was very Machiavellian and all that mattered in the end was she had to save her son.

It was the best material that I have ever had as an actor with the scenes and the situations and especially the ending. I kept telling everybody that you won’t believe it there is a twist. With that twist people were saying I never in a million years saw that coming and I said I told you it was a twist,” says Staab.

Now we go from the character of Colleen in Somewhere Between to shifting the conversation to the sense of gratitude that Rebecca Staab seems to always exhibit and for which she has become well-known. Perhaps too we want to remind ourselves that we are having this conversation with Rebecca Staab and not Colleen DeKizer and we are definitely saying that tongue firmly planted in cheek.

Staab talks about where her sense of gratitude comes from, “I think it is just, I was raised right. I think at the core of it, when I was a child, as early as I can remember the thing that I will be most thankful to my mom forever is she taught us what if that were you? In any situation it was that empathy that just seemed a normal process for me growing up.  I think that goes hand in hand with being respectful, grateful. I was just raised in a good family and good grandparents. You say please and thank you and you treat people with respect.

When I was living in Paris and I was using my French I wrote a letter to my high school French teacher and who would have thought that I would be here doing this? I don’t know why it is making me emotional, but there are so many people who do things out of love. When it directly or indirectly enriches someone else’s life I think that is very important to tell them.

When I was Miss Nebraska I went back to my tap and ballet teacher Mildred Collins and when I made cheerleading I remember writing to her, because of those early years of coordination. What I learned in those early years of dance class helped me to become a cheerleader and then it helped me in musicals and in acting. There is that chain reaction of what somebody’s passion was and who taught. It was my French teacher when I was in Paris. It was my dance teacher for all of those years. Then when I started working and I would finish a show I would write a thank you note to the directors and producers.”

When Rebecca Staab was on the Guiding Light her character was terminated when a new producer took over and that sometimes happens. In fact there were a lot of actors who also were let go, because their storylines were discontinued.  

Many years later something that Rebecca Staab did during that period of time revisited her, “What I did not remember at the time is one of the production assistants was the same age as I was and he was let go, while I was still on the show. I wrote him a letter and I said that it had been nice to work with him.

That was in 1987, so cut to 2012. I am really good with renovating houses, design and construction and that is what I got from my dad. I had been posting a bunch of pictures about it on Facebook and one of the guys asked if I would mind talking to him about it. He is a producer and he wanted to talk to me about if I would be interested in doing a show like that. He said, because it sounds like it is a natural passion of yours and not just something that you are good at. I throw my heart, body, mind and soul into it.

He said you don’t remember me do you? I was hmmm remind me. Remind me how I know you. He said I was a production assistant when you were on Guiding Light.  He said Rebecca I will always remember you, because when I got laid off you wrote me a letter and you said that it was nice to work together and you thanked me. He said there were seasoned professionals on that show, but he said nobody else on that entire show, cast or crew or production when I got fired (said anything to me). I just became invisible. It really hurt my feelings, because a lot of the seasoned people whom I thought were my friends or I thought I had earned their respect, I didn’t hear a peep from and he said you are the only person that I ever heard anything from. He said that meant so much to me that ever since then in my life and in my career, any job that I have ever had that when I left that job or when somebody else was let go that I worked with, I learned that from you. I always write them a note and I tell them how much I appreciated them.

It meant so much to me (that he told me that). He re-inspired me. Then I thought how many people between now and then have I not done that with or have I not thanked or I have not said you made a difference in my life and I still think of you now. That is why I think that it is important to sit down and to write a letter or to send a card to people.”

Those in the film and the television industry are not the only ones who remember Rebecca Staab many years later.

“Years after I had been in Paris (as a model) I ran into one of my bookers from the Paris agency when I was in St. Barths and she said of all of the girls who came in there, you were nice and you were smart. When the catalogues came and the magazines called and they needed to book somebody they would ask us who we recommended. Who is new and who do you like? It was the bookers who were sitting there and if they liked you as a person rather than someone who was in there bitching and moaning and complaining or who was mean (you would get the booking). If we saw someone as a mean person we were not going to promote them for that job to go out and to represent our agency.

It was so nice that years later when I ran into her that she said to me we loved getting you jobs. She said, ‘If you hadn’t come in there and been so nice you wouldn’t have had the career that you eventually had. You always treated us so nice and they treated us like we worked for them and they forgot that we were the ones recommending the models for the jobs.’ It’s just like the Golden Rule treat other people like you want to be treated.

It is also knowing how blessed you are as opposed to being entitled. When I get a role I need to be humble, because maybe there could have been somebody else that could have had it, but they had a conflict and so I got it. I think that you have to go in being grateful and then you have to live up to it. I have been given this opportunity and it is not that now I am the queen and everybody has to do what I say. I better do my best, because people count on me.

If you do a good job then you will work again. There has never been room for attitude or ego. I want to do a good job on a job, so I can keep working and not so I can go oh I’m famous. It always cracks me up when people go oh you are famous and I go no I just want to keep working. That’s all I want to do is to keep working. How you treat people or how you behave, while you are working should be professional, humane and kind. If it is about ego or if it is about making money or being better than the competition then you are expending a lot of energy that is taking away from the production.

During this two-part interview with Rebecca Staab we have tried to give our readers a glimpse into not only her accomplishments as a model and an actress, but also her character, her values and her attitude. This journey started off with a small girl in Nebraska, from a little town that did not have an escalator like the one she saw on television, but one day she said she would ride one and she did. Along, the way she never forgot who she was and today she retains that same sense of adventure and oh yes, she never forgets to say thank you.

Please take time to visit the Rebecca Staab website.      Return to Our Front Page

Photos:  2nd from the top from Guiding Light, third from the top from CSI and fourth from the top from Moonlight In Vermont

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This interview by Joe Montague  published November 12, 2017 is protected by copyright © and is the property of Riveting Riffs Magazine All Rights Reserved.  All photos are the the property of   Rebecca Staab unless otherwise noted and all  are protected by copyright © All Rights Reserved. This interview may not be reproduced in print or on the internet or through any other means without the written permission of Riveting Riffs Magazine, All Rights Reserved