Soap Opera Digest
February 27, 2001

Fay Break
By Stephanie Sloane

Seeing Valerie Wildman up close makes you wonder how she ever got cast as DAYS OF OUR LIVES' plain Jane, Fay Walker. In person, her blonde hair is shinier and her eyes are sparkly and clear blue and her flowing sun dress is a far cry from Fay's pink waitress uniform. Even Wildman admits, "I looked at the script and thought, 'There's no way I'll ever be cast as something like this.' I hardly ever got commercials because no one beileved that I would scrub my own toilets. But I thought I would just go in and enjoy it and come from the heart," she recalls.

Wildman winning the contract role defied more than her own expectations. "At the University of Florida, I auditioned for a musical, and I didn't get it," she explains. "Later on, I heard a friend of a director say, 'She sings beautifully, but she can't act worth a damn.' I don't even know this director's name, but it thoroughly destroyed my wanting to act."

The experience led Wildman to another path, one that was close to her heart. "Growing up, I always thought, 'There's got to be more; I'd like to feel dirt and pain in the real world,'" she says. "I became a volunteer working with gang kids, teaching them how to ride motorcycles in Texas. Then I went and got a master's degree in Northern California. I thought, 'I'm going to be a counselor. This is my calling.'"

Wildman went to Colombia to help a friend who was working in the ghettos of Cartagena, where she ultimately had another epiphany. "While I was backpacking through the Andes, I started looking at my life. I thought, 'What is the thing I most want to do, but am most afraid to do?' I realized I wanted to try to be an actress, and I dind't want to go to my death wondering, 'What if?'"

Just as Wildman was ready to embark on a new beginning, she had to face a sad ending. "All of a sudden, my mother died," she says softly. "It's interesting; I already knew my mother had died while I was in the Andes. I felt it. You hear those stories about how that happens. I rushed home to Florida, and as I was packing up her things, I thought, 'It's really important to try to live out your dreams.' Even if I fall on my face, at least I'll know on my deathbed that I tried."

Wildman started slowly, taking a job as a post-production coordinator on a Robert Altman film while privately testing out her acting chops. "I started studying secretly just to see if I still had the talent," she recalls. "I was sort of learning the business by day, and next thing you know, I was becoming an actress. I can always go back to being a therapist when I start getting gray hair and crow's feet, but when I'm younger, I have a better shot at acting. So I figured, 'How about now?'"

So Wildman hit the audition circuit, getting small roles in films (Beverly Hills Cop II, Internal Affairs, Inner Sanctum) and episodic television work (MURDER, SHE WROTE: WALKER, TEXAS RANGER), but after being cast as the bitchy socialite one too many times, she took another break. "I thought, 'I'm going to go back and get my doctorate because my master's in counseling is no longer eligible for licensing,'" she says. Then DAYS offered her the role of Brandon and Nicole's mousy mom.

"When I came in as Mrs. Walker, I felt so relieved because I wore no makeup," she admits. "I was exhausted from 12-hour days at school. I just threw on a robe. It was like, 'Finally, I don't have to think about these things.' And now that Fay's getting prettier, it's like, 'Uh oh, I have to worry about aging gracefully again.'"

Wildman admits she's sensitive about relying on her looks to get ahead in life. "It's always been a painful subject for me, looks as a career," she explains. "My mom was a very famous model in the '40s - she was one of the first Revlon girls. Her modeling name was Leslie Ames. I saw how much of her identity was caught up in her looks, and as her looks began to fade. I saw her suffer greatly. She basically drank herself to death, so I always try to keep that in perspective.

"That's why I like to play a woman who looks real. Fay looks more real than most, at least on soaps, and I'm grateful for that."

Wildman confesses that she has a lot to be grateful for, including her marriage to hubby Robert, an architect she met while volunteering with Operation USA in Los Angeles. "His mind and his heart just blew me away," she smiles. "After being together for five years, we got married." Currently, he is working on a building project in Mexico while she's living in L.A., and happily, the commuting hasn't been a problem yet. "I like the alone time, and I like being all excited when I see him, but he hates it," she says. "The thing that I do like about our relationship is that we support each other." As for kids, "We were trying to have a child for a while, but then I thought about adopting," she says. "Maybe go down to Mexico or Nicaragua. I have four stepchildren of every age. I love them madly, and I love their mom. So I have children in my life, and I work with children, too."

The best of both worlds, as far as Wildman is concerned. "It's funny because for so much of my acting career, I was like, 'I hope there's more; I hope there's something bigger,'" she muses. "I hesitated [about signing a contract] because I was worried about whether I was going to see my husband. But I just feel so loved here. I feel like everyone is so willing to help me keep those thing in my life. I don't feel regretful at all. I feel excited."

JUST THE FACTS:
Birthday: August 6
Hometown: Miami, FL; "My sister and I are probably the only two people who were ever born in Miami Beach. Everyone else was a New York transplant. I remember at Christmastime, we'd go to the hotels to try to meet boys from New York. My first kiss was in the pool at the Fontainebleau."
Yes, That's Her: Wildman recently played Virginia Larson in Cast Away
On Being Recognized: "When I wear my hair straight, people say, 'Oh, you're Christine from (BEVERLY HILLS) 90210.' When I wear my hair curly, it's, 'Oh, you're Fay from DAYS OF OUR LIVES.'"
May I Help You? "Here I am, the only actress in Hollywood that's never waited tables, playing a waitress. It was my ibggest nightmare. I thought, 'Are they going to be able to tell by the way I'm carrying the trays?'"
Pet Set: "I have three cats - two big, fat, furry cats and one little Manx. Their names are Monkey, Socks and Bambi."
The Great Outdoors: "My passions are hiking and backpacking. I love anything outdoors."