Soap Opera Weekly
July 24, 2001

The Wild Card
By Tonya Lensch, Reporting by Tony Calega

Days' Valerie Wildman may be a glamour girl, but there's a lot more to her than meets the eye

At first glance, DAYS OF OUR LIVES viewers might not recognize the glamorous actress who plays diner waitress Fay Walker. Before joining the show in 1999, Valerie Wildman nearly always played strong, beautiful female leads in films like Oliver Stone's Salvador and TV series such as Beverly Hills, 90210.

"People who haven't seen my work as these other women - with fancy clothes and straight hair - probably don't know that I don't really talk and move like Fay in real life," she laughs. To the contrary, Wildman's got glamour in her blood. "My mother was a very famous model in her day," she divulges. "Her modeling name was Leslie Ames (her real name was Martha Pfaff). She was a huge cover girl, and the first Revlon girl."

But Wildman's mother was more than just a pretty face. "She was an incredibly brilliant writer, poet, sculptor and pianist, but the first time she ever got any self-esteem was when she became a model," she notes. "As she began to age and our society's definition of beauty began to fade, she began to drink herself to death. So, perhaps because of that, fame has always scared me. Whereas I love to perform, that negative, self-destructive potential of fame has always scared me."

It was during a stint in the Peace Corps that Wildman decided not to let fear win. "I was hiking through the Andes and I suddenly realized, above the clouds, that the thing I most wanted to do - that I had been afraid to do - was to pursue acting," she says quietly. "About the same time, I found out that my mother was dying, making me realize that I'd better try this. Even if I fail, I don't want to be on my deathbed wondering, 'What if?'"

Wildman is now enjoying the best of both worlds, as portraying Fay gives her the opportunity to pursue her two passions: acting and helping others. "The thing that I have the most interest in is trauma and abuse," reveals Wildman, who is pursuing a doctorate in child and adolescent psychology, with an emphasis in the expressive arts. "I always wanted to help women and children, and, lo and behold, Fay shows up!"

Wildman takes great pride in creating and exploring Fay's life, including the abuse the character and her children endured from her husband, Paul. This week, Paul returns to town, and Fay's reaction will most definitely shock viewers.

Which is exactly why Wildman loves her character, as do fans. "One day a production assistant said, 'You have mail, lots of mail.' Every letter I read just about made me cry, so I know that she is touching people. I am guessing that a woman who is trapped at home in an abusive situation would be a person who would watch soaps in the afternoon. They have the courage to write, and that's who I want to touch."

Wildman also hopes these women are receiving more help than her character did. "I've been hearing that the police are taking lay counselors - who had been battered women themselves - out with them on (domestic abuse) calls so they can tell women what their options are," Wildman says. "I don't think Fay had that."

Fay and her children have paid, and continue to pay, a high price. "Fay feels very guilty about the sexual abuse going on with Nicole that she wasn't consciously aware of, and she feels responsible for that," admits Wildman. "It's such a catch-22. People wonder why women stay in these relationships, and yes, there is co-dependence and the cycle of abuse that goes on. A lot of times a woman feels that she is being compassionate and forgiving, that he will really change, and that it's better for the children to have a father in the house. It's all they know, and they don't know if they can do it alone."

Fay may really be all alone if and when the long-suspected truth about Abe being Brandon's father is revealed. "Fay has kept these secrets from people out of compassion," she contends. "She has borne the burden herself because she did not want to destroy lives, and that is so noble. That is a huge, huge sacrifice that she carries around with her." Wildman expects huge repercussions for her character should the secret be spilled. "It's going to break her heart because maybe Brandon's not going to love her anymore."

While Fay's family life is a mess, Wildman has been happily married six years to Robert, and the couple divides their time between Los Angeles and Mexico. "My husband is living and working in Mexico," reveals Wildman. "We have a sailboat that he built that is a replica of an 18th-century boat. It's about 100 feet long. We take people out whale watching and to some of the nearby villages. The business is doing really well."

When Wildman was first offered a two-year contract last year, her husband was understandably concerned. "He panicked because when I had been on another (syndicated) show called Dangerous Women, he never saw me. I was having a relationship with my weekly script and not with him," she says with a laugh. "But he encouraged me to sign. 'You have to do this. This is what you've been wanting. This is a character that you love.'"

With Fay in the thick of things, Wildman hopes the character she loves will continue to grow in new directions.

"I would like her to be stronger and stand up to people, which I think she is starting to do," offers Wildman. "I hope she doesn't lose her compassion and her kindness. I'd like to see Fay in a situation where there was evil around. I would like to see her tested in these ways, and see who she is in those situations."