Eden Riegel on the return of (a hopefully steamier) “All My Children”

Soap audiences were introduced to Eden Riegel back in 2000 when she joined the cast of All My Children as Erica Kane’s daughter, Bianca Montgomery. Shortly thereafter, Bianca came out as a lesbian to her mother, and broke new ground in the medium of daytime television. Eden has played Bianca for over a decade, during which time she has been a thoughtful and supportive ally to the LGBT community. I had the pleasure of speaking with the very lovely and funny actress about the triumphant return of All My Children and the lasting impact the character of Bianca has had on fans and herself personally.

The Online Network/Eric Leibowitz

AfterEllen.com: You’ve always played Bianca with such grace and kindness; she’s easily the most likeable character in Pine Valley.
Eden Riegel: [Laughs] Yes, but that’s not really saying much, is it?

AE: Fans root for Bianca and have always seemed very protective over her as well. What do you think it is about this character that resonates so much with viewers?
ER: Well, I mean I guess it’s the same thing that resonates with me about her which is she has such a big heart and she is so brave. She was not only very brave about coming out, even though she knew it wouldn’t be an easy road for her with her mother. But she’s also just brave in matter of the heart. She’s had her heart broken over and over and over again; she’s had terrible things done to her and she still believes in the goodness of humanity and she sees people for the best parts of them. I have always thought that Bianca is, like, the person we wish we were [Laughs] and the person we try to be like. And that’s not to say that she’s a saint; she’s just got such a huge heart and she really cares about people and she doesn’t just talk the talk, she walks the walk. She takes care of her friends and her family and the people around her. She has these very admirable qualities that people connect with.

AE: Your character has had such a lasting impact.
ER: Yes!

AE: I started watching All My Children when you came on the scene as Bianca, and came out. And I remember thinking, if Erica Kane can accept and embrace her lesbian daughter, this is going to give a lot of gays and lesbians the courage to come out themselves. But not only that, longtime viewers, parents, mothers, got to see Erica’s struggle in acceptance of her daughter.  Did you all realize at the time what a huge cultural impact that this storyline would have and were you prepared for it? 
ER: Hmm. No, I don’t think I knew what a huge impact it would have. I knew it was sort of a gamble because — as I’m sure you’re aware —  soap audiences tend to sort of run the gamut. It’s not young urbanites. [Laughs] It’s people in middle America, you know, women who are mothers of multiple children and stay at home. Not necessarily the stereotype of somebody who would be so quick to embrace this character. So we knew that it might be a tough sell because if you’ve never met a gay person and maybe carry around some prejudices from your own youth and then all of a sudden your favorite character on daytime has a daughter who is gay.  [The show] is part of your daily consumption and it has so many pleasant associations for you.  I mean a lot of people who watch the show, watch it because they watched it with their grandmothers or their mothers or they’ve watched it for 30 years, and they watched the characters grow up. People have a very personal attachment to these shows.

So I think even when it was revealed that the character would be a lesbian, a lot of people didn’t like the idea. And it was only because the show told the story with such respect, and such sensitivity, and they really went the extra mile.  Agnes [Nixon] was on call and she was helming the story herself and obviously she knows how to tell a story better than basically anyone. And so the story meant a lot to us personally, everybody who behind the scenes, including the producers and the writers, even the camera guys. I mean we all took it very seriously, and we put our heart and soul into it. Certainly for Susan [Lucci] and I, it was a labor of love.

And I think that people just couldn’t help but relate to this very human story. And because it was Erica going through it, they immediately cared. And they wanted to see these two women who loved each other deeply, reconnect. I got letters from young people who said, “My mother couldn’t accept me and after she watched Erica go through the journey of accepting her daughter, she called me and now we are close again. Now we watch the show together.” And I would get these letters and, like, weep in my dressing room.

AE: That’s so amazing, being such a part of this cultural, historical moment, and really impacting people’s lives. I can’t imagine what that must have been like. 
ER: Oh, it was huge.  It was very important for me. So I was grateful to reach anybody with the story, you know, even if we reached a handful of people. But when it became — when it had such an impact on the culture, I was delighted to be a part of it and to tell a story I thought was so brave and worthy and to be a part of a really good, sort of, example on television. At the time there really weren’t that many. It was very new at the time, and it was the first example on daytime certainly. So when it became a cultural phenomenon, I was overwhelmed by it but also just very proud. I wanted more eyeballs on us because I thought we were doing something right. 

Eden Riegel as Bianca and Denyse Tontz as her daughter Miranda in “All My Children.”
Photo credit: The Online Network/Eric Leibowitz