All About Eve
By: Tony Calega
Soap Opera Weekly Magazine
March 28, 2000
Although she was hesitant to return to soaps,
Passions' Tracey Ross loves her job, and especially, her character
To say Passions' Tracey Ross is passionate about her character, Eve Russell, is quite an understatement. While discussing the sudden, diabolical turn the heretofore sweet-natured doctor has taken, Ross actually breaks down in tears.
"I'm very ambivalent about Eve right now, and puzzled because she is doing things that I think she should go to jail for," Ross explains sorrowfully. After regaining her composure, she continues. "I have a really hard time finding sympathy for someone I've held in such high esteem. It's as if somebody came and told you that your closest friend is doing abominable things." Recently, Eve has resorted to extreme measures – including arson – to keep her past buried. Until then, Eve had been a pillar of the community, wonderful friend, great mother and devoted wife.
The sensitive Ross reveals that she didn't see the change coming, and describes the emotional toll playing Eve's dark side has taken on her. "It's sort of like getting a jail sentence and you're expected to go along with it without any explanation," she says, "or the gods messing with somebody with no reason but to mess with them."
Eve's about-face, though jolting, has also helped Ross in her evolution as an actress – though not in the way she might have expected. "Passions couldn't have challenged me more because I'm going against everything that I think, believe, hope or wish for someone I truly care about," she explains. "I think the difficulty I'm facing comes from the places in me where I'm either ill-prepared or my thinking is off. I feel like I'm being prodded with pins in places that really hurt."
What Ross describes as "difficult to play" comes across quite differently on-screen. Thanks to her considerable talent. Sure, Eve has developed a nasty side, but Ross has retained her character's girl-next-door qualities, as well. "I think I have managed to salvage Eve because of her friendship with Grace" she says. "She loves Grace and hasn't done anything to make viewers thing there is any type of insincerity there. That's been my rock in the sea."
To help herself understand Eve a little better, Ross has turned to books on sociopaths and psychopaths for answers. She even watched the film The Three Faces of Eve in order to gain character insight. "I'm still baffled," she says with a laugh. "I'm sure going to have a nervous breakdown before all is said and done." Ross also admits that she is keeping a diary, which she hopes to look back on to see how she worked through things.
Though she still may be adjusting to Eve's antics, Ross wants to make one thing very clear – she absolutely loves her job and has nothing but good things to say about Passions' producers, cast and crew. What's ironic about Ross' gushing is her reaction when producers originally came knocking. "I wasn't the least bit interested when I got the call about Eve," she explains, adding that her lack of enthusiasm was due to "a bad experience" on Ryans's Hope. "It was like working in a morgue because every week there was a constant threat of cancellation." Her gloomy 1985 – '87 run as Diana Douglas not only left a bad taste in her mouth, it made her vow to never work on a soap again.
"Throughout the years, whenever I've been offered contract soap roles, I've always responded with, 'No, no, not interested,'" she says. "I flatly said, 'No,' to Eve, too, and five months later, my agency called and said Passions had seen everyone in town, and asked me to just go in and read for them." This time the person who asked Ross was one of her closest friends, who had just come to the agency. "I knew that it would look good for her because she was new at the agency, so it was like an 'Oh, darn it … OK' type of thing." So, a reluctant Ross went in and read for Passions' casting director, Jackie Briskey. "I guess there must be a certain relaxation that comes from really not caring about something vs. really wanting something," she says of that meeting. "They called me back, and I was like, 'For crying out loud. Why don't they leave me alone!"
But Passions wouldn't let up, and eventually wore down Ross' resistance. "I thought I was doomed, and that this was the beginning of the end," she says of finally signing on the dotted line. Those fears were unfounded, however. "Everything turned out to be the exact opposite of what I was avoiding."
Ross knew Passions wasn't going to be your run-of-the-mill soap after she read in the first weeks' script that Grace would levitate out her bedroom window. "Once you float someone out the window, all bets are off," she says with a laugh. "I knew then that I was going to love this show." Ross doesn't just love the show, she's hooked on it. "My son, Bryce, and I watch it every single day," she says. "There was a day where my VCR screwed up and I missed two days and I started to go through withdrawal and needed a Passions fix."
Ross' trip to stardom began when she left her native Brooklyn to attend Rutgers University in New Jersey . She attended the prestigious school for a couple of years, majoring in acting, and then returned to New York , where she threw herself into what would be a very successful career in modeling. "I realized that I was going to have a big modeling career," she says of her decision to leave school. "I thought that modeling would be a quicker acting path."
Though she looks back on her modeling career with nothing but fondness, Ross maintains that it didn't distract her from her main goal. In 1984, while immersed in modeling, she managed to snag her first film role. "I was a showgirl in The Cotton Club," she says. "I was so excited; got to rehearse for two months … and then I got sick for two weeks." When she recovered, she returned to The Cotton Club set and was shocked to learn she'd been fired. "I was so bummed; I went home and cried my eyes out for days."
In the midst of those tears came a phone call that would change Ross' life. "I answered and heard, 'Hello … this is Star Search. Are you available?'" she recalls. "There is a God, because I wouldn't have been available if I hadn't been fired from The Cotton Club." Previously, Ross had submitted herself as a contender for Star Search's actress category. That category was full, however, and she was offered a spot in the model/spokesperson category. "I thought Star Search would be a great steppingstone, so I moved to Los Angeles ," she says. "I wasn't concerned about winning anything; I was more concerned with going out, having a good time, meeting the right people, and moving one step closer to my goal."
Ross instantly became the face of Star Search when she joined midway through the show's first season. Week after week she beat out the other modeling competitors. "That was thrilling, yes," she says, "especially at a time when black girls only came in as runners up in beauty contests." Only in retrospect did Ross realize what a statement she was making. "I was minding my own business, yet making this statement – but didn't have a single thing to do with it on a conscious level. To this day, girls still write to me and tell me that they wanted to be like me. It's pretty wild. Now, of course, minority girls win pageants all the time. It's something that isn't a problem anymore."
When Ross' Star Search reign was over, she found it difficult – thanks to her notoriety – to regain some normalcy in her life. Careerwise, she landed a development deal with ABC, and filmed numerous pilots. The roles, however, were disappointing. "I wanted real roles. I wanted to act, but everybody wanted me for a spokesperson or an anchorperson. It was very frustrating."
It was that frustration that made Ross decide she needed a radical change. "I wanted to start over," she explains with a sigh. "I felt that I ran really fast up the wrong road. I was like, OK, I'm gonna back up, cut my hair and be different."
Ross went back to square one, so to speak. She returned to New York , resumed acting classes, and went out for anything that was shooting in or around the Big Apple. At the same time, she was involved in a romantic relationship that wound up sending her down another road – to motherhood. "When I had Bryce (now 11), I became a complete stay-at-home mom," she says. She remained home for two years, then moved to Los Angeles with her son, and "started all over again from the bottom up."
Motherhood put a different spin on Ross' career. "It made me much more grounded; all of the fantasy world was taken out of it, and reality set in," she explains. "Prior to being a mom, my dream was to be an actress. Afterward, it was like, 'OK. I have to work.' It became more of an economy thing, which it had never been before."