Soap Opera Digest, September 30, 2003
by Jennifer Lenhart
Trent Dawson (Henry, ATWT) is a busy man. He has just finished a photo shoot, and this week, he has to tape five episodes - many with a baby - in three days before leaving for Baltimore to begin a two-month gig in a play. He last visited his family, who are scattered along the Gulf Coast, "a couple of Christmases ago," although they visit often, usually during fan club weekends, when he doesn't have a lot of time for them because he is spending it with Henry's supporters.
It sounds like a star's successful (if stressful) life, but this whirlwind of activity is actually misleading. He is the definition of a working-class actor - which is to say, he's not always working. "It's feast or famine in my business, and it's great when you have an opportunity to be able to work in two different places at once, even though I'm not going to sleep for the next two months," he says. "But then I've gone long periods of time where I'm getting money from Uncle Sam. Do you know how many times I've been on unemployment since I've been on ATWT?"
He reveals this matter-of-factly, with his typical lack of pretense. He's a regular guy who was, if you want to know the truth, a bit unnerved by the flashy photo shoot and quickly bores of talking about himself. The problem with this is that it's easy to slip into conversational mode - discussing the pleasures and pitfalls of digital cable and the rooftop camaraderie in New York City during the recent widespread blackout - and everyone forgets that he's here to do an interview. This is actually his second with Digest, despite the fact that he still isn't on-contract with ATWT. The last one was in 2000, when he noted that he was only sure he'd be working through summer.
"I've always thought I would just be here through the summer," he laughs. "Some comments were made to me that I'll have a place with the show, but I take that with a grain of salt because it is television. I never know what's happening more than three weeks in advance, and even then I don't know what's written, only that I've been called to work. So, I'm always assuming that at some point, it'll be, 'And then Henry gets shot.' I have to make that assumption because it's the smart way to operate."
This doesn't change the fact that actors who are far less popular have come, signed contracts and gone since his debut, or that as a recurring player, the perks just aren't the same. "I went through a period where I did [mind] very much because I got tired of people telling me 'You deserve a contract.' It is a second-class citizenship, even after I've been there that long," he shrugs. "If your ego is high and your self-esteem is low, it will affect you." It also doesn't hurt to focus on the advantages of free agency. "My agents always called [a contract] the golden handcuffs. Because once it happens, they say they've lost so many actors who could be working on Broadway and theater and all this stuff, and now they have great big houses in the Hamptons, and great big families and great big SUVs and have done nothing else, and have gotten scared to do anything else."
And considering his established fan base and the amount of work he has ahead of him, Dawson would seem to be securely enjoying the best of both worlds, but security is a slippery term. "I don't know, your standards of what that is keep going up as you get older. If I were to start thinking bout having a family now, I know I'm at least working until November 2, and after that I might be completely out of work," he points out. "But I guess in this day and age, no one has job security. It's more secure than it was when I got the show, just doing regional theater and living paycheck to paycheck."
For the record, he would sign a contract at ATWT or maybe even another show. Until then, the sporadic soap income helps subsidize his frequent theater jobs. Part of the reason he got hired for the production of Pal Joey late last year is because the director knew he could "afford" to do it. "What they were paying me to come down to Philly ... I was doing eight [shows] a week for less than I would get for one day on a soap," says Dawson, who will be living in theater housing for his run in George Bernard Shaw's Misalliance at Center Stage in Baltimore. The play runs from October 3 through November 2, even as Henry will likely appear daily on TV, thanks to the grueling schedule reshuffling ATWT is doing to accommodate him now. The irony of all this is not lost on him, but he remains circumspect.
"[The director of Pal Joey] made a very interesting point: She said, 'It helped me in my decision-making to know that you wouldn't turn it down because the money wasn't good enough.' I'd never heard that argument," he notes. "I said, 'I don't care, I just want to do the show.' The money always works out somehow. I don't want to get too Zen about it, but it works out."