Susan Lucci on Receiving Daytime Emmys’ Lifetime Achievement Award & If She’d Return to Soaps

Susan Lucci
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For years, both casual and devoted soap opera viewers tuned into to the Daytime Emmy Awards each year to see if Susan Lucci would finally win the coveted golden girl for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for her role as the indomitable Erica Kane on All My Children. That moment came after 19 nods in 1999 when Lucci’s name was read as the victor by presenter Shemar Moore (ex-Malcolm, The Young and the Restless).

On Friday night, Lucci and Moore will reunite when the S.W.A.T. star presents the actress with her bookend statuette as she is the Lifetime Achievement Daytime Emmy Award recipient. TV Insider sat down with Lucci to chat about her honor, how she handled the focus being on her winning for so many years, and if she’s open to reprising Erica Kane for a visit to General Hospital, ABC’s remaining soap opera.

Congratulations on your Daytime Emmy Lifetime Achievement award!

Susan Lucci: Thank you. It’s very thrilling, of course, to be recognized this way. It’s a huge honor. I’m very happy and excited to receive this. Many things go through your mind at a time like this. Quite frankly, it’s humbling. I asked myself, “Have I really achieved enough in my life to be receiving this?”

Yes! Among your contributions is the fact that people who’ve never watched a soap opera know who you are. This is the first time an actress has been the lone recipient for the Lifetime Achievement award.

I had no idea! Wow. Thank you so much. That’s very, very special.

One year, a journalist must have been looking for angle to his or her Daytime Emmy coverage story and wrote that a certain number of nominations had passed without a win for you. That took on a life of its own. How did all that attention make you feel?

I was amazed, thrilled, and very happy. [Laughs] I knew that I cared! And Helmut [Huber, Lucci’s late husband] and my family cared. Beyond that, I never would have thought the press corps would have cared. I was humbled and touched.

You poked fun at it in a commercial for Sweet One, a sugar substitute, on Saturday Night Live, and also, on AMC when Erica and Edmund (John Callahan) had faked Erica’s kidnapping. After she spoke to her loved ones about being held “captive,” Edmund told Erica she deserved an Oscar. “I’d settle for an Emmy,” Erica quipped.

I remember doing the Sweet One commercial. I said in rehearsal, “I’ve got everything – except that Emmy!” That became a part of the commercial.

Do you recall some buzz going into the 1999 awards ceremony that you’d win that year?

Yes. I do remember hearing some buzz. I remember there being a lot of press at the entrance, and people were shouting, “This is your year!” That wasn’t the first time I’d ever heard that, but I was hearing it a lot that year. You try to both keep your hopes up and also be realistic. I was engaged and excited and hopeful, but it was nerve-wracking. A lot of things were in place where I could understand partially why people were saying what they were.

I do recall the subject matter [in my reel] being very important. Bianca [then, Nathalie Paulding] having anorectic. I thought that the acting from everyone involved in that story was wonderful. The writing and the directing was all wonderful. There were a lot of good things in place, but that doesn’t guarantee anything.

The goal was always the work. The focus had to be on the material. I remember leaving the set many times, and Fra Heflin, who played my mother, Mona, would say, “I think that worked, darling, don’t you?” That’s what actors are concerned about. Did it work well?

How long will you be in Los Angeles?  

My trip is very short, but I am looking forward to seeing people on Friday whom I’ve either worked with or admired. Eden Reigel [ex-Bianca] is going to be sitting with us at the table. It’ll be great to see her. Walt [Willey, ex-Jackson] is in Europe and is unable to be there. Nadine Aronson [former AMC producer] will be there. She was “mission control.” If we hadn’t had her, the show would not have gone on! I’m hoping Julie Carruthers [former executive producer] will join us. Cameron [Mathison, ex-Ryan, AMC; now, Drew, GH] is coming with his General Hospital team, so he’ll be there but at another table.

Bianca coming out as a lesbian and Erica’s reaction to it was one of AMC creator Agnes Nixon’s last great stories. What do you remember about that?

Jean Dadario Burke was executive producer at the time. She asked to see me after work one day. It was just the two of us in her office. She told me about a story Agnes had in mind. She told me about the percentage of young people who’d like to come out to their parents but they were afraid those parents wouldn’t love them.

We both sat there with tears streaming down our cheeks over this. I was so honored that Agnes wanted to tell that story through Erica. I was hoping that they would cast the part of Bianca with an actress who really gets it. Boy, did they ever. They couldn’t have found a better actress than Eden.

Walt popped up on GH not too long ago. Were you able to catch his appearances?

Not yet. Everyone’s told me he’s been on. Michael E. Knight [ex-Tad], too. Did Walt play Jackson?

Michael is playing a new role, Martin Grey. But yes, Walt does play Jackson on GH. He walked back into the role as if no time had passed. I have to ask – if GH were to extend an invitation to you to have Erica Kane visit Port Charles, would you be interested? Erica is missed!

Thank you so much. I would welcome listening to anything Frank Valentini [executive producer, GH] would have to say.

Your winning reel was all drama, but you certainly and effectively infused Erica with a lot of comedy over the years. How would you describe your sense of comedy?

I love comedy. I don’t know. I guess it’s innate. Everyone is different, but I would say mine is innate.

What are your thoughts on Shemar Moore presenting your Lifetime Achievement award? It’s somewhat fitting to have this be a bookend moment.   

I think he’s a perfect choice. Of course, it brings back very happy memories. He’s so charming and wonderful. He’s a very good actor and a very busy man. I’m very glad he’s going to be presenting again. I think the fans will enjoy seeing him.

In your acceptance speech in 1999, you were almost cut off. But the camera cut to the audience and people were saying that no, don’t you dare!  

[Smiling] Yes. Kelly Ripa [ex-Hayley, AMC; Live with Kelly and Mark] said that.

And then they started to play music as if to score the moment.

It was really something I’ll never forget, standing up there and looking out at the audience.

Is there anyone you’d like to thank in advance of Friday night’s ceremony?

I want to give the biggest thank you to the fans. They embraced Erica Kane. She was only supposed to be on every other Tuesday, as I’ve said before. I want to thank the fans .

50th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards, Friday, December 15, 9/8c, CBS and Paramount+