As the World Turns Alum Martha Byrne Throws Her Weight Around With New Online Series
Her world still turns in the most surprising ways. Fan fave Martha Byrne won two of her three Daytime Emmys as heiress-in-distress Lily Walsh on the landmark CBS soap opera As the World Turns. Now she’s exec producing and starring in Weight, a new digital comedy series that skewers the world of TV weight-loss competition shows. The pilot episode premieres Sunday, August 2 (8/7c) at weighttheseries.com. Created by Daryn Strauss (Downsized), Weight features Byrne as Claire, a 45-year-old mother of two, who loses 100 pounds on a weight-loss series and gets some very unexpected—and distressing—reactions from her family and friends. Cue the cupcakes! The cast also includes Byrne’s former ATWT costar Trent Dawson, plus Allison Smith (The West Wing), Bradley White (Masters of Sex), Peyton Ella (The Sound of Music Live) and newcomer Kate West, daughter of two more ATWT alum, Maura West and Scott DeFreitas. Frederick King Keller (Blue Bloods) directed the pilot. We spoke with Byrne about this weighty—and painfully funny—project.
What intrigues you about weight-loss competition shows? And why go the comedic route?
I could have pulled back the curtain on the world of soap opera—I could tell you insane stories for days!—but the issue of weight and the struggles people face just seemed much more relevant. This is so universal. It’s certainly been a part of my own life forever, as it has with so many women—and men—you talk to. Weight is always the big topic of conversation. My character thinks her weight loss is going to solve everything. Her family will be thrilled! Balloons are gonna fly! But everything does not turn out wonderful because you’re thin. That’s the story I was excited to tell. It’s so hard to find self-acceptance. We’re all on the same page with that. Weight could have been a serious drama but we did a crazy comedy. It seems right to get the message out in a light way. When we have a few good laughs we see how alike we really are.
How’d you research your role?
I’ve met several men and women who have been through The Biggest Loser as contestants and I was fascinated by what goes on after the program ends. What happens when you stop working out eight hours a day? How many of those contestants actually keep the weight off? How does their weight loss affect their relationships? How many marriages fall apart? I also talked with someone who worked at one of the weight shows and found out kids can have a really tough time adjusting to a “new” parent. They cry, they scream, they freak out. Claire goes through three months of hell on a TV show only to have her husband in shock. He does not like her new body. He liked the old one. And her kids are, like, “Who is this person?” No one knows what to think or how to feel, and it’s all caught by the TV cameras.
Word is, you had a big production entity interested in developing Weight as a series but you took a pass.
We started shopping it and got a development deal opportunity but ended up passing on it because we were faced with some very typical realities. We might have made a deal on the property itself, but our vision for the show would have changed too much, or I, despite three Emmys, might not get to play the part. That’s the reality of putting your show in the hands of others. So we felt that Weight needed to be done our way. We wanted to release the pilot on our own, and let the audience see it the way it was intended. It was a big decision, and not an easy one, but you have to go with your gut. My spider senses are usually right on point. It was also important that the audience see what they had contributed to because, in order to get the pilot done, we went to the fans with a Kickstarter campaign. They’re the ones who made this happen and we are so grateful to them.
Is there anyone more loyal than a daytime soap fan?
No! They have such an emotional attachment to their shows, a deep connection you never see with primetime. Anytime I put a photo of me and Elizabeth Hubbard on social media the ATWT fans go bananas. A picture of me with Brian Bloom got 17,000 likes—and that romance was playing out on ATWT 30 years ago! That show really meant something to people, and it’s still in their hearts and souls.
But soaps have to share the blame for peddling unrealistic images of beauty, don’t you think?
They do have that dark side. In the old days, being on ATWT wasn’t about being physically perfect. You just had to be a good actor. Eventually, it did become about your weight and what size dress you wear, but when I started on that show I was a chubby teenager with teeth missing. That didn’t stop the fans from relating to my character and embracing her and loving Lily and Dusty as a couple. The fans didn’t talk about how I looked in my bathing suit. Such things were never the topic of conversation. All that has changed. The media pushes out those unrealistic images of perfection and now everyone, not just actors, is feeling the pressure. Kids especially.
How do you personally handle that pressure?
I’m totally guilty of being an emotional eater. There are days when I’ll wake up feeling bloated and horrible and I don’t want to go to the gym. I just want to stay home and eat cookies. Now, I can admit that to my husband, but I would never say that in front of my daughter, ever! You have to be very conscious as a parent to not belittle yourself in front of your children, no matter how much you feel like crap. One thing like that can scar a child right into an eating disorder. I feel it’s everyone’s responsibility to take care of yourself and look the best you can. But age changes everything.
At some point you have to decide who you really want to be in this world. Where are you going? Where do you fit in? Do you want to hold on to your youth, and your youthful figure, and fight Father Time? Or do you want to try your best to stay in shape and learn and grow and become a better person on the inside? Are you done with the pressure? Sometimes the acting business relieves you of that pressure by shutting you out completely, but if you’re lucky enough to have choices in your life and career, you have to choose wisely and honestly. I’m 45, and have far more interesting things going on than whether or not I look good in a bikini. Don’t get me wrong: Looking great in a bikini would be fantastic! I’m not against it. But, realistically, the time has come for me to play lawyers and doctors and try to bring some real meat to those kinds of roles. I need to do my thing, not somebody else’s idea of my thing. That’s why I love this whole Amy Schumer phenomenon. She’s like, “Love me, hate me, I don’t care.” That’s an incredible message to put out there.
Check out this exclusive clip from Weight: