Asked to name the most celebrated Canadians circling in the zeitgeist right now, you might hook upon some obvious suspects. Shawn Mendes, naturally. Sandra Oh, sure (what a year she has been having!). The “Two Ryans” are always in vogue. As is the timeless Alex Trebek.
Allow me to add another name to this lot? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Jacqueline MacInnes Wood.
A Windsor-bred dark beauty — one who, just this month, nabbed a Daytime Emmy for Best Actress for the role she has played on The Bold and the Beautiful for over a decade — she is an interesting specimen: her profile may not be as high as some of the other names mentioned, but in our ever-fragmented pop culture (there were over 400 TV shows produced last year!) — and a time where there are so many different calibrations of fame — how many people can say they are on a show beamed into living rooms, and on screens, in over 100 countries … every week, every year, all year long?
“Recently, I have a lot of fans reaching out from Israel,” the 32-year-old Wood matter-of-facted with zeal when I rang her up in L.A. to get the scoop.
Having played the role of fashion heiress Steffy Forrester since 2008 — she is the spawn of one-time super-couple Ridge and Taylor, and the namesake of the now-expired matriarch of the show’s core family, Stephanie Forrester — the daytime vixen gamely elaborated on the very specific cosmos she lives in. For one: B&B (as it is known) is the world’s most watched daytime drama (Guinness says so!), with 35 million viewers tuning in daily, everywhere from Botswana to Estonia, Finland to Fiji, and even from such surprising places as Iran.
The show, which just celebrated its 32nd anniversary has such a global reach it has slew of cover-names. In French Canada, it goes by Top Modèles. In Spain and Germany, respectively: Belleza y Poder and Reich und Schön. (In Canada viewers find it weekdays on CTV, and at crave.ca.)
It is so huge in Australia that the show did a multi-episode shoot from Down Under not long back. It’s bigger still in Italy, where it is simply known as Beautiful, and is said to be the No. 1 American TV import. Its stars are so well-known Wood is a regular presence at Milan Fashion Week.
In a change room at the the Grove, the famous L.A. shopping complex, is where she got the call she had first won the role, Wood shared when I jogged her memory.
“In a Forever 21 store,” she said, adding “I was beyond ecstatic” — in part because she had grown up watching the half-hour soap with her family back in Canada. In a surrealist twist, tells me now she remembers watching a child-actress version of her character falling off a boat and being presumed lost at sea (just one of the many times Steffi has been in peril — this being a soap!).
Grateful to having a front-burner role for as long as she has had in a fickle industry, Wood — who took acting classes at Ryerson University — has had some interesting plot twists in her life. In March, she had her first child, a daughter name Rise (with her dashing husband of less than year, CAA agent Elan Ruspoli). Two months later, she won the Emmy, beating out some heavyweights in the soap opera-verse (among them her own co-star Heather Tom, who had previously won five different times, and General Hospital star Maura West, who exudes an Old Hollywood diva vibe).
“It was a pinch-me moment,” Wood shared, going to on to describe the day that led up to taking the stage in a magnificent Versace gown. It included “having my baby on my boob while I put on an eyelash,” then the baby spitting up on her dress right before departing for the ceremony, and later her heel catching and breaking on the carpet when she got there.
Having been on maternity leave, and having only returned to shooting the week before the Emmys, life has been even more surreal because “I was only doing googa gaga for a while with the baby” to going back to a hyper-verbal medium. It is not uncommon for soap actors to do up to 70 pages of dialogue a day, after all. “Thank God the brain is a muscle — and it gets easier the more you do it.”
Having won her Emmy for a storyline which involved Steffy cheating on her husband Liam (Scott Clifton) with his father Bill (Don Diamont), and then getting pregnant (it was her husband’s, who left her anyways) — Steffy is nothing if not flawed — I ask her how all this continuous ejecting of emotion (and crying!) affects her body. “It can be cathartic … and luckily I am able to separate myself from it, but your body definitely shifts, your hormones shift.”
Indeed, she confesses that while she knew she wanted to get pregnant, she purposefully waited until that particularly storyline was over to do so in real life.
Fiction intrudes on life in very specific ways, Wood admits when discussing the phenomenon of doing a character for more than a decade. Very different than a film role where you might typically inhabit another person for a few months, or even a top primetime series like This is Us, where you may do 18 episodes in a season. And so when it came to getting married in real life last year, she decided, they decided they were just going to elope.
“Clearly, I have been married too many times (three) on a soap opera,” she says, laughing, explaining the motivation. “Also, I was never motivated to do the whole big-wedding thing.” (She and her husband did it on a yacht off the coast of Sardinia.)
Reflecting on the changing landscape of soap operas (although B&B has its international reach, consider that there were 11 soaps on the air at the beginning of this century compared to just four now), we talk a bit about how the allure is still there, just in different form. What are The Bachelor, or The Real Housewives, if not modern soap operas? Both serialized dramas like The Crown and Game of Thrones are technically soaps, we agree.
“People sometimes says: soap operas they are so crazy? And I am like: Have you seen some reality shows?” she segues.
“Or real-life politics these days,” I come back. Uh, yeah, just turn on CNN.
Because her relationship with her character inevitably deepens over time (the echoes from Steffy having lost a twin sister, for instance), there are so many layers to explore. Not to mention twists and turns!
“I like to think of Steffy as a friend,” she says. A complicated friend, no doubt.
Shinan Govani is a freelance columnist based in Toronto covering culture and society. Follow him on Twitter: @shinangovani