'Melrose Place' duo Laura Leighton and Thomas Calabro, together at last
By By Denise Martin
Sep 24, 2009 | 12:00 AM
The most disarming thing about Laura Leighton and Thomas Calabro -- "Melrose Place's" diabolical Sydney Andrews and Michael Mancini -- is that they appear not to have aged since Aaron Spelling's campy hit wrapped in 1999.
Calabro dismissed the idea with a laugh. "You're not the first person to say that, but it's not true," Leighton said.
Oh, but it is, as evidenced in Tuesday's episode, which flashed back to Sydney's first death 12 years ago, a fatal car accident she somehow survived. Turns out Michael -- seen in all his '90s-era poofy-haired glory -- had some lingering affection for his red-headed nemesis-turned-lover-turned-nemesis, and helped her fake her own death. Executive producer Darren Swimmer said traveling back in time didn't take long. "We just had to adjust Thomas' hair, and Laura looks the same. It's uncanny."
Resuming their scandalous alter egos for the CW's series reboot -- and the attention that has come with it -- took getting used to for the pair. "When we shot our first scene in the hospital, I thought, 'OK, this is weird. Fun, but weird,'" Leighton said during dinner with Calabro in Studio City last month. "It really was," Calabro said. "I just remember thinking, 'Thank God you're here with me.'"
Both actors worked consistently, albeit out of the limelight, in the decade since "Melrose" went off the air -- Leighton in TV movies and short-lived shows, Calabro on stage and in guest-starring roles -- but today find themselves back in the spotlight. "Melrose" is the CW's highest-priority launch this fall, and while viewership has been tepid, the recent signing of Heather Locklear, who will reprise her role as Amanda Woodward in November, stands to goose ratings.
But in fact, neither Leighton nor Calabro were interested in returning to the franchise that made them, for a long while, famous. Not if it meant going back to the crazy days, which found Sydney being buried alive and Michael suffering amnesia. "I for one was not interested in a straight-forward redo," Calabro said.
The producers of the new "Melrose" have zapped the camp in favor of a darker, slicker soap opera format. In 2009, Michael is a celebrity in the medical world, but is at odds with his son David, who has inherited his pop's lying, cheating ways. Sydney, meanwhile, is resurrected and killed -- again, and for good -- by the end of Episode 1, her lifeless body found floating face down in a pool. Leighton appears only in the memories of other characters, all of whom are murder suspects.
"They had me at 'face down,'" the actress said. "It never occurred to me that I'd be involved at all. I was dead. But the writers figured out a really interesting way for Sydney to play in this murder mystery." Before her demise, she had become the landlady of the storied complex, her final years mangled and tangled with those of the new tenants. Three episodes in and we've already learned that she had been sleeping with at least two of them, including Michael's son.
But executive producer Todd Slavkin said that from his point of view Sydney and Michael have always been "Melrose's" star-crossed lovers (even while fans might remember Sydney once tried to kill Michael and make it look like a suicide.)
"We needed their romantic longing. Darren and I always thought of those two as meant for each other but so devious they could never be together." Slavkin said. "Saving Sydney came down to affairs of the heart. You see Michael's face in that last episode, and you understand why he does what he does."
Off screen, Leighton, 41, and Calabro, 50, are now busy parents with seven kids between them. (Leighton raises four with husband "Desperate Housewives" actor Doug Savant, who also starred in the original "Melrose.") During dinner, the two even tried to negotiate a play date for their respective sons.
It's no wonder that reminiscing about the old "Melrose" requires some effort. "During a lot of these interviews, people will ask us if we remember certain things our characters did in the original run, and I'll be honest, not all of it rings a bell," Leighton said.
"I had five wives and was married seven times," Calabro offered, then fessed. "I remember doing this one talk show, and they had a handy chart."
Michael also ran over and was run over by his mistress Kimberly ("Desperate Housewives'" Marcia Cross), and later got coerced into marrying Sydney, the sister of his wife Jane.
"I'd play that guy all day long," Calabro continued; he is the only actor to have been on the show from start to finish. "My job was to make it work. I did it, with pleasure." Michael will continue to battle his sexual demons in the new "Melrose," but expect things to get worse before they get better. "He gets involved with a different character every time I turn around."
Leighton, who received a Golden Globe nomination in 1995 for playing Sydney, was less enthusiastic about her wacky story arcs during the original run. In more than one way, her character deserves to rest in peace. At her lowest -- and at times her most hilarious -- Sydney worked as a prostitute, joined a cult, and was committed to a psych ward. "Some plots were harder than others to make sense of and I was bound and determined to make them make sense," Leighton said. "Perhaps that was my first mistake."
The actress said the show's popularity soon proved overwhelming. "It was my first job and it had gone from zero to 60," she said. "It was uncomfortable, like everything was happening in spite of me." Which is to say the hype surrounding the new "Melrose" finds the actors humbled and cautiously optimistic.
"I'll just do the best job I can today and let the chips fall where they may," Calabro said.
Leighton is not sure how long her run will last. The producers won't say how -- or if -- Sydney's character will work into the plot once her murderer is unveiled, but the actress seems to be OK with going along for the ride, however long it lasts.
"I have a family, and there are other things in my life now, but I think it's good to enjoy and appreciate this while it's happening," Leighton said. "It's pretty special to be in this position again."
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