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Barbara Mandrell Tries Acting Nice—for a Change—on NBC’s “Sunset Beach” (1997)

Originally published in the June 17, 1997, issue of Country Weekly magazine featuring Clay Walker on the cover.

At last, Barbara Mandrell’s mother is happy.

All Mary Mandrell wanted was for her daughter to play somebody nice on a TV program for a change.

It just wasn’t happening.

There was Barbara playing a boisterous talk-show host on Baywatch.

Barbara as a would-be murderer on The Commish.

Barbara as a producer who covers up a murder on Diagnosis Murder.

Mary Mandrell just shook her head and waited.

Now Barbara has landed the truly likeable role of Alexandra Mitchum on NBC’s daytime drama Sunset Beach.

“I can find a little bit of Alex in me,” Barbara tells Country Weekly during a break on the set. “She’s what I strive to be—a nice, caring person. She’s fun, she’s a good mother, she’s bright and full of energy. She’s an award-winning, internationally acclaimed photojournalist, and she’s been places I have a lot of difficulty not only pronouncing but memorizing—the worst of which has crept into today’s script—Namibia, Africa.”

Barbara interrupts herself long enough to ask her husband, Ken Dudney, for help. “Can you find out how to pronounce whatever food it is that I have to say?” she pleads, before returning to the subject of Alex.

“Alex lives a very exciting life, but she’s come back to Sunset Beach to be with her son, Casey. As a mother, there have been times she’s wanted to be there, but she couldn’t,” she adds, and suddenly it becomes clear that Barbara is well aware of the parallels between this role and her own life.

“Alex and Casey have a tradition on Mother’s Day: Because he doesn’t ever know where she is, she sends him a Mother’s Day card. She’s really a good person,” says Barbara, and she means it.

A nice character, however, doesn’t guarantee easy work. Instead, the recurrent role is one of the toughest Barbara’s had. “On an episodic TV show, you shoot seven or eight days for a one-hour show. On a soap, we turn out a one-hour show each day!” she says, as an acting coach who’s helping Barbara run lines waits for hairdresser Earl Cox to finish his work.

This is one hardworking woman, but it’s clear she loves the challenge. “Believe me, I’m not complaining—it’s been quite an education,” Barbara testifies. “On other shows we’d shoot a few pages every day, so if I didn’t like myself in a take, I could say, ‘I’m sorry, I need to do this again.’ And on nighttime TV, the script often revolved around me in some fashion, so I had more leeway. But on daytime TV, you’re just one of the cast, and you’re real lucky if you get two shots at a scene—because you ain’t the only one, baby.”

The Sunset Beach cast still amazes Barbara. “It really is a well-oiled machine,” she reports. “And they are the sweetest, nicest people. I’d think with this many personalities, somebody would have a problem—but I sure haven’t seen it.” Barbara’s experience with the show has made her a fan, to boot.

“I’ve never been a soap watcher,” she confesses, “but when I agreed to do the show I started watching it—and boy, they hooked me!”

Kept her hooked, too. “Not only are the fans in the dark as to what a character is going to do—none of us knows what our character or the others are going to do, or what’s going to happen,” she admits. “It’s kinda like real life.”

Although Barbara’s life is filled with weekend concerts and obligations to the QVC shopping channel, acting has become a passion.

“I love acting,” Barbara says. “It’s a whole new highway, a whole new adventure, so that makes it challenging.”

And while Barbara’s entire life as an entertainer helped prepare her for TV, acting has a different kind of emotional payoff. “When I’m onstage in front of an audience, I am Barbara. It’s me—me putting my best foot forward, of course, but definitely me. Acting is fun because I leave me and become somebody else.”

She has even begun contemplating larger horizons. “I know more people see television,” she says almost hesitantly. “But I would love to walk into a movie theater someday and see me up on that big screen. I think that would be way cool.”

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