Patrika Darbo. Photo credit Russell Baer.

Patrika Darbo of Days of Our Lives Discusses the Bitter Topic of Health Insurance for Senior Actors

Patrika Darbo, a senior and veteran film and television actress, has gone full circle when it comes to obtaining health insurance. Rules change, union rules morph and once again, actors are scrambling to get affordable health care. With SAG-AFTRA, actors need to meet a minimum earnings requirement and continue to pay their premium, to keep their benefits.

What if an actor retires? What about their spouse and children? You can check out the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan for more information. You may not think this pertains to you now, but it may in the near future, so you probably want to pay close attention and learn how the union operates with regard to health insurance.

Patrika Darbo is not afraid to share her story with the health insurance struggle that a lot of senior actors go through.

Patrika DarboYou’re a veteran film and television actress, having appeared in productions to the nth degree. What was the turning point for you when you decided to go into acting as a fulltime career?

I was working as a credit manager in corporate America and my superiors said that “acting didn’t fit the cooperate image”. Furthermore, when I questioned something very legitimate that needed to be addressed, my boss who was new to the company told me I was “a woman no more than a goat and to never contradict him again”. I promptly gave them 20 minutes or two weeks notice and told the president of the company he was lucky I didn’t sue them. The company went bankrupt shortly thereafter and I started working full time as an actor.

You studied theater at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia and later attended the Atlanta School of Drama. Did you have to audition to get into those schools?

No, I did not have to audition for any of these two programs. They were both open to whomever wanted to study. After college I also started taking classes at Theater Atlanta.

Having majored in theater, was there any type of shock value when you got your first job in television and film? What types of things did you have to adjust to when transitioning from theater to television and film?

When I was in school, they didn’t teach us about television and film call sheets and how to read them and they really didn’t teach us about who was in power. For example the director, the AD, the 2nd AD, the producers, etc. I started working and learning all of this by being a background player, day player, costar and then eventually a guest star, etc. I had a lot of theater training so you could always hear me on set which was to my advantage when they were picking background to do special on-set business in a scene. My advice is no matter what medium you’re working in, speak up! Make sure who you’re working with can hear you. Nothing is worse than sitting or standing a foot away from someone, and you can’t hear them, so you miss your cue. You can act away, but if you can’t be heard you’re wasting your time and talent. I learned all of this early on and use it to this day.

You’ve been married to Rolf Darbo since 1973. How did you two meet? Tell us about your wedding.

A-Rolf worked for Disney in the True Life Depart and he did work as a producer on a number of films at Epcot Center. We met at the Burbank Little Theater and were married on stage at the Golden Mall Playhouse in Burbank. When we met, Rolf was the stage manager and I was in the chorus. We did a lot of community theater together. I can build sets, sew costumes, and act. I tease my husband that he married me because I know how to work all power tools and pound a nail.

Since both you and your husband are in show business, how does health insurance work?

Since we both had jobs, we didn’t have insurance problems. When I first started working I was not fortunate to qualify for insurance, but I had Rolf’s as his spouse, SAG and AFTRA were separate at the time and eventually I qualified for both. Now that I am of retirement age and a senior receiving a pension from SAG-AFTRA, I am uninsured by my union. They decided to no longer allow a senior’s residuals to count towards their insurance. So, unfortunately although I made a great deal of money that would have qualified both Rolf and me to have insurance, the new rules have changed all of that. DON’T GET OLD. I did get great insurance to cover us both, but it’s a bitter topic for most seniors.

On May 20, 2022, you took part in a benefit dedicated to the late All My Children star, John Callahan, who passed away in 2020. Lip Sync for a Cure is a show benefiting the American Cancer Society Desert Spirit. What exactly did you do at the benefit? How were you approached to be included?

I was fortunate to have been asked to participate. I have done this benefit in the past and it is a great fundraiser and a lot of fun. I was lip-syncing to a song from a Broadway musical that was turned into a movie. It was a lip-sync challenge and all the participants are celebrities who pick a song to perform. We were performing in a large venue and generous people purchased tickets to be there. Then there is a VIP party afterwards for those that were fortunate enough to purchase a higher priced ticket. I understand we were sold out which is great for the fight against cancer.

Back in the day, being on a daytime soap was more of a stepping-stone to get into nighttime television. That seems to have shifted meaning the stigma is no longer valid. Why did the stepping-stone to nighttime disappear and is that a good or bad thing?

I think in the past , that because daytime shoots a movie script per day and it moves so fast and performers had to memorize so much dialogue, that the performer was thought to not be a great actor, but more like a machine. Remember there are more that 10 ways to say “Hi. How are you” and when you only have a couple of days to memorize 20-30 pages of dialogue you might not have to time to find those ways. A movie shoots five to maybe 20 pages a day. Daytime shoots 80 pages. It is the hardest work I’ve ever done but thank God I work with wonderfully talented performers. I think there are still those who look down on daytime actors, but how many of them can say their shows have been on TV for over 50 years?!!!!!!

Time today goes by so fast. Are there things in your life that you wanted to do but never had a chance, and at this point probably never will? What? Why won’t you do them at this point?

Time does go fast, that’s for sure. I want to do Broadway and I will one day. I am not a woulda, coulda, shoulda kind of person. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t have your dreams. You just have to go after it and prove the world wrong!

A lot of people NOT in show business think it’s all fun, games and glory. While being on the red carpet may be exciting, what type of hard work and dedication is there in order to be an actor? What things did you find out you have to do for work that are not actually acting related?

If you have to be on the set at 5:00am, trust me, your social life is cut short and with all the dialogue you may have, you need to be learning your lines and then get to bed early. It’s nice to have someone do your hair and makeup and buy you great outfits, but you find yourself turning down events you’d love to go to because you need to study. Oh and don’t forget you should be taking classes and there is always a script to learn for class and unless you’re Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise or Angelina Jolie, you’re not making a million bucks. INVEST in your future. Don’t blow your money on cars and frivolous things. Marion Ross of Happy Days once told me not to spend like crazy until your show has been on the air for at least three years and you are one of the stars. Be smart and remember it’s show “business”. Learn the business part for your own security.

You recently reprised your role as Nancy Wesley, a role you originated from 1998-2005 on the NBC’s daytime soap, Days of Our Lives. How did that conversation go?

When I originally got hired, the casting director for Days at the time was Fran Bascom. She loved going to live theater and she had seen me in a number of Equity waiver shows and we became friends. We were at a friend’s party and she asked me if I would do a Soap. I said yes, of course. Work is work and always moves you forward. Fran contacted my agent, they did negotiations and I was soon working on Days. When I did The Bold & The Beautiful, I already had a huge daytime following and I was asked by the producer to join that show too. I’ve worked hard and I am grateful for the recognition that they gave me.

Nadia Bjorlin, Kevin Spirtas, Patrika Darbo

Nadia Bjorlin, Kevin Spirtas, Patrika Darbo

There are lots of new people on Days of Our Lives. What was it like meeting the newbies? Did you yourself feel like a newbie?

I really haven’t worked with a lot of the newbies. I am working with Kevin Spirtas, Nadia Bjorlin, Judi Evans and Eric Martsoff. I’ve worked with them in the past. Greg Rikkart and James Read were new to me. Trying to keep everyone’s stage name and real name separate is the hardest, especially when we all don’t work on the same day and time because of Covid. We do wear our masks all the time except if we’re on set or in makeup.

Anything else you want to say?

I work with a number of charities that everyone should check out and offer help if you can. The Talians at UCLA help out Operation Mend and organizations assisting with mental health. The George Lopez Foundation helps kids with kidney health and transplant issues as well as veterans and others in underserved communities. I also love The Rescue Train which helps rescue at risk animals. You can always keep up with me by following me on Instagram @darbopatrika.

Patrika Darbo’s Bio

Veteran film and television actress, Patrika Darbo has reprised her role as Nancy Wesley, a role she originated from 1998-2005 on the popular NBC daytime drama, Days of Our Lives.  Darbo, who won a Primetime Emmy in 2016 for Outstanding Actress in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series for Acting Dead, was nominated for a Daytime Emmy for the role of Nancy Wesley in 2000. After leaving Days of Our Lives, she last returned to the show for a limited appearance in 2017. Her new storyline began airing on January 14th, 2022.

Darbo, who is currently a Performer’s Peer Group Co-Governor at the Television Academy, also played the role of Shirley Spectra on CBS’s The Bold & The Beautiful from 2017-2018 before reprising the same role on CBS’s The Young & The Restless in 2021. Before making a name in daytime, the veteran actress was a series regular on the sitcom Step By Step and had guest starring and recurring roles on such shows as The Middle, Desperate Housewives, Devious Maids, Dexter, Big Bang Theory, Seinfeld, Roseanne and she had memorable roles in dozens of films including Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil, In The Line of Fire, Speed 2, Daddy’s Dying Who’s Got The Will, Leaving Normal and more.

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