A surprising number of Black actors, including James Earl Jones, Cicely Tyson, Laurence Fishburne, Phylicia Rashad and Morgan Freeman, found steady work on the soaps, but too often they were stuck in back-burner storylines.
It wasn’t until the 1980’s, when Debbi Morgan and Darnell Williams launched the Angie-and-Jessie era on All My Children, that a Black soap-opera couple was worth talking about. More recently, Victoria Rowley and Shemar Moore were the It pair on The Young and the Restless — until 2002, when Moore left the show.
Now Kiko Ellsworth and Kent Masters King of Port Charles are poised to be daytime’s hot new couple. Ellsworth, who plays the dreamy if wayward Jamal, and King, who debuted last month as Imani, his latest object of desire, agree that their offscreen camaraderie makes for good on-screen sexual tension.
“We really clicked,” says King of her first meeting with Ellsworth. “I’m the new kid on the block on Port Charles, and he made me feel very safe.”
Ellsworth was equally impressed with King’s talent. “She inspires me as an actor,” he says. King, 29, is a TV veteran. “I grew up watching soaps,” she says. “My mom was an extra on General Hospital.” By 13, King was a regular on the late-eighties nighttime soap Knots Landing.
These Los Angeles natives say they were attracted to the challenge of working on a soap opera, an often-underrated TV genre. “As an actor I want to use it as a springboard to bigger projects,” says King. “But you can’t knock the career of a Susan Lucci.”
Ellsworth, 30, is already landing roles beyond the tube. He’s appearing in Bad Boys II, with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, this summer. The last-minute script changes and shooting schedules of his day job helped him ease into his film role. “On a soap you work 10,000 miles an hour,” says Ellsworth. “Films operate at a slower pace, so it’s easy to get used to.”
But no matter how far Ellsworth’s career takes him, the support he receives from his Port Charles viewers keeps him grounded. “The biggest compliment I get is when my fans thank me for keeping it real.”