I was nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award 19 times before I won. The first nine years, I heard someone else's name called; after that — I think it was a protective thing — I didn't hear whose name was called, but nobody was making eye contact with me, so I knew that it wasn't mine.
It became such a big thing that I didn't win; it was amazing to me that people cared at all. I mean, I knew I was thrilled to be nominated and I knew that my family cared, but then the press would be so excited. And every year, I'd walk in on the red carpet, and the fans and everyone would say, "This is your year, this is your year." I had to try not to get all caught up in that, because there was so much work at hand. At the same time, it was very hard not to get caught up, to be hopeful and wishful, and then sit in the audience and have someone else's name called.
But I don't think you can work for awards; I think you have to work to a certain standard that you know exists, and be a really good judge of whether you did good work or not. I felt like, after each loss, I had go back and try to do better work, to grow as an actress and be worthy of the award, because I knew that the other people who did win worked hard, too, and obviously people just thought their work was better.
I definitely didn't want to be the weak link in that company, because I had so much respect for the people with whom I was working.
Still, that pressure to grow as an actress came from me: I don't know how it was on every show, but on "All My Children," there was no talk of the Emmy, nobody thought about it. Everyone — the wonderful ensemble of actors, and also the cast, the crew and the production team — just wanted to make the scenes work and do our best work. I definitely didn't want to be the weak link in that company, because I had so much respect for the people with whom I was working.
And then there was our writer, Agnes Nixon: I was so lucky to be in her hands. I saw very clearly the intentions of what Agnes was writing, and I never wanted to miss a moment that she had conceived for my character. A lot of wanting to grow as an actress came from the fact that I saw what was on the page; a lot of Agnes' stories(and she was writing stories that were way ahead of their time) were told through Erica Kane, whom I had that wonderful opportunity to portray.
The sense of acting being teamwork was a mentality that I took from school: I studied with wonderful people and I wanted them to be proud of me. The only way to do that was to do good work and to really grow, and I took not winning as a sign that I had more growing to do. Not that I didn't give it my all, all those years, but I felt that there was always an opportunity to learn more and get better.
It was a wonderful thing to finally win, but I had spent those years doing something I loved, and continuing to develop in this profession that I loved.
One summer day when I wasn't winning, Shelly Winters came to our studio. She said she was there representing The Actors Studio, which just was a mecca of good actors — Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe, so many legendary people had come from The Actors Studio. And she said that she had come to tell me that they all thought I should have won, and that I should win. She told me not to be dejected or discouraged, and to keep on doing what I was doing, because I deserved to win. That meant the world to me, because I wouldn't have even thought that any of those actors, who I admired very much, even knew that I was alive.
So, when I did win on my 19th nomination, I knew that winning that award was not the end game. It was a wonderful thing, but I had spent all those years doing something I loved, and continuing to develop in this profession that I loved. And that itself was, and is, a tremendous reward.
As told to THINK editor Megan Carpentier, edited and condensed for clarity.
Susan Lucci is best known for her role as Erica Kane on "All My Children." She just launched an active wear line called the Susan Lucci Collection with QVC.