Soap Opera Weekly Magazine. Dated: February 1999
LOQUACIOUS is the nickname one of Cristi Ellen Harris' (Emily, Sunset Beach) brothers gave her. She likes to talk - a lot. But don't let that fool you. No idle chatter here; this is a girl who is articulate, focused and (refreshingly) practices what she preaches. Harris' openness and gift of gab are probably direct results of her upbringing. While she was growing up, her family - mom, dad, three brothers and one sister - moved a lot because of her father's airline job. "We would just pick up and go whenever my dad got transferred," she says. "We'd leave our friends, and the family would wind up getting closer. I learned that family is the most important thing, and they're always there for you, no matter what."
Being the baby of the family - and craving attention - basically fueled her acting inspiration. "I definitely did my share of performing when I was a child," she says with a laugh. When she hit high school, she enrolled in the drama program, but it took a move to the East Coast for that acting passion to be recognized.
"I ended up moving to New York to do some modeling," she recalls. While drinking in all that the Big Apple had to offer, she stumbled upon the Great White Way - and immediately fell in love. "I thought Broadway plays were the most amazing things, and just felt so alive whenever I'd sit down to watch them."
With her interest more than a little piqued, Harris decided to give Herbert Berghof's prestigious HB Studio a peek. "It was just incredible," she says sighing. "From the moment I walked through those doors, I knew acting was what I wanted to do."
Harris returned to California for a family visit, and wound up being signed by both Wilhelmina Models and the William Morris Agency. She headed back to New York, but unfortunately, her career didn't exactly take off, so she returned to California and her parents. "They wanted me to be happy, but really hoped that the desire to be an actress would end up just being a phase," she recalls. Her passion, however, ended up changing their tune. "Once my family realized that there just was no swaying me, they wound up encouraging and supporting me." Harris discovered that she had undergone a change of her own. "Up until then, my dream was to have the husband, the children...just like my family. I still harbor those wants; my priorities just have shifted a little."
Once immersed in acting, Harris says, "I really started to see why my parents were concerned. There's a lot of greed and backstabbing in this business. Everyone has their own agendas. These are things that my parents wanted me to avoid."
Entering the business as a teen-ager "built character," Harris notes. The audition process was especially difficult. "I was always too tall, or too curvy, they said. I was told, 'I'm sorry, you don't look 16.' I was in fact 16, and was driven crazy by this. I couldn't play older because my face was too young. Then I lost weight - thank god, it was in my top portion - and age. Now, I can play as young as 15."
Eventually, all that character building started to pay off. Harris landed a national commercial for Doritos, followed by a guest-starring role on Growing Pains during the "Leonardo DiCaprio year" of the show (1985). "He was a total sweetheart, and a real professional," she says of her brush with the Titanic star. Another sitcom stint, on Full House, popped up next. "I played this bitchy prom queen who tried to steal D.J.'s boyfriend," she recalls with a laugh.
Then came a couple of feature films "that never got released," followed by a brief return to studying acting. "The next job I got was in the film Rescue Me," Harris says. "I was a cheerleader. Really ditzy, with tons of this frizzy hair."
A lead role in the campy Night of the Demons 2 provided Harris with what she calls "the best acting experience until Sunset came along." While playing the sweet ingenue in that film, she did something almost unheard of in the horror movie genre: "To me, nudity isn't a big deal. I was brought up believing that it's not dirty or bad. It's your body. I feel violence is much worse than nudity. I would rather have a child view a naked body than look at the blatant violence that they're allowed to watch." Unfortunately, some of her family didn't share her views. "It was hard," she says. "I have relatives who thought what I did was so horrible." She brightens, though, when she discusses her grandfather's reaction. "He said, 'As long as you live by what you feel, you're not going to make a mistake. If you don't have a problem with it, don't let anybody else make you feel like you should.'"
After landing a few more gigs, Harris decided to give acting a rest for a while. "I think that because I started in the business so young, I got tainted," she says of her reprieve. "I was very disheartened by the negative side. People are not nice; I finally woke up and realized that." So, she went back to school, got her GED, and went to college while working at several real jobs, "I waitressed, hostessed and even worked behind the cosmetics counter at Nordstrom. I did all sorts of things until I realized that my true love is performing."
So, Harris threw herself back into the shark pool, and within six months landed the plum role of Emily Davis, Bette's estranged daughter, on Sunset.
"I'm glad for everything I went through before Sunset," she says, "because I think it gave me the chance to learn about myself and figure out what I wanted to do." Her Sunset experience also has renewed her faith in the business. "Everyone from cast to crew is so nice. There's no backstabbing or competition like on the other sets I've been on."
Emily is so focused, stubborn and independent, just like Harris herself. "I'm starting to find more and more similarities between us," she confesses. There is one resounding difference, though. "Emily is definitely much more naive, and gives people a lot more chances. I would never let someone like Amy walk all over me the way Emily does."
Sunset's ratings have been far from inspiring, but Harris has faith in the show. "I really hope that we all have jobs in six months. We're quirky and bizarre, and unlike anything else on TV. We just need a chance."
Speaking of bizarre...how did Harris feel bout Emily's recent supernatural blindness storyline, when Amy came up with a curse that left Emily sightless? "Emily's blindness was the most incredible personal experience," she says excitedly. "I'm huge with eyes when I'm acting. This was the first time that I couldn't look into someone else's eyes, so I couldn't feel what they were feeling. It was a thoroughly exhausting storyline but rewarding because I learned so much."
Harris answers immediately when asked if she would rather be blind or deaf. "I would absolutely hate going blind, but at least I'd be able to hear. Music is everything to me and I don't know what I would do without it." Her interest in music - especially opera - has paralleled her passion for acting she now studies opera, and hopes one day to feel comfortable enough to sing a famous Italian aria before a packed house. "I love to face my fears, and singing in front of people is the biggest. One day I will conquer it, though."
Until then, Harris is exactly where she wants to be. "I hate to say it but I'm in a perfect place right now," she says. "I'm not a morning person, but I love waking up and going to work, even if it's at 4:30 a.m."
Now, how many people can say that?
Soap Opera Digest Magazine. Dated: November 1998
Mummy! Schumummy! A Rich New Story Rains Down For SUNSET BEACH's Cristi Ellen Harris
Cristi Ellen Harris has been a good sport. Since her May 98 debut as Sunset Beach's Emily, her character nearly drowned when a Tsunami capsized her cruise ship; she's had her party dress torn and food tossed at her; and perhaps the most disturbing of all - shared a scene with a crusty mummy. Basically it's been one scream after another, without a tremendous amount of heavy drama required. But now, Harris has finally been given an acting challenge worthy of her talent, as an evil curse renders Emily blind.
"This is one of the hardest things I've ever had to do," enthuses the actress as she pokes at her penne (not pennies) at L.A.'s Farfalla restuarant. "I think this definitely gives the show a lot of depth. From this point forward, things won't exist the way they did before."
To prepare for her harrowing story. Harris has been walking around her home with a blindfold tied around her head. "It scares me so much," she admits. "I've tried it alone, but I usually have my mom on hand so I don't start falling over things and hurt myself." Blindness is one of the tougher daytime challenges, and Harris is not taking her assignment lightly. She visited the Braille Institute to learn about the experiences of blind men and women. "They describe it like accepting a death," she explains. "You go through a mourning process, beginning with denial. There's anger. Frustration. Sadness."
While the notion of death fails to elicit those exact emotions from the actress ("I've had my grandparents die, which was very hard. But I'm okay with death, because I believe we go to a higher place"), the topic of a lost childhood does.
As the daughter of a father who was transferred constantly in his job with United Airlines's ground crew, Harris's childhood was basically missing in action. "I was in 11 schools in 10 years," pouts Harris, who, despite repeated attempts, never landed a spot on a cheerleading squad. "In some schools, I was very popular - and then we'd leave. And in others, I would be the biggest geek and nerd." Harris has no problem discussing the pinnacle of her geekdom as an eighth grader in Sacramento, CA. "I was so not popular," she admits. "I was right in the middle of a growth spurt. We didn't have that much money, so when I grew, my pants would be a little too short. I had horrible acne. Everyone else had gone through puberty, but I was still a little girl."
Another of Harris's less-than-favorite alma maters was on the island of Hawaii, where she experienced bigotry. "The racial prejudices are reverse from the [mainland] U.S.," she frowns, recalling the hateful attacks. "I was the minority out there. My hair lightens in the sun, and I don't tan well, so I would literally get in fights because of the color of my skin and hair. I just didn't blend in, which was very hard for me. I actually got into fistfights with women to protect myself."
Eventually, Harris dropped out of school altogether. "I was very bored in my school," she explains of her decision, which did not sit well with her parents. "I felt I wasn't learning anything. I wasn't popular - which I have to say is not a good reason to leave school. I'm very pro-school. I think education is extremely important." To that end, the actress went on to receive her GED and is currently enrolled in Santa Monica College. "I'm taking one class at a time. If it takes me 20 years, I will get my degree!"
After cutting class, Harris headed to New York, where she landed modeling gigs before ultimately being cast as a cheerleader (ta-da!) in the feature film Rescue Me. She went on to play a prom queen on FULL HOUSE and co-starred with Leonardo DiCaprio on GROWING PAINS. Today, she's one of the hottest starts of SUNSET BEACH - spending her days smooching Aaron Spelling's son, Randy (Sean). And, perhaps Harris's sweetest victory; Through it all, she's been able to maintain her heart of gold. A memo to all those nasty girls who picked on Harris during her formative years; She'll see you at the reunion - if her schedule permits!
Just The Facts
Birthday: December 3
Born: East Point, GA
Prairie Girl: "Ever since I was a little girl with really long hair, I've always been told I look identical to [LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE's Laura] Melissa Gilbert. Actually, when I was growing up, depending on which year it was, I got [asked about] both Melissas.""(The other being Melissa Sue Anderson, who played Mary.)
The Randy (Spelling) Report: "He put me at ease the moment we met. It's so much fun to play being in love ... and he's a great kisser."
Real-Life Romance: "I'm dating now, but nothing serious."
Motherly Advice: "Kathleen [Noone, Bette] gave me a tip to always have a secret in a scene which you're not willing to give up."
Soap Opera Digest Online. Dated: November, 1999
Like many of her Sunset Beach castmembers, CRISTI ELLEN HARRIS (Emily Davis) is now turning her attention to life after daytime. "I'm back to auditioning for an array of projects," the down to earth actress shares. "Such is the life of a working actor."
But first, the actress has the final episodes of Beach to wrap in a couple of weeks. The canceled soap last airs on December 31. "We feel good knowing that we put together the best show we could," she sighs. "And we plan to work our hardest right up until the finale."
For the Georgia-born Harris, it seems like yesterday, make that May of 1998, when she was cast as Randy Spelling's (Sean) on-screen lifeguard pal and resident good girl Emily. "I was hired and was asked to go to the Daytime Emmys the same day," she says, smiling at the memory. "That day, I was told I had to come up for a fitting and do six episodes in two days... It was overwhelming. My head was spinning, but it was wonderful. I knew that literally if I could stay on the show, and not just last a couple of weeks, it would be a most wonderful experience. It has been."
Harris landed on the Aaron Spelling- produced soap after appearing on episodes of Full House and Growing Pains and working as a Wilhelmina model in New York. Her appetite to be a thespian was whet while taking acting classes in between modeling gigs. Actually, her initial yearning to be an actress came years before while visiting her brother Jeff, an assistant director, on the Chicago set of "The Kid Who Loved Christmas," a movie that starred Sammy Davis, Jr. "I thought, 'This is a life that looks like a lot of fun,' recalls the actress. "I saw the glamour and the fun of it obviously, but I saw a lot of hard work too and it still looked like a lot of fun."
"[Years later,] when I was in New York taking acting glasses, I realized how much I really enjoyed acting," the actress continues. "It started to grow on me and I've always loved movies. I've always loved to escape with romantic comedies and just loved to be taken away... I just thought, 'What could be better than to play all of our your life and pretend to be different people. To fall in love and out of love.' ''
As Beach's Emily, she has gotten to do just that. "It's a great way to spend your life, meeting new people all the time," notes Harris of the actor's life. Moving around a lot as a child proved a good preparation for that life. Her father worked in the airline industry, so she's called Hawaii, Colorado, Illinois, New York and California home.
"It taught me a lot, like how to get along with people and the importance of adapting to new environments," Harris says of her younger years. "It comes in very handy in my line of work. You are forced to fit in and forced to get to know people quickly."
Meanwhile, the actress is putting down some serious roots in L.A. Her daytime job has enabled her the opportunity to buy her first home, a condo. She moves in soon, relieved that her days as a renter are over. Meanwhile, the single actress is keeping her eyes open for Mr. Right. "When you're on a show, it takes so much time and when you're wrapping up a show, it takes even more of your time because you are also looking for your next job," she muses, adding with a giggle. "So if I was to have a boyfriend right now, I don't know where he'd fit into my life... But of course, if I was to meet Mr. Right, I wouldn't turn that down."
Now just days from her wrap date at Beach, Harris is naturally feeling a bit philosophical about things. "I'm definitely not a 9 to 5 type person," she notes. "I'm content with the profession I chose... My mom and I had been working for so long on my career and she helped me out so much when I was younger with trying to go for it...When I got the soap opera, it was such a payoff for us." Sadly, now it's time to move on.
Below, Harris talks about the soap's cancellation, recalls her last day of work with her leading man and previews Emily's grand finale.
DIGEST ONLINE: What are some of the lessons you learned working on daytime, not only about acting but about show business, especially in light of the show getting canceled.
HARRIS: You always have to try your hardest so you don't have any regrets. We worked so hard on the soap opera -- we run lines constantly and are so into our show -- I think if we hadn't tried and done so much work to keep it on the air, then we would have to regret it. But I honestly feel everyone did the best job they could possibly do. That is one thing [so important in soap opera], to really know what you want out of a scene and know what you are going after and never get too settled into the routine so you lose sight of what you are there to do.
Also, you always hear this about some TV show [casts]: that they are like a family. But at Sunset Beach, it is so true. Everyone really watches out for one another. I've met so many people that I know I will know forever. There are wonderful people here. I think that is the hardest thing, to know we are not going to see each other every day. We'll have to work out our schedules to see each other.
DIGEST ONLINE: Yes, the Sunset Beach cast seems close-knit.
HARRIS: We always go out to dinners or clubs or to lunch. If someone has gotten a job, we are so supportive of [that person]. For example, Randy [Spelling] and Kam [Heskin] went off to film a movie in Florida with Dennis Hopper. So last Tuesday was my last day of working with Randy, and Kam's last day was last Thursday. We bought a cake and had it in the make-up room and sang them silly little songs and stuff, but the thing is that we are very happy for them. I think that is one thing you don't necessarily see [elsewhere with other shows, and that is], the camaraderie and support may not be there. It is at Sunset Beach. It's such a shame that we are losing our jobs. But perhaps when a castmember goes to a different soap,they can perhaps bring that camaraderie and spirit and sense of family to that new show.
DIGEST ONLINE: What was the last day working with Randy like for you?
HARRIS: It was horribly sad. It was very hard for me, maybe harder for me than for Randy because he was the first person that I ever did a scene in daytime with. I also screen-tested with him. He was the most supportive person of me and everything I was going through and in trying to adjust. To say good-bye and do those final scenes was quite difficult. It was wonderful because they did write us great material. I'm very excited. The scenes that you will see that will be the final scenes of us are really amazing. It was very hard, there were a lot of tears. I have to say that. Off-camera, there were plenty of tears from me too.
Randy was always so encouraging. He kept telling me to relax and Timothy Adams [Casey], with whom I often had my initial scenes, was so sweet too. He said to me on my first day, 'Cristi, just relax, you know how to act and you know what you're doing, now just relax and do it.' [Laughs] It was so easy said, but it was very hard to do.
DIGEST ONLINE: So will there be a happy ending for Emily?
HARRIS: Let's just put it this way, I know she will be finding out a lot of things and I don't know if she will find out in time. I'm sure things will unfold and she'll get to the bottom of everything, but the problem is I don't know if she will actually achieve it before she loses him.
DIGEST ONLINE: Hmm, can you give us any hints about the finale?
HARRIS: To be honest, they haven't told us a lot. I know with my storyline, I'm hoping for a happy ending. I don't know if it will be an expected ending or not, but I'm hoping it will be happy or at least just.
DIGEST ONLINE: What did you like most about being on a soap and your character?
HARRIS: I love that Emily is a nice person. I adore that, because I think that there are not that many nice people who are portrayed on TV. And also, there aren't always that many nice people in the world. The wonderful thing is that she's a very nice, honest and sweet person. She spoke how she felt. Even though she wouldn't always stand up for herself or even though she was very naive, -- that was Emily's downfall -- but Emily always found the silver lining in everything and that is a wonderful thing to see.
DIGEST ONLINE: I used to cover The City for Soap Opera Digest. The soap also got canceled, but as many of the actors found out in a matter of time, where one door closes another door opens. Maybe you will end up on another soap or in romantic comedy?
HARRIS: Exactly. I hope so. I know that the nature of the business is that there are times when you work and times when you don't work. But you just have to have faith that the right project will come to you. Being on Sunset Beach could not have been a more wonderful experience for me and a great learning experience. I can't say enough about being on Sunset Beach. I figure since we are coming to an end, it is meant to be. I have so much confidence that everyone will have so much success. I'm not too worried about my fellow castmates, I know that they will do well.
By: Jeffrey Epstein
Soap Opera Magazine. Dated: August 1998
How Cristi Ellen Harris rose from a Doritos commercial to a tasty role on Sunset Beach
New York's loss was LA's gain. When Sunset Beach's Cristi Ellen Harris (Emily) ws just 15, she moved to the Big Apple with her mother, hoping to make it as a model. After six months of pounding the pavement without much success, she flew to the West Coast to visit two of her brothers who were in a band. Within days, she signed with the William Morris Agency for acting and Wilhelmina for modeling. (Coincindentally, Wilhelmina is the same modeling agency that first thrust DAY's Kristian Alfonso (Hope) into the spotlight).
"I thought, 'why stay in New York where I can't get anything happening when I can come out here?'" Harris remembers. "I immediately booked a commerial and got a movie." That first fateful commercial was actually a Doritos spot starringa then-unknown Tobey Maguire (The Ice Storm).
Now Harris is in the chips on Sunset Beach. Harris may have ben a little nervous at the beginning, but her costars made her feel right at home. "Randy (Spelling, Sean) made me feel comfortable from the start," she says of her onscreen love interest. In fact, the young spelling put her at ease during her screen test. "I didn't know what to expect. You know, he's 'Randy Spelling' an that's a huge thing. He shook my hand and said 'Welcome.' After we went through it once, we were suppose to rehearse it again. They decided we were going to tape it. I was behind a door for the test, and he peeks his head in and says, 'This is a take. Just thought I'd let you know.' Then he shut the door. That was so sweet because people don't usually do things like that.
Indeed, Harris has met a lot of people in her life. Although a self-proclaimed "Georgia peach," she never spent much time in the state of her birth. Her father worked for United Airlines and the family moved often, whenever he got promoted. Harris found herself going from the ski slopes of Colorado to the beaches of Hawaii before the family finally settled down in Sacramento, California. "I was going to college and medical school," says Harris, explaining their move from exotic Waikiki to the middle of California. "They had better schools there and it was cheaper."
But her plans changed when she decided to pursue acting. Living in Santa Monica at the time with her mom (parents had divorced), Harris made an early exit from high school and got her GED instead. "I went through tenth grade, then dropped out because I was bored," she explains. Actually, like most dropouts, Harris left so she could attend college. "If anybody does drop out of high school, I recommend going straight into college!" she says, laughing. (But she's been in college for a long time, her busy work schedule hasn't let her finish - yet.)
Harris got her first taste of showbiz when she visited her brother, who was working on the Chicago set of the 1990 TV movie The Kid Who Loved Christmas, which starred Sammy Davis Jr. (in his last role), Cicely Tyson, Ben Vereen and Della Reese. "I talked to all these people," she recalls. "It was amazing. When I took acting classes outside of high school, I started loving it. I haven't been able to stop since."
Harris' parents have always supported her career choice. "I don't think most parents really want their child to go into this." she admits. "Most would rather have their kids go to school, have a nice, balanced life and daily routine. But they realize that's not going to be me. They're glad I chose this life because I'm happy."
In LA, she nabbed TV guest roles on Full House, Growing Pains and America's Most Wanted, and appeared with Stephen Dorff in the film Rescue Me. "They play it a lot on cable," she says with a shrug.
But, she says, she's been recognized most for her "drop dead" performance in Night of the Demons Part II - when she was just 16. "I was the ingenue character," she clarifies when asked if she got to inhabit on the undead. "I got to scream a lot. I'm a great screamer. All I did was run around screaming, and I got to kill somebody, too."