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Priscilla Garita - Gabi Martinez

PG sida 2

Naughty But Nice

By Jeffrey Epstein

Soap Opera News Magazine - 4/98

SUN's Priscilla Garita is glad viewers like her character, Gabi, better these days - but she wouldn't mind being a bad girl again

When Gabi Martinez first landed on Sunset Beach's sandy shores, beneath her milquetoast exterior was a girl out to destroy her half sister Paula's relationship with Ricardo Torres. But after wrongly accusing Ricardo of rape, Gabi broke down on the witness stand, realizing that, in fact, she was remembering that her father had raped her when she was a child.

Since then, audiences have found new respect for Gabi, who's in the midst of trying to build a serious relationship with Ricardo.

"I got a lot of response from the trial," says Priscilla Garita (Gabi). "It meant a lot to me because it says something about your work." An added bonus is that fans now speak to her without raising their voices in anger. "Before, they'd only use evil language," she admits. "They'd say, 'Can I have your autograph - but I hate you.' Now they look into my eyes and don't know what to say."

She credits her castmates with helping her make the naughty to nice transition. "Especially Sam Behrens (Gregory)," she emphasizes. "He was so giving and open and willing to allow me the space to do what I needed to do."

Garita also cites Hank Cheyne (Ricardo) as a terrific co-star. "I feel like we're brother and sister - which is strange because on camera, we're kissing and whatever," she giggles. "We don't really anaylze our scenes a lot because we already know. He does his homework and I do mine. We come in and it's like - boom! - let's just roll."

"if you throw the ball, she can catch and run with it," says Cheyne. "It's a pleasure to play with somebody like that."

While she enjoys playing the newly redeemed character, Garita admits: "It's definitely more fun being naughty! But the transition of the whole trial was my most exciting part as an actor because there was more for me to play with. Before, I'd have a scene here or there - it wasn't going in any real direction. I wasn't going to do anything real malicious to Paula."

"But I was able to extend myself during the trial. And Terror Island was fun. I love those moments when we can really play. That's all I want to do: play, play play!"

But there were downsides to the Terror Island storyline. For starters, her love interest, Mark (actor Nick Stabile) was murdered. "It was very hard losing Nick," says Garita. "I still miss him. He's a great actor. It wasn't just 'hurry up and get on stage and do your thing.' We'd get together in the dressing room and rehearse, which is exciting for an actor. Sometimes you forgo that here because you're running around. We'd always make a point to sit down and work through it."

Garita also vividly recalls a moment during Terror Island where she lost it so much that she feared they might make her the killer's next victim. "I was doing a scene with Susan Ward (Meg) and for some reason I got the giggles!" Garita explains. "I couldn't look Susan in the eye. I'd have to look off to the side or I'd start laughing. I was so bad! Gary (Tomlin, Executive Producer) was directing that day and I was like, 'I'm going to get fired!' After a while, everyone else was laughing. My shoulders were shaking. I had tears coming down."

When they called a break, Garita immediately pulled herself together. "I said, 'I can do this. Just give me a few minutes.' And I got through it."

Being a bit of a troublemaker has always been a part of Garita's makeup. She grew up in Ansonia, Conn., with five sisters and a dad who did his best to keep his daughters in line. "I was very innocent in my parents' eyes, but we did a lot of stuff behind the scenes that they weren't aware of," she confesses. Such as? "We used to sneak out at night and meet the boys down at the Ansonia Mall."

Though she always dreamed of being an actress, Garita got a marketing degree from the University of Connecticut. "I really wanted to be an actress but I didn't think my parents would accept that," she says. "I thought, well, I have to make them proud of me and make lots of money and I guess I'm good at math so I'll do marketing. And I hated it, I hated it, I hated it."

After graduation, she moved straight to New York City to pursue her acting dream. She soon landed several theatrical jobs, including one with the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater, and appeared at the Yale Repertory Theater in New Haven, Conn. Her first TV job was a Mennen Teen Spirit shampoo commercial, after which she got small roles on All My Children (she was the first Anita Santos) and As The World Turns as Rita, a bad girl she played for three days.

She was waitressing at the Hard Rock Cafe in Manhattan when she got the news she'd won the role of Gabi. "As soon as I got this job, I called the Hard Rock and said, 'I'm resigning! I'm gone!'" she remembers.

Garita vividly recalls her audition for SUN in New York. "It was absolute madness," she confesses with a laugh. "I just went in and they said 'Perfect.' I went back a few hours later and put it on tape. They said 'Perfect. Don't change it!' I was like, 'Just tell me what I did!'"

Whatever she did, she did it right, and soon she was nicely nestled in Brentwood, near co-star Ward. "I don't know if I'm going to stay," she says of her neighborhood. "I love it near the water. I've been going to the beach a lot more, but I also love going to West Hollywood and the Hills. Brentwood can get really boring."

Brentwood may be the only thing boring about her life. "It's changed a lot in the last 12 months," Garita reflects. "I have a lot better perspective because it's not all new to me. Just like any job, you're aware of what to expect a little bit more."

One of the added bonuses of a steady gig is a steady paycheck - and Garita is determined to spend her earnings wisely. "It's not like I am going out and buying a great car or house, although I'll treat myself once in awhile," she says. "Or if my mom comes out to visit, I'll treat her to a massage."

In her downtime, Garita has been trying to spend her hours outdoors and catch up on her reading. "I'm trying to organize myself," she confesses, adding that the one place you won't find her lately is at the gym. "It's so damn hard to get to," says the actress, who's a remarkable size 0! "I'm so lazy out here."

She also enjoys spending time with her fellow castmates. "I hang out with Sherri (Vanessa) and Tim (Casey). We relate really well because we're all from the East Coast and made the transition around the same time. I've been up to Hank Cheyne's place a couple of times - I love it! I want to move in, but he's not letting me!"

"I wish she was a little bigger so she could lift heavier things on the ranch," jokes the happily married Cheyne.

Garita has also been going out on auditions when she can find the time. "I want to do film," she says. "Because of all the downtime on SUN, I get a little antsy. I'm a workaholic."

Her latin heritage - her parents are Costa Rican - makes Garita doubly employable. "I'm fluent in Spanish," she says, adding that it probably helped her land Gabi. "I wanted to make the character more authentic. I grew up speaking Spanish. When I get angry, I instinctively lash out in Spanish!"

While Gabi hasn't been lashing out lately, Garita wouldn't mind bringing her back to the naughty side. "Nice is like in real life - it can get boring after a while," she says. "You need some excitement."

A Dash of Spice

By: Lauren Baier Kim

Soap Opera Digest Magazine. Dated: September 21, 1999

SUNSET BEACH's Priscilla Garita Relishes The Hot Role That's Put Her In Touch With Her Heritage

Sunset Beach's Priscilla (Gabi) Is in an enviable position, and she knows it. For months, she's had the good fortune to work literally lip-to-lip with studly actors Hank Cheyne (Ricardo) and Nick Kiriazis (Antonio), who, respectively, portray her character's husband and brother-in-law/priest/ex-lover.

"It's a woman's dream," grins Garita. "I never thought that I would be in this situation, to be in love with two men who are brothers and who are so attractive. Hank and Nick are easy to get along with, and they are very charming. It's an ideal storyline."

While the diminutive actress's sultry, front-burner storyline hasn't given her much time for a steamy love life of her own ("I'm not dating anybody right now," she concedes), Garita, who joined BEACH in February 1997, isn't complaining. "I still have my little problems or dilemmas," she shares, "but life has really turned out for the better because of this job." Read: no more living hand-to-mouth as Garita did before landing her BEACH gig. "I am more stable and more financially independent," she says. "I'm not struggling and doing odd jobs here and there." Which is why she's unnerved by the prospect of BEACH being all washed up. "There is constant talk about it getting cancelled," she signs, "which creates a lot of anxiety. Which is unfortunate because we have a really good show."

What's more, Gabi is one of the few Hispanic heroines on daytime TV. "My parents are so proud of it," gushes the actress, whose mom and dad reside in Costa Rica, (Mom faithfully tapes BEACH, which airs in Costa Rica five days a week.) "I get more in touch with my ethnicity doing this role," Garita reflects. "When things come up and I get to speak a little Spanish, I'm like, 'Wow! That's cool.'"

And good practice, too. "I spoke mostly English at home," notes Garita, the second youngest of six daughters. "My parents understood English, so I would just speak English to them. It's sad. In Spanish, there are so many words that I don't understand. My Spanish isn't as good as I would like it to be." Luckily, she has a tutor in co-star Margarita Cordova (Carmen). "If I don't understand, I'll ask Margarita," smiles Garita.

Strolling the streets of L.A. helps Garita get the language down, too. "There is a Mexican community in the city," she points out. "I like it there because there are so many things that are in Spanish, like the streets. So when I go through some of the streets, I'll pronounce them in Spanish because that's my first instinct. It's nice because I get to learn a little bit more."

Just The Facts

Birthday: March 15

Hails From: Connecticut

Alma Mater: University of Connecticut

A Little Extra: Garita worked as an extra on ONE LIFE TO LIVE and AS THE WORLD TURNS, and had a brief role on ALL MY CHILDREN (ex-Anita). On A Role: Gabi is Garita's first contract role Calculated Risk: "I was going to be an accountant, actually."

Breakfast of Champions: "I love rice and beans for breakfast."

Growing Pains: "I've been trying to grow my hair. With long hair, you don't have to primp, you don't have to blow dry it every day. When it's short, you have to style it. Otherwise, it looks like a mop."

The Promised Land

By: Janet DiLauro

Soap Opera Weekly Magazine. Dated: September 1998

After a somewhat peripatetic live, Priscilla Garita is happy to be settled at Sunset Beach.

Emerging from her Sunset Beach dressing room makeup-free, Priscilla Garita doesn't exactly fit the classic image of the daytime vamp. Just 5 feet 2 inches tall with big, brown eyes, the actress looks more likely to be meandering the corridors of a high school than a soap opera studio. Perhaps that's why Sunset's makeup department went all out in creating Garita's seductive look when she first joined the show as Gabi Martinez, adorning her face with dark lipstick, heavy mascara and false eyelashes.

"Did you ever see Cabaret? Liza Mannelli?" Garita asks. "That's what I felt like. I just wasn't comfortable with the makeup. I felt like a kid playing dress-up." In time, she managed to convince the show to give her a more natural look, and a new Gabi was born, much to Garita's delight. "Before, I felt like the imitation of someone vs. the reality of someone." she adds. "Now I feel [like I'm playing] a real person."

With the new look came a cleverly executed storyline. After spitefully accusing Ricardo of rape, Gabi broke down on the witness stand to reveal that her father had sexually abused her as a child. "Everybody thought Gabi was just a little vamp up until that point. She was viewed in this very one-dimensional way." Garita says. "This was the first time people saw that she had a human side and sympathized with her. Before, people just thought she was this superficial thing."

"I was very happy to have material like that to explore," she adds. "That's what I'm here for. That's what I love about being an actress."

In many ways it seems like Garita was always destined for show business - particularly daytime. As a child, she watched soap operas with her mother. "I remember Rachel and Mac from Another World," she notes, adding that she dreamed of portraying Susan Lucci's (Erica) daughter on All My Children. "But I never even got to audition for the part," she says with a frustrated sign. "Sarah Michelle Geller got it. And look what it did for her."

Garita's aspirations emerged in her teens after some difficult adjustments during adolescence. She grew up in "a very big, very close, Spanish family," she says proudly, noting that it consists of five sisters and a half brother from a relationship in her father's past. "My mother, father and three eldest sisters were born in Costa Rica. Then, my parents came out to the land of promise. They moved to New York and had the three younger kids."

Soon after, they relocated to Connecticut. "My parents did go back to Costa Rica twice," Garita says, recalling the second time as the most traumatic for her. "I was 13, so it was very hard for me to move. I would cry into my pillow every night. I cried so badly that I broke blood vessels in my face. I hated living there. I was at an age where I had already made all my best friends," she adds. "I remember that I would write them 20 to 25 page letters. I'd mail them in big manila envelopes. And they would write back as much as I would write them. We'd write about soap operas. My girlfriends used to keep me up-to-date on what was going on. It was such a girlie thing, and it kept me in touch with home."

Garita was thrilled when the family returned to Connecticut - where they still reside - despite the fact that it meant having to deal with prejudice. "The word 'spic' was a big thing; it was used a lot. So that was really hard," she admits. "Some people didn't respond well to having a Spanish family with six kids running around their neighborhood. They felt superior because my parents couldn't speak English that well."

Garita concedes that the situation was painful. "I grew up hiding a lot of that," she says, "not realizing that I was embarrassed about certain things. But as I got older and wiser, I realized that my mom and dad spoke two languages, whereas those people only spoke one. And my parents were supporting this big family. They came from another country, traveled here. That was a big risk."

Perhaps that's where Garita got the tenacity she needed to pursue her acting dream. She was first introduced to the business in high school. One of her sister's friends suggested she go to a local modeling agency. "Petite modeling," Garita emphasizes, with a laugh. However, it was an acting class offered there that really piqued her interest. "It was just one session," she says. But I loved it."

Garita pursued acting as an elective in college "and continued taking classes," she says. "I think my parents knew (the career direction) I was headed in, although I didn't talk that much about it. I was always a big parent-pleaser growing up. I got good grades. I was great in math. I thought I was going to go to school, be an accountant, and make lots of money. Then I'd buy my dad the boat he's always wanted, get a house, and have my 2.5 kids. I thought that's what I was supposed to do. But the creative part of me came to the realization that it wasn't going to happen that way."

She still remembers the day she went into her parents' bedroom and delivered that news. "I said: 'I'm going to finish college, get my marketing degree and move to New York. I'll do it all on my own. If I don't succeed, I will try something else. But I have to try [to act].' My dad said, 'If that's what you want to do, go do it.'"

Garita got an apartment in New York and began studying at the William Esper Studio. She supported herself with waitressing, an occasional hand-modeling job, and extra work on One Life to Live. The latter proved to be an invaluable experience. "I learned a lot - all about sets, the three walls, the cameras - and watched other actors. I used to love to watch Erika Slezak (Viki)," she says, still savoring those moments.

After a year, Garita decided to stop settling for extra work "That's when she landed a stint as Anita Santos, Maria and Julia's sister on AMC. "Two auditions for AW followed - first the role of Angela Corelli then the more pivotal Sofia. "I really felt that was it," she says of the part. "It was my second time auditioning for the show. Plus, I knew Joseph Barbara [who plays Sofia's big brother, Joe]." The role went to Dahila Salem, an outcome Garita describes as her "first real crush."

But she bounced back with roles in a play (Pentagon at Yale University), a short film (Bright Nights, Bright Days) and a three-day gig on As the World Turns that holds special significance. "It was the first thing I got that wasn't titled 'Spanish' or 'Italian' or anything," Garita says, noting that because of her name she was often bypassed by casting directors when it came to nonethnic roles.

Nonetheless, Garita never considered a name change. "I just wasn't comfortable with that. Besides, [using my real name professionally] is an honor to my parents," she says. "They're so proud right now."

Garita's birth name was a definite asset when she began auditioning for Sunset's Gabi. However, another force was working against her. "When my agent finally submitted my photo, they weren't even going to see me," she admits. "The casting director thought I wasn't going to be right for the part. Luckily my agent really pushed for it."

Garita ended up nailing the role and her dream in becoming a contract star on a soap. However, she did have to wait three months between landing the job and actually starting work. "The good thing is I was able to spend the holidays [on the East Coast] with my family," she explains. "The bad part is I started having doubts. All these negative ideas started festering in my head - 'Are they deciding whether or not they're going to use me? Are they going to write me out?'"

The worrying proved needless. Gabi arrived in Sunset Beach with a vengeance, much like Garita arrived in California - ready to tackle her new life. "I got everything in one weekend. I got a car, I rented an apartment," she says, noting that her mother was right beside her. "She helped me unpack everything. My parents have been very good about being there when I need them. My mom made four trips to Los Angeles last year. My dad came out, too."

Garita can't imagine it any other way. She always has reached out to her parents. "All my life, any time I made a move I would go back to them, ask for their help. I guess I'm not as independent as I thought." she says with a grin.

Now that she's living across the country from her folks, Garita gets lots of comfort and guidance from her Sunset family. She cites Hank Cheyne (Ricardo) and his wife, Missy Hughes (ex-Sara, AW) at the top of the list. "They take care of me. They're there for me," she maintains. As are real-life couple Sherri Saum and Timothy Adams (Vanessa and Casey). "They've been very embracing. I'll go to the movies with them, or we'll just hang out. I do feel like I'm the third wheel sometimes," the single actress concludes with a laugh, "but at the same time, I don't want to not accept their invitations. They're so genuine."

Both couples' love and support have greatly helped Garita cope with the loneliness and homesickness she felt after moving to Los Angeles last year. I felt the struggle much more," Garita says, adding that those feelings have since subsided. "Besides, everybody in my family wants to come visit me. They all want to come out to California. I'm like 'Great!" I mean, if everybody wants to come out here, I must be living in a really cool place."

Same Place, Different Time

By Matthew Miles Grayson - Soaps In Depth Magazine

Dated: October 27, 1998

Priscilla Garita - and her reborn heroine, Gabi - marvel, "What a difference a year makes!"


Birthday: March 15

Hometown: Ansonia, Conneticut

Bookworm: "Currently, I am reading Fanny and Zoey by J.D. Salinger, which I borrowed from Shawn Batten (Sara). Growing up I was never into reading. But I've become one of those people who is reading five books at once.

Why she looks so fit: Yoga and stretching is really good for you. I love to run, too. Not only is it healthy, it helps to relieve steam."

Tips for everlasting friendship: "Listening is really important. Also, being respectful and keeping a secret if someone asks you to."

When vixen Gabi Martinez hit Sunset Beach way back when, she made the quake that just shook the city seem like the gentle rumbling of a subway. She was hell-bent on ruining the life of her half-sister she had never known, even if that meant dragging down a few even-more-innocent bystanders in the process. In fact, it was only last fall that grabby Gabi was testifying against her half-sister's fiance, Ricardo, accusing him of rape. "Gabi was desperate," explains her portrayer, Priscilla Garita. "Desperate for love. The only way she knew how to get it was by conniving and manipulating."

But boy, have things ever changed. A year later, Gabi has gotten her man - unbelievably, Ricardo - by loving, not scheming. During the infamous rape trial, her repressed memories of being sexually abused by her father surfaced - and all of Sunset's impression of her gradually began to change, rightly, for the better. "Everything Gabi did to Paula was her way of getting back at her for the things her father did," Garita explains. "Even though Paula wasn't responsible, Gabi put it all on her."

And though Gabi came off like a vamp, she was really pretty naive. "Other than Gabi's father raping her, Ricardo was the only person she slept with," Garita says. "She really had fallen for Ricardo and afterward [the tryst], it destroyed her when Ricardo told her that she meant nothing to him. Then things just escalated before she really had a chance to stand back and evaluate them."

Today, Gabi is a new woman. Now aware of the truth about her painful past, she has tried to move forward, honestly. "Mark was a big factor in helping her," Garita says. "He taught her to be honest and be true to herself."

As a result of her late pal's friendship, Gabi at last is enjoying a taste of true love for the first time - with Ricardo.

A World To Call Her Own

Since landing her SUN role in 1997, Garita has gone through some changes too - though thankfully they haven't been nearly as cataclysmic as the ones Gabi has suffered. The actress - who briefly originated the role of Maria Santos on the Manhattan-based ALL MY CHILDREN - moved from New York City to Los Angeles and, much like Gabi, felt like a fish out of water. "It was a hard adjustment that first year," she allows. "I am not going to lie, I cried a lot."

"But," she adds, "my mom came out a lot last year, which made it easier for me."

Garita still is going through alterations to her life: In July, her parents moved to their native Costa Rica. "I used to speak with my mother all the time," she says. "She kept me up with the rest of my sisters. But now we talk only once every two weeks. It's been sad. But it was a good move for them. So I am happy for them."

Like Gabi, Garita has gotten by in trying times with a little bit of help from friends. "I can now call Los Angeles my home," she says happily. "I have good friends here, most fo whom are on SUN - like Shawn Batten (Sara), Tim Adams (Casey), Sherri Saum (Vanessa), and Hank Cheyne (Ricardo) and his wife, Missy.

"It's great," she elaborates, "because we don't necessarily talk shop all the time, but we understand what our work life is like."

A Love Triangle In The Making

Garita certainly loves her job. SUN currently seems to be moving toward a triangle between Gabi, her true love, Ricardo, and his brother, Father Antonio. "Ricardo was a big factor in her transformation," says Garita. "The fact that he believed in her and was willing to help her get through the revelations of being raped by her father was so important to her."

On the other hand..."Father Antonio is this angelic figure who has come into her life," Garita observes. "She deeply respects him for living a life that is nothing but goodness. In fact, that inspired her to be a better person."

So, what about Antonio's x-rated dreams? Does Garita think that Gabi would ever reach for that forbidden fruit? "For now, Gabi only has eyes for Ricardo," she says. "He is Gabi's first love. But you never know - anything is possible."