11 sci-fi stars who got their start in soap operas

Contributed by
Dec 14, 2012

Soap opera ratings have dropping for the last 15 years, and ABC, to cut its financial losses, has decided to pull the plug on two of its three long-running soaps. And that has us worried.

So why should we care? After all, we're less interested in someone being set up for the murder of an illegitimate half-sister and more interested in ... anything else.

But soap operas have long been a "proving ground" for actors, with their rigorous shooting schedules and scripts that change daily. Soap operas can be cheesy as hell; after all, how many times can you reuse the "amnesia" plot? (Answer: too many.) But it's great work if actors can get it. Soon, they may not be able to get it at all.

And for these actors, whom we know and love from our favorite sci-fi shows and movies, the hard work they put in on soap opera sets made them the stars they are today.

As you peruse the photos and clips we've dug up, a warning: potential mind melt ahead.

Sarah Michelle Gellar

In All My Children, Gellar played Kendall Hart, a serious bitca. She tried to seduce her birth mother's husband, and when the seduction failed, she accused him of rape. And when she wasn't wreaking havoc on the life of the woman who gave her up for adoption, she was amusing herself by locking her young half-sister in a crypt. Lucky for us, she ultimately turned in her sneer for a vampire stake.

Mark Hamill

The Force is not with young Kent Murray on General Hospital. After his father dies, he and his sister are forced to live with their aunt. That's all we could dig up about Kent ... however, we did manage to dig up a photo of Hamill from around that time.

Nathan Fillion

Defender of the memory of Firefly, Fillion knows that captain of the Serenity is an awesome job. And it's probably a better job than his college student on One Life to Live who is seduced and dumped by his mother's archnemesis (over 25 years his senior) and later is thrown over by his girlfriend for his brother.

James Earl Jones

Jones played Dr. Jerry Turner on As the World Turns. With his sonorous voice, we implicitly trust his authority. And the way he wields a lightsaber as Darth Vader, we're pretty sure he's awesome at amputations. We have an early photo of Jones, who was the first African-American to have a continuous role in a soap opera.

Kate Mulgrew

Before she was Capt. Kathryn Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager, heck, before she was Mrs. Columbo, Kate Mulgrew was reporter Mary Ryan on Ryan's Hope.

In an interesting sci-fi twist, she appeared years later as the late Mary Ryan. In spirit form.

Christopher Reeve

Reeve, best known as Superman, the Kryptonian who's allergic to kryptonite, spent 1974-1976 on Love of Life, where he played Ben Harper, who managed to keep not one but two wives in a small town. Ultimately, he was blackmailed, and a falling-out with both of his wives led to a horrific prison term.

Michelle Forbes

Forbes has frequently played strong female characters: Ensign Ro Laren on Star Trek: The Next Generation was tough. Adm. Kane on Battlestar Galactica was even tougher. But neither of them were former prostitutes who slept with their identical twin sister's boyfriend and who deliberately planted false memories into an amnesiac. Worse than that, character Sonni Wells y Carrera on Guiding Light also tried to bury her enemy alive. Twice.

Leonard Nimoy

It should be noted that Nimoy was one of the founding members of the long-running General Hospital (in fact, soon to be ABC's only soap opera). But the man who is Spock had a small role ... as a drug dealer.

Richard Dean Anderson

The future Jack O'Neill played Dr. Jeff Webber on General Hospital, and his ability to wrap his tongue around phrases like "broad-spectrum antibiotics" probably helped later when on the set of Stargate: SG-1 ... except that Jack was never one for scientific jargon. That was Samantha Carter's job.

Viggo Mortensen

In Search for Tomorrow, Mortensen played Bragg, an information broker who runs afoul of a South American dictator and spends much of his time on the soap in a hospital bed, recovering from gunshot wounds. We would kill to find a clip of the 27-year-old Mortensen. We'll have to be content with a picture of him as Aragorn.

Amber Tamblyn

Tamblyn was almost 12 when she took on the role of Emily Bowen on General Hospital, so the equally young character couldn't have gotten into too much trouble, right? Not in soap opera land. Addicted to drugs early on, she gets clean, only to be drugged and set up for the murder of a one-night stand. Joan, who did God's bidding on Joan of Arcadia, had it easy.

A shout out to those stars whose clips and images haven't yet made their way to the Internet:

Billy Dee Williams (Another World, 1964), Jonathan Frakes (The Doctors, 1977-1978), Mary McDonnell (As the World Turns, 1980), Michael Dorn (Days of Our Lives, 1986-1987), and Gina Torres (One Life to Live, 1995-1996).

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