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PAUL'S PUBLICITY


OUTBACK HERO



When one's bumper is only inches away from calling the leading yellow cab "friend" amidst the traffic of NYC's Times Square, drivers have a tendency to people watch. In doing so, most will mistake several in the crosswalks' masses for celebrities. There is no misidentifying Paul Leyden, whose rugged and charismatic Simon came carting plenty of foreign appeal to AS THE WORLD TURNS from the land Down Under, as his six-foot-plus frame dominates and his bronzed complexion make the rest of us look paler than the milkman.

There was a lot to be learned about Leyden during our lunch. For instance, his vision requires that he wear glasses, although his prescription is so weak that it's only use would be to magnify a fruit fly. Refreshing, too, is the fact that Leyden can refer to the revered and oft-intimidating Elizabeth Hubbard (Lucinda) as simply a "great gal" -- and get away with it. There is a glint of a mild bad boy in the actor, but nothing threatening, just enough to make you want to come back for more. Oh, and did we mention that Leyden is also a hero?

"I got hit by a car the other day. I saved a blind person." He says casually, with a magnified grin that makes us believe it to be simply another attempt at black humor. "No, it's true! I was walking down the road and this blind person kept drifting out. I'm like, 'Is her stick not working?' Then, this taxi comes careening down, and I ran and pushed her out of the way. I got a massive bruise on the coccyx. I flew like three meters in the air."

Nonchalant admissions are common for Leyden. He seems almost blissfully unaware of the affect that he has had on ATWT loyalist -- Leyden is the only soap star listed on the heavily-hit "Objectify Men" web page. However, he will acknowledge Simon as one of the "most controversial" characters the show has hosted in years, due in part to his involvement in nearly shattering what many thought to be sacred: the marriage of Lily and Holden Snyder.

"When I watch Holden and Lily as a couple, not Jon (Hensley, Holden) and Martha (Byrne, Lily/Rose), I think that they're so ooo-ver", announces Leyden, his accent especially thick when cruising on the word "over," as he waves a portion of his pizza crust. "Seriously, there's nothing there!"

In truth, there is a good amount about his alter ego that Leyden fancies discussing --- the first being the most criticized and tedious island romp since GILLIGAN'S ISLAND. "We had to grin and bear it (Martha and I)," he says of the time that Simon and Lily were stranded with little to do but fantasize about one another and undo the hearing damage suffered from Celia. "Toward the end, people liked it better because there was a point."

What has been favorably lobbied is the disposition of insiders towards Leyden's now encouraging, yet once unidentifiable, technique with uneven material. In truth, the actor who joined the show in 2000, could have been easily compared to a pleasing piece of eye candy for which Lily hungered. Instead, Leyden skillfully iced Simon with vulnerable and hedonistic fillings. "It's been an amazing learning curve," he says of his period thus far with ATWT.

Even so, there are slight changes the actor would like to see implemented. "Simon completely got his b---s cut off five months ago," he complains. "Make Simon romantic, yes, but give him backbone, too. Like when Lily goes, 'I'll do whatever you want.' No, that's not a relationship. They need to work it out together, you know?" Leyden says Simon should show Katie "more love" for all of her sacrifices.

Full of mischief and content to be jolly, Leyden is never about taking himself too seriously, whether it be "enjoying New York" with the boys or selecting the right sculpting gel. "I looked like I had a helmet on," remembers Leyden of his debut shellacked 'do as Simon. "I fell over and hit my head once, but didn't feel it because I had all that gel in my hair." His immunity to sleep deprivation is equally admired. "If I'm in more than two nights, I'm having a bad week. My friends and I work hard, but we play hard as well," he says. "It's only a stint, you know."

When the topical SUVIVOR series is mentioned, Leyden has no problem with the location of the second installment the Outback but with the American inhabiting it. "I can't hang around obnoxious people," Leyden explains of his distaste for the reality series. "I'd probably slap most of (that cast) in the first five minutes."

What's his major predicament then? "Aw, it's hell ordering food delivery because no one can understand me, especially Chinese or sushi," he says with eyes rolled. We are certain that Chinatown's denizens, much like those bland Americans, enjoy listening to Leyden...even if an egg roll is all he desires.