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"Q and A"--2000

Paul Leyden--
Simon Frasier on "As The World Turns"

The games may be over, but you can still enjoy the view from Down Under. Enter Paul Leyden, the Australian native who portrays mysterious Simon Frasier on As the World Turns. Simon came to Oakdale and quickly connected with Lily Walsh, throwing a delicate wrench in her relationship with longtime beau Holden (Jon Hensley). Given the impossible task of becoming Lily's new love interest, Leyden is faring quite nicely and winning accolades from diehard fans. With just a year under his belt and the onset of his first American winter, TV Guide decided to catch up with this Australian import to discuss the challenges of being Lily's newest love, his adjustments to the New York City terrain and of course, the Olympics. -- Delaina Dixon

You recently went home to Australia. Did you catch any of the Olympics?

I went back to visit my family in Melbourne for about five days, and then I spent the rest of the time in Sydney. I got most of all the pre-Olympic hype and the parties and the whole city looked absolutely amazing. It was great to be there, even pre-Olympics. I got back here a day before the opening ceremonies, which is a bit of a bummer because I did have tickets to some of the events, but unfortunately I had to sell them.

It was so moving to see the Aborigines participate in the opening ceremonies. I don't think a lot of the people in the rest of the world know that the Aborigines are the indigenous people of Australia. It's great for them to be recognized, because they are such a huge part of the country.

How did a nice Australian boy like you land a role on an American daytime drama?

It was just before Christmas last year; I was auditioning for a brand-new primetime show in Australia, which I got. And then my agent called up and said there's a show shooting in New York, that it's a CBS show and worth putting a tape down. No matter what happens, CBS will get a chance to see your face.

Were they specifically looking for an Australian actor?

They were. Fulfilling this role took about nine months. They did auditions in New York, L.A. and England but were getting mostly British people. So they did a casting call in Australia. At the beginning of the New Year, my agent told me they wanted to fly me to New York for an audition -- there's nothing like a free trip to New York -- but I couldn't just go over for the free trip. I decided if I went for the audition and got the role, I would take it. They flew four of us over, and I was thinking this is the last time I'll see New York for a long time because I basically did everything but trip over the furniture in the audition. I went back home, and about three weeks later, they called up and said I got the job.

Did you always want to work in New York?

I was working consistently in Australia, getting great work, but you can be in every big blockbuster in Australia, and it never gets shown here in the States, so your exposure is very limited. When this opportunity came through, it was a great opportunity to come over. And I have learned so much in this medium. I work with some extremely talented actors, and they all produce that kind of work in one take. It's all instinctual.

So what is it like working with soap veteran Martha Byrne?

I think I've been extremely lucky: Not only was I brought over to do this show, but I also get to work with Martha very intensely, and that has been a great experience. I've learned so much from her. She's fast becoming one of my closest friends here. She someone whom I just admire and love working with.

How have the fans reacted to the pairing of Simon and Lily?

I think at first there was a lot of 'Don't do it; we like you, but Holden and Lily belong together.' But since Lily and Simon got off the island, there's been a complete turn of the tables. Now, 95 percent of the reactions in fan mail is that Martha and I belong together. They say that Simon's obviously in love with Lily and that he's not conning her. It's been an interesting flip.

Has Lily truly fallen for Simon, or is it some sort of Blue Lagoon infatuation?

I think Lily genuinely has fallen for him. I think there was amazing connection between them and that he brings things out in her that have never been brought out before by Holden or anyone else. I think that's the side of her that makes her feel empowered. And Simon is trying to prove how much he loves her. He's not pushing her, but the only reason he's hanging around now is for her. So he does need her to make a decision and come clean. He's not feeling 100 percent comfortable with breaking up a marriage, either. He does have some morals.

Do you think Lily and Holden belong together?

That's a tough question. The fact that Lily and Holden are married and taking a stance for the whole institution of marriage, for better or for worse, then, yes, they probably do [belong together]. They've made those commitments and maybe they're going through a rough patch they just need to work out. If that's the case, then maybe they need to take some time out and forget what's happened, if that's possible. But from a different perspective, watching them together, I don't see the love there. You see them being together because of a history, but, from my personal point of view that's not enough to sustain a relationship. Just because you've been together for a long time doesn't mean there's still passion, there's still love there. I see two people who are bound together by their children and history, by the fact that they have shared so much, which is amazing. But if that's in the past, they obviously need to move on to make their lives individually happier.

You and Lily were stranded on the island around the same time Survivor was on. Did you ever watch the show for inspiration?

Survivor was really well done, and I did watch it from the onset. I hope I don't get addicted to the second one, like I did the first, but I didn't watch it for inspiration. I think it was coincidental that we were on an island at the same time.

So, are you prepared for your first full New York City winter?

I've got to go shopping and get my winter jacket. I came here the tail end of winter, and it was cold. I had never seen snow in a city before. And it was freezing. In the winter in Australia you only need a long sleeve T-shirt and a medium jacket, and that's as cold as it gets.

What's the strangest thing you had to get use to after moving to New York City?

Sydney is so big with lots of parks, greenery and beaches. Here it's so compact you see a lot more stuff that should happen in the privacy of someone's home out on the street. And you get use to it. I have my moments of what I call my New York freak out. I'll be walking on a very packed street, and in one ear I can hear the jackhammer on a construction site; behind me there's a fire engine blaring its siren, someone behind me talking loudly on a mobile phone -- the noise around me makes me go batty for about five minutes.

So, tell me the sob story behind your saxophone.

I played the saxophone for about 12 years, up until five years ago. I had the most amazing saxophone, and I sold it because I needed the money. And I haven't bought one since. I don't want to buy one that's any less quality than what I had because it was an incredible instrument. I'll probably get one in the next year and take it up again. I had a guitar, and I kind of taught myself to play. I think the show has something musically planned for Martha and I. Chris [Goutman, ATWT executive producer] inquired about my musical abilities not too long ago. So maybe they're going to do something on the show, that would be fun.

I hear you're also writer, and you penned a film?

It's called "Brand New Day." It a psychological thriller in which the two main characters wrote the script for each other's lives. It's a triangle thing. It's got two main guys and a girl, and the plot just twists and turns. It's all set over a week in their lives. It's pretty intense and funky.

Are you still working with your production company in Australia, Wandering Wolf Productions?

We have already shot two short films and paid for them off the money we've won from festivals. My partner is producing a play in Sydney next year. I want to do the same play here in New York -- open them at the same time and connect up. It could be kind of novel.

Have you gone online and checked out some of the sites fans have set up for you?

It's flattering that they like my character or me so much and that they're willing to go through all that trouble. It's amazing what sort of information they find out, just surfing the Web. I haven't done a huge amount of stuff to be on the Web. The chat rooms can be kind of negative. People don't understand that the actors are at the mercy of what is written for them. One of the most rewarding and frustrating things in being an actor is that you are the voice for every part of the production, but you speak the writer's words, you act out the director's direction; you're there because the producer wants you there. You're kind of the focal point, and when it's really well written, directed and produced, you bask in the light of all the work that other people do.

At As The World Turns, you're in kind of an interesting situation because you have Hogan Sheffer, who has a movie background, creating your scenes.

I can't tell you how much that has made a difference for me. The stuff that he's written in the last month has been so good, you wouldn't want to change a word of the dialogue. I think the feedback has been really amazing as well. The whole look of the show is changing, too. They're getting more film oriented in the use of close-ups. I'm not sure what's coming up for Simon, but, whatever it is, I'm assured it's going to be very interesting.