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Flashback 1992: It's Not Over Yet

ATWT'S Tom And Margo Face Their Toughest Challenge.

By Stella Bednarz

It's a woman's worst nightmare. Rape. An equal opportunity offender, this four-letter word strikes terror in the hearts of half the population, regardless of age, race or income bracket, because all you have to do is be in the wrong place at the wrong time. "She was raped by a man who is HIV-positive." The old nightmare has a new twist. In the United States, 1.3 rapes occur each minute. Margo Hughes knew that. She was a policewoman who had handled many assault cases, but all of her expertise didn't prepare her to become a statistic. She happened to be in a store during a holdup, and when she tried to get a look at the getaway van, the crooks brutally attacked her. With husband Tom's support, Margo coped. Then it was discovered that her attacker is HIV-positive.

Many soaps depict sexual assault, but AS THE WORLD TURNS is the first to tackle the repercussions of an HIV rape. "It's incredibly brave," comments Ellen Dolan who portrays Margo. Scott Hughes (Tom) echoes her sentiment. It's a sensitive issue for the actors, who, like his co-star, has lost people to AIDS. "I certainly won't have to dig deep to find a way to play it," the actor observes.

The man responsible for this storyline, Head Writer Douglas Marland, has often pursued socially relevant plots such as the right to die. "I wanted to deal with an HIV possibility because an awful lot of people are dealing with this uncertainty. I feel that Tom and Margo are perfect characters to tell the story because of who they are and how they deal with things," says Marland.

Executive Producer Laurence Caso observes that Tom and Margo's story is "deeply personal, and I think what excites me the most is the aspect of this couple who've been married for nine years and what it does to their physical relationship, which has been so important. Now, with the HIV aspect, it puts them to a test. They're going to have to make a huge adjustment, and they're the right couple for it." Will this crisis endanger Tom and Margo's marriage. "No. This draws them even closer together," Marland says. "but it's a terrifying waiting period. We'll see what it does to their intimacy, and there is Margo's relationship with her children and her fears: 'What if I'm not here for them?' " He adds that Tom shares this as he contemplates the possibility of life without her.

Marland intentionally created a delay in between the assault and the discovery that the rapist is HIV-positive. "I couldn't ignore the rape," he stresses. "That's why I had them take a month of airtime to find him. There is a violation in so many areas, and we wanted to properly deal with it."

What unfolded was a realistic depiction of what happens to a survivor, starting with the hospital exam, which featured graphic language (ATWT advised viewer discretion). It continued with Margo's denial until she sought help at a rape crisis center.

In preparation, Ellen Dolan did some reading and was assisted by a consultant from the New York Sex Crimes Unit. "I talked to her for four hours, and she gave me the manual that officers and detectives use to deal with people who are raped. Within that, there are a lot of very particular behavioral things," she points out.

Margo's trauma has been hard to shake, Dolan reveals. "I've chosen to re-tile my bathroom to get rid of it, so I'm breaking a lot of tile. At first, I didn't think it would be that hard but...I go home sometimes, and it's just there. It seems as if there's this low-grade depression that stays with you; but I have to go back, so I just have to keep it going. I have been affected by this - I forgot to show up for a couple of scenes." Dolan left the studio, ate lunch and was about to run an errand when she returned to watch the day's episode. "I walked up to the office and they said, 'Where were you? They've been calling you for for 15 minutes. You're in the last two scenes.' " Dolan adds that Margo isn't the only one who's been looking over her shoulder.

Scott Holmes is asked if he's had trouble leaving the story at the studio. He quickly replies no, but then he thinks a moment and says: "It sticks with me. I've and some pretty weird dreams, but they're about caring for my own family. You know, until you asked, that never crossed my mind, and perhaps that was part of...I don't know." While Tom's role is crucial, Holmes knows his job isn't the same as Dolan's. "Hers is for research and mine is for emotion. My stuff has been pretty clear-cut. I've tried to make it honest. It can look so much larger than life, so I've spent my time trying to control my responses. My wife and I have been married for 17 years, and this stuff is very close to home."

Dolan and Holmes work things out together. "We always have a wide open line of communication. Ellen is a great listener," Holmes shares. "We use our rehearsal time effectively. We do a lot of laughing and get the ya-yas out, but when it's time to really do the work, we bounce ideas off each other." Dolan concurs: "It's a piece of cake to work with him him. We have a working rapport as well as a personal friendship, and something like this just brings you closer. Scott is very sensitive. You don't really notice it because he's always wacko." It will be an uneasy time for Tom and Margo as she continues to be tested for HIV. Does Dolan know the outcome? "No, no. Do I die?" she asks earnestly. Both actors hope viewers glean a deeper understanding of the AIDS epidemic.

"If we do anything to raise awareness, it's certainly a step in the right direction," offers Holmes. "Dolan stresses: "One of the biggest messages that I want to make clear is it doesn't have to be a criminal that this disease comes from - a bad person in a back alley. It's universal."

It is only fitting that Douglas Marland has the final word on Tom and Margo. "There is a realization that whatever time you have is precious - take every day as a blessing. That is the eventual message."

Soap Opera Digest 1992,2002
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