Susan Ward for “The In-Crowd”

It’s not easy to make the transition from soap starlet to feature film actress, admits ex-model Susan Ward. But the former Sunset Beach star gets to show off her mean side as the rich girl from hell, in the new movie thriller The In Crowd, from director Mary Lambert. Paul Fischer spoke to the actress in Los Angeles.

LA’s House of Blues, nestled in the midst of West Hollywood’s sometimes-trendy Sunset Boulevard, was an appropriate venue to meet the Louisiana-born Susan Ward. In The In Crowd, her major feature film since leaving the Spelling soap Sunset Beach, the beautiful 26-year old stars as the manipulative leader of a country-club clique, who teachers a na├»ve newcomer, what it takes to be a part of an in crowd. Unlike her screen character, the casually attired Ward confesses to have never been part of a clique growing up in Louisiana. “I was never part of a clique at all, because I was never really accepted.” Even when she finally got in it, she didn’t really like it much, she recalls. “It was all terribly superficial and a lot of bullshit to deal with.” Now, as an ex-model-cum-movie star, the bullshit is still prevalent but perhaps more important, Ward insists. “Doing this is all part of the job, so it’s fine with me. I’d be crying if I was sitting at home and didn’t have a damn job, or something to publicise. So I’m just happy to do any part of this, because it gets the awareness out there.”

Raised in the heart of southern Louisiana, Ward grew up among its cotton fields, surrounded by animals. “You name it, I’ve raised it,” she says. “Tropical birds, rabbits, snakes, wallabies…For a long time I was dead set on becoming a veterinarian. But, well, you know, all the blood – that part just wasn’t my thing.” Her modelling career that took her to New York at age 14 and led her sign with the prestigious Ford agency. “It really wasn’t scary,” Susan recalls of being on her own in the big city. “I suppose it might have been, but I was so headstrong about my career that I didn’t think of the repercussions.” Modelling led to a stint on daytime’s All My Children and then to a fateful meeting with TV’s top TV honcho, Aaron Spelling. “Aaron is so hands-on,” Susan says of the legendary Malibu Shores and Sunset Beach producer. “He can look at you and tell if your hair’s even slightly different, or if you shaved that day.”

Making the transition, however, from soap to movie star was not that easy. “Unfortunately, in this business, soap actors aren’t deemed to be serious actors; they’re the low man on the totem pole. That’s regrettable, because they work extremely hard and you don’t receive the recognition from other actors, or for that matter, from society.” So for Ward, who had already appeared in three daytime soaps, she found it increasingly “difficult to gain the respect from either prime time television people or the film community, because once they see you as a soap actor, that’s all they see you as.” What Ward had on her side, was that she wasn’t widely known in the soap world, unlike veterans such as Susan Lucci., so for a while she was able to downplay the soap opera thing very much. “because film people are very snobby about it”, and one also has more to prove. “You have to get your name and work out there to a different community.”

That seems to have worked with this actress, who clambered on board that old audition mill, which is how she came to be a part of The In Crowd. “It was a great opportunity for me to do this movie, because in my last soap, I played a very sweet and innocent girl while this character is devious, devilish, intelligent and seductive; everything that my other character wasn’t and that was what was so appealing about it.” As for which of these two women is closest to her, Ward laughingly fells that “I’m probably somewhere in the middle.” She sees The In Crowd as “more of a psychological thriller, a slasher type, gory movie. To me, it’s more of a mind game movie which shows the demise of the glamorous and popular group.” Ward also feels the film explores the nature of popularity and jealousy. “It shows what people perceive you as being “cool” or being popular, or being wonderful.”

Ward, whose boyfriend is a jet setting producer, may return to the small screen, but this time on prime time. “I just shot a pilot for a new series, Day One, which is a cool sci-fi piece which I think has a lot of potential.” But Susan is still on the lookout “for a movie that will excite me no end.” Whether her In Crowd will excite audiences, remains to be seen.