By Tonya Lensch

Mary Beth Evans returns to daytime this week, but not as Days of Our Lives’ Kayla Brady or General Hospital’s Katherine Bell—two roles that made her a fan favorite.  This time around she’ll assume the role of As the World Turns’ Sierra Montgomery.

“Chris Goutman (ATWT’s executive producer) said he had been a fan of mine, and would love for me to come do this, and when anybody says that….” Evans laughs.  “I was going to be out [in New York] for Thanksgiving anyway, so I thought:  Great—my kids and husband will go home and I’ll do the show.”

But the mother of three soon found out how much she was needed back home in California.  “After three weeks, my kids were like, ‘Who? What? You want to talk to me?  I’m busy.’  I thought I’d better get home,” she says.

Taking over a pivotal role on a soap she had never watched was a challenge for Evans, who airs through January.  “Some parts were difficult to memorize when you don’t know who or what you’re talking about,” she admits.  “I called Tom something else, and I didn’t even realize that I had called him the wrong name!”

Evans had lots of meaty material to play, thanks to Sierra’s scenes with ex-husband Craig, son Bryant, sister Lily and mother Lucinda.  “Oh, my god, I love [head writer Hogan Sheffer’s] writing!” she enthuses.  “He writes exactly the kind of soap opera stuff that I like to do:  Heartfelt story about feelings.  The shoot’em up, chase people, be mean stuff—that’s not really my bag.” 

Consider it a mutual admiration society.  “I didn’t even know her because I’m new to soaps,”  Sheffer admits.  “When we found her, everybody went, ‘This is great.’  I watched a closed circuit when she was taping, and everybody was blown away.  She’s so stunningly beautiful.  There’s a scene at the jailhouse with Bryant that breaks your heart.  I love her on the map because she humanizes Craig.  When she’s with Hunt (Block), all I kept thinking was:  ‘(Craig) what’s wrong with you?’  I would love to use her again.  That’s one of the things we’re kicking around.”

Would Evans ink a long-term deal?  “The only problem is it’s a 3,000-mile commute.  It would depend on if I could cram it all into one week once a month.  With soap operas, that’s not the way they operate.  It’s such a hassle for everybody.  It would have to be win-win for both people.”