Judith Light Looks Back on the ‘Powerful And Moving’ Experience of Playing a Prostitute on One Life to Live

When Judith Light first started acting, she told herself (and her family and friends!) that she would never do a soap opera. Fast forward years later, the longtime actress is looking back back at her time on One Life to Live and could not be more grateful.

Light opened up to PEOPLE’s Editor-in-Chief Jess Cagle in this week’s issue about her “powerful and moving” experience playing Karen Wolek, a housewife turned prostitute, on the daytime soap.

“I said, ‘I’m your girl. I’m in,'” Light said about first being introduced to the role. “I knew what would be of value in doing that. I knew that I could, at some level, take the training that I had in the theater. … You have to understand, most of the actors on the soap had all come from the theater and we’re doing theater at the same time as doing the soap, and I just thought, ‘This is really rich material.’

She added, “I mean, a lot of people say, soaps this and that. You’re putting an hour of programming every day, you don’t have a lot of time, but what they were giving me to do was so incredible and powerful and moving, I never thought about it twice. I thought this can be amazing and rich.”

Though the 68-year-old actress has had many rewarding roles throughout her career, this particular one had a special place in her heart.

“The thing I always wanted to do was to be able to reach people, to be able to have conversation with people,” she said. “I wanted to be able to talk to people, I wanted them to see a character, a person that they could understand or connect to, or understand their psychology, or how people live, so that when we all understand each other, all of that hatred, all of that bigotry, all that stuff goes away. It’s like Jeffrey [Tambor] said the other day when we were doing press for Transparent, he said, ‘What precedes bigotry and hatred is ignorance,’ and I just thought, ‘If we can talk to each other, if we can have conversations, we can change our minds about each other, and the world can be a different place.’ Those were the thoughts that were going through my mind when I did this.”

Not only did her time on One Life to Live serve a purpose for the greater good, it changed her life in a personal way as well.

“I met [my husband] on One Life to Live — he was the one who said, ‘You have to leave the soap, you have to go,’ ” Light said of the early stages of her relationship with 66-year-old Robert Desiderio, a former television actor. “I said, ‘Go? Where am I going? I’m living in the city of my dreams, the city that I love. I’m the girl from New Jersey, I got to be in New York.’ ”

“He said, ‘There are people in another area of this business that don’t know what you can do,’ and I said, ‘Are you talking about California?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I think we should move to California.’ I thought, ‘I don’t drive. I don’t want to see sunshine every day. I want the rain. I want the snow. I want to put on my galoshes,’ and he said, ‘No, you really have to do this,’ ” shared Light.

The couple dated for four years before tying the knot in 1985.

For years after, Light — who currently lives in New York — and Desiderio — who resides in California — have navigated a long-distance marriage.

“It’s been the best,” she said. “I highly recommend it. He loves California, and I would never ask him to leave there and he would never ask me to leave here.”