September 27th, 2008  |  Leave a comment

THE KIMBERLY MCCULLOUGH INTERVIEW – GENERAL HOSPITAL

Kimberly straigt hair.jpgJUST WHAT THE DOCTOR ORDERED

Kimberly McCullough serves up her prescription for soap success!

By Michael Fairman

Year after year, Daytime Emmy award winner Kimberly McCullough has been heralded for her moving, brave and believable performance of Dr. Robin Scorpio, the HIV-positive heroine on ABC’s General Hospital and its prime-time spin-off GH: NightShift.

Her HIV storyline began back in 1995 when she contracted HIV after having unprotected sex with then-boyfriend Stone Cates. What followed was one of the most compelling and moving portraits ever seen on daytime television. Robin not only had to watch her boyfriend die of AIDS, she also had to find the courage to cope and live with what had befallen her. This fall, Robin’s storyline marks another first for daytime soaps—she gives birth to her own child. Through her remarkable portrayal, Kimberly has been a constant in the fight against AIDS, as well as a hard-working actress and humanitarian. No stranger to the spotlight, this month she delivers the opening speech at AIDS Walk LA.

Listen to the audio:

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MICHAEL:

Kimberly, you play the historic character of Dr. Robin Scorpio, the only HIV+ long running character on a daytime soap. It carries a lot of social importance, because people watch to see how Robin deals with her life and the issues surrounding living with HIV. How do you feel about that?

pregnant.jpgKIMBERLY:

I think it’s exciting, and it’s a different kind of attention that is paid to it. It’s just not the lover relationship storyline, because things have changed so much since when my character, Robin, was diagnosed. So, that is really cool.

MICHAEL:

Robin is living with HIV, and now is an expectant mother. How far do you think we have come since AIDS was first diagnosed and portrayed on television, to now in 2008?

KIMBERLY:

We didn’t really know much about

it when it first came in to our culture. We have come a long way, and certainly, there is a long way to go. People are living long lives, and that’s why the baby storyline is important, because most people don’t know that HIV+ women can have healthy babies.

MICHAEL:

Did you do a lot of research on pregnant women with HIV? God willing, in the “GH” storyline, will Robin have a healthy baby?

KIMBERLY:

From the beginning of the story, they have been as responsible as they can be, and because it is an HIV related story, you want to give people hope. I don’t foresee the baby being positive. I think the smarter thing would be, to portray a baby that was healthy.

MICHAEL:

When you first learned that “GH” was going to give your character, Robin, HIV+, how did you feel about that?

KIMBERLY:

That was 15 years ago, and I knew nothing about AIDS at the time. As far as character development, I thought it was really ballsy and a good idea.

MICHAEL:

Have you received any feedback from HIV+ women who are pregnant, and who are thrilled that you are portraying their concerns and struggles?

Patrick and Robin.jpg

KIMBERLY:

I have talked to a few HIV+ women who have children. I think they are just happy to see anyone who is going through something difficult, portrayed appropriately in the media. They want an actress to play it positively on TV. It helps them to relate to the character. This one woman was telling me that her kids were being made fun of in school, and other mothers’ would not let them look at their kids when they had AIDS, when in fact, they didn’t at all. It would be so cool if those people could watch the show. Entertainment has a way of getting into the minds of people who generally wouldn’t think that way.

MICHAEL:

On “GH” Robin is involved with Dr. Patrick Drake, who is HIV-. In their relationship, Robin is a very independent woman who seems to be resistant to marrying the man she loves and who wants to marry her. There seems to be so many manufactured arguments to keep them apart. Why?

KIMBERLY:

It’s very manufactured… it’s drama and soap. In general, Patrick and Robin have a more realistic relationship, meaning a relationship you would find in real life, which I like. It’s not too campy and over-the-top. Their problems are real problems; not some bad guy is going to kill them, and it’s not some, “Who’s the daddy?” story. It’s a real issue that people deal with, whether it is AIDS, or some other sexually transmitted disease.

MICHAEL:

Why is Robin constantly declining Patrick’s beautiful marriage proposals?

KIMBERLY:

I think it’s just for drama, and I have to justify it as an actress to portray it, but it’s like… finally, she does.

MICHAEL:

Why does Robin finally say, “Yes”?

KIMBERLY:

Her issue was that she thought Patrick was doing it because he should, not because he really wanted to. In a way, I do understand, because I do have a lot of similar issues to Robin… the intimacy issues and things like that. But it’s true, when you are dealing with somebody like that, you have to prove it to the ‘Nth’ degree before they believe it, you know.

MICHAEL:

But, she’s damaged because of other relationships; she’s afraid she could lose somebody or dies, and not be there for her child. Is that put into how you portray your character?

KIMBERLY:

Yes, because for her, Patrick committing to Robin, and the prospect that she might die and she may leave him alone, she knows what that feels like. I think ultimately why she does say, “yes” and agrees to marry Patrick is: (A) She does believe he really wants to marry her. And (B) if the worst thing was to happen, and they were to get married, and she dies, he would have rights to the child. Otherwise, he wouldn’t. And (C) She wants to be married.

JaggerandRobin.jpgMICHAEL:

On “GH NightShift”, in a recent episode Robin was talking to Jagger (Antonio Sabato Jr) about his brother and her ex-lover Stone, who died of AIDS on the show. Patrick overheard that perhaps it might have been better if both Patrick and she were HIV+. It was a very important scene that I think goes on in real-life with people in those relationship dynamics.

KIMBERLY:

My guess is that it does happen both ways. Some people are OK with it, and some people are not. I have a friend who has Herpes and she deals with that all the time. In a way, it’s a similar issue, but not because AIDS is a lot more serious. You are putting yourself at risk by being intimate with someone, and that can be really scary.

MICHAEL:

You have had three phenomenal leading men on “GH”. The first, of course, was Michael Sutton, who played the HIV+ Stone Cates, and eventually died of AIDS. How was working with him?

KIMBERLY:

It was interesting, because in real life Michael and I were very different. Michael and I had a good working relationship and never hung out outside of work. Mainly, because he was a lot older than me… and a lot cooler than me. I was just a dorky teenager, and he was this hotshot Beverly Hills kid. I was very intimidated by him, but for whatever reason, on camera, it worked.

michaelsutton.jpgMICHAEL:

One of your finest moments as an actress was in the scenes where Stone dies. Do you feel it was some of your best work?

KIMBERLY:

I absolutely do. Thank you for saying that. It was one of those things where the story took over. That’s one of those things, when you play a character so many times and so many days, it sort of becomes ingrained and you don’t really have to act anymore. It takes on a life of its own. Everyone in the studio had been with us, and it was really heavy. Our storyline was about life and death every day. I remember when

we did that scene; the cameramen and the men were crying and sobbing. Everyone was able to relate to what was going on at the time. Everyone knew, especially here in LA, someone who died of AIDS.

MICHAEL:

I lost my two best friends. One died in 1987 and the other passed away in 1989 and that was pretty difficult. I watched them both die. It was hard to say good-bye to them.

KIMBERLY:

Had they made peace with it or were they angry?

MICHAEL:

No, I think in the end they had made peace. I don’t know how they did it. I went to see one of my friends who went back home to die with his parents. My other best friend was in a coma in the hospital before he died. Personally, have you known people who died from it?

KIMBERLY:

I didn’t back then, I was a kid. You also have to remember, as you know, a lot of that stuff was hidden. I had a family member die, and it was not said, “He died of AIDS,” but everyone knew he died of AIDS, you know that kind of thing. People did not talk about it, especially if you were a gay man and your family wasn’t cool with that, you had cancer, not AIDS. I am sure there was more people that I did not know had AIDS, because back then, you could not be as forthcoming about it.

MICHAEL:

Robin was next involved with Jason Morgan, played by Steve Burton. How was working with Steve?

KIMBERLY:

It’s funny. I feel like Steve and I had great chemistry also, but our chemistry was based on a friendship. I felt like we had a lot of fun together, and I felt it was more innocent than the other relationships he had on the show which were all sexually-driven. Because his character, Jason, had amnesia at the time and was re-learning things, it was like we could be more playful and innocent about the whole thing.

Jason Thompson.jpgMICHAEL:

Now you are working with the wonderfully talented Jason Thompson as Patrick!

KIMBERLY:

First of all, we are really good friends in real-life. As an actor, he is willing to experience everything. He is really sensitive and vulnerable.

MICHAEL:

And Jason is a great crier.

KIMBERLY:

There are not a lot of male actors that

want to be seen crying or even go there. Jason also has a great sense of humor,

and for whatever reason, we have a competitive, playful thing that worked from the very beginning. We just have so much fun working together.

MICHAEL:

Over the years, have there been other favorite scenes you’ve had, as Robin?

KIMBERLY:

I had a fun scene that airs on “GH NightShift,” with Tristan Rogers (Robert) who gives me the talk. I don’t know if it happened to you, but it happened to me. It’s where your parents tell you everything they have ever wanted to say because they think they might die. So that was a rough scene for me to do, because I have actually had that experience in real life. It was really successful and beautiful for me. I really liked that scene. Other than that, I really enjoyed the scenes with the girls at Jake’s, drinking shots….

MICHAEL:

…. You’re kidding!

KIMBERLY:

They are really special, because I have formed a lot of great friendships. Kent Masters King (Lanie), Minae Noji (Kelly), Sonya Eddy (Epiphany), Nazanin Boniaidi (Leyla,) and Claire Coffee (Nadine), are all really good friends of mine now.

MICHAEL:

Does portraying a doctor on TV get tiresome, or do you like it?

Kimberlyand girls.jpgKIMBERLY:

I like being a doctor. It was a good challenge coming back to the show. When I was away from the show, I was not able to play my age because I looked like a child. So, it was a good grown-up challenge to come back.

MICHAEL:

Now, with being the face of HIV on daytime soaps, and seeing the current state of affairs with the disease, both domestically and globally, where do you think we’re at, as a country?

KIMBERLY:

It’s rising in young female African American women. That says to me, it’s an education problem, and a lot of that is politics and I won’t go into that.

MICHAEL:

You play such an iconic soap character, as Dr. Robin Scorpio, is there some storyline you would love to do but haven’t had a chance to play?

KIMBERLY:

I think because she wanted to be a mother so badly, it would be interesting if she fumbles through the whole thing, and she really isn’t a good mother. I think it would be really funny. I think it would be fun to play and for her to admit she needs some help.

MICHAEL:

What was your feeling on Robin’s “Video Blog” of her pregnancy? I didn’t like it! It was so ridiculous.

finolaandTristan.jpgKIMBERLY:

I hated it! I thought it was playing down to the lowest common denominator. You could tell I did not like it because I just rambled through all of them.

MICHAEL:

How is it to work with your on-screen mom and dad again on “GH NightShift”, Finola Hughes (Anna) and Tristan Rogers? Will we see more of them when season 2 of the show ends, and will they cross over to “GH”?

KIMBERLY:

It’s awesome. I am pretty sure Finola will be there for the birth and the wedding. It’s just that both Finola and Tristan are such phenomenal actors. They have a very long and complicated history on the show, and fans love to see that, and it’s incredible to watch them work together. They are really good to work with.

MICHAEL:

You have walked in The AIDS Walk before, yes?

KIMBERLY:

I have done it several times in San Francisco, New York, and in Los Angeles lots of times. I am walking this year and we have already raised $30,000 for our team… “Team Scrubs”!

MICHAEL:

Is “Team Scrubs” a fan group? I hear they come to walk from all over the country.

KIMBERLY:

They do come. I am not sure how we are going to do it this year, but the first year anybody could do it and sign up as a team member. Last year, they were able to just donate to the team members. Basically, there is a message board called the, “Scrubs Message Board”, and those people really take it upon themselves to raise money for the team. Whether they walk or not, is up to them.

MICHAEL:

Who might participant this year in AIDS Walk Los Angeles from “GH”?

KIMBERLY:

My guess it would be Jason, Minae, Sonya and me, and it will be those people who essentially work in the hospital on the show.

MICHAEL:

You have been asked to give a speech this year at the beginning of the AIDS Walk.

KIMBERLY:

Yes, at the opening ceremony of the AIDS Walk, and I have no idea exactly of how I am going to say it, but I would like to talk about policy. It’s really important right now because of the upcoming election. Some of my speech will have to do with Robin having a baby on the show and how cool that is.

MICHAEL:

Would you go to Africa and help fight and bring even more awareness to the pandemic of AIDS globally?

KIMBERLY:

Of course I would!

Kimberlyhairup.jpg

MICHAEL:

Will ABC Daytime continue their commitment of telling Robin’s ongoing story?

KIMBERLY:

I think it benefits them. It’s a talking point. I heard Brian Frons (President, ABC Daytime and SOAPnet) make a speech about how soaps are talking about certain issues and he brought up my character. It gives credibility to the soaps, and as long as they believe that, and that they are reaching people, they will continue to tell her story.

MICHAEL:

Are there ever times when you see a script and you don’t agree with the lines and you take issue with it?

KIMBERLY:

Yes, all the time. But, I am just an actress. I am not the writer of the show. I only have so much control. I try to put my two-cents in, and yeah, it’s a television show, and I am not the one in control.

MICHAEL:

Do you believe that “giving back” is important?

KIMBERLY:

I was just talking to my friend about this, because I was watching everyone talking about Sarah Palin on CNN. Oh, my God! I did not know if I wanted to throw up or cry. I am so infuriated. I feel like the main thing that frustrates me, is that sense of, “Well, I worked so hard for it, so I get to keep it.” It’s that whole greed thing. Then, if you are not greedy you are called a Socialist, because you want people to be successful. It’s so far from being a Socialist; it’s not even funny. If you had a lot of money you wouldn’t think twice about helping somebody who doesn’t have it. I think it’s just greed and being self-centered, when people do not give back.

MICHAEL:

Do you contribute to charities and how do you discern which ones to give to?

KIMBERLY:

Anything that moves me at the moment, I do. AIDS is something that happened, and then I became passionate about it because of my career. So, I have given a lot of money to AIDS.

MICHAEL:

Do you remember when your character was first were diagnosed with HIV and the powerful statement that it made with your viewing public?

KIMBERLY:

What comes to mind is when we first started the story, and I was thrust into the world, and that’s when a lot of that stuff would happen. When we would do an, “ABC After-School” special, I was able to get in to all these places, such as hospices and what not, that I would not have normally been exposed to

MICHAEL:

Was it hard to go to hospice?

KIMBERLY:

I am an observer, which is who I am as a person. So, it was kind of interesting to me to see how people handle death, and at that time having no hope. Things have changed. I have heard recently that they are happy that Robin is portrayed as someone who is living their life. They have AIDS, and they are just living their life, but they still come across people who don’t want to be friends with them, and they still have these old, bigoted ideas. You may not think it exists, but it very well does. So, it’s kind of like, “OK, yeah, we have dealt with the issue. We know a lot more about AIDS, and OK, we know you can’t get it with you breathing on me, but at the end of the day I don’t want to be friends with you.” It doesn’t change it that much, except in the community that is educated. That is why the education part is so important, because educated people don’t isolate other people just because they have a disease.

MICHAEL:

For those who don’t know, what are the fundamental differences of shooting the primetime spin-off, “GH NightShift” and the daytime soap, “GH”?

KIMBERLY:

There is a huge difference. I shoot “GH, on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. I shoot “NightShift” Thursday and Friday. We have more time to shoot on “NightShift”. We have two days to shoot one episode, where on “GH” we have one day. The way the structure of the story is set up, the stories are wrapped-up in each episode, so it gives you a chance to play an arc within an episode, as opposed to an arc for three or four months on the daytime version.

Patrickhug.jpgMICHAEL:

We hear there is a big cliffhanger ending on “GH NightShift”. Is Robin in the mix?

KIMBERLY:

Yes, it airs October 21. Robin will be in the cliffhanger. I don’t know how it’s going to play out, but I feel cliffhangers are kind of pushed reality. Anyway, it’s definitely an exciting cliffhanger!

MICHAEL:

Will things get back to normal for you and your alter ego, Robin, when it ends?

KIMBERLY:

It doesn’t end for awhile for me. The next few months of Robin’s life are really fun and crazy. We go into Patrick and Robin’s wedding and then I have the baby.

MICHAEL:

Do you think the gay audience has been vital to the success and endurance of Dr. Robin Scorpio on daytime?

KIMBERLY:

Totally. Especially back in 1995 when we first started it, and that was very interesting. It was taking the girl next store, the girl that everybody loves, and giving her a disease that back then, was considered a gay man’s disease. So it was really cool for people who would normally just write it off and go, “Well, it’s your fault because you are gay.” They are not able to say that if they love the character of Robin Scorpio. I think it was good for the gay community, and the conservative heterosexual as well.

MICHAEL:

When gay men approach you, what things do they say about your portrayal of Robin?

chadandKyle.jpgKIMBERLY:

They say things like: “She is so strong and happy and living her life, even though she has this thing.” I think they are happy to see someone positively portrayed, whereas, their lives may not be as positive and is very scary. It’s not all peaches and roses, but if you are going through something difficult, it helps to see something that is positive.

MICHAEL:

Recently, Adam Grimes (Kyle) and openly gay actor Chad Allen (Matthew) have embarked on a new gay love story on “GH NightShift”. What are your thoughts about that?

KIMBERLY:

Oh, it’s so awesome! It’s so good. Chad is so sweet and such a good actor. I think it’s so exciting that he is getting to play a gay character now, after coming out.  Adam is not gay, he lives with his girlfriend. But, that is also cool because he is not a gay actor and he and Chad are great together! Their whole storyline is not based on the fact that they are gay. I don’t know, because I am not a gay man, but I feel like the way they are portraying Kyle, is pretty cool.

MICHAEL:

How would you explain who Dr. Robin Scorpio is at her core, to someone that has never been introduced to her?

kimoncouch.jpgKIMBERLY:

Her core is survival. Even as a child she was faced with all kinds of life and death situations. She survived on her own or with the help of others, but mainly on her own. Even when she turned HIV+, she found a way to deal with it. Ultimately, that’s her greatest flaw; because she is so concerned with surviving on her own that existing with other people is hard for her. She is controlling and always in other people’s lives, and a busybody that way. In her own life, she can’t just relax and be happy. She is always second-guessing everything.

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