This week on General Hospital as fans watch the unraveling of a hot button social issue play out on-air, I got the opportunity to talk with some of the participants of the storyline on my recent set visit to the top rated ABC soap. Fans have already witnessed Kristina (Lexi Ainsworth) beaten to a bloody and swollen pulp by her pseudo- boyfriend, the abusive scum-bag, Kiefer, all the while blaming it on poor Ethan. Not only has this story provided a vehicle for Daytime Emmy winners, Maurice Benard (Sonny) and Nancy Lee Grahn (Alexis) to show off their acting chops in a glorious way, but it has provided GH with a story arc with many implications and ramifications that resonates to young women and their parents in the soap viewing audience.
Maurice Benard told me that the GH story train just keeps the hits comin’ “This train is rolling really great, and it’s not going to stop. The story that I am really praising is when Kristina gets beat up, (and I have not seen it), but doing it with the actors was unreal. When I saw Lexi Ainsworth (Kristina) with the bruises, it was like the feelings I would have with my own daughter. Sonny takes off on this whole thing and then goes on to remember his own abuse and how his step-father would beat him, and put him in the closet, and he how he would beat his mother, too.” So how is Lexi doing, holding her own with the big Benard? “She is fantastic. We were doing a scene, and she was having a problem with it. So I gave her something personal, and so towards the end of the scene, I said, ‘When you get to this line… think about what I said’, and she got to this line and she just broke, completely broke, and I held her.” Maurice known for letting his work deeply affect him emotionally and physically, once again displayed that same raw emotion, when viewers witnessed the recently aired scenes where Kristina lay in the hospital. “When I walked in and I saw Christina with that make-up and she said Ethan did it… that’s it! These guys don’t rationalize. It’s wrong, but they don’t think that way. My little girl looks like she has been hit by Mike Tyson. ‘Who did it? You? Done.’ There is one scene with Alexis where she is beating on me! Nancy Lee Grahn (Alexis) hits me and it’s great.” (Laughs)
But dredging up his past abuse and how his on-screen daughter is in a very bad place is not the only thing Sonny Corinthos is dealing with. Throw in a huge courtroom drama for allegedly killing his wife Claudia and shooting his son Dante a cop, into the mix, and it’s really been Maurice’s time to shine once again. “I am playing this story like he is going to prison. It could go two ways, even if he escapes and breaks out before he goes to prison, he can never come back, and if he goes to prison, he feels he will die of claustrophobia. I do think he deserves what he is getting right now. If you as a viewer think I deserve it than I am not doing my job. I have to portray what is happening inside. You know, what he does is wrong, but you know what? This guy is not a bad guy. I am sure there are a bunch of Sonny “haters” out there, but a lot of people love him, and a lot of people love to hate him.” Maurice then previews a huge courtroom scene! “You wait till Johnny gets on the stand. Sonny goes off on Johnny. Johnny accuses him of hitting Claudia. What was great about that day, after those scenes Sonny went to Christina’s, and she accuses me of abusing women. And, I don’t know what I did that day, but I broke down. This is what Johnny did to him. There is a line I added, ‘I never hit Claudia, and I never hit a woman in my life. Thank God, I can say that with conviction.’ Back in the day, there was a point where I have to say, the ABC network was right and I was wrong. I had a scene with Brenda; I felt that he felt he should hit her. And they said “No”, and so I just grabbed her and threw her. Thank God they said no, because I would not have been able to say these lines in 2010.”
A moment that many fans of GH were in shock and awe over was the recent payoff when Sonny confronts Dominic (Dante) and shoots him in cold blood, never realizing that it is his own flesh… and blood! Maurice told me working with Dominic Zamprogna (Dante) has been nothing short of extraordinary. “All I can say about Dominic is, if he were a woman this is the greatest chemistry ever! (Laughs) But the way he looks and is, I love it. He is a great, great find, because he is so real. When I watch him, you just believe it. Here is the bottom line on all this storyline wise: When that is done (shooting Dante), first of all, it’s wrong. But the thing is this, like my wife Paula said, ‘Sonny had always been a vigilante, and he kills bad people.’ That put me in perspective. This is the only time Sonny crossed the line, but to him it was a “rat”, and he did not know. This is the first time they have done something where he is crossing the line. The acting all the way around, it’s fantastic. You need to keep pushing this envelope with the viewers. With the way the medium is going you have to do great story after great story, because that is what keep the fans going, but if you go great story, and then it sucks, it’s difficult!”
With the Daytime Emmy Pre-Nominations just announced, and Benard receiving a nod with Tony Geary (Luke) from his peers for the Outstanding Lead Actor category, I asked him which episode is he going to submit? Maurice has had his triumphs and disappointments with the Emmy process, previously. “I said to my wife, ‘You look for the episode,’ because it’s all good. I use to take this stuff so seriously. So she did look for me and I agreed with her. We went with the moment Sonny exposes Claudia and that show.” As a soap journo, I concurred with Benard that his performance was one of the most powerful performances of the past soap season. After all, it made the On-Air On-Soaps Top Ten Best Soap Moments of 2009!
Nancy Lee Grahn, known to be a bit controversial and outspoken on GH storylines and most especially her own, feels that this time, this story arc gives Alexis a whole other side to playing a mother to a teen. “That is about a family, and something that happens in real life to a family, and that given the components of her parents, it’s a very likely thing to happen to her. Without explaining the history of the characters which you already know, there is a line of abuse on both sides, and add to that a line of not taking care of yourself. I thought, give me something emotionally grounded and I’m happy… I like to act.” Nancy, always an advocate on important political issues and human rights says, if she were asked to speak on teenage abuse and how it affects the parents and the child, she would jump at the chance now. “I would certainly offer my services to draw attention to it, absolutely. I would have done this before this storyline. However, this storyline had made me aware of how prevalent this is. No matter how good a mother you think you are the signs in a child that age are all confusing anyway. Now with teenagers… because of the media, and because of this shift and perception in what sexuality is, and how violence enters into it, and the words that are used, and how men and women talk to each other now, seems to be acceptable and normal. Not only do we now need to talk about safe sex… we need to talk about violence, abuse, sexual abuse, all of these things within that need to be in a conversation. It can’t just be about, ‘This is what sex is, and you need to do this, and you need a condom.’ We need to get into it. We need to start talking. Personally, I am scared. I don’t get it and its mind boggling.” Nancy says her on-screen daughter, Lexi Ainsworth is going to make all soap viewers grab for many boxes of Kleenex! “Oh yes. She will make you cry. Lexi is very connected to this storyline and she is doing a good job.”
The girl at the center of it all, GH newbie Lexi Ainsworth, (The SORAS’d Kristina) tells me she knows that there are so many intricacies to teen abuse, from feeling like you deserve the abuse, to having the abuse being the only way to hold on to your boyfriend, to getting attention and feeling alive, all very conflicting. “It is confusing for Kristina and for me as Lexi. It’s a combination of things. She does blame herself when Kiefer does hit her, and it’s almost like she wants things to change, and she wants things to be better between Kiefer and her. So she is like, maybe next time I won’t do this and then he won’t hit me. So she is trying to fix this guy and does not realize that she can’t. Definitely the attention thing plays into it. Kristina’s mom has not been the best role model or her dad.” Lexi hopes that the whole story will garner attention, so teens take notice! “I hope other teenage girls will learn from what has happened to Kristina, and to learn it’s not OK for a guy to hit you and that you should not put up with it!” Well said!
Dominic Zamprogna and Julie Berman, GH’s hottest young couple of Dante and Lulu and I also conversed. Berman said she is in love with loving her on-screen romance! “I think it’s so refreshing and different from the other love stories that I have played. I really like that they are taking their time and really indulging themselves in the smaller moments, and writing these things where we get to play “rock band” and “glow in the dark” condoms, and different real details of a relationship. I love that.” But of course, when things are good in soapland a couple will need some good drama! “I am sure the waters haven’t gotten stirred yet, but soon you have to see a difference of opinion, and that these two will have to have conflict and overcome.” So, since the two young stars both worked with Maurice, I had to find out the best and worst part of working with the soap superstar. “A lot of times before the scene when he is ready to perform, Maurice gets everyone around him pumped up,” Julie says. “He elevates everything to a more intense level and it’s just his style and it’s very interesting, where I feel like we are going into a boxing match. It’s cool and you are pumped. As far as the worst part, I have not worked with him enough to be able to comment.” Next, Dominic chimed in! “Best part of working with Maurice is a lot of what Julie said, but from day one when you are in a scene with him, you feel like you are after one ultimate goal scene-wise. Now your characters may not be after the same thing, but with him there is that undeniable intensity. Worst thing is, sometimes I cannot help but laugh, because Maurice makes me laugh and especially when it’s a serious thing. I think he has a hard time keeping a straight face. Then they will be counting down and so I will look at his shoulder, so I won’t laugh. (Laughs)
At the end of my set visit, I got to talk to two of my favorite people on the series, the uber-talented Jonathan Jackson (Lucky) and the very sweet, Rebecca Herbst (Elizabeth). I have never gotten the opportunity to interview them together, since Jonathan has been gone for so many years. But this rare opportunity gave me the chance to ask JJ all about those knock em’ sock em’ scenes where he literally took the halo off the tarnished Elizabeth Webber. As I said to JJ, it was those scenes that will surely win him an Emmy in 2011. “That was a really intense show, and doing the scenes they were just hard to describe. Becky was amazing and present and available. It’s such a weird thing when you go that far and you start yelling things like that at people you love. I was in my dressing room before the scenes, and it’s less about a process of me trying to do something than me trying to get out of the way, and let what is real happen in the moment and with that stuff. I know it was God working with us. We said a prayer before the scenes. And we said, ‘We are in this together and let us try to portray this for what it really is,’ and what it is… brokenness, and that is really a devastating thing when you love somebody, and to have that wounding and betrayal, it’s terrible. I am sure many can relate to what we have been through on-air. It was tragic.” Becky concurred on the big moments, “Jonathan actually seemed like one more step and he was going to take my head off. Honestly, it was not so hard to be present when he was yelling at me like he did.”
Now with all the baby daddy drama, in the end, after all the DNA switches, and Helena’s machinations, who does Becky want the father to be? “Of course, Elizabeth would love it to be Lucky’s and I personally would love it to be Lucky’s, because I think it’s about time.” Jonathan piped up and said, “I think if he is not the father of the third one that would probably draw the line.” I would think so Lucky! Please don’t be a daddy to three other men’s kids! So with any soap comes many detours for star-crossed lovers. But at this point, are Lucky and Liz that? Becky told me, “You got to break-up to get back together. We have to have drama in our lives to fight to get back together…that is soaps.” Jonathan feels it’s going to be a battle to overcome the tremendous obstacles of the couple, but there is hope. “To be honest with you, I do think that is possible. But it would have to take time, and be an incredible sort of process of forgiveness and newness, and that would be a redemption and rebirth. I love to play that because it is something we all go through in life and they are very human emotions, whether its reconciliation or forgiveness. Those are powerful things to walk through. To see them having to play conflict that is not coming from exterior forces, but coming from between them, I think is someway more challenging to portray that in a very real powerful way. It’s going to be two people who have been torn apart trying to find a way to love each other and not loving each other the way they used to, but truly having to fall in love again.” Rebecca added, “Would it ever be back to normal and back to ten years ago? Probably not, and we don’t want that anyway. It is about the journey and I would love to see it go there.”
As I left Port Charles, I bumped into GH executive producer, Jill Farren Phelps. I told her that the show is rocking right now and that it has been giving the viewers several intrinsic stories at one time that keep it interesting and vital, something we have not seen in a long time from the venerable soap. Come back next week for the video interviews with the above mentioned stars. Gotta leave the Hospital… for now!