February 21st, 2012  |  Leave a comment

The Van Hughes Interview – One Life to Live and General Hospital

Courtesy/Gsarts.net

Talk about your accidental soap star, who won over our hearts in such a short time that we were clamoring for more, as the curtain came down on the beloved town of Llanview and One Life to Live just over a month ago.  Van Hughes, the multi-talented young performer stepped into the role of Cole Thornhart after Brandon Buddy (the original Cole) had to bow out of his scheduled return to wrap up Starr and Cole’s long-standing love story.   But what no one knew, except perhaps then OLTL head writer Ron Carlivati and the shows’ then EP, Frank Valentini, was how integral Cole would be to the final episodes of the series!  Will any One Life fan ever forget the prison break and the fallout… Cole hovering between and life and death as he visited heaven… And then in the end being reunited with Starr and his child, Hope in Los Angeles?

But as One Life to Live came to a close, and Valentini and Carlivati took over as creative heads of General Hospital, one of their first orders of business was to integrate Starr Manning onto the canvas.  And this Friday, Starr (Kristen Alderson) along with Cole make their debut in Port Charles.  In this very special interview with On-Air On-Soaps, Van Hughes previews what to look for during his short visit to GH, and how he pulled off almost the impossible to make us love him as Cole Thornhart in such short order.

Currently, Van is starring in the touring company of the hit Broadway musical filled with the exhilarating and phenomenal music of Green Day, American Idiot!  And if you have not seen it, you have got to catch it live!  American Idiot puts raw emotions front and center in a highly theatrical and thoroughly satisfying rock opera that ignites the stage with hits such as 21 Guns and more.  We spoke to Van while he was in Chicago on break before his next performance of the musical, where he wows audiences nightly just like he did on our daytime television screens daily.

MICHAEL:

You are currently on tour with American Idiot.  How is it doing the show every night and stopping in different cities along the way?  And for those who don’t know, how did you come about playing your role in the musical?

VAN:

Photo Credit: Doug Hamilton

I was originally the stand-by for the three main characters, and then I ended up taking over on Broadway for two months the role that I am playing now, which is Johnny.  Then, I had the summer off.  I knew I was going to do the tour in the fall and then One Life to Live popped up, and that was strategically placed at exactly the two weeks before I started rehearsals for the tour.  So as soon as I saw you in New York, when you visited the set of OLTL, I dove right into the show again.  Now we have been doing the show for 8 weeks and the tour has a long way to go … we are just getting started!

MICHAEL:

… And you are coming to Los Angeles, March 13ththrough April 22nd performing in American Idiot at the Ahmanson Theatre.  So now many of your new soap friends will get a chance to see you live!

VAN:

Yes, we will be in Los Angeles for six weeks, and then we keep going on from there to other cities.  It’s kind of an L.A. or bust feeling in my mind.  I know there are dates in Seattle San Francisco, Dallas, Costa Mesa, and Tempe, Arizona.  I think all of those dates are after the L.A dates.

MICHAEL:

On the final broadcast date of One Life to Live (January 13th) Kristen Alderson was one of my very special guests on the Blog Talk Radio, One Life to Live Farewell Show.  She related to the audience how you stepped into the role of Cole.  She asked me what I thought of your performances, and I said, “I thought he did an amazing job.”  She told me you studied the You Tube videos of Brandon Buddy as Cole.  What was it like for you having to get in there and quickly play a beloved character, and tweak it, and make it your own?  Were you concerned that you took on the impossible?

Courtesy/ABC

VAN:

It was interesting.  It was my first time doing that.  The first step was to figure out what the hell I was talking about in all the scenes.  On soaps, you are often rehashing previous plot points in the dialog, and for me I had to reference things that happened years ago to the characters.  I was just trying to fill in the blanks!

MICHAEL:

You were probably going, “Who and what is a Marty?” (Laughs)

VAN:

Yeah exactly!  Why am I talking about my mom and dad like this?  I honestly had no idea!  They don’t really fill you in when you get cast for something like this, especially since this was such a last minute thing.  Then, I checked my Facebook page and Kristen Alderson had found me and reached out to say, “Hey, here is my phone number, and call me if you would like to get together, and talk before we start.”  So we did, and we got to know each other a little bit.  Kristen helped me out a lot with plot points.  I told her, “I know this is the end of a very huge thing for you, and I am not going to take this lightly.  It is not just a job for me; I want it to be really special for you, too.”  So we had that kind of vibe going into it, to just sort of make the best of it.  That is about all you can do, right?

MICHAEL:

Right!  And I felt like the pressure is really on for this guy.  The show was wrapping up 43 years of history, and was at the forefront of daytime television viewers mind, because it should never have been canceled in the first place.  The fans wanted to see the stories come to a satisfying conclusion, after the Prospect Park online deal fell through.  And then, Brandon Buddy was coming back to play Cole, and then he had to bow out.  But I have to say, Ron Carlivati, (then OLTL’s head writer) gave you a lot of riveting material to play and Cole had a lot to do! 

VAN:

Photo Credit: Bruce Gilkas

The greatest thing about being an actor is that people should take parts that they have no idea what they are going to do with it, because that in turn challenges you to dig down deep somewhere and pull something out of yourself.  I am kind of tired of doing stuff, where I already know what I am going to do with it.

MICHAEL:

 …. Which is what I think doing a musical every night might be like.  It has got to be tough!

VAN:

Yeah, it is, but American Idiot is my most favorite thing I have ever done.  So, I made a very personal decision for myself to say, “You know what?  I have not been on tour before.  I have not seen most of the cities we are going to be hitting on this tour, and to be able to tell this story every single night, and to look at people in the eye across the country telling them things that I believe are true, there is nothing better than that.”  So I just made a personal decision that this is what I wanted to do for these six months to just push myself, and it is hard.  It is an assault on my body, my mind and my spirit.  I am kind of drained all the time, but it is worth it for me.

MICHAEL:

What is it about playing the anti-hero Johnny in the musical that is so draining?  Is it because of the character itself, or because in the musical you are dancing and singing and running all over the place?

VAN:

Both!  I get to play guitar, which is something I have been doing since I was ten, and so that is really personal to me. When you are in musical theatre you rarely get to do something like that.  So to be in a setting that is really comfortable for me, which is the stage, and to be doing material that feels very personal to me, and especially this story which is about a kid who wants to leave his suburban town, where he thinks life is going nowhere, and finds what lies on the other side… which is kind of what I did, when I moved to New York City.  I am originally from Chesapeake, Virginia, which is near Norfolk and Virginia Beach, and so it was totally different moving to the big city.

MICHAEL:

…. And you are performing the music of Green Day, and that has to be amazing!

VAN:

Photo Credit: Doug Hamilton

Yes. The music is the main thing.  There is barely any dialog to the musical, and we are just up there singing these songs.   It almost never stops, and if you know the American Idiot album at all, it’s mostly those tunes in the show.  There are some thrown in from Green Day’s newer record, 21st Century Breakdown, like 21 Guns and Know Your Enemy.  Billie Joe Armstrong was one of my idols as a kid growing up.  So to be singing this, I did not realize how much of my performing is really influenced by him until I started doing his show.  It’s funny to read the reviews where people are saying that I am a Billie Joe look-a-like, or that I act just like him.  I was not intending to do that; I was just trying to be myself.  It’s kind of funny to me, because I never thought of it that way, like I was doing his mannerisms or anything like that.

MICHAEL:

It’s cool!  You have got to have had a pinch yourself moment!  And then, in another pinch yourself moment, what did OLTL tell you happened with the role of Cole? How did you land the part?

VAN:

It was a last minute call from my agent to get down to the studio as soon as I could that day.  I had met the people at One Life before, but it was not for this role.  I can’t even remember what role it was for!  So the reason they called me was that they had an old tape of mine from a year ago, and executive producer, Frank Valentini responded to it.  I was one of two guys that they called in for the role.  Then within 30 minutes, I was the only guy available to do it!  I had been saying “no” to every thing all summer, because I wanted to rest and take a load off before I started this tour.  But OLTL said to me, “No. It works out perfectly for you.  It’s just these two weeks.  It’s right before the tour is going to start and it’s the final episodes of One Life, and it will be this epic thing.”  I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  So, I just said “yes” to it.

MICHAEL:

Courtesy/ABC

It was amazing, heartbreaking, and I thought the heaven scenes with you and Luna, and all of it, worked so well!  There were the scenes where Cole was trying to decide if he should stay in heaven or go back to earth, and then the scenes with Starr in the hospital where she is crying at his bedside.  Did you realize at the time, “I think I hit a home run with the material?  This is good!”  Or, did you not really know?

VAN:

First, yeah, it was heartbreaking.  I honestly did not know how it went.  Kristen said to me, “Well, how do you feel?  How do you think it went?”  And I am like, “I have no idea.”   I mean, I am not from that world where you just do a scene once and that’s it!  It is weird.  I had been on As the World Turns years before, and I always remembered after a scene going, “Whoa. That’s it?  Really?”  There is no time, and that is the magic of the soap genre and the art form.  There is something so transitory about it and real.  You have no idea what the other person in the scene with you is going to do, and that is probably what is going to be captured for the show.  What I am used to is rehearing everything a million times and thinking about it over and over again for weeks and months.

MICHAEL:

How was working with Susan Batten (Luna, OLTL)?

VAN:

She was great.  We have some mutual friends.  She was really cool.  And I guess because Luna was friends with Marty, she was there in heaven with Cole.  Susan is a very sensitive person.

MICHAEL:

Courtesy/ABC

It must have been tough being at One Life for the additional reason that the show was winding down. There was the dwindling hope that the show would continue online, and the atmosphere must have been very sad on the set.

VAN:

I only felt it being sad the very last day of taping.  I was actually seeing people crying after their scenes and hugging the crew and exchanging phone numbers, and it was like watching an end of an era.  But all the times before that, everyone was so welcoming to me and just saying, “We know they are throwing you in above your head. You just have to trust yourself and you are awesome.”  Everyone was really patting me on the back, because as soon as I got to the studio …

MICHAEL:

… Yeah, I bet they were glad!  I bet they were yelping, “Thank God, There’s a great Cole!” (Laughs)

VAN:

Bob Woods (Bo) was saying to me, “You are really helping us out, you know?” (Laughs) I felt great being there and working with the cast.  I was just trying to do the best work I could with the time that I had, and to do justice to the character of Cole and what happened before, because I did not play it before.  I kept trying to keep the history of the character always in the back of my mind.

MICHAEL:

Courtesy/ABC

What was it like working with Kristen Alderson?  She is one talented young lady.

VAN:

It was incredible!  From the first minute we talked on the phone, I knew this was somebody that I could relate to.  I didn’t think it was going to be hard at all, and it really wasn’t!  We had a great time those two weeks.  We shot the GH stuff and that was even more fun, because I was even more comfortable with the format and with Kristen.  The dialog was a bit lighter at first.  It was not quite starting off with the high-stakes emotional stuff.  So I am anxious to see what it looks like, because I did feel more comfortable about doing it.  I shot two episodes worth of shows.  I went to L.A. on my day off from the tour and worked.

MICHAEL:

Everyone is concerned how they are going to play this out … because they just got Starr and Cole back together at the end of OLTL, and now what is Cole going to do on GH?  Dump Starr?

VAN:

It is not anybody’s decision what happens with us.  It’s an accident, let’s put it that way.  There is something that has nothing to do with either one of us, but you know how it goes in the soap world.  People keep coming back and they are never really gone, and people are never really broken up, and so I like that prospect and the potential to play Cole Thornhart here and there.

MICHAEL:

So they are going to do something to keep you apart!  They are not going to blow you to smithereens, which often befalls residents of Port Charles?

VAN:

Well, they can’t really blow me to smithereens, or there would never be the potential for me to come back, but I like to keep my options open.  And in the context of soap operas, they always find a way.

MICHAEL:

Courtesy/ABC

How was working with Frank Valentini, now that he is at the helm of GH?

VAN:

Going to GH and seeing Frank, and how he has taken over is amazing to me.  He tries to get faster days going so they can get through a lot of pages in the script.  He does that really well.  I think the actors really like him at GH.  Frank was definitely very hands-on in the scenes I was doing there.  I was impressed how he stepped into a completely new family and become the head of it, by the time I saw him next! (Laughs)

MICHAEL:

Did you notice the difference in size of the two studios?

VAN:

There is just so much more room in the studio in Los Angeles as compared to One Life’s in New York.  At GH, they can really spread out, and the crew is so efficient there.  It was an easy day and it was fun.

MICHAEL:

Did you work with anyone else during your short visit to GH besides Kristen?

VAN:

I can tell you, I did not work with Kassie DePaiva (Blair) or Roger Howarth (Todd).  They were not there, but I worked with the little actress who played Hope.

MICHAEL:

That must have been interesting for you too, when they said, “Oh by the way, when you come on to One Life to Live, you are also a father!”

VAN:

Courtesy/ABC

(Laughs) I know, and that was one of the biggest things with me of, “How am I going to wrap my head around this?”  The little girl has been on the show since she was 4 months old and that was interesting, because she is part of triplets, even though they mostly always use the same girl, the triplets are always there. (Laughs)  It’s kind of an interesting vibe to have these three little kids, who did not pay any attention to what I said, but in the scenes, she would say her lines at the right time and that was it. (Laughs)  I thought it looked good in the end, but when I was performing the scenes it was like, “I don’t know this kid at all and I am supposed to be embracing her!”  And the thing of it was, the kid did not know me at all, and she was just going along with it going, “Who is this guy?” and of course, she was grabbing me. (Laughs)

MICHAEL:

You cry very well by the way on camera, so we were all happy!  (Laughs)

VAN:

(Laughs) That’s nice.  It was challenging and I have not done anything like that before.  I just try to get better and better the more I do stuff.  I did all kind of preparation for scenes like that, because I am not an emotional person, in general.  They said to me, “You are going to be on a soap opera.  You are going to have to change that.” (Laughs)  I started reading books about my childhood and unlocking emotions, and it really helped me a lot, and even with the material I am doing in American Idiot.

MICHAEL:

Would you do another soap opera?

VAN:

Of course, I would.  It seems like it worked.  I can’t really see myself and how it works.  I just have to get that feedback from other people.  I would love to do it, and it is very challenging and rewarding work when you wake up at 5 in the morning and are like, “I have 40 pages today. Let’s do this!”  I get that side of it and the amount of work every day is a new challenge.  I like that a lot.

MICHAEL:

Courtesy/ABC

When was the point in the process of the two weeks you taped One Life, or was it after the fact, that you realized and understood that you are a part of this iconic show that was wrapping up 43 years, and you were part of the big ending of the show? 

VAN:

I guess I realized it when they first told me on a certain level, but it wasn’t until I actually watched it, and saw the whole thing coming together, because I did not know what the other scenes were.   I did not get how my story was going to fit in with the other characters arcs.  When I was in Toronto and had just opened the American Idiot tour, some of my cast mates and I would get together and watch One Life during the day.  It wasn’t until that moment where I went, “Oh my God!  This is a really epic ending. Everyone was yielding a gun!” (Laughs)

MICHAEL:

Prior to seeing you on One Life to Live’s final weeks, I remember catching a clip of you and the touring company of American Idiot performing on a New Years Eve show in Toronto!

VAN:

Yes.  We performed on CTV in Canada on New Years Eve!  It was a spectacular and it was a Time Square-ish type of event.  It was massive.  There were tens of thousands of people who we were performing in front of who had been freezing their asses off all day!  I was standing out there at the commercial break just waiting to go on.  I was standing out there in the middle of all these people.  You can tell that they were so hungry for something, and then I would have them wave their hands and then ten thousand hands would wave back at me in an instance.  It’s a great moment that never gets old.  You think, “So many people!  So many heads!”

MICHAEL:

It’s kind of empowering though, wouldn’t you say?

Courtesy/ABC

VAN:

It is.  It is.  But it really had nothing to do with who we were, but it was about New Years Eve and about something else.  We were just there sharing the celebration with everyone.

MICHAEL:

Did you ever hear from Brandon Buddy after you were selected to be his replacement on OLTL?

VAN:

No, I never did, but I know he is in touch with Kristen Alderson.  I know she told me the other day when we were talking, that he said something like, “Mad props to Van”.   I think he hadn’t watched the episodes yet, but was glad it got done.  But I have no connection to Brandon, except watching him on You Tube as the original Cole.

MICHAEL:

Since you are a musician and a singer, do you want to record an album?

VAN:

I have always been into music.  It was either acting or music to go full force on.  I realized I had studied theatre and acting more than I had studied music.  So it made more sense that I do this for college and enter theatre.  But the thing about the music business right now is that it is kind of sad.  What is really happening with it at all?  I don’t want to get my hopes up in that aspect, but I have been songwriting a lot, and there is a musical I have been writing with some guys in New York.  So, when I get back, hopefully, we can try to get that up off the ground.  It features a kind of modern hipster rock music of today, not your normal musical.

Photo Credit: Babylon & Beyond photo

MICHAEL:

So we will get to see you this week on GH!

VAN:

This Friday, I will be on General Hospital.  My first episode is Kristen’s first episode on the show, too.  Cole and Starr are beginning their new life, and something will happen, yes!

MICHAEL:

I can’t wait to find out how Starr and Cole, of all things. wind up in Port Charles!

VAN:

Yeah, it’s a dozy.  It’s explained.  I guess I am on the show to explain why we are in Port Charles. (Laughs)

MICHAEL:

Many fans were singing your praises after your performances as Cole in the final weeks of OLTL.  Did you receive viewer feedback, and did fans reach out to you after your episodes aired?

VAN:

Courtesy/IMDB

I do have a personal Facebook account, and people were messaging me on there.  They were saying they had watched One Life to Live for a very long time and connected with me.  Then some people that I knew, that I didn’t know were One Life fans, were really excited to see that I was on the show and enjoyed it.  Then, Kristen told me that the fans she was in touch with on Twitter, as well as her mom, told me that fans were very complimentary and supportive of the new “Sole”, as they were called.  And actually, that made me feel really good, because I, at first, did not know what to think of it.

MICHAEL:

You did great!  And we were all basket cases, (myself included) as One Life came to a close.  As you know, I covered the show for so many years, and it was so hard the day I visited the set and saw you, and had to say goodbye to everybody.  I think you touched a lot of people’s hearts in a very short time.  When I got back from the trip and then watched everything play out on the air shows I thought, “This is really good.”  So, very special kudos go to you!

 

  1. MEG says:

    I really enjoyed Van as Cole .I didn’t like COLE B4 ,BUT I COULD HAVE LIKED HIM IF VAN WAS PLAYING HIM. AND I LOVED THAT CLIP FROM AMERICAN IDIOT.

    Reply

    Amanda replied

    I just caught Van on a Royal Pains episode and honestly thought he was related to the Jackson kids! He looks so similiar to Joshua Jackson (older brother to Jonathan Jackson, GH) maybe even twins or something! Google it!! It’s crazy!!!

    Reply

    kara anderson replied

    they are mot twins

  2. Jo says:

    This lovely guy could play Jonathan Jackson’s younger brother in something. He looks so much like Jonathan IMO. He did a great job as Cole on OLTL. I don’t think he will have any problems getting more acting work.

    Reply

    kara anderson replied

    there are good

    Reply

  3. andrea says:

    I hope Sonny kills Gole. I do want to see vans musical.

    Reply

    Jan replied

    You have no idea what wish to say, or maybe you do.

    Reply

    DEE replied

    Someone is going to end up at the HOSPITAL wonder which one COLE OR STARR?

  4. Megan says:

    I was such a huge Sole fan. At first I was disappointed when hearing Brandon wouldn’t return, and as much as I would have loved that, Van did an impeccable job taking his place. Seeing how much effort he put into it and wanting to get it right is just incredible. Thanks Van <3

    Reply

  5. CTwildheart says:

    I agree with Megan…I really wanted to see Brandon come back as Cole. BUT, Van did a fantastic job! I look forward to seeing him in many more things.

    Reply

  6. Hummingbird says:

    Thank you so much Michael again for providing this interview for us. I wasn’t a BIG Sole fan, until Van stepped into the role. The man was absolutely FANTASTIC! I can not wait to see him again on GH. I was alittle nervous about what Van/Cole’s exit would actually involve something final. After reading your interview, I’m feeling much better about it. Starr & Michael will obviously happen in the aftermath, but in the end I think Cole will return to Starr & Hope someday. Soul mates on soaps often have the beauty do that, right? Love that ;)

    Reply

  7. Jan says:

    First of all hes really not Cole BUt I can live wth it because I want Sole together.

    Reply

  8. Sheryl says:

    Thank you michael for another great interview, I think Van did a great job and I’m looking forward toseeing him and everyone else fromOLTL on GH. Lot’s of luck to all of you.

    Reply

  9. Crystal says:

    I love Van, I preferred his Cole over the orginial and probably would have grew to like Cole again if he had been cast as Cole months again instead of towards the end but I’m going to be angry at RC if he brings Cole back to reunite with Starr especially if the show does end this fall because a OLTL couple should not get a happy ending on GH. It’s not fair to GH viewers who never watched OLTL especially the ones who will become fans of Starr’s GH pairing. It would be one thing if Cole was going to be a long term character but since he’s not, his love story with Starr needs to be resolved for good.

    Reply

  10. jessica says:

    I really like sole and hope . the were the best. the were my favorite story line. i hope they stay togerther. I miss the other cole. I can”t wait to see on gh. It should be a good one

    Reply

  11. MBmomof3 says:

    Thanks for another great interview! I thought Van did a great job as Cole. I am a fan of “Sole” and Brandon Buddy’s version of Cole, but I was very pleased with the way the storyline played out and the talented actors involved.

    I would love to see him in American Idiot. It is my favorite album of all time. And that’s saying alot, because I love music even more than soaps!

    Reply

  12. Nia says:

    Great interview! I was not a fan of the original Sole, but Van really knocked it out of the park for me at the end of OLTL. He is a talented young man and hope to see his star(no pun intended) to continue to shine bright.

    Reply

  13. jeff says:

    Never seen him quit watching OLTL but he killed with stars lil girl in his frist show on gh so is this a storyline for star and micheal together on gh with todd going after sonny and micheal and star in the middle of it all ????

    Reply

  14. Paul says:

    good interview right here.

    Reply

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