Sneaking back into Port Charles is sometimes necessary on ABC’s General Hospital, and no one does it quite like Johnny Zacchara (Brandon Barash)! The son of infamous mob boss, Anthony Zacchara (Bruce Weitz), who has carried the torch in the mob wars against Sonny Corinthos (Maurice Benard), certainly does have a soft spot! That would be his long-standing feelings for Lulu Spencer Falconeri (Emme Rylan).
Suddenly reappearing on the scene, just as Lulu is dealing with the fallout of her cousin Valerie Spencer (Brytni Sarpi) sleeping with her husband Dante (Dominic Zamprogna), not once but twice, Johnny is more than ready to lend an ear to Lulu. He actually offers to help take Valerie out of the picture at the request of Lulu! But just how is he going to go about it? Will he come through and remove Valerie as an obstacle so Dante and Lulu will give their marriage another chance … or … does he just truly want Lulu all for himself?
On-Air On-Soaps caught up with longtime General Hospital fan favorite Brandon Barash to talk about: Johnny’s return for the holiday’s on the Port Charles canvas, and what viewers can expect to see as his latest current story arc plays out. In his real life, Brandon shares the joys of raising his beautiful daughter Harper, alongside his wife and GH star, Kirsten Storms (Maxie). Here’s what Brandon had to say about slipping into the skin of his beloved tough guy alter-ego, Johnny Zacchara, and more!
General Hospital is bringing in some heavy hitters for their year-end storylines, and you return is among them! The show certainly perks up when you come back as Johnny. The fans were excited to hear you were making another return!
BRANDON: It’s becoming a nice tradition to come back to GH at the end of the year, and put a nice ending to my own year. It’s been really great, and I was happy to do it.
Did you know when you signed on for this arc that it would be for the story we are seeing now involving Johnny helping Lulu seek revenge on Valerie?
BRANDON: I really didn’t. I knew a little bit about the storyline and Frank Valentini (executive producer, GH) had sort of teased it, but I trust him. I know he is not going to bring me back to do something that I’m not going to like, or something that isn’t interesting. But, it’s all very interesting, and a lot of fun.
Viewers saw this week that Johnny, using an alias, helped Valerie when she had was pulled over to the side of the road after her car died. He sort of befriends her to get some information to use against her to help in his plot with Lulu!
BRANDON: I had a lot of fun that day with a lot of fun character stuff I got to play between Johnny and Valerie. You’re going to see a side of Johnny, you’ve never seen before, and you will know what I’m talking about when you see it. He’s pretty perceptive, deceptive, and cunning … all of those things.
How is working with Brytni Sarpy (Valerie)?
BRANDON: I had not worked with her before. She is a stickler for her lines, as I am, and she likes to rehearse and run lines beforehand, which I am a big fan of. Pretty much everyone I worked with this time around likes to run lines before we tape. That’s good, because in the daytime environment it’s all about getting scenes done, and getting 70 scenes shot a day. So you need to carve time out for yourself to do rehearsal. Brytni was very good in doing that with me.
So, Johnny discovers Valerie’s Achilles heel while taking forever and a day to “fix” her car! (Laughs)
BRANDON: For Johnny, he discovered that Valerie’s Achilles heel was having a sense of purpose. To fill that for her was that she wanted to become a cop, and that was very important for him to exploit.
Now that he knows what to exploit, how is he going to do that? Wreck Valerie’s burgeoning police career? Do you think his plan is a good one?
BRANDON: You will slowly see what Johnny’s plans are for her. I do think his plan is good.
Johnny is risking being caught and being put behind bars. Does he really just want to help Lulu, or is he helping her bring down Valerie, because he is hoping something potentially can happen with the two of them again?
BRANDON: I find this to be incredibly convenient that he shows up in Port Charles right as Lulu and Dante’s marriage is dissolving very rapidly. In my mind’s eye, it makes more sense to me that Johnny always has people in Port Charles reporting to him as to what is going on. He finds out this information about Lulu and Dante, and makes his entrance based on that information. For me, that is what justifies him resurfacing in Port Charles. Nobody knows this information, but Johnny. Having said that, this whole time he is thinking, “You know what? Maybe we can hit the reset button and see what we were once going to be.” The problem is Johnny’s last seven or eight years of wrongdoing has gotten in the way of that. We will see how he dances around that!
Johnny has always loved Lulu, right? Why was he on the run this time? Viewers need a scorecard for Johnny’s crimes! (Laughs)
BRANDON: He absolutely has loved Lulu. However, it’s hard to love someone when you’re on the run. (Laughs) Right now, he is on the run for the attempted murder of Julian Jerome, (William deVry).
Is he concerned that Julian, and others, could find him while he is in Port Charles?
BRANDON: Well, you know Johnny always says, “You can’t prove anything.” But of course he is concerned about it, or he wouldn’t be hiding out at The Haunted Star!
Will we see you continuing to hide out behind The Haunted Star bar for three weeks? (Laughs)
BRANDON: (Laughs) Those scenes have been so fun to shoot!
Dante and Lulu’s marriage has crumbled. Johnny has always brought out the dangerous side of Lulu. Does he ultimately just want to get her into bed?
BRANDON: I don’t think his only objective is to get into bed with her. Of course, that’s what he wants. He jokes a lot about that as you will see in the coming weeks. But I think what he wants is to love Lulu again. I think at this point that love is, in a sense, unrequited. It was eight years ago that they loved each other. It seems like almost another life ago. At this point, it’s not possible for them to love each other yet, because of life, because Johnny is on the run, and because Lulu is in marriage limbo. So, it has this unrequited sense to it. I think it’s kind of beautiful. I think the only way that Johnny can deal with that is through humor. You are going to find him using humor this time around more than he ever has.
That is what I liked about your return this time, and I noticed that right away. You, and the writers, have lightened the character and he isn’t so dark.
BRANDON: It was important for me to do that. Every time I come back, I want to bring something new to him and some other element. I think it’s vital to do that, because he is coming back from a different, for lack of a better word, “adventure” every time. Last year at this time, when we met him he was being let out of prison after a year and a half. This time around when we see Johnny he has been on the run. So last year, you saw a lot of his crazy side, because it was the only way he knew how to survive in prison, and that was to get a little loony. This time around with being on the run, he had to get in touch with the lighter part of himself. On the other side of that coin, and this is true in my own life … and I kind of stole from myself in this sense … but when I am in an uncomfortable situation, I will either be completely closed off, or use humor to get out of it. That is what you are going to see him going through a lot, and using humor to try to cope with how uncomfortable things are for him really deep down. It was fun twist I got to make with the character.
So, do you like how you are able to come in and out of GH doing a guest arc, while continuing to pursue and book roles in primetime series doing guest shots, movies, etc? It seems to be working out well for you!
BRANDON: I have been recurring on a pretty big series on TNT which has been great, and doing a movie here and there, and other guest spots on TV series. It’s been good. Obviously, if Frank Valentini has his druthers I would be back at GH fulltime, but I like this for right now. It’s good, because GH has become a family and a home base for me. It’s nice to be able to go back and work, and not just to go back and visit my wife when she is there working. I do enjoy it. I wouldn’t keep going back to GH, if I didn’t.
I think New Year’s Eve in Port Charles could bring an interesting moment for Johnny. What do you think?
BRANDON: Yes, you will see. New Year’s could hold a very, very interesting moment and a lot of things can happen on New Year’s Eve … a lot of things.
Have you noticed any difference in the scripts from when former GH head writer Ron Carlivati’s work was airing, as opposed to the new head writing team of Shelly Altman and Jean Passanante?
BRANDON: I think they are all doing a great job. Ron was doing a great job, but the network decided to go in a different direction. I think these writers now are doing a great job. I think they are doing their best to keep up with the integrity of each character. It’s a tall order to fill, but I think they are doing exceptionally well.
Johnny has had such a history on the show. Often times it appears that many actors know their character’s back-story or behavior better than the head writers. Did you inject any thing into the script or dialog this time?
BRANDON: There was some ad-libbing I did, and not because of the integrity of the writing, the writing was great. However, there are some times that I feel in a script that there is something that can be ad-libbed at the moment that will make it more authentic to the characters. You can probably see where I take those liberties when you are watching the show. They were great at allowing me to do that, and still honoring the writing, because it’s great.
How has it been working with both actresses who have played Lulu: Julie Berman and Emme Rylan?
BRANDON: I think Julie and Emme are both tremendous actresses. They both have different qualities about them that make them great. Of course, they are two different people, but at the end of the day we are telling a love story. They both do a great job at telling it.
Did you get to have some laughs with Emme on the set between takes?
BRANDON: Yeah, it depends on the scene. It’s important to me off the set to create the environment of the circumstances. For example: if we are shooting some playful scenes, I will make it a point to be playful in between takes. If we are shooting some very serious scenes, I will make a point to be quiet and withdrawn to myself. I like to set that tone and I think it’s very important. Luckily, everyone I got to work with was respectful of that. A lot of the scenes are playful, and we did keep that up between scenes and in rehearsals. I think it’s important to keep the scene alive when the cameras aren’t rolling.
Johnny does not like Dante, and in fact, he certainly wants to avoid Dante finding him out he is in Port Charles, or he could be put back behind bars. But actually, he probably wants to physically hurt Dante for what he did to Lulu which has caused this rift in their marriage.
BRANDON: Yes, he is trying to avoid Dante at all costs. I’m sure he would like to do a lot more than hit him. Having said that, Dom and I are very close friends! I don’t want anybody thinking I want to hit him! (Laughs) But, my character Johnny would like to do some very bad things to Dante!
It’s always great to see you in scenes with Johnny’s nemesis, Maurice Benard (Sonny). From the looks of this story arc, it doesn’t appear that they will cross paths.
BRANDON: Yeah, it just wasn’t possible this time, unfortunately. It has been really, really fun cultivating a friendship with Maurice over the years. Our on-screen relationship we had to keep off- screen this time.
When you look back over the years at your work in the role as Johnny Zacchara, what scenes, or story, or moments are you most proud of?
BRANDON: I am going to say this period of time right now. This is the proudest I’ve been of the character and the work, and everything. It’s been just a perfect storm of a lot of things. I really had a lot of fun telling this story. It was a very complete and fulfilling experience.
Will you cross paths with your real-life wife Kirsten Storms (Maxie) on-screen this visit?
BRANDON: I don’t know! It remains to be seen. I’m fuzzy on some of the shooting days, so I’m not quite sure. You will just have to watch! (Laughs)
GH fans are so enamored of your real-life family: you and Kirsten, and your adorable baby girl (who will be two-years-old next month) Harper.
BRANDON: That is really sweet of them! We appreciate their love and support. It’s the coolest thing I’ve ever done. Look, beating the odds in Los Angeles and becoming a professional actor, and being paid very well for it to the point where you can support a family is one of the coolest things somebody can do, if they are in this business. Having said that, being a dad is the coolest thing I will ever do in my entire life hands down. Having a relationship and a spiritual connection with not only my wife, but with this being that we created together, there is nothing on this earth quite like it. I realized that over the last two years. Nothing will ever compare to it.
Whenever I have seen you with Harper, you look so happy and so proud to be her dad! It’s very special to witness.
BRANDON: It’s cool, but it’s not all sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns. Raising a child is very difficult. One thing about having a child is that it will test every last fiber of your being. It will test your marriage, it will test yourself, and it will test your soul. I feel like as long as you are conscious to it all, and your intentions are to do what’s best for your child, you can really grow a lot as a person, or as a husband, or as a father, or wife and mother, as it may be. I have never experienced such personal growth, as cheesy as it sounds, in the last two years in becoming a father. My wife will absolutely attest to that. (Laughs)
Will Port Chuck, your musical act with Steve Burton (Dylan,Y&R), Scott Reeves (Ex-Steven Lars, GH), and Bradford Anderson (Spinelli perform some new dates and venues in 2016?
BRANDON: Well, we just did a couple of shows in Chicago. We thought about the possibility of doing some more next year, but it’s making sure our schedules synch up. That is the biggest thing. When we were all on General Hospital together it was very easy, because we were all dark at the same time as we had the same schedules. Now all four of us are doing different things. It becomes increasingly difficult to get us in the same place at the same time. Of course, we would all like to continue with it. We all have too much fun together, not to.
In closing, what would you like to say to all of your fans for the holiday season, and those who have continued to love and embrace you when you come back to GH, and miss you so much when you are gone from the soap scene?
BRANDON: I would like to thank all of the fans out there who have made Johnny’s residence as solid as it is. They really pull for this character. He wouldn’t be on the canvas without them. There is something about him that they like. I feel very blessed for that. I want to express my love and gratitude to everybody for all of their love and support over the years. It really means a lot.
So, what do you think Johnny will do to Valerie to help seek retribution for Lulu? Do you hope Johnny and Lulu rekindle their romance? Do you think they will hit the sheets? Do you enjoy having Brandon back on GH? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!