Daytime drama fans know that the female cast of General Hospital rocks the house day after day, and episode after episode!
On-Air On-Soaps Michael Fairman spoke to three of the series prominent leading ladies, Daytime Emmy winners all, who bring it to their scenes and deliver the drama to its viewers: Maura West (Ava Jerome), Michelle Stafford (Nina), and Finola Hughes (Anna) for this very special feature.
This piece entitled: GH’s Mutual Admiration Society was first published and presented exclusively inside the 42nd Annual Daytime Creative Arts Emmy program/almanac that was handed out to all those attending the awards ceremonies. Through the courtesy of the National Academy of Television Arts Sciences (NATAS), On-Air On-Soaps is posting it exclusively online.
General Hospital’s Mutual Admiration Society
Leading ladies and dynamic actresses are a cornerstone of the daytime drama genre. For it’s the actress and their characters that, more often than not, propel the stories. Whether it be through love and romance, danger and intrigue, revenge and murder, a health crisis, or an unspeakable tragedy, it’s watching the resiliency of determined women come through the toughest obstacles and persevere that hooks the audience for days on end.
On ABC’s General Hospital, the cast has an embarrassment of riches in the female cast department; many Daytime Emmy winners, who have either been the center of dramatic story over the last year, or supported their female counterparts. In a daytime coup, GH’s executive producer, Frank Valentini, brought Maura West (Ava) and Michelle Stafford (Nina) to the 52-year-old series, and immediately built a harrowing story between them. Maura and Michelle joined the ranks of such GH notables as: Laura Wright (Carly), Jane Elliot (Tracy), Nancy Lee Grahn (Alexis), and Finola Hughes (Anna), building a tough act to follow for anyone in the medium.
West, Stafford, and Hughes discussed being part of this wildly talented girl group, and if there is ever a feeling of competition for airtime, and more, between these titans. Michelle relates: “You want to be in a group of people who lift you up, and that inspire you to work harder. There’s no bitchiness with anyone here.” Maura concurred: “The women are unbelievable on this show. I’m a human being, so you’ve got to sift things out, and check it out. For instance, look at Laura Wright. She works on her scenes, never tries to undermine me as a woman, or an artist, and that’s why GH is such a great place for a women, and that’s why all these women are there!” Finola Hughes says egos are checked at the door at the studio, “I don’t feel that, or see egos. Michelle coming in to the show was amazing. Maura is a powerhouse, and that bubbling under the surface thing she does scares the you-know-what out of me. Then, I get to work with Vinessa Antoine (Jordan) all the time, and I adore her. Then there is Jane Elliot, who is just so superior and strong, and then Nancy Lee Grahn. She is one of the great listeners in this profession. On GH, Nancy and my paths do cross, because we are on the same side of the law. All of the other women I can’t really talk to, unless my character is arresting them!” (Laughs)
2014, saw one of the biggest water cooler moments of the year, when a disturbed Nina Clay drugged her arch nemesis, Ava Jerome, with two syringes – one to paralyze her and then another to induce labor – in her plot to kidnap Ava’s newborn baby and make it her own. The scenes between Maura West and Michelle Stafford were can’t miss TV, and put these women in some very emotionally draining, and dark scenes. Michelle discussed how she and Maura were able to create the scenes: “When you have a rival female character to play off of you, there has to be a lot of affinity between the two people, or some sort of understanding between them, to make it work. It’s as important as a love story. Maura really sold it. When she had the heavy lifting, she really needed me to be there in the scene with her, and vice versa. Your partner is so important, and Maura is the best partner…the best!” Maura echoed: “This is like a mutual admiration society! I feel the same for her, and I will say this: there’s always this idea that women actors are vying for something, they’re fighting for something, and they must not like each other, and that there’s always that sort of edge to it. It’s just not the truth. When I worked with Michelle in all those scenes, I trusted her. An actor will come into the scene wanting to lift you up as a scene partner – or suck you down – and Michelle lifts you up. On General Hospital, there are so many actors that are the same. They lift you up. They want it to be good. I’m so grateful for Michelle for those scenes. I was so concerned about it. I remember leaving the studio in tears going, ‘What am I doing?’ Then I saw them on the screen, and I was like, ‘Thank God. I love them!’” Finola Hughes weighed-in on the scenes between the dynamic duo: “It was very intense. It was extraordinary, and they made it work. Maura playing the devastation was phenomenal, and Michelle making that insanity work. There was a very light touch Michelle had on certain speeches, which was sort of unnerving, because she was almost removed from the situation, and in her own head, which I thought was a key. There was a lot of spookiness on how she delivered those.”
While widely lauded and praised for their work, Finola, Maura, and Michelle still are appreciative and thrilled to have won Daytime Emmys for their work, as voted on by their peers. Hughes has won once, while Stafford and West have won twice each. The ladies agreed that their initial victory was quite memorable, but for different reasons. Finola took the Lead Actress prize in 1991, but she could not attend. “I had to go back to England to get a green card,” she recalled, “And it just so happened to coincide with the Emmys, and I had to do it, or I couldn’t stay in the country.” But Hughes did have a celebration of sorts upon hearing her name was called, “I was in London at the time, and probably at my interview at the British Consulate. I had been out with my brother, and I got back to my hotel, and I had forgotten about it. When I came back, there was a telegram, saying ‘Congratulations!’ When I got back to LA, my dressing room was decorated like crazy. It was really sweet. A couple of my friends had ballooned it out and I could barely open the door!”
West recalled her first win in 2007: “I said to my kids before I left to come to LA for the ceremony, ‘What should I do if I win?’ And my son Joe knew what I was wearing of course, which was this gown, and you know I don’t dress like that every day! He said, ‘You should curtsy.’ I said, ‘Well that’s it! I’ve gotta curtsy!’ The win meant so much to my husband, to my family, to the people who love me, and people who watch my work every day, and my parents, too. I always wanted an Emmy for other people. I never wanted it for myself. I wanted it, because I wanted my children to see their mom. I so wanted it for my grandma, before she passed, to see her granddaughter do this.” Michelle Stafford’s first win was a mixed bag: “It was not the most fun night of my life, until Drake Hogestyn (John, DAYS) said, ‘Michelle Stafford’ when he opened the envelope. I was absolutely stunned. I didn’t even know what to say! I used the word ‘dynamite’ in my speech, like have you ever heard me say ‘dynamite’? Where does that come from? It’s like from my freaking twin soul sister! It was so funny!” (Laughs)
Hughes, Stafford, and West play three very complex women on GH: One is a federal agent trying to uphold the law, one is trying to put the pieces of her life together after losing 20 years being in a coma, and the other is gangster who has murdered and manipulated people to get what she wants, desperate to be a mother to her newborn daughter, and surviving cancer! “Ava’s gone through so much and is still kicking, that’s me, and that’s her,” Maura says passionately. “It’s a pleasure as an actress to have a complete rainbow of a character to play.” As for Nina, Michelle Stafford says she wants her character to still be teetering on the edge: “I really don’t want her stabilized. I think that’s boring. I think it’s very real that she’s unstable. There are many people in life like that. I want her to have that element, where she is fabulous, but underneath she is completely unhinged, where she could lose it at anytime.” As for agent Anna Devane, it looks like she may have a new love interest in her rival Agent Sloane (Grayson McCouch). Finola noted it’s nice to have some sexually-charged scenes as a veteran actress on a soap: “We are not dead yet! (Laughs) It’s fun.”
As for the array of girl power in Port Charles, and the TV landscape, Hughes summed it up best: “It’s very cool to be a woman working on GH. I think it’s cool to be a woman working on television. It’s a good time right now for all of us.”
What did you think of what Maura, Michelle, and Finola had to share about working with each other, and the powerful ensemble female cast they are a part of on General Hospital? Comment below!