He is elusive, a man of few words, but one of the biggest marquis names in the soap genre. Of course, we are talking about General Hospital’s Roger Howarth (Franco). Whether he is playing the dark side or the more loving side of Franco, or the complex Todd Manning of One Life to Live, or As the World Turns Paul, Howarth’s acting style is unique, profound, creative, and has been beloved by millions of television viewers since bursting on the scene in 1992.
Currently on GH, Franco has developed feelings for Nurse Elizabeth Webber (Rebecca Herbst), setting the stage for so much conflict with his arch-nemesis Jason Morgan (Billy Miller) and his wife Sam (Kelly Monaco). Franco’s “serial killer instincts” have also recently come into question during the investigation of the mysterious deaths that are running rampant inside the patient’s rooms at the hospital. And there was his ill-fated romantic entanglement with Nina Reeves (Michelle Stafford), but is that really over?
On-Air On-Soaps had a rare opportunity to speak with Roger at the recently concluded GHFCW, where he delighted the attendees not only with his appearance at the fan club main event with the cast, but at his joint event with longtime pal, Michael Easton (Finn, GH). While it was a bustling day for the popular star, Roger gave us a quick glimpse into his thoughts on his GH co-stars, how he brings the character of Franco to life, and a little flashback to One Life.
Rebecca Herbst has a very passionate fan base who always root for her getting the man she fancies in her life. Right now many of them are getting behind the pairing of the two of you now known as “Friz”! What has it been like for you working in a burgeoning romantic story with Becky?
ROGER: I really enjoy working with Rebecca. She is so good. It is very low key with us. I think we work in a similar way in terms of preparedness. Rebecca is really committed, and she’s great!
What are Franco’s feelings about this though? Is he in love with Elizabeth, but afraid that she won’t love him back?
ROGER: I can’t speak to that specific state of mind, unless you tell me when you are referring to it. In general, Franco seems to think a lot of different things at a lot of different times. But I think overall big picture: he is surprised at his own attraction to this person, and a little confused by it. I think that’s really interesting. There is some kind of playful part of him that seems to be confused that it was something that just showed up, and it wasn’t something he was prepared for. Particularly on the heels of his breakup with Nina (Michelle Stafford), which was over some pretty heavy adult set of conversations.
Speaking of Nina, Michelle Stafford told me she digs working with you. Do you think Franco and Nina are truly over?
ROGER: I like working with Michelle, too. I think Franco and Nina have a lot of value to them, and it’s a great pairing. I don’t think it’s an either or proposition. I think that if Franco and Nina were ever in the same room it would still be interesting.
Little Jake (Hudson West) and Franco’s performance at the GH Nurses’ Ball was so well received, and talked about by the viewers. Was that moment fun for you to do? It had so much emotional heart to it.
ROGER: It was super fun! It really was very sweet, and I am glad you liked it. It was a very simple story, which is what I liked about it.
It seems like the writers have thrown everything but the kitchen sink at you during your time as Franco. There have been plenty of twists and turns for the character including Franco’s brain tumor. How do you make sense of it all for yourself as the portrayer?
ROGER: It’s not unlike life. You can’t make sense of it on a day-to-day basis. (Laughs) I think my job is to manage the smaller strokes of what the day is like, and the big brush strokes belong to the people that write the show and actually create it. I’m just trying to keep up. (Laughs). It’s been a fun ride.
Fans always want to know how much of what they see on-screen in your performances is you infusing the lines of dialog for Franco with your own spin, or even ad-libbing, as opposed to what the writers have on the page.
ROGER: I think that’s what every actor does, but it can’t be antithetical to the purpose of the shooting day. So, ultimately the task is to figure out how to make those words come out of this mouth.
Franco also has a very unique bond and friendship with Dr. Liesl Obrecht (Kathleen Gati). What do you think of their on-screen dynamic?
ROGER: I think their relationship is terrific! Kathleen Gati is a neat actor. One of the things I really like about Franco is he really is different when talking to different characters in his life. Todd on One Life to Live did this to some extent, too. When Todd would talk to Viki (Erika Slezak) he wouldn’t leave a dangling participle. Then when Todd was speaking with Dorian (Robin Strasser) it was this sort of snarky thing, and then between Blair (Kassie DePaiva) and Tea (Florencia Lozano) there were adjustments. I think in that way it’s like real life. People don’t talk to their grandmother in the same way they talk to their friends, or whomever.
In a recent piece in SOD, you spoke about how Erika Slezak, who played your sister Viki on One Life to Live, and that you felt she made you a better actor via her professionalism in the genre, etc. What can you say about Erika and how you learned from her? So many OLTL fans loved Todd and Viki’s scenes together over the years.
ROGER: Oh, she is a champ! I miss her. Erika was very supportive of me. I can’t say enough good things about her.
Jason and Franco have less than a stellar relationship. There is so much bad blood between them from their past. Now that Jason remembers his life prior to being “Jake”, and Franco is involved with Liz, things should definitely come to boil for these two. How has it been working with Billy Miller as an on-screen adversary?
ROGER: I love Billy. I don’t know how long he has been on the show now, but it seems it took a long time for Franco and Jason to reconnect. And those two have a real history there between them. I think there is value there, and it’s interesting. I think it would be cool to explore their relationship, and story more. Speaking about how people are different with different people, I have not yet figured out how would Franco behave with a real Alpha. There was always someone pushing on Todd, but on this canvas that was really a first, and I liked it.
Your popularity with the fans of this genre is off the charts! Were you surprised that starting off as the guy who played a rapist on One Life, would one day become one of those beloved, and respected actors on television?
ROGER: I am just grateful. I have had a lot of support for a long time, and that is no small thing. But I think your question is: “Was I surprised by it?” The answer is “Yes”. I think of myself as a worker bee, and I just go and do my thing. I hope that people like it, but there is still this weird part of me that is a little surprised if they do.
Looking back now, would you say ABC’s One Life to Live was a magical time in your career, or more of a difficult time?
ROGER: Magical is a big word. Difficult at times, certainly. It had its ups and downs, but I don’t feel that way about my current life, and current job. It’s been good. I am still traveling back and forth to New York to be with my family, and I know it’s not ideal, but people do it. I’m not breaking rocks at a salt mine. (Laughs)
So, are you rooting for Franco and Elizabeth to have a memorable love story on GH? Do you think Franco will eventually wind up back with Nina? What about Roger’s sentiments on how he views and creates the on-screen life of Franco? What do you feel makes him uber-popular with his audience and the fans of daytime? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.