Sonny’s Disposition

After Some Dark Days Earlier This Year, GH's Maurice Benard Is Looking On The Bright Side of (Mob) Life

Soap Opera Digest  

December 18, 2001

By Kristen Gallagher

Maurice Benard just got pink-slipped. And it's making him pace.
 In a world other than the GENERAL HOSPITAL set, that statement might signify someone losing their job, but here, it's simply the receipt of late change (rosy-hued) pages to the day's script. Included in Benard's (Sonny’s) additions is a monologue- a long emotional monologue that has to be memorized tout de suite.
 And so, Benard walks the floor, learning the lines by meticulously breaking down the speech, putting into high gear the techniques that have made this Method actor- and two-time Digest Award winner- among the most respected (and popular) in daytime. That dedication is equally evident when he sits down to talk about his craft, his character and the soap he's called home since 1993. So passionate is Benard, in fact, that he couldn't help but speak up when he felt all three were floundering this year.
 "Well, it wasn't the best year since I've been here," he sighs. "Look, I love my job. I love the crew, the actors, the writers. I still love the place. But it was just not running like it used to. We needed to get back to that. I'm not going to sit here and say that the show was horrible and it sucked, because I think that is giving up. But I think it's important for actors to speak out for the good of the show."
 Particularly, troublesome to Benard were Sonny's involvement with Angel and his wearing a bomb to force kidnapper Sorel to release Carly and Alexis. "You could say that I didn't give [the Angel storyline] what I was supposed to give," he muses. "It had nothing to do with Angel [Boris, ex-Angel], because I like her. I just felt it was so unrealistic. And then when Sonny had to wear a bomb, when I believed that my character would never go near a bomb after his wife and child died in a bombing . . . Those were just two stories that didn't gel for me."
 Oh, what a difference a couple of months can make. Benard is involved in two stories that very much gel for him: Sonny's relationships with Carly and Alexis. "It's all good now," he enthuses. "On the one side, I've got Tamara [Braun, Carly] and on the other, I've got Nancy [Lee Grahn, Alexis]. The storylines are more real, which is much better for me. It's a lot easier to come to work and be happy with what I'm doing."
 Which is not to say that he's necessarily looking for both of Sonny's relationships to turn into hearts and flowers. "Alexis is someone he truly cares about. He's attracted to her smarts, her independence, and her being a strong woman. But romantically, he likes to play with her. He knows that she's into him, but she doesn't know he knows. He's kinda playing, 'So, what's up?' He'll do stuff with his mouth, or maybe touch her. She gets all nervous. That's fun. It's like a well-written sitcom."
 "But with Carly," he continues, "I'd like them to be happy for a while. Let him bring that side out again, where they play off each other and be happy and cute. Let's see how the relationship grows. Let's see Sonny laugh and smile and have Carly do the same. Then something could happen: who knows what?"
 Benard wouldn't mind the next conflict in Sonny's life come from a formidable foe. "I need a nemesis. I want somebody who could come in and kick [Sonny's] ass. Let it be an actor who could scare the hell out of me, too. That would be fun. They had a guy in here a few years ago who played Joe Scully- Robert Miano. In real life, he scared me. And then on the set, he was scary. That's what I'm talking about. When you look at somebody and go, 'Okay, this is going to be good.' You can feel it. That would be fantastic."
 As for involving Sonny in a manic-depression story, as Benard- who is manic depressive- had previously advocated, he now says, "I've wanted to do that storyline, but I want it to be done in a compassionate manner. Now is just not the right time. I might like do a movie of the week about it [about his own harrowing battle with the condition]. Maybe someday I'll do it. I think it'd be an interesting story to tell."
 Benard is also interested in having a chance to tell other stories. "I would love to be able to do other projects," he admits. "Maybe stay here and see where that takes me. If not, I'm pretty damn happy where I am. I've worked hard to work with the great actors and directors. But you get to a point where you may not get what you want [career-wise]. If you accept that and be happy with what you have, life is easier. I'm close to getting that. I'm at a point where I've done all right with my life. As an actor, what I truly wanted was respect. Once I got it here- respect from my peers- that made me feel like a million bucks."
 That satisfaction carries over into his personal life as well. "I'll tell you the truth, man, I got into my car recently, looked at my house and said, ' I've got a great home, a great wife, two great kids, a job that pays me well and a character that I'm really lucky to play,' he shares. "I can't complain, I know that I sound like I've been complaining [laughs] but in the scheme of things, especially with what happened [on 9/11], this is so small. Still I believe you've got to be honest and tell the truth about certain things. That's why I do what I do."

Just the Facts Birthday: March 1 Family Man: Benard has been married to his wife Paula for 11 years. They have two daughters" Caily 7, and Cassidy, 2. Zoo Keeper: "I've got a macaw, an African Gray Parrot, about eight canaries, three cockatiels, a rabbit, a chinchilla, a bulldog, a dog from Puerto Rico, a Great Dane, two cats, and some fish. That's about it." Actors He's Most Like To Work With: "I like Sally Field." And actors? Basically, anybody in Godfather II [laughs]." It's a Ring Thing: "I've been boxing for a few years. It's a great workout, a great way to stay in shape."

Weather or Knot

When it came to planning a surprise vow-renewal for wife Paula last year, Benard accounted for every last detail. But there was one variable beyond his control. “I threw a surprise wedding for Paula because she always wanted to get married again,” he says. “That day, everything worked out. She was surprised; she didn’t know about the wedding until the day of. The only thing was that it looked like it was going to rain. The sky was just black, and I had a tent in the back yard. We were getting married at 6:30. Come about 6 o’clock, the clouds just faded and the sun came through. It was amazing! I was like “Whew!” And everybody went, “Did you pay for that [laughs]?” Things went off without a hitch. “It was so perfect,” smiles Benard. “She was crying. I was crying. The whole thing was just as good as you can imagine.”