Maurice Benard -TV Guide Interview

August 2001

Maurice Benard
Sonny Corinthos, General Hospital

Maurice Benard, who plays troubled mobster Sonny Corinthos on General Hospital, is one of the most admired and respected actors in daytime drama. Benard has been dealt some major challenges over the past few months at GH: His leading lady, seasoned soap actress Sarah Brown (ex-Carly), left the series during a front-burner storyline and was replaced with a daytime newcomer. A new executive producer and new head writer have been handed the GH reins and are taking some unusual routes as they attempt to restore the show to its former glory.

Benard is reclusive, yet outspoken when given the chance to express his feelings on the role that he holds most dear to his heart. He has been vocal to the powers that be about recent storylines. Rumors have circulated over his displeasure, yet he remains confident that things will work out. At last month's General Hospital Fan Club Luncheon in Los Angeles, TV Guide Online sat down with the actor to discuss several changes that have occurred over recent months in Port Charles. Read on as Benard speaks about his transition, what it takes to hold your own in a scene with him, and what the future holds for Sonny. — Michael Fairman

What do you think of the current storylines that Sonny has had since the new regime of executive producer Jill Farren Phelps and head writer Megan McTavish came aboard at GH?

I believe you make the best of what you got. The cabin storyline that I just got out of — I was not a huge fan of [that]. So we'll see what comes next. I'm happy working with Tamara [Braun (Carly)]. I have fun doing that and we will see what comes next. As long as I am being challenged, I am cool with it.

So are you having to fight for the core of the character and the integrity of Sonny?

I have been spoiled for eight years, so I never had to go through what I am going through now, in a sense. [Former head writers] Bob Guza and Claire Labine understood Sonny and what he was about. I just came to work and the lines just came out of my mouth and it made sense. Now, If I get something, I have to go upstairs and talk to Jill and say it's not quite right. I deal with it that way. Recently, they wanted me to fall for Angel in the cabin storyline, and I wouldn't play it. Someone can blame me for not playing that, but that is not who Sonny is.

Fans have noticed the onscreen chemistry with your character and Alexis (played by Nancy Lee Grahn). Is there a future for this couple on the show?

I've talked about it. I'm for it, but you can only talk so much. We'll see what happens. Alexis could work, but [the executives] don't want to do it. They want me to stay with a young girl. I think we've got to give Sonny and the new Carly a shot. I think people will be pleasantly surprised because I can make things work.

Have you seen or spoken to Sarah Brown (ex-Carly) since she left the show?

My wife just spoke with her. She's going to use our nanny.

How has it been working with Tamara Braun, who assumed the role of Carly? When she first worked with you, was she intimidated? Word is that you can be pretty intimidating.

Yeah, I never want to think that about other actors. Tamara was pretty ballsy from the get-go, and I tell you, as time goes on and the scenes between us get better, I think fans are going to take notice. She has a certain quality about her. Look, no one is going to be Sarah, but as long as we get 65 or 70 percent of Sarah, that's enough for the story and for me to have fun going into the scene and making it work with the actress.

Did you have a hand in picking Tamara as the new Carly?

I was instrumental in as much as that there were five girls there and Tamara was the best. I said, "That's who I like," and then we'll see what's up. (Laughs)

Many soap performers have said that working with you is an incredible experience, but you have to be on your toes. Do you try and throw off your scene partners?

I only know I'm throwing them off when they haven't done their work. Look, it's very simple. If I'm in a scene and I'm looking at you, I'm telling you the truth, and if you do the same with me, then it's all good in the hood. But as soon as you don't and I don't believe it, you probably see something in my eyes, so that's the scary part, I think. It isn't like I go in and I think, "Right now I'm going to do this." I want the scene [to be] true. I don't have that kind of ego. I want it to work. As great as [the other actor is], the greater it makes me. You ask any actor, I get so excited when I see other actors do great. Forget me, I just go in and be true, remember my lines, and I'm professional. But when the other person steps up, there is nothing better. Now, when the other person doesn't, I can be difficult. If I know somebody is trying, I'm all right. But if I don't believe they're trying and they're screwing up and they didn't do their homework — because I can always tell when they didn't do their homework — it pisses me off, I have to admit.

When did you know that you were a good actor?

I was 30. When I was 22 years old I started acting on All My Children, and I didn't know what I was doing. Then I played Desi in the Desi Arnaz/Lucille Ball movie [Lucy and Desi: Before the Laughter], and I didn't know what I was doing. If I watch it now I [realize I] really didn't know. Then I studied acting very seriously for two years and felt myself kind of knowing. I was in acting class and I couldn't really watch myself, but I felt I was getting better. It wasn't until I was 30 and I first saw myself on General Hospital playing Sonny with long monologues that I realized, "Yeah, I know how to do this now." Not that it was easy, but I know how to do it now. As the years go on, it gets easier and easier as I have learned to work with my nerves. Nerves will paralyze your instincts. Once you learn how to relax, it becomes easier. Now it has become play time, and that for me is the best.

Do you watch your work on General Hospital?

No, but when I first start working with people like Tamara, I always watch. I want to see what they have, what I think I should do different. If there is a good scene I'll watch it, but most of the time I don't. You can never stop learning. There are things I do like with my mouth or my hands or how I sit and I go, "Why did I do that?" Soap operas are great because I can do a scene, tape it downstairs and [then] watch it. Sometimes they've said something to me like you need to do this. So I do it, but then I see it, and I'll go upstairs to the booth and go, "Man, you guys are wrong, and I'll show you the tape if you want."

Do you play mind games? When young actors and actresses do a scene with you, might they go home and cry?

I'm very cool as long as everybody does their work, and everybody's professional. I can be the greatest person but if you don't do your work, I can be kind of quiet.

Are there actors on GH whose work you think is outstanding?

A Martinez (Roy), Tony Geary (Luke), so many actors on the show. We have a great cast from the supporting actors Billy Warlock (A.J.) and Réal Andrews (Taggert).

Why have you taken such a stand on speaking up about discrepancies in your character's actions?

Unless you are able to fight for your character, you're in trouble. I won't let my character do anything that is stupid. Carrying the bomb [when Sorel held Sonny's family and friends hostage] was stupid but because I can act, I felt I could go in there and do some good acting. I can deal with it, but the circumstances are not accurate. Sonny wouldn't have a bomb. He saw his wife and child get killed by one. Why would he go anywhere near bombs? But it's not so far out that somewhere in that moment Sonny got a little whacked out. The fact that he lived through it is the stupid part for me. I was fine. I just had to scratch myself on the head.

What are your feelings about the future of Sonny Corinthos?

It's a transition. I think Jill understands me a little more and understands Sonny a little more. We'll see as the next storylines come how much is understood. I have some faith that it is going to work out.