We Love Soaps Exclusive Interview-Maurice Benard 3/11/11

WE LOVE SOAPS TV recently caught up with Emmy Award-winning actor Maurice Benard who previewed his upcoming appearances on the East Coast, shared his thoughts about his soap roles as Sonny Corinthos as GENERAL HOSPITAL and Nico Kelly on ALL MY CHILDREN, and much more. Read on to find out more about the candid and funny Benard, who continues to give compelling performances year after year.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Tell me about your upcoming appearances in January. I haven't attended one of these before. What do you do at these events?
Maurice Benard: I act like a chimpanzee and do somersaults [laughs]! It's actually been eight years since I've done it. I love the East Coast and my fans. They're incredible. I haven't flown since I did Oprah about eight years ago. What I do is go on stage and the fans ask questions and I just roll off the questions. Sometimes it's funny and sometimes it's sad. Sometimes I cry. It's a whole different type of thing. And I'm bringing Nathan from GH.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: How did that come about? People wouldn't logically think of the two of you together based on your storylines.
Maurice Benard: It's simple, he's just the best looking guy in the universe [laughs]. Seriously, he's also very talented so I asked him and he agreed. I have another tiny surprise as well. I'm not going to say what it is but it may steal the whole show.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: So even more to look forward to!
Maurice Benard: Right. It's not going to be just me like it usually is. I've always talked about all kinds of different stuff, but there's a lot more going on with these appearances because I haven't done it in a while and want to make it great. I'm not saying I'm a comedian...

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: But you have made me laugh four times already.
Maurice Benard: [Laughs] I'm just really honest and I get into things. The fans know a lot about me so sometimes we go into deep waters.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You were born in San Francisco and raised in Martinez. How did you get into acting?
Maurice Benard: I got into acting after being very unsuccessful as a model [laughs]. That led to trying to get into commercials. I wasn't great at that either, only getting one commercial. Then I decided I needed to do something I had a real passion for so I got into acting. I don't think I was good at all at first but I knew I had a passion for it.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Was anybody in your family in the entertainment business?
Maurice Benard: Nobody. They thought I was nuts! My Mom and Dad were actually incredibly supportive. But there was always a bit of, "Is this going to happen?" In my town, it was one in a million pretty much, so it's hard to believe it will happen, but they were very supportive financially and believing in me. A lot of people in the town were skeptical though.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Some of your January appearances will be in the New York City area. You lived here in the late '80s when you played Nico on ALL MY CHILDREN. I was a big fan of Nico and Cecily. When you look back on that now, what do you think?
Maurice Benard: For the time, it was funny and had a lot different elements.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You got to play a lot of comedy with Michael E. Knight.
Maurice Benard: He's one of the funniest guys I know. The problem that I have with it was I wasn't that great of an actor then. It was my first gig and I did what I could and I wanted to be good, but I'm very critical. But for the time and what it did for me, it was fantastic.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Earlier this year you appeared in ABC's web series WHAT IF with your former AMC co-star, Susan Lucci. What was that like?
Maurice Benard: I had a good time doing that. Susan and I like and respect each other and we just had fun.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: The ABC shows have always been very popular here in New York City. Did you get recognized on the street a lot when you were on AMC?
Maurice Benard: I got recognized some, but not a ton. But now when I go to New York, I hear "Sonny!" a lot.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I remember when the Emmys were in New York, every time they would call your name the crowd would go crazy.
Maurice Benard: That's hard to get used to. It's great though to have the fans on my side like that. The beauty of it is I lost four times [laughs]! When I won it was even better.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You get some great material to play as Sonny but sometimes it's more subtle and nuanced than what the Emmys tend to recognize. I think a lot of great performances get overlooked for more over the top scenes.
Maurice Benard: I can get what you're saying but the year that I won I had two shows that were very subtle. There was a lot of dialogue and I had a lot of stuff going on. But they got it that year and what I was doing. You're right though, a lot of my stuff is very subtle, but I make specific choices. That's what I do and I'll keep doing it. If I had a different character, I would play it differently.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You get the chance to do some different types of things as Sonny. A few weeks ago, Sonny was going out on a date with Brenda and, in some very funny scenes, Spinelli was sort of grilling him about his intentions. You went through a range of emotions tolerating him at first then getting frustrated by the end of it.
Maurice Benard: I made a specific choice in the past month to bring more humor to the character. Those scenes are where I started to make those choices. I think it's important for actors to get out of the box a bit and not be so predictable. I started to bore myself quite a bit and now I'm trying to make choices that are funnier and lighter. I'll still have the other stuff, but I'm trying to do that as well.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: One of the roles you took between ALL MY CHILDREN and GENERAL HOSPITAL was playing Desi Arnaz in a Lucy and Desi movie. I thought that was an extremely difficult thing to take on because he was so well known from I LOVE LUCY.
Maurice Benard: It was very challenging. Let me tell you a story. My wife and I watched it on TV a few years after it came out. There was a scene and my wife looked over at me and I said, "What did you think?" She got quiet and I said, "I know, pretty bad."

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: People can be there own worst critics though.
Maurice Benard: I had him down as far as an impersonation. I studied his voice and mannerisms. But if I were to do it again now, I would go way deeper inside into who he was. At the time I didn't know what I was doing as much, just working on instinct. I've had to learn to lie about that performance because a lot of people have told me it was great. I'm thinking, "Are you serious?" But now I'll just say, "Thank you, I appreciate it."

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: In 1993 you took the role of Sonny on GH. How did that part come about? Did you want to do another soap at that point?
Maurice Benard: I actually didn't want to do another soap but I had run out of money! I was studying acting like crazy at that time. But GH came up so I went in and met with them. I didn't want to sign a long-term contract. There were two roles - Damian, a mob guy with a two year contract, and Sonny, the head of a night club which was a six month role. So I said I liked Sonny because I liked the name and it was a short-term part.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What has been your favorite storyline at GH?
Maurice Benard: When Lily died was intense for me. My nervous breakdown story was too intense for me. The AIDS storyline was phenomenal, not just for me, but in general. I think one of the coolest stories, as far as music and editing, was when Sonny shot Dante. That was about as good as you can get on a soap opera. And the abuse story. I've had a lot.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: In what way do you think Sonny has changed the most from 1993 to 2010?
Maurice Benard: He's had to mature because he has kids. Too many kids [laughs]. The kids are what keep him looking in the mirror. If he didn't have them, he'd be just as reckless now.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Have you enjoyed the storyline with Brenda returning?
Maurice Benard: It took a while for us to get together and once we began sharing more scenes, we started to find our groove. I'm really enjoying Vanessa. When we're acting, it's not like acting. For me, it's a joy. Early on I didn't know how it was going to be, if it was going to be the same as before. But acting with her now is even better than it used to be.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: When Brenda came back they showed so many classic flashbacks. It was great to see those old scenes with the same actors playing the roles. You can only get that on a daytime soap.
Maurice Benard: I was into it, too. Of course I'm critical of my acting, but I loved how they did it.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: A few daytime soaps have gone off the air the past couple of years and there are a lot of stories about the decline of daytime. On the other hand DAYS OF OUR LIVES, THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS and THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL were renewed in recent months.
Maurice Benard: I don't see where all the worry is. These shows are getting renewed because there's interest. As long as we keep doing what we're doing and making them the best we can, they will keep going.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Do you have any interest in behind the scenes work like writing or directing?
Maurice Benard: No, I don't have any interest in anything but acting. I like to work with actors to try to make the scenes better. That's a passion for me.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You did an indie film last year, Confession. Do you enjoy working on outside projects like that?
Maurice Benard: The problem with doing an independent is you never know what you're going to get into. You have to know who is involved. But I'll do something if I see a great script and if the people involved are good.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Would you want to do theater at some point?
Maurice Benard: It would have to be the right thing. I've done theater and think I have the energy for it, but I would like a smaller theater so I wouldn't have to scream when I'm talking. But I'd been into it if I found the right project.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I saw Anthony Geary (GENERAL HOSPITAL's Luke Spencer) in "Into the Woods" in November in downtown Los Angeles and would love to see you in a show at some point.
Maurice Benard: I saw him in a one-act years ago and he blew my mind.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: As the owner of an African Grey parrot, I have to ask you about your African Grey.
Maurice Benard: They are the best talkers! I also have a macaw and a cockatoo. We have all kinds of animals. I had parakeets and a German Shepherd growing up but now we have horses, chinchillas, all kinds of stuff.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Do you live on a farm?
Maurice Benard: It's not a farm but it has stables. It's cool. We have so many animals I can't even tell you [laughs]. I come home and there's another animal somewhere!

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I bet your kids love that.
Maurice Benard: They love it. And they're good at taking care of the animals I have to say.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: If you could go back to 1987 when you first started acting and working on ALL MY CHILDREN and give yourself one piece of advice, knowing what you know now, what you would you say?
Maurice Benard: Stay out of your thoughts and live in the moment.