We Love Soaps Interview-Maurice Benard Is Coming To See YOU 6/10/11

Emmy-winning actor Maurice Benard is going on tour this summer and he just may be coming to your town! The pensive fan favorite, who has admittedly has been shy about doing fan appearances for most of the past ten years, is finally hitting the road to entertain and meet his loyal audiences.  Where is he going and what will he be doing on stage?  And which GENERAL HOSPITAL cast member is joining him?  Join us for a discussion about the tour, Sonny's evolution on GH, and Benard's ongoing struggles maintaining symptoms of Bipolar.  Does Sonny Corinthos take his meds? Find out below! 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Tell me about your upcoming tour.
Maurice Benard: I’m going all across the country, you can follow us on Twitter.  I’ve got eleven shows scheduled.  I haven't done appearances in about ten years, so this is going to be a way to reach the fans again.  I’m very excited and a little nervous but I’ve got a few things planned for each appearance and I’m going to have a great time.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Here in New York on June 26, Nathan Parsons (Ethan) will be joining you. 
Maurice Benard: Yes, Nathan will be there.  Basically what I do is get up on stage, talk a little bit, the fans ask me questions, and we laugh.  And sometimes we cry.  It depends.  A lot of questions are about Bipolar so we get into some deep stuff.  I’m going to have a little surprise that I haven’t done for awhile, and then another surprise to end the show.  It’s not a surprise that in New York Nathan Parsons will be joining me for a few of the shows.  That will be cool.  I’m taking a bus out there.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Are your wife and kids coming on the bus?
Maurice Benard: Yes, my whole family.  I have a driver who is a friend of our who was in the Marines.  It’s nerve-wracking right now, it’s the last week. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What do you get nervous about?
Maurice Benard: You get nervous because you hope everything works out as far as the transportation, as far as not forgetting something.  Then, for me, I’m a little nervous because I haven’t done an appearance in so long, I want to perform for the best of my ability. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Are you performing though? It sounds more like expressing yourself.
Maurice Benard: There is one thing I’ll be doing, I want it to be a surprise.  But basically yes, it is expressing who I am.  That makes it easier for me, I’m just honest anyway. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What kind of reactions do you typically get when you meet fans like this?
Maurice Benard: I don’t think I’ve even gotten a negative reaction, or if I do, it is behind the scenes, I don’t know about it.  I get so much love from everybody.  It makes it all worthwhile.  I will be in Cleveland on Emmy night.  Hopefully there will be a TV there and we’ll be able to see who from GH is winning an Emmy.  That would be cool.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: That very well could be you, mister!
Maurice Benard: Yeah, we’ll see.  You know how that goes.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Do the fans ever confuse you with Sonny Corinthos?
Maurice Benard: When I go anywhere I am called Sonny.  But in the last three years it has more often been Maurice Benard, which means they see I’m not just the character.  But even now most of the time it’s still Sonny.  I’m cool with it. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: So even when fans are relating to you as Sonny, they still do so with affection and warmth?
Maurice Benard: Yes.  I’ve gotta tell you, I  haven't heard anything negative...well, I did have a stalker before.  But fans are always positive, nice, and respectful.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Why do you think fans are so loving toward a character who at times uses murder and violence to resolve conflict?
Maurice Benard: That’s a great question that I’ve asked people.  I think about that.  Here’s a character who has done what you say he has done, and yet people connect to that character.  I think a lot of it has to do with their understanding of him.  It has been written well enough in eighteen years where you understand this guy, the struggles he had early in his life, and that is why he became who he became.  If I’m doing my job, and I can convey it, then you don't see the character as one dimensional.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: We still see vulnerability in Sonny.
Maurice Benard: You see vulnerability, you know he was abused as a kid, you know his mother died when he was young, his father left him when he was young, he has a bad stepfather.  When you write all that into it, and you keep writing it, and as an actor you play to that, then that’s how you get the audience on your side.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: And much credit to Claire Labine for establishing this history for Sonny early on. 
Maurice Benard: She sure did. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: His history you just mentioned was a central part of the Emmy reel you submitted this year. When he sees his teenage daughter Kristina lying in a hospital bed, and shivers remembering his mother’s abuse. It is emotionally devastating. 
Maurice Benard: I remember shooting that day.  I thought it was structured nicely.  They had me see her, go to kill the guy I thought did it (Ethan), had some scenes with Jason about killing Ethan, Jason talking me down, then going to my daughter’s bed and having a conversation with her.  It was nicely written.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I think this is the epitome of why we still love Sonny after eighteen years.  He’s not just an impulsive violent man.  There is abuse and trauma that fuels his behavior.
Maurice Benard: And let’s not forget he’s Bipolar.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Does Sonny take his medications consistently?
Maurice Benard: They did decently with that early on.  You can’t really see it but sometimes they have him take his medication.  I think you have to assume that he is unless you see him going through something and then you might assume he’s been off them for awhile.  Lately I haven’t gone down the road so I think he’s taking them every day.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: So many of the clients that I have worked with who struggle with Bipolar resist the idea of needing to take a medication every day.  They either don’t like the idea of it, or they have a sense of stability and efficacy, and think they don’t need the meds anymore. 
Maurice Benard: Hey, you know what, I go through that mentally.  But I’m smart enough and responsible enough to know I don’t want to feel that pain again.  That is the bottom line for me.  When I start thinking I feel great and I don’t need it, I say to myself, “I’m not going down there again, not to those depths.”

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Your experience has taught you this.
Maurice Benard: Yes, it happened every time I’ve had a breakdown, I’ve had three.  You’re up, then you fall. And that fall is too painful.  

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: It seems like people can only learn this lesson from experience.
Maurice Benard: Yes. But some people’s lows are not that bad.  They just keep thinking that they like the highs.  But some day you will experience that low.  And I’m telling you...God bless you then.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: When I ran a structured day treatment program through a county mental health program in Southern California, I used to use your 2003 segment on Soapography to educate about Bipolar, and demonstrate the benefits of facing the illness.  You have made such an impact on so many. 
Maurice Benard: That’s one of the reasons I continue to do it.  If you can help one person, if you can save one person’s life, it makes everything worth it.  So I haven’t stopped. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Does it ever get tiring for you to talk about Bipolar Disorder in these interviews?
Maurice Benard: I don’t get tired of it.  It’s therapy for me to talk about it.  I never get tired of it because I need a lot of therapy [laughs]. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Are you currently in therapy?
Maurice Benard: No, I haven’t been for awhile.  This helps, and acting and working out helps.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: When you’re on the road with your family who is taking care of your animals?
Maurice Benard: You had to bring that up! My wife’s brother is staying at our house. I have a ton of animals. My main concern is my dog Cain who is like a big bear. I don’t know how he is going to do that long without me. I walk him, people think I have a bear.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I’m disappointed I won’t be seeing you at Emmy Awards this year. I’m going to be there covering it for We Love Soaps TV.
Maurice Benard: There’s no way we could do it. Even if I could fly I don’t think I could do it. It would be leaving my family. But the fact is I can’t fly, it’s like no way.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You have been nominated six times now, and won once. Many say you could win it this year.
Maurice Benard: Maybe, we’ll see. Every time I think I am I don’t. Then when I don’t I do.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What else would you like to accomplish in your career?
Maurice Benard: I just did a film called “Duke.” Carmine Giovinazzo, Vanessa’s husband, is the lead. It was a great experience. I played a bad guy from Peru who is a cop killer. It was such an interesting character, an interesting scene. As I was doing it I realized it was something I really wanted to do. I go through periods. At the beginning of my career I wanted to do movies. Then I was just happy doing the soap, just working on being good doing this. Then I did this movie two months ago and a part of me would like to get into that.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: There are a lot of “Indie Soaps,” ie, continuing story dramas that are now being told exclusively on the Internet. Have you seen or heard any of these?
Maurice Benard: I haven’t seen anything.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: It’s an interesting time. Many of us feel that is where the “soap opera” genre is ultimately heading, much like the origins of soaps on radio 80 years ago.
Maurice Benard: How is it looking?

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Some of it is really great, some of it is okay. What’s wonderful is that it gives writers and creators the freedom to tell diverse stories in a way that serves their visions. These are stories we have never seen on network television.
Maurice Benard: That sounds cool.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You have been open in interviews about struggling with boredom on GH. How do you maintain a level of excitement and energy for Sonny?
Maurice Benard: I am someone who has always gotten bored easily. This character has kept me not bored for quite some time. There are times I get bored. I ask, “How many pages can I memorize, how much can I do?” But I found lately that just the simple fact of getting in the scene and enjoying it moment to moment and telling the truth in the scene, being truthful and honest, makes me feel good all the time. So I don’t care who I’m working with. As long as I get that going, I’m happy. It doesn’t have to be a great story. It’s that great connection and that honesty that keeps me alive.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I think that makes sense for any job. When you seek truth and you bring integrity to your work it does not get boring.
Maurice Benard: When you lose sight of that you get into the negativity of boredom. Lately it’s not like I’ve had great story. But I get up on that set and it is like acting class. I find ways to make it interesting, take chances, and I’m having a good time.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: So many of the scenes you share with Vanessa Marcil Giovinazzo have been fascinating for me. The Sonny and Brenda story was so unfinished 14 years ago, and we have really seen it come full circle. They are more mature, more experienced. But now, Vanessa is leaving.
Maurice Benard: Yes. [Pause] It’s sad for me. It’s a partner I have...it’s like a machine that is oiled really well. We know each other so well. We get in there and we challenge each other every moment. I mean right now, as we’re talking, I’ve got to figure out what I’m going to do upstairs [on the GH set] because I know she is going to come at me in a certain way [laughs]. But that’s where we’re at. She’s leaving, and that’s it.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: From a creative stand point it is interesting. We’ve always known that Brenda was the one who got away for Sonny and she always had a piece of his heart. Now they’ve been married and she’s leaving. In a way that can emotionally free him up.
Maurice Benard: As much as I’ll be sad about it, as much as I love working with her to death, it is a new chapter. My way of thinking is that I can’t wait to see what that new chapter holds. I think now with Sonny, especially with Bob (Guza) gone, things have to be different. I don’t know how you make it different because I’m not a writer. But things have to change and be different in order to keep the show rolling. I think with the way it is going to change we can do that.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What would you like to see happen for Sonny?
Maurice Benard: I know this is going to sound corny. But I truly believe he needs a ton more romance. I think we’ve done the angry and beating people up and whatever that is. That’s cool too, his dark side. But I think he needs more romance. I don’t know where he’s going to get it, how he’s going to get it, but I think he needs it.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: At the end of 2011 there will be four daytime soaps left. I know you’re not a writer, but you have been working in this industry for most of the past 25 years. What, from your perspective, do the remaining four need to do to maintain the viewers they have left?
Maurice Benard: You know what, I hate to say it again, but there has to be a lot more romance. Soaps in their day were about couples and romance. We’ve gotten away from that. I’m not saying they should only be that. But you need to develop a couple, make it more romantic, make it more loving, and go from there. I just believe we have lacked that for awhile.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: For me that is what I have loved about soaps. The psychological elements behind relationships, seeing the reasons why people do the things they do in relationships, and watching couples overcome adversity, is what made soaps captivating for me.
Maurice Benard: Yes! We have tons of actors on our show that are great. If you have that sort of chemistry...I mean, look at shows like CASTLE. I see these two interacting and you want to watch. I don’t know if they’re a big deal or not, I just know I enjoy watching those two. In any show, if you see a man and a woman who have a certain thing, and then the writing is great, you want to follow it. Like MOONLIGHTING.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: And even THE SOPRANOS had that. Did you watch THE SOPRANOS?
Maurice Benard: I watched enough. I didn’t watch it every week. Maybe it’s because I was too jealous [laughs]. But I watched it to know why it worked. Maybe I’m going down the wrong street, maybe it’s something else that soaps need. But I think how those couples were back in the day need to be brought back.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: When you write for complexities and psychological depth it hooks people in. This is why we are still fascinated by Sonny and Brenda after 17 years. Claire Labine’s creation of their dynamic was so strong.
Maurice Benard: Vanessa and I have talked. We just want to make it as real as we can. It's like we are arguing at home. We’ve done that even more so recently than back in the day because I think we’re both grown now. Sometimes it may not come across, but this is how we would be arguing in real life. That’s what I love about it. We haven’t had much romance, but that’s besides the point.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: How would Sonny Corinthos describe Maurice Benard?
Maurice Benard: Sonny would describe Maurice as too goofy. He would say Maurice is pretty cool, but not as cool as him.

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Therapist in New York City who specializes in treating depression, stress management, anger management, ageism, and grief/loss issues. He is also the author of the popular book " Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve," currently available at Amazon.com. For more information about scheduling an appointment or a speaking engagement, please email him at Shouldless@gmail.com.