He has played one of the most beloved and most reviled characters in soap history. As Duke Lavery on GENERAL HOSPITAL he was at the center of a fan phenomenon, but as Greg Madden, the doctor responsible for Erica's unabortion on ALL MY CHILDREN, he was the recipient of unprecedented fan anger. In between he took time to win an Emmy as unlucky-in-love therapist James Warwick on BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL. But who is the man behind these historical roles, and how does he perceive the highs and lows of his illustrious career? Please enjoy this feature with the abundantly talented and wonderfully outspoken actor.
In the first part he discusses his modeling career before landing GENERAL HOSPITAL, and how fear has shaped his choices.
We Love Soaps: I’d like to talk with you a bit about your career path on daytime and off daytime as well. Many fans know you first as the anti-hero Duke Lavery on GENERAL HOSPITAL. Yet you had a career before that.
Ian Buchanan: I was a model for ten years. Then Gloria Monty rescued me from performance art in New York. I was performing half in drag.
We Love Soaps: Only half?
Ian Buchanan: I was actually doing an all male version of Jean Genet’s, “The Maids” in a workshop at the Actor’s Studio. A couple of people from ABC came and then a couple of weeks later they had me go on tape for GENERAL HOSPITAL. I had never seen a soap opera. They said, “It’s a leading romantic lead.” I said, “You’re joking, from this?” But she was not joking. And that’s how I ended up on GENERAL HOSPITAL.
We Love Soaps: What kind of modeling had you done prior to this?
Ian Buchanan: Everything. I spent three years in Japan and Tokyo. I did the first campaign for Sony Walkman. A lot of runways in Paris and London. A lot of catalogues. I had been very busy and enjoyed traveling a lot, but ultimately I wanted to be in New York and at some point become an actor.
We Love Soaps: Are any of these pictures still out there?
Ian Buchanan: I recently found a picture that was taken in Madrid back in 1977. I looked on the back and it had a stamp of the photographer. I looked her up on FaceBook and found her there and said, “You don’t remember me but you took my picture in 1977.” I do have a ton of that stuff. I never saved any of that but my family did, my mother did. It’ s in a box somewhere.
We Love Soaps: Home for you is Scotland?
Ian Buchanan: I grew up in Scotland but I haven’t lived there since I was nineteen-years-old.
We Love Soaps: I read you were the second of six siblings. Were you typically in a caretaker role?
Ian Buchanan: Yes I was, and it wasn’t something I actually liked. I think it put me off responsibility for the rest of my life. It was thrust upon me. I always thought someone made huge a mistake and I was supposed to be some place else, and on any given day someone would come and take them away but nobody ever did. I left as early as I could, I left home just before I was seventeen.
We Love Soaps: To pursue modeling?
Ian Buchanan: I was too young then. I went into hotel management where I could actually live and begin to have a life apart from “the litter” as they were always called, the “littler” I grew up with.
We Love Soaps: Are you in contact with your siblings now?
Ian Buchanan: Yes, I am, the joke is that I make a guest appearance every now and then.
We Love Soaps: You seem to have always marched to your own drum.
Ian Buchanan: Yes, I have. But as I get older I realized that it probably wasn’t because it was the best thing to do, but it was out of fear. I had a need to keep moving, keep jumping ahead and not getting caught. I think that’s a great actor's thing. Most actors feel like any day something is going to catch them and tell them the gig is up. I’ve always felt as if things have always opened up, either in a little way or a big way, there’s always been a space for me to step into.
We Love Soaps: From the outside it appears the opposite. It would appear that someone who leaves home at seventeen is not letting fear guide him.
Ian Buchanan: Isn’t that interesting? I wouldn’t say “guided” by fear, more propelled by it.
We Love Soaps: Fear of what?
Ian Buchanan: I’ve often felt fear of getting stuck...I don’t know. Fear of being anything I don’t particularly want to be.
We Love Soaps: So you had traveled and modeled, propelled by fear of getting caught, and then ironically you stumbled into probably the most stable and secure acting job there is. Many work on soaps for decades.
Ian Buchanan: I remember my first response to that was that I couldn’t imagine that. I remember going to GENERAL HOSPITAL and there were people that had been there for 20 or 25 years. I remember thinking, “Why?” I think my perception of time was a little different. I was only there for three years but it seemed like 20 years of my life. Only because it still exists some place, people still refer to it. It was such a major part of my life, maybe I should have stayed there forever.
We Love Soaps: Do you think about what would have happened if you had not left?
Ian Buchanan: I do. I think about that often. I always leave just enough room for “what if,” for coulda, shoulda, woulda. Not too much room, just a little bit. I would have probably stayed for longer than three years. I loved being with Finola [Hughes] and I loved being there. But there were changes in writing, changes in production. I wasn’t experienced enough to roll with it. It was too jarring. And I had been offered other stuff, I started work with Garry Shandling. My manager thought I would do more damage if I stuck around, it would probably be best to get me out and doing other stuff.
We Love Soaps: Your three years on GENERAL HOSPITAL were quite intense in terms of your screen time and fan reaction. Duke and Anna were a fan phenomenon. What was it like for you, as someone who had moved so much, to suddenly be in the center of this storm?
Ian Buchanan: I don’t think I fully understood it. Even now I don’t. I didn’t really enjoy the attention. I remember doing some of the appearances and it was so overwhelming. It was a little too much for where I was at in my own mind, in my own development. I was always very curious about people, looking at people, watching people, and then that starts. Then you’re only trying to get people not to look at you, that was my focus. It was exciting, it was wild. The workload was intense, but I loved it. Finola and I would get on a redeye on a Friday, go some place to do an appearance on a Saturday, and fly back.
We Love Soaps: You had a lot of remotes in that time.
Ian Buchanan: Yes, when Tristan [Rogers] was involved we had a lot of remotes, he liked that action stuff.
We Love Soaps: What are some of your fond memories as Duke?
Ian Buchanan: The writing was pretty great. The way they told the love story was like an old movie. I have very fond memories of the things I learned from Gloria Monty. I didn’t have any experience whatsoever [on soaps] and I would say, “Why do I have to repeat stuff so much? Why do every time we do a scene we have to talk about what we did in the scene before?” Gloria would say, “You’re doing radio. You may think people want to watch you because you’re gorgeous, but they’re listening to you.” I think that’s what they forgot along the way. People do listen to it. They do listen to great voices, and they want you to tell a story. They don’t just want to look at breasts. People have forgotten that, I think. Telling a story depends on a really great storyteller. You trust your emotional journey to that person and I think people let some of that go.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Press here for Part Two in which Ian reflects more on his time on GENERAL HOSPITAL including adjusting to being a fan favorite and his decision to leave the show. Plus which TWIN PEAKS actor had been his pizza delivery boy? Come back to find out!
Damon L. Jacobs is a Marriage Family Therapist practicing in New York City, and the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve". He is re-imagining a world without "shoulds" at www.shouldless.com.