By Lynda Hirsch
May 16, 1994
It was to be the role that would make Maurice Benard (Sonny on GENERAL HOSPITAL, 3 p.m., WFTV-Channel 9) a star. Instead, it almost killed his career.
"Frances (Fisher, EDGE OF NIGHT and Unforgiven) and I worked so hard on the movie. But from the beginning, it was a mess. Lucy and Desi's daughter Lucie hated the concept. So did the public. They wanted to see the Lucy and Desi they knew from television, not the real couple.
"We were savaged by the critics," he relates, "but the New York and L.A. papers liked it." If he has any long-lasting regrets about Lucy and Desi: The Real Story, one is about his own career, and the other is about the portrayal of Desi Arnaz. "I was typecast. Every casting agent thought I had this Cuban accent, which I definitely do not."
As for Desi, "he was brilliant in business. So much of what television is about today - reruns, syndication - that is because of Desi, and the movie didn't do much with that."
After the movie debacle, Benard decided to take some acting lessons. "Here I was, this hot shot. I had played Nico on ALL MY CHILDREN. I really thought I knew what I was doing. And from an emotional point of view, I did. I use my acting as a way of showing my own emotions, which I keep pretty much to myself in real life. But there is more to acting than emotions. I went to an acting coach in L.A. He looked at me and said I was awful. You bet it hurt. But he was right. I had no technical ability. I have that now."
He took the role of GENERAL HOSPITAL's Sonny for a lot of reasons. "I liked the name. That might sound dumb. But when you play a character that is ongoing, you've got to like a lot about him," he says laughing.
"I also felt good with the character. Like me, he struggles. He knows what he wants. He wants to get it, but he wants to be decent about how he gets it. Sometimes, he has to do things he knows aren't right to get his way. So Sonny is a street fighter with morals." Growing up in New York, Benard was not into studies. He was into driving a great car, girls and being cool.
"Yeah, I was popular in school. I was at the top of the group everyone wanted to be in."
So his next statement is kind of surprising: "I hate people acting like they're better than others or being nasty. I see you do that," he says in almost Sonny-like tones, "and you're off my list."
"In school, if I saw anybody making fun of someone else, we'd have a little conversation. After the talk, they would leave everyone alone."
Benard and his wife, Paula, are expecting their first child later this year. "It will be a big change, but I'm expecting to like it."