Wednesday, October 20, 2010

EXCLUSIVE: Anthony Geary on New Show & Storied Career (1/2)

Six-time Emmy winner Anthony Geary was voted the Greatest Soap Actor of All-Time by a panel of 15 past and present soap critics assembled by We Love Soaps. While soap fans will always think of him as the bad-boy-turned-sort-of-good-turned-especially-bad-lately Luke Spencer on General Hospital, Geary has made an impact in all mediums, from the theater to daytime to primetime episodics to movies. His latest musical, "Into The Woods," opens on Friday, October 22, where Geary will be playing the Narrator / Mysterious man. In this exclusive two-part new interview with We Love Soaps, Geary previews the new musical and reflects on a long and storied career spanning four decades.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: So, congratulations on your new show ("Into The Woods").

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: When we did our countdown of the 50 Greatest Actors, we published some classic articles on you and there was one from the early '70s that talked about a play you were in called “The Subject was Roses.”

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I know more about your film and TV work over the past 40 years. Have you done a lot of theater?
ANTHONY GEARY: Yes, yes, a lot. I started in the theater. “The Subject was Roses” was the first professional play that I did here. I did it in Los Angeles and in Hawaii. I was at the University of Utah and I had already done a season of summer stock. They used a theater in the round there, 10 musicals in 10 weeks.

I was a scholarship student in the Theater Department at the University of Utah and Jack Albertson came there to do the play, “The Subject was Roses,” for which he had won the Tony and, also had gotten an Academy Award nomination for the movie. I was cast as his son. It’s a three-character play by Frank Gilroy and a Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a young man who comes back from World War II and back to Brooklyn to his family and discovers that his parents’ marriage is dissolved.

Jack came to the University of Utah to do it as a guest artist, direct it and be in it. I was cast as his son and it had originally been done on Broadway by Martin Sheen and Martin was already, I think, 26 or 28 when he did that. Jack said it was the first time he had played the part with an actor who was actually the age of the character.

ANTHONY GEARY: I was – I don’t know 17 or 18. About three months later, he called me and said that he was going to go to Hawaii and do it at the Honolulu International Center with Martha Scott and then move to the Huntington Hartford Theater here in L.A., and would I join them. Of course, I jumped at it and that’s what got me here to L.A. in the first place. But after that I did – oh, Lord, probably – well, through my career, I’ve done about 50-55 plays.

ANTHONY GEARY: Musicals – a lot of them were musicals because I started in the musical theater and when I was a younger man, I played every juvenile role from Tulsa in "Gypsy" to Rolf in “Sound of Music.” Imagine, I did them all it seems – most of them – and then, I started in television in 1970, I think it was.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: According to IMDb – which is sometimes completely wrong – your first big TV credit was Room 222.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: …a guest appearance. You appeared on basically every show that was in the '70s.
ANTHONY GEARY: Well, a lot of them.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Barnaby Jones, Streets of San Francisco, Partridge Family...
ANTHONY GEARY: Yes, all of them. I always relied on the television season to get my unemployment benefits back up and hold me through the summer when television didn’t used to shoot in the summer and then, I would go often do usually musical theater during the summer. So, you're right, I did a whole lot of stuff. I was on the third episode of All in the Family in the first season.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Yes. You played Roger, which is…
ANTHONY GEARY: Roger, the fairy – it was a wonderful experience.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: That’s one of my all-time favorite episodes of the TV period.
ANTHONY GEARY: Yes. It was an amazing experience to be with those people. I was so young and fresh. That was an enormously, talented cast.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I know I’m getting old because I look back and say, “They don’t make TV like that anymore.”
ANTHONY GEARY: [Laughs] No, they don’t. Do they, Roger?

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: It was so politically incorrect, but it got certain messages across in a way that TV just doesn’t try to do that anymore.
ANTHONY GEARY: No, no. I think you’re right. Yes, it was a big thrill.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Because years later, Phil Carey became a soap star, too. Did you guys ever cross paths and talk about…?
ANTHONY GEARY: Oh yes, we sure did. We saw each other quite a bit. He was on the East coast most of the time and I was out here. We did see each other at awards shows and at different times and we did have a laugh or two about it.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Around that time, you did Bright Promise, and I was hoping to clear up some soap history because it doesn’t seem like any of those episodes are around.
ANTHONY GEARY: I don’t think they are. When I started on I did the last year of that show. It was canceled in ’72. I’m not sure.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Yes, ’72. I think it went off.
ANTHONY GEARY: I think I started on it in ’71. I did a year on it. When I started on it, we were still doing live. We had a couple of shows that I remember. It’s not live. Then, they were timed exactly so you would go straight through with no stops unless it was a tremendous stuck-up. Because I remember once an actor exited into the closet, he had to go back because there was a closet next to the front door.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I love the live TV stories like walls falling down – things happening and you just keep going.
ANTHONY GEARY: Right. I remember we did stop, so it wasn’t live. What they were doing is going straight through unless there was some catastrophic event. You would pause – in those days, it was only four to five minutes. Now it’s 10 minute-commercials or whatever it is. You would pause and then, you’d get ready and go ahead. So, it’s not like a live performance. They were just leaving tape space to put in these commercials. There wasn’t a lot of editing done.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You played David Lockhart. He was in an asylum, right? The only thing I know about this was an old interview from 1972, a local Utah paper where you talked about it. He was in an asylum and he got out at the end or something like that.
ANTHONY GEARY: This was based on a real incident that the writers – and I don’t recall who they were – had read in the papers about a young man who was an illegitimate child of a very wealthy woman who had him committed. She paid off the doctors and had him committed at birth to an asylum or –I don’t know what you call them in those days – to a sanitarium. He grew up and when he was in his mid teens, a doctor found him and realized he was not retarded. In fact, he was quite bright to have succeeded his whole life in this environment. The doctor took him out and put him with a foster family.

My foster mother was Susan Brown, who I ended up working with on General Hospital. My foster father was David Lewis, the original Mr. Quartermaine, and the doctor was played by Dabney Coleman. Again, my beginnings in daytime were some really, fine people who had been playing these daytime games for a long, long time. I was really blessed to have worked with some extraordinary people when I was very young.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Now, Frank and Doris first created the show and were also the creators of General Hospital, but were they still around when you were on?
ANTHONY GEARY: I don’t remember. They may have been.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Because I know they were gone by the time you got to GH.
ANTHONY GEARY: Right. I don’t really remember. I was so young I didn’t have a lot of knowledge beyond what I could see. I wasn’t really very aware of what was going on.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: This is where you met Gloria Monty?
ANTHONY GEARY: She directed several episodes [of Bright Promise]. That’s when I first met Gloria. Yes. They used to do late night mystery movies for ABC TV back in the mid-'70s, I think it was. She was directing one called Sorority Kill, and there was this James Dean psycho who holds the bunch of sorority girls at hostage. She brought me in and I was cast there. That’s when we really got to know each other.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You played a short term role on Young and the Restless. Did you get to know Bill Bell at all?
ANTHONY GEARY: Again, I don’t remember. I really was so young and unaware of things.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What was your goal at that point? Did you want to be in films? Did you want to just do Broadway?
ANTHONY GEARY: I wanted it all. You know. I wanted all of that and I was so happy to be working in the profession that so many people told me I would never get into. I had made my living at that stage mostly on the stage. The “Subject was Roses” got me an agent. Jack Albertson put me with his agent when I first came to Los Angeles and then I started going out.

I remember one of the first interviews I had for a part was with Lucille Ball for her movie with Henry Fonda, Yours, Mine and Ours. I was brought in to meet her on the set. She was directing a Lucy episode at Desilu. I was brought in because I had gotten some extraordinary reviews in the play, “Subject was Roses.” She was really, really kind and nice to me and flattering about the reviews.

I didn’t get the part but I got to meet some really extraordinary people through that, but the agency started sending me out and that’s how I got into television. The agent wisely found out that or thought that since I had done already enough stage, that I was quick and could play a role over an ark of a piece – from beginning to end – he was wisely sending me off on to some daytime auditions and that’s how I ended up on Bright Promise, and then on Young and the Restless.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: By the time GH came around – it seems like from what I remember from history – that was just supposed to be a short term thing and you’re just doing it to work with Gloria again.
ANTHONY GEARY: Truly, it was to be 13 weeks. He was to come in and basically be Bobbie’s Tonto and cause a lot of trouble for Scotty and Laura because at that time, Bobby wanted Scotty and Scotty was turning his back on her in favor of Laura.

So, Gloria brought me into her office. This is something I‘ll never forget. It was a great, great day in my life. She called me directly at home. I don’t know how she got my number – probably, through my agent – but she called me herself and said, “Remember we worked on this and I want you to come to my office and talk about a role.” So, I went in to see her and I had already done a year on Bright Promise, and about six months on Young and the Restless. I think it was six or eight months.

I had decided that I didn’t like daytime, that I wanted to move on. Television was not all that appealing to me. I wanted to be on the stage or wanted to get a film career going. Actually, the first time I went in, she wanted me to play Mitch Williams who was a senator that Tracy Quartermaine was involved in. I auditioned with Jane Elliot and that’s when Jane and I first met, some 32 years ago. They decided I was too young for that role.

Four or five months later, Gloria called and said, “I’m gonna write a role for you. It’s not a long role but the network doesn’t think we need it but it’s an interesting part. Come in and talk about it.” I did and that’s how Luke came to be. In 13 weeks, the network changed their mind. They thought the role was interesting enough to hold onto and the audience was already responding to him because I think he was one of the early anti-hero types.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Right. I think it was standard leading men before and the bad guys were the bad guys and there weren’t a lot of gray areas at that point.
ANTHONY GEARY: No, and he was originally written as a bad guy but I was young and fresh and kind of innocent. So, even my bad guy had a kind of endearing quality about him, I suppose, because I was from Utah. I was not very slick. I just got along so well with everyone on GH and the network liked it. So, that’s how it expanded.

Then, they were going to get rid of me another time after the rape with Laura. They originally had planned to. You couldn’t rape someone and live so he was going to be killed in a shootout, but what happened is that at the last minute, like three or four weeks before Luke was to be killed, the network decided they wanted the fellow who’s playing Roy DiLucca (Asher Brauner)on a night time show. They wanted to move him over to, I think, it was a cop show.

At the last minute, they switched it so that instead of Luke going to shoot the senator and being killed as he was trying to get out of the building, they made it Roy was killed. So, that’s why there’s a scene where Luke and Laura are on a hillside – it was shot outside on Mulholland Highway. She knows what he’s going to do. She takes the keys from the car and throws them into the bushes so that Luke can’t make it to the hit. At the last minute, Roy DeLuca goes in to his friend. They were both quasi young mob would-bes. Roy went in and shot him instead. So, Roy was killed and Luke lived. Then, oddly enough, the audience responded to this rapist in a way nobody expected and that’s really what set me through a career.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You became really famous in a way that no, I mean there are well-known actors from daytime. Everybody knows who Susan Lucci is but that sort of happened over time. It wasn’t like this burst of fame because you were on the cover of every magazine. It was like a phenomenon.
ANTHONY GEARY: Yes, it was.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: When you were younger, you said you wanted it all but did you think about fame? Were you thinking about becoming famous or just the types of roles you wanted to play?
ANTHONY GEARY: No. I was never interested in fame. I was always shy and afraid of the attention. I really just wanted to work. I wanted to get as much experience as I could. My friend, Jack Albertson who mentored me in the early days, told me I was a character actor. I’ll never forget. He said, “You may be very talented. You’re a nice kid. Nobody’s going to know that for years, but the only thing that matters in this business is perseverance. If you stand in the same place long enough, they build a theater around you.”

In a way, that’s what happened to me. I stood in Luke Spencer’s shoes. I didn’t want to. That wasn’t my intention and the fame was never in my mind. I expected to be a journeyman actor. That was my dream. I’m a character man. One of the reasons I was attracted to being a character man besides the fact that I just don’t have the psychological make-up of a hero or a leading man or the looks. I like to disappear in the roles. I didn’t expect to be recognized in the street.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You said you were shy. Did this force you to come out of that somewhat or did you just hide in your house?
ANTHONY GEARY: I did hide in my house. I really did. I spent a lot of time afraid to leave the house. I would go to work and come home and I didn’t have much of a social life. It wasn’t always me. I was always kind of a loner anyway and a recluse, but the attention was more than I could handle and more than I expected. I was really not prepared for it in anyway.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Luke’s always had a comedic element, especially you and Jane Elliot are so great together, but in the '80s, when you left GH, you did some movies. One of my favorites was UHF with Weird Al.
ANTHONY GEARY: Yes. I did a lot of movies. That was not a bad movie but…

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: It’s hilarious but it seems you were trying to do different types of parts and show different sides of you after that.
ANTHONY GEARY: Yes. Luke could become such a – I was so identified with him. Now, I have accepted that and it’s not so bad anymore. It’s a great thing to have had a whole career as one character. It’s given me a wonderful life but at that stage of life, it was a burden and I wanted to do as many different things as possible. A lot of the A-list films were not available to me because I was so well known.

I remember a meeting I had with Oliver Stone for the movie, Salvador. He liked me a lot, took me to lunch with James Woods and James Woods started talking about Luke Spencer. Oliver said, “Who’s that?” By the end of the interview, he realized, and a couple of people came over for my autograph, ignoring him and James Woods. By the end of the interview, he had decided that he didn’t want me in the film.

I understand this now because for those two or three minutes or whatever it would take for people to go, “Oh, that’s that guy in General Hospital,” or “Isn’t that’s Luke Spencer,” they are out of his film. They’re not engrossed in the movie. Oliver Stone is not the kind of director who wants to be overshadowed for a second by an actor’s face. So, he didn’t know about Luke Spencer until that lunch and that really sealed the deal. There was no…

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: He was the only one.
ANTHONY GEARY: [Laughs] Well, I don’t know if he was the only one but people who weren’t aware…

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Well, he had to have seen your face on magazines even if he didn’t know what it was about.
ANTHONY GEARY: I think, later, he did say that he saw some magazines that his maid had or something and thought he recognized me when I came in but he didn’t connect it. I never put General Hospital on my resume at that point because I knew – if I did, it was going to close more doors that had opened, particularly, in the film world.

Again, I totally understand that now. Today, if I were a director trying to take people to another world. It isn’t like a movie star where you’re going to see George Clooney but in certain kinds of movies, that could be a bonus for, particularly comedies, but in a serious, political drama like Stone does, it would not be an asset to be recognized. I think a lot of that changed with people who did that very iconic and bizarre dark television series…

ANTHONY GEARY: Yes, thank you. That Lynch...

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: David Lynch.
ANTHONY GEARY: Bringing people in from the past who had been famous for one thing or another and using them. Quentin Tarantino will do that now, but at that time, nobody was doing it. But I could always get work in the smaller films when they thought maybe my name would draw a few soap fans in to see it. You know what I mean?

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Right. I wrote and produced a film a couple of years ago and I cast all people. I’m working on a web series now. It’s called Trouple about three gay men living in Manhattan in a complicated three-way relationship. I’m casting unknown young guys as the leads, but the parents, the therapists – those roles are going to be a soap person.
ANTHONY GEARY: Good for you. So, it’s interesting.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I like to cast people against type, too, like the opposite of what you might think.
ANTHONY GEARY: Yes. Well, soap people would really be attracted to that notion because if you played a character for a long time, the first thing you want to do is something away from it – which is why I’m doing this play, for example.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Click here for the second and final part of our interview to find out more on Geary's new musical, which opens Friday night, his changed thoughts on the music, life in Amsterdam, the stories he's sold to GH, and working with stars like Erika Slezak, Jane Elliot (including a Vegas preview), Jonathan Jackson and more!

Roger Newcomb is a producer and writer in New York City. He has written and produced a full-length indie film, Manhattanites, and two radio soap operas. He founded and produces annually the Indie Series Awards, which honors the best in independent entertainment on the Web. He was executive producer on the indie short May Mercy Lie and, from 2009 to 2013 he created and hosted We Love Soaps TV. He has also made acting appearances in shows such as Imaginary Bitches and Empire. Recent film appearances include the documentary Soap Life--ruminating alongside Agnes Nixon and Eileen Fulton--and James Franco's indie feature, Francophrenia.


  1. I can't wait for the next part of the interview about working with Jonathan Jackson. Jonathan and Tony together is pure, pure magic.

  2. I can't imagine a child actor being cast more perfectly than Jonathan Jackson. I love his scenes with Anthony Geary. They bring a similar energy to the table.

  3. Great interview with Tony! I hope many of the fans go to see him on stage! What a treat! Tony is one of our greatest actors in any medium!