Friday, October 22, 2010

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

In Part One of the We Love Soaps interview with Anthony Geary, the legendary actor and six-time Emmy winner discussed his first professional break, his All in the Family classic episode, his early soap roles and landing what was intended to be the short-term role of Luke Spencer on General Hospital. In the final part below, Geary shares his thoughts on his new play, "Into the Woods," which is opening tonight at Big Art Labs in Los Angeles. Geary also shares his thoughts on dealing with fame at the height of the GH phenomenon in the early 1980s, how the character of Luke had helped him out, writing prose and the changing landscape of television and the web.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: "Into the Woods" debuted on Broadway in 1987. It won several Tony awards.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: There have been many different versions of it. I was trying to think if or when I’ve seen it, and I don’t think I have. Is that something that you saw and wanted to always do?
ANTHONY GEARY: No, I never saw it. I bought the cast album and found the music inaccessible, but I love Sondheim. This was years ago. I’ve had it but I don’t think I tried to listen to it more than a couple of times.

It’s very complicated music. It’s not numbers that are hummable, apart from children will listen. I don’t think that there’s anything that you’d know from that show, but Sondheim is a god in musical theater and I did play Pseudolus once in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” I’ve always wanted to do more Sondheim.

My voice teacher here in L.A. emailed me in Amsterdam this summer and said that he was going to direct the version of “Into the Woods” with some really good people. There are some extraordinary performers in this show and with a good group called Lucid by Proxy, a young producing group here. He was going to put it in a warehouse downtown and really do a sort of environmental experience for the audience and update it. Like take a lot of the fairy tale costumes away and stuff and make it post-modern, deconstruct it a little bit, and asked me if I’d be interested in playing the Narrator and the Mysterious Man. I jumped at it and said, “Absolutely.” It just happened to fit in the time I’m here between now and Christmas, and it was ideal for me. So, it was just a gift from the gods.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: This is Calvin Remsberg?
ANTHONY GEARY: Yes, this is Calvin.

I’ve been working with Calvin for the last four years. He’s an extraordinary teacher as well as director. I saw a production of his, “Sweeney Todd,” last spring. I was so impressed with it, and we talked about it. That’s why he felt he could invite me into the cast. He’s the guy that prepared David Hyde Pierce for “Curtains” and for “Spamalot.” He has an extraordinary list of singers in his teaching roster. He prepared me for all the Broadway cast performances that I’ve done over the last four years [at the Broadway Cares events]. He brought me back into the musical theater. I hadn’t done anything musical since the mid-'80s when I played Pseudolus [in Sondheim's "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum"].

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: The show opens October 22.
ANTHONY GEARY: Yes, Friday, running through the 20th of November.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: And attendees will get to see you singing multiple songs during this?

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I know a little bit about the story – the four people wanting a wish. Is the Narrator’s the lead part in the show?

ANTHONY GEARY: It’s a truly ensemble piece. I would say the lead is probably the witch which Bernadette Peters played [in the original Broadway show], but it’s an ensemble piece. I have 38 entrances and about half of them are as the Narrator and half of them are as this Mysterious Man who lives in the woods, who turns out to be the father of one of the characters. Yes, I’m in and out throughout. I tell the story.

I did story theater back in the early '80s with a group here in L.A. Story theater is very much what this is about. He’s the guy who goes, “Once upon a time...” and the music starts. He tells the story as the characters. He’s telling you what you’re seeing so it’s a storybook thing and it’s a metaphor of life.

“Into the Woods” is the past of your life. You have to grope to find your way through the dark. The first act is very funny and full of delightful characters – Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella. It’s like Shrek. It’s a mish-mash of fairy tale characters. Then the second act turns very dark because the giant comes down and starts killing everybody. The moral is really told and children will listen – that you set the path for children early in their lives by what stories you tell them. So, be careful what you tell them.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: True. Do you like the music better now that you’ve been rehearsing it for a while?
ANTHONY GEARY: I’m absolutely loving it now. Part of it, I think, is that I’m a much older person now and I am more experienced in the world than I was when I tried to listen to it originally. I never saw it so it was just music.

It was very complicated music with a lot of tete-a-tetes. It’s very operatic in a way with many people singing different things at once. And unless you are involved in the story, I found it difficult to just sit down and enjoy. But now that I’m into the story, I am absolutely loving it. I’m going to bed singing it, get up singing it. I dream it at night – it’s actually driving me insane.

I love the music and I really appreciate what Sondheim has done here and I did in a way that I hadn’t before. It’s more along the lines of his “Sunday in the Park with George” than anything else that he’s done. “Sweeney Todd” is similar in a way but this is much more disjointed stories, fewer songs that you can hum and go away with. It’s much more about the story itself.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: As a person who grew up shy, would you get nervous on stage performing live?
ANTHONY GEARY: The thing I’m nervous about is I might forget my lines. I love being on stage. It’s the one place in the world that I’ve ever felt totally and utterly at home and comfortable because I step out of myself. I’m shy still as Tony in a social situations or when people come up to me but not on stage.

What I’ve learned through the years is that if I get nervous or if I need to be more outgoing, I can click a little bit of Luke Spencer into me and he takes care of it. He’s been an alter ego for so long that I can cover my shyness with his brash, politically incorrect behavior, if you will. People accept it because if they know me as Luke, they go, “Oh.” That’s what they want. That’s what they expect. I don’t know. It’s like living two lives at once.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: We write a lot of theater reviews at WE LOVE SOAPS TV. New York Theater is great.
ANTHONY GEARY: Yes, I love New York.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Did you ever live here?
ANTHONY GEARY: No. I’ve never had the opportunity to live there. I always expected I would, but for the last 32 years, had this great job and it’s only been in the last 10 years that I’ve been buying back time from the show. When I would renegotiate, I would not ask for more money. I would ask for more time off. That has worked for both them and me.

Now, I work 32 weeks a year and the rest of the time, I’m off. I, now, have almost six months off in a year when I could do a play but since I moved to Amsterdam and I’m so happy and comfortable there, I usually just escape to a place where nobody knows me.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I know a lot of soap fans from the Netherlands and they’re all huge As the World Turns fans.
ANTHONY GEARY: Yes, it runs over there. So does the Bold and the Beautiful.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You don’t get recognized there?
ANTHONY GEARY: No. No, I don’t and it’s a real pleasure for me. I’ve been there 15 years so I speak the language and I have a lot of Dutch friends. If an American tourist stops me for an autograph or says hello in the street, my Dutch friends are always very confused by it [laughs]. Also, the Dutch don’t really have a sense of celebrity. It’s interesting. They’re very practical and very interested in people, not in illusion. You know what I mean? They’re not people who care about what you drive or where you live or what you do. It’s considered ill manners unless you know someone for quite a long time to ask what they do.

That’s one of the first things we ask, “What do you do? What do you drive? [laughs]?” Those things we ask right away. The Dutch just don’t do that.

So, I’ve lived quite comfortably and had a life that I never thought I’d get here. I couldn’t get here.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I stayed over in Amsterdam for the weekend on a business trip but hoping to get back at some point.
ANTHONY GEARY: I highly recommend it. It’s such a human place. The city is built for people, not for cars.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Have you thought about writing with a perfect role for yourself?
ANTHONY GEARY: Because I’m so interested in the theater and I don’t really write plays, I’m more interested, actually these days, in writing prose. My writing partner who lives in Seattle, Irene Suver, and I, actually sold a couple of stories to GH. We wrote the bible for the return of Luke and Laura back in ’91. It was bought by the network which explained where they had been for 10 years and introduced the character of Lucky.

If you remember when they came back, we shot it in Rochester, New York, and they had a diner. There was an explosion in a truck and one of their friends was killed and that put them on the run again. Luke was hanging from a helicopter – all that kind of stuff. We wrote all that. We didn’t write the dialogue but we wrote the story from which it was taken.

That got me into the Writers Guild and ever since, I’ve been working on projects with my writing partner up in Seattle. She’s a very good screen adventure writer and we confer on a lot of stuff but I’ve been more interested, in the last few years, in novels. I read vociferously and I’m trying to come up with an interesting character that I would play. It’s my dream role but it’s in novel form.

I find writing a novel is really rewarding because I can act it, direct it and write it all at the same time. That’s what a novel does. In that sense, you have total control of the pictures that you’re putting out in the characters. I’m finding that very fulfilling.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Speaking of that return story, did you audition with Jonathan Jackson? It seems like the absolute perfect kid to play your son.
ANTHONY GEARY: He is, isn’t he? He has remained that way, too. Yes, I did. They brought six young men in and they were from ages eight to eleven. I believe Jonathan was 11. Of the younger ones, there was one little redheaded, quirky little guy that I thought was terrific, but he was very, very young. Then, there was Jonathan and he was just amazing from the get go.

When we worked in Rochester when we first really together, Genie and I started working with him. There was no question but that this was an actor through and through. He asked all the right questions. He had a sense of reality about him and he wasn’t overacting as some children do. He was emotionally available. He was amazing. He remains one of the best actors I’ve ever worked with in my life. I think he’s just spectacular.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Yes, he’s terrific. Another great actor that you worked with is Jane Elliot. She’s been amazing on everything.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You guys are so funny now, even since Luke came back this time.
ANTHONY GEARY: We’ve got some fun stuff coming up in Las Vegas again, which we’re shooting right now and they are going to get legally wed, actually. Jane is my oldest, dearest friend on that show and Jane is a force of nature. I swear to be on stage with her. You have got to have your game together because she doesn’t take any prisoners.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Can you imagine doing theater with her?
ANTHONY GEARY: Oh, it’s a dream. I was talking to her just the other day about what can we do on the stage together and she was, “Oh, I don’t know if I want to work that hard.” If I find something, we’re going to do it because she would just kick ass in a play. I’m telling you. The audience would be holding their breath because to be with her on the set is such an extraordinary experience. She’s amazing.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Did you enjoy doing the “What If” web series, the where they paired up characters from two different soaps? Yours was with Erika Slezak.
ANTHONY GEARY: I did enjoy it. I enjoyed it very much. I’ve always enjoyed Erika’s work. We’ve always been very friendly to each other the few times we’ve seen each other usually at events.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Usually at the Emmys where you were both winning every time.
ANTHONY GEARY: [Laughs] Well, I didn’t want to say that. We have had the pleasure of handing that little statue off to each other several times. I was thrilled when they asked if I would do it with her. And then to have [One Life to Live executive producer and director] Frank Valentini direct us was a real pleasure too because I’ve always enjoyed Frank’s commitment to what he does and he was terrific. I thought it was just a wonderful afternoon. I’d do it again in a second.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: It was hugely popular, more popular than I even thought it would be. Speaking of web seires, there’s something happening now that we’re recalling the indie soap movement. There’s dozens of these web or internet soap operas out there and they’re being produced by soap opera actors and some of them by people like Robert Townsend. Do you have any thoughts on the future of TV and the internet? But it seems like a lot of things are moving to the web and people that are up and coming writers who have something to say are using the internet to put that out there.

ANTHONY GEARY: Yes, I think it’s great because the opportunities within the medium certainly with the networks, is drying up. That’s clear to everybody. They’re being much more cautious than I think is prudent, frankly. I remember what made this show successful in the first place with Gloria [Monty] is that the network said, “Do whatever you want with it. We’ll give you six months to bring the ratings up three points and we’ll keep it on the air. Otherwise, it’s going off the air.” That’s why she had all the freedom to reinvent it, and she did. I don’t think it’s been done since, frankly, so maybe the web is the answer.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: There were times when daytime soaps told a lot of social issues stories before anyone else. Even in the late '80s, there were four different AIDS story lines going on daytime soaps. All My Children did so well with Ellen Wheeler and David Canary. That was just superb. Now, 20 years later, they would not have told that story. I don’t know why.
ANTHONY GEARY: They also did the lesbian story on All My Children, which was very successful for a while.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: We never know who’s online versus who are the three million people watching wherever that aren’t online, but fans of gay and lesbian stories are the most passionate. There was a couple on As the World Turns that was hugely popular online, but they had a kiss – the first gay male kiss on daytime – and it had something like a million views in the web one day. It was everywhere. What they did as a follow-up? Hide those characters for the next three months.
ANTHONY GEARY: That’s what amazes me. They do take a chance. It’s successful and then, they run from it. That’s what amazes me these days.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: That’s why I’m really supporting these web soaps because they’re so diverse. There are several of them that have full African American casts. There are gay and lesbian stories. There are just all kinds of different, creative things that you can’t necessarily get anymore in daytime.
ANTHONY GEARY: If the Luke and Laura rape had happened today, there would be no way that Luke could have survived it. The feminists attacked me, I don’t know why, in the 80s, for glamorizing a rapist.

Not that I think that’s a good idea, but as a concept it was taking an edgy, Dexter-approach to things, if you will. They don’t do it anymore. When they do and even if it’s successful, they don’t know where to go from there. They seem to run from it. They hide the characters. They make them have some magic transformation. One thing I’ve appreciated about Luke Spencer and what I fought for is that he never really became a good guy. He’s anti-hero to the core -- these days, a little more anti than hero, which I like. Apparently, the audience does, too.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Earlier this year, you were named the Greatest Soap Actor of All-Time by a We Love Soaps panel of 15 critics. So, obviously, you’ve been doing something right for quite a while. But if you could go back 40 years to when you started getting your first professional roles in All in the Family and Bright Promise, and give yourself one piece of advice, knowing what you know now, what would you tell yourself?
ANTHONY GEARY: Wow. [Pause] Enjoy it more. I would tell myself not to be so afraid of success, not to be so afraid that when you’re good at something, that you’re going to be stuck there. I think a lot of the torment that I went through in the '80s – and the reason I left the show, actually fled from the show in ’82, was because I couldn’t handle the attention and I was afraid that the character was taking over my life.

As I look back, he took over my life because I didn’t have a life. I think that the thing is to not take yourself or the situation so seriously, that there’s always a reinvention ahead. I’ve reinvented myself 15 times since then as a person even though I’ve remained the same character.

As a human being, I’ve been able to reinvent myself and I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to do that in the '80s. I got in a lot of trouble. I had a lot of negative behavior and a lot of self-flagellation and the usual drinking too much, drugs, whatever. I never had to go to rehab but I did my share of acting out against myself and just trying to mess up my success because I didn’t see it as success. I saw it as being stuck with something. I think that’s probably what I would tell myself. That, and when you’re in L.A., and you want to go across town, take Fountain [laughs].

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: [Laughs] Thank you so much for your time and I will be out in L.A. and will be coming to the show!
ANTHONY GEARY: That's wonderful news!

EDITOR'S NOTE: "Into the Woods" opens Friday, October 22, and runs through Saturday, November 20. For tickets and more information visit

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 comment:

  1. Nah... we don't really like Luke as all anti and no hero... so much less compelling. Miss his multi-dimension, his layers, his vulnerability, his ability to express emotion. TG however is such a talented man that he can even make the same story over and over again... Luke pissing off Tracy, Tracy vowing to never take him back, Luke faking a heart attack.... somewhat entertaining. Wish they would write this man a story to show us his full range. Seems kind of stiffled for the last few years on GH and we were so spoiled witnessing how utterly fantastic an actor he really is. Wish I was in LA... would love to see him in his play.