Thursday, December 2, 2010

WLS World AIDS Day With Michael Sutton - Part Two

In Part One of our interview with Michael Sutton for World AIDS Day, the acclaimed actor discussed taking on the role of HIV patient Stone Cates on GENERAL HOSPITAL, and the challenges he faced while doing this beloved story.  In this final part, we discuss current research and vaccine trials aimed toward eradicating HIV, as well as the toll this story took on him personally.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I am currently doing outreach and education for current HIV vaccine trials that are being conducted through the National Institute of Health. The biggest obstacle I encounter are younger people who don’t think HIV affects their lives.  What might you say to someone who doesn’t perceive HIV is a reality?
Michael Sutton: Unless you have some sort of religious ideas about abstinence, most people are sexually active.  I think that the responsibility that comes with that is to make yourself aware.  And with that awareness comes prevention.  I think it is only a minority of people that do not need to be concerned about this.  If you’re abstaining from sex then okay you fall into that category.  But if you are active, you owe it to yourself, your loved ones, to the people who love you, to get this information.  So it really does resonate for 99% of the population.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: It sure does.  The only thing I request is for people to become educated about vaccine trials so they can make an informed choice about whether this appropriate for them or not. Would you recommend someone take the time to learn more about participating in a vaccine trial?
Michael Sutton: Absolutely. Knowledge is power.  With that knowledge comes the ability to act and to make a difference.  I absolutely would encourage that.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What kind of reaction did you get from people while playing out this story?
Michael Sutton: Imagine at a time there is HIV/AIDS, I’m walking down the street, and not everybody watched the soap opera.  But some people did, and would point and say, “That’s the guy with AIDS.”  I got it.  I understood it, I was playing that character.  But I was standing next to fourteen other people who don’t watch GENERAL HOSPITAL who don’t know who Stone is, and that I play a character with AIDS.  They think that’s about me in real life.  It was a blurred line.

That goes back to what we were talking about earlier, that I was portraying this character without having the acting skills in my career.  It wasn’t like I could rely on my craft.  I had to actually immerse myself into being that character, thinking those thoughts, living that way for nine months.  That was the only way I was able to portray it because I wasn’t equipped with the actual craft of acting.  I wasn’t able to just go in and out of character or use the tricks of the trade that you can use when you know them.  I was diving right in and pretending “as if” and living that fairy tale of that storyline as if it were real.  That was how I was able to portray it.  I think that’s why it came off so raw and so believable.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: It sounds like that could take a toll on you.
Michael Sutton: Yes, it was.  I wouldn’t change it, I knew it had a beginning, a middle, and an end.  I knew that when the time came to stop the show and gather myself and move on that I would be able to do that.  That’s why I say I was so blessed to do it, and I wouldn’t change it.  It was very important to me do it that way.  It made me an actor.  I got out of that what I put into it. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Have you since been involved with AIDS education?
Michael Sutton: I have done some of the AIDS walks, done some events, made some donations.  But I have not been involved as a spokesman or a poster boy for it.  I was just thinking about this.  I was at Mamma Mia the other day.  At the end of the show they kept everybody in their seats and asked them for donations for AIDS causes.  I knew we were going to talk for this interview, and I had just recently gone back and done GENERAL HOSPITAL.  I knew there was some synergy and connection to it.  I was thinking about it, and was surprised I wasn’t asked to do more after the storyline ended.  I would have.  They didn’t reach out to me, and I didn’t seek it out.  It just kind of went away. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: That is interesting and strange to me.  I know the Robin/Stone story taught millions of young people to protect themselves from HIV, by virtue of the fact they were in our living rooms every day for years.  
Michael Sutton: And I am aware of that, I have heard great stories from that.  I am still in awe of how big it was.  I could not process that at the time.  I had too much to think about in the moment, I couldn’t think about the importance of the material at the same time.  But fifteen years later, the fact that it was the only story line that tackled this issue in that time period, when it was still taboo to put it on a daytime soap.  It was the only medium to actually tell this story.  And they did right.  The writing was beautiful and accurate.  They told a modern day Romeo & Juliet tragic love story.  It just was very special. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: It always seemed strange that other shows didn’t follow up by doing more romantic and educational stories around HIV.
Michael Sutton: I don’t think they will.  We talked about that.  It was done at the highest level early on.  I don’t think it needed to be retold.  Why would you do it again? You would only fail to live up to what had already been attempted.  That was the sentiment I got.  When you hear that, it’s very cool, it’s crazy to hear it.  It was innocent, it was raw, it had all the elements that hooked everyone. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: To learn more about the HIV Vaccine trials now taking place across the United States, please go, or write Damon at [email protected].

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Therapist now accepting new clients in New York City.  He is also the author of the popular book "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve." For more information about scheduling an appointment, please email him at [email protected].

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