Thursday, June 9, 2011

INTERVIEW: Maurice Benard Is Coming To See YOU - Part One

Emmy-winning actor Maurice Benard is going on tour this summer, and he just may be coming to your town!  The pensive fan favorite, who has admittedly has been shy about doing fan appearances for most of the past ten years, is finally hitting the road to entertain and meet his loyal audiences.  Where is he going and what will he be doing on stage?  And which GENERAL HOSPITAL cast member is joining him?  Join us for a discussion about the tour, Sonny's evolution on GH, and Benard's ongoing struggles maintaining symptoms of Bipolar.  Does Sonny Corinthos take his meds? Find out below! 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Tell me about your upcoming tour.
Maurice Benard: I’m going all across the country, you can follow us on Twitter.  I’ve got eleven shows scheduled.  I haven't done appearances in about ten years, so this is going to be a way to reach the fans again.  I’m very excited and a little nervous but I’ve got a few things planned for each appearance and I’m going to have a great time.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Here in New York on June 26, Nathan Parsons (Ethan) will be joining you. 
Maurice Benard: Yes, Nathan will be there.  Basically what I do is get up on stage, talk a little bit, the fans ask me questions, and we laugh.  And sometimes we cry.  It depends.  A lot of questions are about Bipolar so we get into some deep stuff.  I’m going to have a little surprise that I haven’t done for awhile, and then another surprise to end the show.  It’s not a surprise that in New York Nathan Parsons will be joining me for a few of the shows.  That will be cool.  I’m taking a bus out there.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Are your wife and kids coming on the bus?
Maurice Benard: Yes, my whole family.  I have a driver who is a friend of our who was in the Marines.  It’s nerve-wracking right now, it’s the last week. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What do you get nervous about?
Maurice Benard: You get nervous because you hope everything works out as far as the transportation, as far as not forgetting something.  Then, for me, I’m a little nervous because I haven’t done an appearance in so long, I want to perform for the best of my ability. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Are you performing though? It sounds more like expressing yourself.
Maurice Benard: There is one thing I’ll be doing, I want it to be a surprise.  But basically yes, it is expressing who I am.  That makes it easier for me, I’m just honest anyway. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What kind of reactions do you typically get when you meet fans like this?
Maurice Benard: I don’t think I’ve even gotten a negative reaction, or if I do, it is behind the scenes, I don’t know about it.  I get so much love from everybody.  It makes it all worthwhile.  I will be in Cleveland on Emmy night.  Hopefully there will be a TV there and we’ll be able to see who from GH is winning an Emmy.  That would be cool.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: That very well could be you, mister!
Maurice Benard: Yeah, we’ll see.  You know how that goes.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Do the fans ever confuse you with Sonny Corinthos?
Maurice Benard: When I go anywhere I am called Sonny.  But in the last three years it has more often been Maurice Benard, which means they see I’m not just the character.  But even now most of the time it’s still Sonny.  I’m cool with it. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: So even when fans are relating to you as Sonny, they still do so with affection and warmth?
Maurice Benard: Yes.  I’ve gotta tell you, I  haven't heard anything negative...well, I did have a stalker before.  But fans are always positive, nice, and respectful.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Why do you think fans are so loving toward a character who at times uses murder and violence to resolve conflict?
Maurice Benard: That’s a great question that I’ve asked people.  I think about that.  Here’s a character who has done what you say he has done, and yet people connect to that character.  I think a lot of it has to do with their understanding of him.  It has been written well enough in eighteen years where you understand this guy, the struggles he had early in his life, and that is why he became who he became.  If I’m doing my job, and I can convey it, then you don't see the character as one dimensional.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: We still see vulnerability in Sonny.
Maurice Benard: You see vulnerability, you know he was abused as a kid, you know his mother died when he was young, his father left him when he was young, he has a bad stepfather.  When you write all that into it, and you keep writing it, and as an actor you play to that, then that’s how you get the audience on your side.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: And much credit to Claire Labine for establishing this history for Sonny early on. 
Maurice Benard: She sure did. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: His history you just mentioned was a central part of the Emmy reel you submitted this year. When he sees his teenage daughter Kristina lying in a hospital bed, and shivers remembering his mother’s abuse. It is emotionally devastating. 
Maurice Benard: I remember shooting that day.  I thought it was structured nicely.  They had me see her, go to kill the guy I thought did it (Ethan), had some scenes with Jason about killing Ethan, Jason talking me down, then going to my daughter’s bed and having a conversation with her.  It was nicely written.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I think this is the epitome of why we still love Sonny after eighteen years.  He’s not just an impulsive violent man.  There is abuse and trauma that fuels his behavior.
Maurice Benard: And let’s not forget he’s Bipolar.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Does Sonny take his medications consistently?
Maurice Benard: They did decently with that early on.  You can’t really see it but sometimes they have him take his medication.  I think you have to assume that he is unless you see him going through something and then you might assume he’s been off them for awhile.  Lately I haven’t gone down the road so I think he’s taking them every day.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: So many of the clients that I have worked with who struggle with Bipolar resist the idea of needing to take a medication every day.  They either don’t like the idea of it, or they have a sense of stability and efficacy, and think they don’t need the meds anymore. 
Maurice Benard: Hey, you know what, I go through that mentally.  But I’m smart enough and responsible enough to know I don’t want to feel that pain again.  That is the bottom line for me.  When I start thinking I feel great and I don’t need it, I say to myself, “I’m not going down there again, not to those depths.”

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Your experience has taught you this.
Maurice Benard: Yes, it happened every time I’ve had a breakdown, I’ve had three.  You’re up, then you fall. And that fall is too painful.  

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: It seems like people can only learn this lesson from experience.
Maurice Benard: Yes. But some people’s lows are not that bad.  They just keep thinking that they like the highs.  But some day you will experience that low.  And I’m telling you...God bless you then.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: When I ran a structured day treatment program through a county mental health program in Southern California, I used to use your 2003 segment on Soapography to educate about Bipolar, and demonstrate the benefits of facing the illness.  You have made such an impact on so many. 
Maurice Benard: That’s one of the reasons I continue to do it.  If you can help one person, if you can save one person’s life, it makes everything worth it.  So I haven’t stopped. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Does it ever get tiring for you to talk about Bipolar Disorder in these interviews?
Maurice Benard: I don’t get tired of it.  It’s therapy for me to talk about it.  I never get tired of it because I need a lot of therapy [laughs]. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Are you currently in therapy?
Maurice Benard: No, I haven’t been for awhile.  This helps, and acting and working out helps.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Read Part Two in which the multi-talented actor discusses the future of daytime, losing Vanessa Marcil Giovinazzo on GH, and what he would like to see happen for Sonny next.  Until then, please check out his upcoming dates, and visit Maurice on tour! 

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Therapist in New York City who specializes in treating  depression, stress management, anger management, ageism, and grief/loss issues. He is also the author of the popular book "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve," currently available at For more information about scheduling an appointment or a speaking engagement, please email him at [email protected].

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