There is no one more universally recognizable on ABC?s General Hospital than Anthony Geary (Luke Spencer). Since joining the show 30 years ago, the 60-year-old actor has won five Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actor, the most for an actor at the show, and helped GH make daytime history as one half of the Luke and Laura (Genie Francis) supercouple, whose 1981 wedding, witnessed by 30 million Americans, still holds the record as the most-watched soap opera episode. Now, as GH prepares to celebrate 45 years on the air on Tuesday (April 1), Geary reflects on the changes to the show, his leading ladies — old and new — and himself.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Did you have any idea at the beginning that your character would take on the life that it did?
ANTHONY GEARY: No. [Laughs] I first came on to do 13 weeks and that was all I expected to do. It just sort of grew out of that. For a while, after being on for the first five years, I was really anxious to get off and do other things. And I found out that the impact was such that it was difficult to do much else. When I finally came back in ‘91, I came back as Luke’s cousin [Bill Eckert] because I didn’t want to play Luke. That really didn’t work. The audience didn’t want to see him and I was unhappy with that character, so we brought Luke back in 1993. And I’ve been very grateful for it ever since because it’s been a very good ride.
What have been your favorite arcs for the character?
Oh, jeez. There’ve been so many good ones. I always remember the very first Luke and Laura runaway as being really special. That is when they were married. It was after the rape and he’d stolen her away from Baldwin and they’d spent the summer together trying to solve the mystery of the left-handed boy and the black book, plus Frank Smith’s mob. That story was really special to me. It was full of all kinds of surprises and twists and turns. There was a cross-dressing hitman chasing us. We did a lot of location shots at that time. It was really the high point of General Hospital as far as I’m concerned. We were breaking the mold.
Why do you think the couple and the character connected with the public so much?
That’s a hard thing to answer. I always like to think that good acting had something to do with it, but the stories that we were given — early on, particularly — were innovative. I think it had to do with a particular time in our cultural history. It’s hard to step outside it very far and judge it sociologically. I mean here was a guy from the wrong side of the tracks who had the American dream to be rich and powerful. And here was a young woman from a long line of professional people, doctors, and she was married to a young man who was going to be more of the same for her. And she was kind of anxious for excitement and he was anxious to make a name for himself. So this unlikely pair fell in love under great duress — under circumstances that were hardly ideal. Sort of a Romeo and Juliet situation. And, I guess, culturally, it was just the right time for the audience to take on a continuing story in a way that I don’t think they have since.
I’ve always wanted to ask you what you thought when you first read the scene where Luke raped Laura. Did you think, ”Oh, well. That’s the end of this character”?
I didn’t really care. I didn’t really see the character as lasting this long. I read a really exciting story that had a lot of acting potential and dramatic impact. I’ve always been one to challenge the audience. I’ve never been one to coddle and try to give them what they want. I like the idea of challenging and confounding an audience. Being a little bit controversial has always been exciting to me. When I read it back in those days, I wasn’t looking for a career in soaps. I was trying to do the job as best I could, day to day. If that meant I was going to go out in a blaze of glory instead of disappearing off the canvas as so many characters do, so much the better. I really looked at it as an opportunity to do something story-wise that was very spectacular. I know they didn’t intend for her to fall in love with him after the rape. That came later when they found that the audience, astoundingly enough, had almost as much sympathy for the perpetrator as they did for the victim.
How was it to get to work with your leading lady [Francis] again when she came back briefly in 2006?
It was great. We’ve always had a very special connection, and even though she’d been gone some years, we just looked in each other’s eyes and it was right back there. Luke and Laura seem to have a life of their own. We have a history, both as actors and as characters, that’s very potent. So it was terrific to be with Genie again and to work with her. We have a great deal of trust and history together and I think it shows in the work. It’s never been hard work to work with Genie. It’s always been easy to feel the feelings that these stories ask me to feel. I’ve always had a quasi-protective feeling towards her as a person and that easily translates into the stories.
Now that your children on the show are adults and a lot of the old guard are gone, especially with the recent demise of Stuart Damon [Alan Quartermaine], what’s it been like to see this whole changeover?
Well, I’ve been very, very lucky in the last five years or so to be able to work with Jane Elliot [Tracy Quartermaine], because I’ve been a huge fan of her for my entire career in soaps. She and I are both the same age, and I think she was on the show a year before I was. She also came and went and did other shows. But because I have this compadre, this colleague who shares my history and my history with the show, I haven’t felt as isolated…. So I’ve been really fortunate to be able to grow and mature without resentment because it is difficult when you were the focus of the show and having great story all the time to be back-burnered and sort of moved over into the more supporting category, unless you have someone as spectacular as Jane to work with. And that has been really a saving grace for me in the last few years. Plus, you know I’ve been on the show long enough to demand a lot of time off, so that also helps. [Laughs]
Let’s talk about that time off.
Well, I work 31 weeks a year. That’s my contractual situation. There came a point where they really couldn’t offer me more money in negotiations. I’ve made a very fine living and I’m grateful for that. But what they could offer me would be more time. So what’s happened is that through the years I’ve eked out what I think is an ideal situation. I have a minimum number of shows, 31 weeks a year, and the rest of my time is my own. And I have really been able to find a life. I have a home in Amsterdam and no one knows me there. The show has never run in Holland and the Dutch have no interest in celebrity anyway. So I’ve been able to recapture a lot of the time I sort of lost in terms of just being a regular guy. And that’s been very valuable to me. It’s kept me very interested in staying on the show because it affords me a fantastic life and to be able to be bi-continental. I’m really happy with the situation. I can come here and work and go there and live.
What drew you to Amsterdam?
Every time I’d go to Europe, I’d go through Amsterdam, because it’s a hub. I always stayed there for a few days and I loved the openness of the people. I loved the liberal, truly unapologetic liberal attitudes. It was great to be in a place where intelligent people didn’t spend so much time arguing about things like abortion rights, gay rights, and individual rights. But people just assumed that those things were part of the fabric of their society…. I found that this was the place I’d been looking for all my life. So that’s where I intend to stay when my job is through.
You mentioned that when you returned in ‘91, you’d found it difficult for you to take other roles because audiences so strongly associated you with Luke. Have you resented that? Have you come to terms with that?
I’ve come to terms with it. I did resent it in my 30s, early 40s. But that was 20 years ago. I’m 60 now, and I’m pretty happy to say I’ve come to terms with it. I think I’d be a pretty bitter, nasty old man if I hadn’t. And also kind of a foolish one. Because when you look at an actor who’s been able to have a secure job for 30 years, that’s such a blessing in this business. And yes, I would have liked to have done other things. There was a time when I, like all young actors, wanted to be a movie star. But I don’t really enjoy doing films. I’ve done 13 or 14 of them through the years and there’s too much waiting around. I don’t really get it. I’m much more of a stage actor. I like the idea of the curtain going up, you do your performance and it comes down. And this is as close to stage as it gets with camera because it’s three cameras, and once we start we rarely stop.
How much longer are we going to get to have you around?
[Laughs] You’ll have to ask the man upstairs. You know, I’m very happy with the situation. I’m very happy having the time off and still having the job. I’m not quite through with the character, and I’m not quite ready to retire. So as long as they can keep it interesting for me, as long as I have the time to go away and to regenerate so when I come back I have something to offer, I could be here, I don’t know, five years, 10 years. Who knows? And when they get tired or when they think enough is enough, then I’ll be very grateful for the time I’ve had and I’ll have a wonderful life to go to. You know, I just can’t lose at this point.
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