Provided by Arda Darakjian Clark; original text scan from Adrian McConchie.

This article appeared in Soap Opera Weekly on April 16, 1996.

Cool Hand Luke
by Linda Susman

After flirting with disaster, GH's Anthony Geary figured out that the only way to survive and be happy is to be himself

Fifteen years ago, no one--certainly not the actor himself--would have envisioned Anthony Geary in the role of an elder statesman at General Hospital. Even the time-honored gimmick that has salvaged many a soap opera plot, suspension of disbelief, would have been an exercise in futility, because Geary was every bit as wild and crazy offscreen as he was playing Luke Spencer, the scruffy, charismatic antihero who had materialized in Port Charles like a bat out of hell and quickly turned the town, and virtually al1 of daytime TV, upside-down.

Soap actors and characters often take on each other's colors to mutual advantage--but in this instance, the confluence went way over the top. Such an observation receives no argument from the actor, who soberly admits, "I really didn't think that I was going to live through it because I was so miserable. I had to leave the show when I did because it was to the point of do or die. I came out the other end just happy to be alive." Then, after the thought settles, he adds--rather surprisingly--"It was so far away, though. I look back on it with affection."

On this particular day, the contrast is especially vivid, as Geary is relaxed, witty and impeccably gracious. When Luke and Laura were the reigning king and queen of soapland, Geary could hardly venture out in public without causing a commotion; every nook and cranny of his life, real and imagined, was fodder for gossip-starved fans and reporters. After having been chewed up and spit out a few times too many, Geary retreated into virtual anonymity to salvage what he could of his personal identity.

It might be expedient to blame an overzealous public, but Geary admits that he did nothing to stop the madness and, in fact, even fed into it. "At that time Luke was my entire life," the actor explains. "I had no life other than that. I was a much younger man and a much more intense man about my career and everything. And I really thought at the time that I was making a step toward something else that I thought was going to be bigger and greater, and it terrified me because what I had was so consuming. And so I was wild. I was completely wild the whole time. But what was fabulous," he says, his eyes twinkling with Luke's irrepressible mischief, "was that so was Luke. He was completely wild. The writers liked this volatile bundle of nerves. They liked it, they embraced it. I mean, I was never asked to calm down, either as a person or as a character."

Geary had neither the time nor the inclination back then to intellectualize the freakish and often frightening situation in order to better navigate his way through it. His natural shyness and fear of the press and of being scrutinized soon kicked in, so he began giving the fans what he now believes they really want of soap characters--to know that he was Luke--while at the same time preserving as much of himself and his sanity as he could. "When I did interviews, and certainly when I went on talk shows, it was Mr. Repartee, Mr. Fast Crack, just keep them laughing. And it was so taxing and so unreal," the actor recalls. "I used to say, 'I'm going to do Luke. How am I going to be able to talk to Merv Griffin tonight? I'm just gonna be Luke. Luke's gonna talk to Merv Griffin.' And indeed, I looked at most of those things and it is Luke; it's certainly not me. In the long run, I think that it was the right thing to do. To me it's a two-edged sword. You need the publicity, you need the relationships. You do. But at the same time you give too much and you've lost what you had, which is the biggest thing you had: the magic."

Geary used to worry that Luke's every out-of-character twist and turn put that magic at risk ("There is a lot of blood, literal and metaphoric blood, on the floors of studios and office walls," he says with a laugh), but he now believes that the audience is a supportive partner who, on the inevitable roller coaster ride that all long-running soap characters and actors must take, will stick with a character in whom there is an emotional and historical investment. "What's wonderful about soap audiences, which I have realized over lo, these decades (Geary did his first soap, Bnght Promise, in 1970), is that they are unrelentingly forgiving. They have a fabulous capacity to treat you like a family member who has done wrong for a couple of years but has got his shit together. And it's just 'I knew you could do it. I knew that's what he would have done.' I've experienced that. I've discovered that I can relax, and that the audience's investment in Luke is the same investment I have. What's terrific about it is that my ego is no longer involved with the show. I have ego about my work, but my ego is not involved with the show. There's a real difference there. My ego is involved in what I can produce, what I can offer the show, but if the show's No. 8 as opposed to No. 1, I'm not offended. Because I was there for a long time when it was No. 1, and I'll be there a long time after it's No. 8."

Although Geary admits the Luke he knows better than anyone else didn't mesh with Claire Labine's take on the character, he is hardly bitter about the former head writer whose stint on the show coincided with Luke and Laura's return to Port Charles. "Claire is a brilliant writer and I admire her work, and I enjoyed the exercise of being the Luke she could find. It's just not the Luke I prefer. One of the things about Luke that was attractive, I think, was that I was never a matinee idol. I never looked good. I had a certain style. There was something inside that is untamable, that is sensitive without being sentimental. There is a dangerous edge in a woman who would allow him to take her to places she might not even want to go--but with him, maybe. That's because Luke is a guy who was completely unwanted in society. His father was a drunk, they had no money, his aunt was a madam, his sister was a whore. This was a kid who just couldn't get the brass ring, until he got Laura. And how did he get her? He raped her. He raped her and then seduced her. You can't take that mind-set and because they've got kids, make a plow horse. I think that's over now, and we're looking down a new road, hoping it isn't all sunshine. I enjoyed the battle of trying to keep him on track, and this experience of trying to be a more user-friendly Luke for a couple of years has taught me that I can do it. It may not thrill me. It may not feed me. So what I can't put into Luke, I put somewhere else."

Currently, Geary is finding an outlet for those creative juices. He is bringing to life 25 diverse people who all emanate from one man's experience with love, loss, sin and redemption in a play called Human Scratchings. The protagonist, Willard, a shoeshine man in Washington, D.C., is a deeply disturbing and complex character. After the death of his beloved wife, basically because of bureaucracy, he sets out to right the wrongs by committing a series of murders. "If the Unabomber didn't insist that [the newspapers] print his manifesto but could instead take 99 people into a room and explain what he did and why he did it to try and get them on his side, that's what it would be," is how Geary neatly summarizes the play that opens April 25 at the 99-seat Court Theatre in Hollywood (see Schedule of Events, page 29 for more information). "It's a very tall order--emotionally cathartic and full of life and passion and madness."

Throughout the two-hour play, Geary will portray, among others, Willard's mother, his father, a teacher, his victims and people on his shoeshine stand. "The character flips in and out of them to tell the story, but it is always Willard's impression of the character. It's a fascinating experience, and the thought of standing alone onstage and unzipping my heart and asking an audience to sit with me and be with this for a couple of hours is a really daunting challenge."

Geary knew he was eager for the challenge as soon as he read the play last fall. He relishes the fact that it is written and directed by Rick Edelstein, whom he originally met when they both worked on Bright Promise. ("So many great people who affected my life in so many ways were associated with that show," he relates. "Susan Brown played my foster mother and David Lewis played her father. And Dabney Coleman. And Gloria Monty was directing the show at the time. That's where I first met her. So this was a very significant experience for me.") The play actually found its way to Geary via GH cast mate Felecia Bell (Simone). She studies with Edelstein, who asked her to give him the script. "And I thought, 'Oh, great, another play to read.' But it just happened that I was going to be on a plane for 11 hours going to Holland, so I read it. And I read it again. And I read it a third time. By the time I got to Amsterdam, I went right to the hotel fax and faxed him saying I want to do this play. That was it."

Well, that was it after Geary touched base with himself about having to stand onstage alone, which he has never done. "I feed off of other actors. I really like to connect to people I'm working with. But in this, I am going to be connecting to the audience. I think the interesting thing will be to see how it's colored in terms of relating to people. And it's a pretty tough sell. 'I've done some murdering here, and don't you understand?' I think it's cool. I've always liked imperfections. I'm not so interested in the heroes of the world as I am the almost-heroes. The can-be heroes. I've always enjoyed sort of the underdog, the person other people take advantage of or don't particularly want to know. I find those people far more fascinating," he says. One of the things Geary likes best about Human Scratchings is that, unlike most one-man shows, this is a two-act play and is not autobiographical. "This is a man who for two acts has a need to connect with the audience and explain to them that he's not a monster, but he sees redemption at the end. When people come to see this, I want them to know it will not be Tony Geary talking about Luke Spencer, or his experiences in life. Which may be an interesting show," he says with a smile, "but it ain't this one."

 

 
         
 
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