Provided by Arda Darakjian Clark;
original text scan from Adrian McConchie.
This article appeared in Soap
Opera Weekly on April 16, 1996.
After flirting with disaster, GH's
Anthony Geary figured out that the only way to survive and be happy is to be himself
by Linda Susman
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
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.
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
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."