When Maurice Benard joined the cast of GENERAL HOSPITAL as Sonny Corinthos, he wasn’t planning on sticking around for a whole year, let alone 30 of them! But now, as the actor celebrated the 30th anniversary of his debut on the ABC soap, he looked back on how it all began.
Having played Nico Kelly on ALL MY CHILDREN from 1987-90, Benard was not interested in doing another soap opera. But being out of work for two years and losing a role in the feature film Philadelphia, he needed a job. So when GH came calling, he took the meeting with then-executive producer Wendy Riche and then-producer/director Shelly Curtis.
“They said, ‘We have two roles for you,’” Benard recalled to Soap Opera Digest. “‘One is Damian Smith, for two years.’ I said, ‘I don’t think that’s going to work. I don’t want to be here two years. What’s the other one?’ And Shelly said, ‘Sonny, a nightclub owner.’ I said, ‘Oh, Sonny, that’s a cool name. How long is that? Six months? Yeah, I’ll take that.’ And that’s how it started.”
From Sonny’s first appearance on Aug. 13, 1993, it was clear that he was a very bad guy and meant for a limited run on the soap. Giving drugs to a teenage Karen Wexler and employing her as a stripper in his club wasn’t going to win many fans. But the actor’s inner turmoil as he struggled with his own mental health came through in the character and began to change everything.
“In the beginning, I played him bad,” Benard explained. “But I could not help his pain from coming out. I was going through a breakdown when I first started and playing this dark character was affecting me. I’ll never forget a scene I had with Cari Shayne (ex-Karen) where she was crying, telling me that her stepfather abused her, and then I started getting teary-eyed and emotional. And that’s not the character! It was my own life, art imitating life.”
Thankfully, when Benard’s mental health reached a breaking point after just a few weeks on the job, Riche and Curtis were able to help get him through it and he was able to return to work to finish up his contract. And when the six months had passed, Benard had a new perspective on things. “I liked the character and the actors and Wendy,” he confided, “and I said, ‘This is a cool gig.’”
And the rest, as they say, is history! Please join us in congratulating Benard on 30 years at GH… and here’s to another 30!
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