Despite her years of experience as a working actress, and her long daytime run as B&B’s Pam, a role she created back in 2006, Alley Mills found the prospect of taking over the iconic part of GH’s Heather from Robin Mattson to be a daunting one.
“What shoes to fill!” marveled Mills of Mattson when she guested on Digest’s podcast, Dishing With Digest. (Mattson, the third actress to play Heather, joined GH in 1980, left in 1983, returned in 2004, and reprised the role again from 2012-13 and 2014-15, and last appeared in 2016.) “They called me and they said they were wanting to bring back this iconic character and I started watching the tapes of Robin Mattson and I’m like, ‘Why isn’t Robin Mattson coming back to do this?!’ ”
Mills warmed up to the idea after learning that Mattson wasn’t available this time around, but still considered the task ahead a challenge. She explained, “I had just done a play [Morning’s at Seven] in New York last year and I had to replace Judith Ivey, who is an amazing Broadway actress, because she broke her leg and they just said, ‘Can you come in immediately, because the play is going to open in New York?’ I had 10 days to learn this play. Well, I felt like this was the same thing, to replace someone like that, and again, a fan favorite. The fans just love her because she’s nuts!”
The actress did a deep dive into Heather’s twisted history to prepare for her own portrayal. “I started watching her when she was really young — and Robin, you’re gorgeous, by the way! I don’t know if you’re listening to this, but holy moly, you’re gorgeous and sexy and just so many things before she became crazy!” Mills enthused. “[I] just crammed GENERAL HOSPITAL … I just had to find out everything I could. [I] had to go back and look at all the crazy, insane tapes of the plots and I saw this amazing scene where Steven Lars is [engaged] to Olivia and, of course, that makes Heather insane and she decides to inject Olivia with LSD and Olivia, of course, is wearing a low-cut dress, screaming and writhing as she’s tripping [laughs]! It’s so funny and so good and she’s such a great actress and then I got to work with her [and] I could barely keep a straight face because she’s so good, Lisa LoCicero…. It was so much fun to do this research because Robin has been on the show since she was, you know, a child, and I got to follow all the crazy shenanigans.”
It was important to Mills to pay homage to Mattson in her own interpretation of Heather. “I said to the makeup artist, ‘Robin Mattson has really dark eyebrows. I want them!’ And I made my hair — I’ve been gray all during Covid because I now can play older people — [and] I said, ‘No, I’m going to be back and be blonde like Robin.’ I want to try to be as true to it as I can, so I kept my hair long like hers … I said, ‘I’ve got to look like her!’ It’s my tribute. And I try to throw in as much of her crazy as I possibly can.”
The actress’s skills were put to the test right away as Heather burst back onto the Port Charles scene. “They have not eased me in,” Mills noted. “It was so much [material] that I just — I believe in God, so I had to turn it over, 100 percent, because it was so beyond — it wasn’t only the words, it was being in that character. I know who’s on the other end of that camera, which is, like, millions of people in the Midwest who loved Heather Webber! I don’t want to disappoint anybody, so I just said, ‘You know what? I can’t carry that pressure because it’ll freak me out. I just have to give it up.’ So I just prayed that Heather would come alive and thank God, my first scenes were with Michael Easton [Finn], because wow, what a cool, wonderful, giving person that guy is and so fun to work with.”
Mills’s prep work gave her a head start in recognizing her new castmates. “[They are] familiar faces because I have looked at years and years and years and years of GH, and I know everybody!” she chuckled. “One of the first people I ran into was Sonny [Maurice Benard], who, by the way, I get to work with. I’m so excited. I have some great stuff with him. These people are so awesome — Carly [Laura Wright] and Maura West [Ava], I’ve told them all, ‘You guys are friggin’ amazing!’ Nina [Cynthia Watros]. I mean, they are such good actors [and] I can say that with my whole heart, how great they are.” She had a particular blast sharing her first scenes with Heather’s former flame, Scotty, played by Kin Shriner. “What a great guy,” Mills praised. “He was so much fun to work with. We really got along, we have really good chemistry [and] I love the way he works. He’s very loose. You never know what’s going to come from Kin! I mean, minute to minute you don’t. Even after you rehearse you don’t! [He] is one of a kind.”
Mills shared that she has been easing herself back into work after suffering the tragic loss of her husband of 27 years, Orson Bean, early in 2020. “[Offers] come in and I’m like, ‘Nope, nope, doesn’t feel right, doesn’t feel right.’ And when [the GH offer] happened, I went, ‘Yep!’ I just thought, ‘I don’t know, playing a lunatic? Yes!’ So I just said yes. And so here I am. I just dove in! And it just feels right. I feel like it’s something Orson would want me to do, you know? To just be brave.”