As viewers learned on today’s GH, Tonja Walker’s Olivia Jerome — thought to be shot dead by her brother Julian back in 1990 after a two-year Port Charles run — is a) alive and b) the mystery woman who’s been pulling Julian’s strings in service of some sort of nefarious scheme. The actress, who after leaving GH went on to play OLTL’s Alex Olanov, GL’s Marie and PASSIONS’s Grace Nancier, tells Soap Opera Digest how it all went down.
Soap Opera Digest: Olivia’s back! Did you ever think this day would come?
Tonja Walker: Honestly, I didn’t. I remember when they put her in a coffin, I went to the producer at the time [Joe Hardy] and said, “Joe, do we have to do the coffin thing?” And he said, “Yes.” I was like, “I’m never going to get to come back to the show ever if you do that!” I thought, “There goes that show.” So this is a miracle. This is an absolute miracle in my life, especially because my children are 17 and 18; Bella is in college and Abby is looking for colleges. I was asking God, “What should I do now?” I thought I was too old to get an acting gig. Too old, too fat, I’ve been gone too long, whatever. And then this psychic told me that if I got my dream back ,and I got my fire in my belly back and I got my belief back that something was going on behind the scene that I didn’t know anything about. This was in September — and on September 14, Frank [Valentini, executive producer] called and said, “Would you be interested in coming back to GENERAL HOSPITAL?” And I said, “Are you serious?” And he goes, “I don’t know if I can make this work, I just wanted to know if you were interested.” I said, “I’ll carry your bags, whatever you want!” Then he called back and said, “Yeah, you’re coming back on the 9th of January,“ and I was like, “Are you kidding me?” Holy smokes, I was so happy! I didn’t know what to do with myself. My husband has pancreatic cancer; he was given three to six months to live twoyears ago in January. We found a serum from England that’s really helped him, so he’s in remission. Another miracle! But it was nice for me to have some joy. This is joyful, and it’s really on time. My whole family is excited and happy. I just feel very, very blessed, and I couldn’t be working with better people.
Digest: You worked with Frank on OLTL; how has it been to reunite with him on the Port Charles side of things?
Walker: Well, I think he’s the No. 1 guy in daytime, and I think he’s an extraordinary human being, an incredibly creative human being. He’s got vision. He is a fabulous director. He’s a wonderful person, and he always puts the show first. He’s always been that way.
Digest: What has it been like to work with William deVry (Julian)?
Walker: Just wonderful. What a wonderful actor, what a great guy. He’s just so good.
Digest: Olivia was best remembered for causing a whole heap of trouble for Duke and Anna. Had you been aware that they had been brought back to GH in recent years?
Walker: Yes. I was very supportive of that; I just thought that was fabulous. I think when shows change to be unrecognizable, they lose their audience. Frank has not done that. Frank has kept people on the show that people know and love. Sure, they bring people in and take people off, but the most important thing is when you turn on a show and it still looks like the show that everybody’s watched for forever. It’s just brilliant the way he’s been able to do that, and thankfully the actors have been available to come back and work there.
Digest: GH’s head writers, Shelly Altman and Jean Passanante, have assured me that in time, Olivia will cross paths with Anna. Are you looking forward to getting to work with Finola Hughes (Anna) again?
Walker: Oh, my God. Yes! I’m just a huge fan of hers. I always have been, and she’s just such an incredible actress. I didn’t know they had killed Duke off, so that was like, “Oh, no! I really want to work with Ian [Buchanan]! Oh, shoot!” But I’m so grateful that I get to work with Finola. Who wouldn’t be? She’s magnificent.
Digest: Have you bumped into any of the ONE LIFE people on the set yet, Michael Easton (Finn; ex-John) or Roger Howarth (Franco; ex-Todd)?
Walker: No, not yet, but I can’t wait!
Digest: What was it like to walk back onto the set for the first time?
Walker: I was, like, on cloud nine! I’m very comfortable on a soap set; it’s where I feel the most comfortable. It was just so fun. I just went, “Okay, I’m home!” I just wanted it to work, you know? I just want it to work. It’s really, incredibly important to me that it’s believable and it works, especially for the audience. I’ve been off the horse for a little bit, but I kind of came right back, and it should just get better and better.
Digest: When the news broke that you were returning, what did the reaction of GH fans mean to you?
Walker: I was thrilled. Flabbergasted. Just beyond grateful. Beyond, beyond grateful. They’ve gone through this with me all this time. They followed me from GENERAL HOSPITAL to ONE LIFE TO LIVE. It’s a beautiful, beautiful feeling. They don’t remember everybody, they don’t want everybody back, so it’s just been fabulous. I can’t thank them enough.