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GENERAL HOSPITAL’s Nathanyael Grey (Mason) On Playing A Soap Troublemaker

It was clear from the start that Mason was a little shady, but that was about all we knew. How did you calibrate how much “bad guy” energy to inject into him? “I’ve played a bad guy in, well, everything I’ve done! It’s kind of like my shtick, as it were. Usually in a movie or a prime-time show, you know the character; they give you a breakdown. With GENERAL HOSPITAL, I didn’t expect to book it, but I did, and when I showed up, I didn’t know anything [about Mason]. I looked at Roger [Howarth, Austin] and go, ‘Okay, how does this work?’ He was like, ‘Welcome to soaps! I have no idea who you are, either. They don’t tell me. So, basically play the scenario as you see fit.’ So I just went through the chronicles of my mind and thought of every bad guy I’d ever seen in a scene like that and went, ‘I guess that’s the only way I can play it for now, until they give me more info.’ And that’s really how I did it; I just played it scenario by scenario, and slowly more information came and then I could lean into repetitive behavior or repetitive actions, like how Mason always has a lollipop.”

Do you remember the very first bad guy you were cast as? “In 1996, when I was 16, I did a sitcom [pilot] called JUST ONE OF THE GIRLS; I played a guy that was basically playing all the girls on the basketball team. In the first movie I ever did, Jack Frost, I played a bully. I had to pick on a little kid and I felt really bad about it. I apologized to the kid after every take. But I’ve been playing bad guys since my first TV show and my first movie. I’ve never played a good guy!”

What is your theory about why that is? “I have beady eyes and pointy features. That’s really what I think it is. And now, it’s my voice, too. Like, I don’t see myself selling cell phones [in a commercial]!”

What is fun for you about playing bad guys? “Honestly, I just love the job. It’s the greatest job in the world. It’s always fun to be on a set. But when it comes to being a bad guy, we get to do crazy stuff, we get cool dialogue. You get to kind of live vicariously in a moment where there’s no punishment for, you know, kidnapping or carrying a weapon when you’re not supposed to. Then you can go home to a real life. It’s like a job as a video game character!”

Because the show was slow to reveal what Mason was up to and why, did you make up anything in your head about what he was doing? “Yeah, with some things, because I was trying to ground myself. I once said to Roger, ‘You know, I made an acting error. I never made the decision, “Do I like my cousin?” ’ So I made that decision, based off some of the dialogue I had, that I did like him at one point. So then I thought, ‘Okay, well why is he doing this [to Austin]?’ I decided it was like Mike Ehrmantraut from BREAKING BAD. He’s just doing what he’s told to the best of his ability. I tried to reflect that with some of the dialogue that they would allow me to change here and there, that he’s just a guy doing his job, but he’s morally ambiguous with what the job entails. One time, they wrote that Mason was directly threatening Georgie. I changed the line to, ‘Don’t make me.’ Like, ‘I don’t want to do it, but I will,’ as opposed to, ‘I will totally kidnap a kid!’ Once I knew that Mason’s family has a trucking company, and who the boss was, I was like, ‘Oh, okay, well, he doesn’t want to lose his family business, so he kind of has to do these things.’ And Frank [Valentini, executive producer] backed that up; he said, ‘You’re actually a gray character. You’re not all bad.’ ”

Do you think that Mason harbors any guilt over some of his less-than-savory threats and actions? “Definitely. I would say Mason is the type of person that’s like, ‘Well, in for a penny, in for a pound. Too late now, might as well just go through with it.’ Where we are in the storyline right now, he’s kind of painted himself into a corner because of that. But I believe that’s how he got there.”

Do you ever have a hard time shaking off your character’s darkness when the scene ends? “No, I’m actually pretty good with that. Maybe it’s just lots of practice. [In real life] I’m always smiling and happy. I think the only person on the set friendlier than me is Evan [Hofer, Dex]! I mean, that guy hugs everybody. He’s just the sweetest person. But I always try to be nice to everyone and when I turn on the character, it’s more like going to the gym — it’s just a quick rush and you just commit, and when it’s over, I just jump right back into me and I’m like, ‘Hi, everyone!’ I try to goof off as much as possible. I don’t take myself that seriously. I might look mean because they keep me with my head shaved, but I walk around, genuinely, with a smile on my face.”

Do you think you’d have as much fun on the show if you were playing a good guy? “I would have as much fun doing anything. Any day I’m on set is a good day for me. At the end of the day, my feelings about what my character is doing or whatever don’t matter. I do it to make Frank happy, I do it to entertain the crew, I do it to make it interesting for Roger and Maura [West, Ava] and to support them and add texture to their scenes. I do it for the fans to have somebody to hate. I’m just a spoke in the wheel!”

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