GH fans were introduced to the show’s new Laura, played by a 14-year-old Genie Francis, on February 8, 1977. She soon skyrocketed to unprecedented soap fame (appearing solo on the cover of TV Guide and, in tandem with then-leading man Anthony Geary, ex-Luke, Newsweek), with 30 million viewers and special guest star Elizabeth Taylor on hand to see Laura become Mrs. Lucas Lorenzo Spencer in 1981. Success was not always sweet for Francis, but as she reflects on her milestone 45th anniversary, she remains grateful for the miles she’s walked in Laura’s shoes — and to still be walking in them.
Soap Opera Digest: Do you recall what your GH audition consisted of?
Genie Francis: I honestly don’t remember much about that at all, except being in the waiting room and being nervous and my mom being there with me. I don’t really remember what scene I read; it had to have been something with Denise [Alexander, ex-Lesley], who wasn’t actually there, but some mother/daughter stuff.
Digest: Fairly early in your run, then-Executive Producer Gloria Monty took you to lunch with your father and outlined her plan to shift storyline focus onto Laura, who had been more of a peripheral character, as most younger characters were in daytime television at that time. Do you remember that lunch?
Francis: Yes, that I remember vividly. I remember my heart pounding so hard, I could feel it in the pit of my stomach. It was that “fire in the belly” kind of thing, because she was asking my father’s permission to push me front and center and she said, “It’s going to change your daughter’s life drastically.” And I kept hoping, “Give her permission! Give her permission!” I was chomping at the bit, basically. I couldn’t wait to prove to people what I could do, I could not wait. It was like that before I got the job. I just had a knowing in my heart and my soul that I could do this, that I was going to be really good at it and I just was looking for the opportunity. “Someone let me show it!”
Digest: Where do you think that came from, that inner knowing and confidence?
Francis: I’ve asked myself that many times and I don’t know, I really don’t. But I believe in stuff that’s bigger than us, that there’s other stuff going on that we don’t necessarily understand. That knowing was so strong that I can’t explain it. I mean, I knew. I remember the moment that I knew it. I was playing with my brother and I stood up on the coffee table and I said, “I’m going to be a star!” I was probably 9 or 10, so it was just a matter of time to where I could get myself out there. There was none of that, “Gee, can I do this?” or, “Will I be able to?” in me, not even a tiny bit. Which is weird! But that’s how I was. I’m very lucky. I think God blessed me with an ability, a gift.
Digest: Going back to when Laura became a focal point of the show, did you feel any resentment or jealousy among the cast members who had their own screen time shrink in response?
Francis: Yes. The most negative part of being me is the amount of jealousy that I have to put up with and the amount of competitiveness that it inspires. That is absolutely the downside of being me.
Digest: That’s a lot to handle at any age, but particularly at such a young one, I imagine.
Francis: Mm-hmm. Well, when I was super-young, I’m not going to say that I felt that so much. I didn’t necessarily feel it that much from cast members at that time because I was just so young — that all went over my head, I’m sure. But I’ve felt it much more as I’ve gotten older. I’m far more aware of it. I always get the feeling of, “I can’t believe that! You, too?” I always get that feeling when I feel it rear its head, you know? It’s disappointing, is all I can say. But as a young person, I think I was given a lot of love on that show. So much love from so many of the older folks and people that I was acting with. I was really, really cared for in such a sweet and loving manner that it became a family for me. They raised me! Those people raised me. I was with them more than I was with my own family or certainly any friends.
Digest: The Scott and Laura relationship was a big part of your early years. What stands out when you think about playing that story opposite Kin Shriner (Scott)?
Francis: Aw, it was just the best time. He always had a hard time hanging on to his lines and mine were, like, in a steel trap. I could remember mine and his. I’m sure it kind of bugged him sometimes. One time, Scotty and Laura were locked in the basement during the big hurricane, where they killed off many cast members. Scotty was supposed to say to Laura, who was scared, “Now, remember your Tennyson!” and the quote was, “I have asked to be where no storms come.” I saw the terror go across his face — he said, “Remember your Tennyson,” and then he couldn’t remember it! I ad-libbed and said, “I have asked to be where no storms come?” and he goes, “Yeah, yeah, that’s it!” It was such a wonderful time in my life. Doing the remotes together was so much fun. I absolutely loved it. I was so sad when he left the show because they put Luke and Laura together and they went on the run and he went off to do TEXAS.
Digest: As you well know, Luke and Laura became a pop culture phenomenon. And I must say, when I watched you in the documentary THE STORY OF SOAPS on ABC in 2020, I was very struck by you saying how relieved you felt to no longer have to defend what the show did back then, which was attempt to recast the 1979 rape of Laura by Luke as a seduction. Specifically, it struck me as quite a burden to have placed on your shoulders back then, to have to do interviews and go on talk shows and justify it.
Francis: When I look back at that time and how young I was, I don’t know how I got through it — and I got through it really alone. My parents were not that involved with me. [The network] was flying me from place to place and I was alone. And I was a child, and I had to justify all that stuff. People wonder, “Why don’t you want to write a book or talk about all these things?” And I’m like, “Well, some of it is like remembering going to war.” There were parts of it that were really, really hard and parts of it that were not good for me and then there were parts of it that were absolutely exciting and sublime. It had a little bit of everything going on. But it was a crazy amount of pressure and responsibility to put on someone who was a child. I look back on it and it feels like I was living an adult life even though chronologically, I was a child. But that’s what happens with child actors; we jump ahead and start living life as though we are 10 years older than we are. I still have sort of a confusion about who you are really, and how you fit into the social picture, because there are parts of you that are just not fully grown, or integrated, I guess. That’s a thing! That’s a thing I have to deal with in myself. Sometimes at work now, even, I’ll see myself standing on my mark while everybody else has left their mark because they’re not actually shooting yet. I have this obedience in me that’s cellular, that I can’t leave my mark if somebody’s adjusting the camera. I’m overly obedient. And I have to ask myself, “Why am I standing here? Nobody else is standing here!” I have to have a conversation with myself about it. I’m like, “You know what? You’re older now, and if you want to leave your mark, you can!” But it’s a thing. It’s a thing, you know?
Digest: When you’re not being asked about that era of your life in interviews, do you think about it with any regularity?
Francis: No, I do not think about it, ever. The only time I think about it is when I’m asked about it. It has nothing to do with my life and who I am today.
Digest: When the show turned 50 in 2013, you told Digest that you regretted how you left the show in 1981. You’ve been candid about that being a period of some turmoil for you on a personal level, and you quitting took place in the wake of someone saying that Tony Geary was the real star of GH, inferring that you were incidental to the success of the show and of the coupling. I’m curious if that’s a regret you still harbor.
Francis: I have made with peace with it, I think just by acknowledging the fact that I was a child and that the way I was being handled and the way people were talking to me, you know, it was wrong. You don’t say these things to a child. I don’t ever want to be that person again, that person who reacts — I want to have pause in my life, I want to have the ability to get my feelings heard and pause before I react. I didn’t have that pause at that time.
Digest: Do you know now, not just intellectually but in your bones, how false that notion was, and that it mattered very much that it was you, Genie Francis, playing Laura?
Francis: Oh! Thank you so, so much. No, I don’t have it so, so deep in my bones. I wish I did. It felt wonderful to hear you say it. I don’t know. You blew me away with that one! I have to think about that a little longer.
Digest: You ended up returning full-time in 1993. What did it feel like to be back in the building?
Francis: I was nothing but trepidatious about doing it and put them off for at least a year, but once I got there, I loved it. The place had changed completely. It was now very family, nurturing. It wasn’t the crazy ’80s, you know? People were having babies and Tony was different, very, very different — it was almost as if I’d never met him, you know? And we had this nice working relationship that I enjoyed. It was very different from the way it was before and everything about it was wonderful. I loved coming back. All my 30s on that show, I had the most wonderful time. I was there for all my teens, all my 30s, I left in my 40s but I had a few visits — had a few visits in my 20s, too — and then I’ve been there for all my 50s. It’s like, I take a decade off [laughs]. I had a few visits in those decades, but that’s how it’s gone.
Digest: I talked to Jonathan Jackson (ex-Lucky) recently and he spoke about what an important influence you were on him. What did it mean to you to have the opportunity to be an adult influence on the life of a child actor in a way that maybe you did have, maybe you didn’t, but that he continues to appreciate very deeply to this day?
Francis: Aw, I am so glad to hear that. I loved it. I absolutely loved it. And I think because of how much I loved him and wanted him to believe in himself and feel comfortable, I would push him a little bit forward, but then I really wanted him to not be overly obedient and to really [understand] his talent. I wanted him to feel it in his bones, that he was every bit as good as us. And boy, did he get that and boy, did he just blossom. We were shocked! We’d be like, “Oh, my God, he’s so good now, he’s better than us!” It was just the most delightful time and I really think it was because of having him in my life, and enjoying that experience of having a little boy in my life, that I got pregnant [with her first child, son Jameson, born in 1994], I really do.
Digest: The introduction of Laura’s firstborn son, Nikolas, in 1996, was actually a story you had come up with and pitched. Have there been other times that you’ve pitched ideas for Laura?
Francis: Yes, there has been stuff that I have added, most definitely. Not a lot, but sometimes I do because sometimes they just get stuck and they don’t know what to do with Laura, because once it was Luke and Laura, she became so reactive only to Luke and it became more and more Luke-driven and Laura was really just reacting to Luke and worrying about him, so they kept, like, losing Laura’s voice, losing what’s in the core of Laura, what makes Laura. So that was something that I brought up to the writers and said, “Let’s look at this period of time here, when she was gone.” The things that I have brought to them usually have to do with stuff where I was not on camera. “What can we make of this? Something happened back then that could play today.”
Digest: I thought it was incredibly powerful when, in 1998, the show revisited the rape. How did you feel about that arc, when lo those many years later, the characters reckoned with it in a storyline that was a 180-degree difference from how they had tried to sweep it under the rug in the past?
Francis: They did it through Lucky, they did it through the child — a great way to do it. I remember how he played it, I remember him and his disappointment and how crushed he was, that he was deeply affected by it, and I remember the scenes that I had with him. The angry confrontation scenes with Luke, sometimes that big, heavy, emotional stuff doesn’t stay with me; I leave it, and most of the time, it doesn’t stay in my memory banks. It’s too painful to linger on it. But I think it was good that they did that [story]. They sort of had to do it to move forward, I think, and it’s good that they did. Another thing is that at the time the rape happened, Laura was still so young, and such a wounded dove, having been tossed from this house to that house, and not knowing where she fit in, that it made sense that she couldn’t stand up for herself and say, “How could you do that?” until she was much older.
Digest: One of the things I really love about the Laura of today is how healthy her relationship with Kevin is. Why do you think that relationship has been as successful as it is?
Francis: Jon [Lindstrom, Kevin] and I legitimately like each other, so there’s that, and that comes through. And also because he’s a really wonderful actor. I think we were both ready for something new. We’d both been on the show for a very long time and we both had different partners for a very long time and we were both excited about having something new. And the new thing seemed to just ignite; the coupling had a charisma to it and it’s always fun when you bump into something like that because it always ends up being something bigger than you, you come together and it sparks into something larger. I had that with Tony Geary, and I have that with Jon Lindstrom. It’s an interesting thing that happens. I’m grateful for it because if we were not able to do that on that show, I don’t think they would have kept the character on in quite the same way.
Digest: It’s such a remarkable thing, such a rarity, and something that’s really only possible in this genre, for the same woman to play a character in so many different stages of life — from troubled teenager to the mayor!
Francis: Well, I think it’s got to earn me a place in the Guinness Book of World Records [laughs]. It’s got to!
Digest: Do you like playing the mayor? Because I love that Laura is the mayor of Port Charles!
Francis: I do, I absolutely love it, and I think a lot of women feel that way because Laura was such a wounded younger woman. You look back on the Luke and Laura relationship and there was a lot about it that was really kind of abusive of Laura, almost. It was a very old-fashioned, kind of macho Luke and the relationship between man and woman was very old-fashioned. To see her step forward and find her own power is cathartic, I think, for everyone. It makes everyone go, “Thank God!” It makes all women feel that, too, like, “Yes, that’s how I want my life to go!”
Digest: Well, I’m glad you enjoy this Laura era as much as I do!
Francis: It’s fun, I tell ya. It’s really fun. I’m lucky that I get to do this for a living. I’m so lucky. I think this is a great time in my life in general. I enjoy my time at work every bit as I enjoy my time at home. It’s really a good time in my life. There have been times in my life where I’ve had one and not the other, but to have both is really kind of fabulous.
Digest: To think that Laura has been in your life for 45 years, that we are celebrating the 45th anniversary of that — what is your reaction to reaching this milestone?
Francis: To be honest, I can’t believe it. I mean, it’s that thing that everybody says: “Wow, life is short.” It feels like somebody blinked and here I am. It doesn’t feel like 45 years! Forty-five years sounds like a stupidly long time, but it doesn’t feel that way in my heart. I still feel excited about what I get to do, I still feel grateful. The dew did not leave the road for me.
Digest: There are so many viewers who’ve been on this GH journey with you; the audience has a fierce loyalty to you and to the character. Is there anything you want to say to those fans?
Francis: Just that I am deeply grateful for their love and that I hope that I have not let them down — and that I try every day to continue not to let them down.