Soap Opera Digest: Congratulations on your recent Daytime Emmy win as Outstanding Lead Actor, your third such trophy. So, tell us where you were on Emmy night.
Maurice Benard: Well, the beauty of it was I was home with my son and my wife and it was amazing because when I won, their reaction moved me more than anything, because it was like I hugged my son — I’m getting emotional right now — but then my wife was just so happy. And it’s something you don’t really get when you’re at the ceremony … It’s almost close-up, you know, when you’re at home, no one around; you’re truly in the moment … It was just beautiful.
Digest: How did you feel about calling Emmy No. 3 your own?
Benard: Well, I felt fantastic! [For] me, it was more about the storyline, and also, during the end of that story, my dad got Alzheimer’s, so [it was] art imitating life. So that in itself makes it even more important.
Digest: You recently threw a wedding for your daughter Cailey — [and] since you’re talking to two huge Sonny and Brenda fans, please go into as much detail as possible about your reunion with Vanessa Marcil [ex-Brenda].
Benard: I don’t drink anymore, and that was the first wedding that I didn’t have a drink at all, nothing — or even party, big party, that I hadn’t. And in the past, it’s not that I would drink a lot, it’s just that I would get dark when I drink [and] it wasn’t a good thing, right? So I had the greatest time being sober, man, just not drinking. Vanessa was there, which was amazing. [I] danced with Vanessa — and believe me, we’re still pretty damn popular! I put it on Instagram and fans went wild over it and it was cool.
Digest: Let’s get into some GENERAL HOSPITAL. For the entirety of 2021, you’ve been playing essentially a new version of Sonny, the amnesiac Mike.
Benard: I was told about the story before it started. I had my inkling of how it would go, but I was into it, to do something different, to play a different energy, to put my hands in my pocket, to be just more of a version of me, Maurice, than I do with Sonny. Sonny’s just [a] hard character to play, man … It’s a mother! It’s dark, it’s dreadful. His motor, his engine, is like at about third gear. I play Mike, I’m in first, second, maybe … I like Mike. I love Mike! I mean, it’s fun … I get a lot of comments like, “We don’t care if you’re having a great time! Stop saying that! We want you back as Sonny!” And I understand that the audience, they want Sonny … Everybody’s entitled to how they feel and what they think [and] I think it’s going to be incredible when Sonny goes back to [Port Charles].
Digest: Was there anything specific you did in terms of making [“Mike”] different from Sonny?
Benard: What I do with my work is usually subtle. I’m not the big guy that does big things. I can’t, that’s not me … So, subtly, I knew that I would have to change his energy; like I said, he operates in, like, first [gear] and I knew I would have to make [Mike] more like me — make him laugh more, make him smile more, his hands would be in his pocket … You know, [different from] the way Sonny stands, the way he does things. The way Sonny thinks is always, somebody’s out to get him. That’s his thinking process, [whereas] Mike is like, “Hey, I’m a good guy. Wanna dance?” … I’m not really missing playing Sonny. I gotta tell you the truth! And fans are gonna hate me and be on my ass but you know, I’m just an honest guy. I’m not gonna lie to you. Like three weeks ago, I played both characters and Sonny was just — I don’t know what he was! But I felt like taking a shower after I played him [laughs] … The difference in how I had to change up felt really dark. But that’s him, man, and that’s what people want, that’s what they like.
Digest: Your primary co-stars in the Nixon Falls universe have been the actors who play Lenny and Phyllis, Joyce Guy and Rif Hutton.
Benard: The biggest compliment I can give is that it’s a real world to me when I’m acting. It doesn’t feel like these are actors, it feels like we’re in this bar. And especially when you see the next month, it is just precious for me, being there with those actors, because no one’s acting. We’re just kind of playing it as real as we can play it.
Digest: Tell us about [Cynthia Watros, Nina] as a co-star.
Benard: She is so sweet, man, so nice, and I just saw a show yesterday and I don’t know her number and stuff but I was going to give her a text and tell her she was so subtly good with Sonny, sitting there talking about stuff … I was like, “That’s a real, real actress. That ain’t a no-joke actress, that’s somebody who knows what’s up!”
Digest: You have worked with so many leading ladies over the years. Where do you think chemistry comes from?
Benard: [I think] chemistry comes from — there’s something that happens when you’re in a scene, like, [sometimes] two great actors — Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro — work together, it doesn’t work. So, there’s that special element that has to come in and I can’t even say what it is … The problem that I have on GH, like I always say, [is that] the audience is like my mother — no one is good enough for Sonny except Carly and Brenda! That’s just the way it’s worked … I believe I had something with Kelly [Sullivan, ex-Connie]. That broad could act! Let’s not fool anyone, she can act. And we had a relationship, a good relationship. But the fans don’t want it, it’s not happening, okay? Laura [Wright], you knew that it would work because all the other Carlys had worked except the one [Jennifer Bransford, who had a short-lived run in 2005] and Laura has so much energy and the contrast worked and that stuff, right. But there’s been other ones that I think had chemistry, could’ve worked, and it’s tough. It’s tough. When you become a Sonny/Brenda, Sonny/Carly, it’s tough to have [another pairing] — Mama says no one’s good enough for you [laughs]!
Digest: How do you imagine that Sonny would react if his memory came back and he found out that Nina kept him from his family for all this time?
Benard: Well, he ain’t gonna react well! You can lose your memory, but can you lose your heart? That’s the dilemma there, right? [I] think it’s going to be fantastic scenes. I think that’s where we’re going to see who Cynthia Watros really is as an actress and I can’t wait.
Digest: How will you approach playing Sonny again?
Benard: Well, once Mike is done, you know, you bury him — in my head, he’s done and we go, we move on to the next and I kind of have to accept what I’ve told you already, that that’s just the way it is and then I can move forward and I’ll be Sonny. And then I’ll probably have fun in the scenes, telling off Carly and Jason. I just hope they give me the opportunity — and I think they will — to have sounding boards. You gotta understand something — nobody was aware of this, you know, Soap Digest or Soaps In Depth, or nobody ever wrote about this, [but] do you understand what I had to go through whenever there was a storyline? It was always me against everybody else. No one was on my side, except the girlfriend I had that nobody liked, okay? It was always me against Jason and Carly and the Quartermaines and everybody in Port Charles and even the fans! Because Michael would get shot; whose fault is it? He’s in a coma! It’s Sonny [who’s to blame]! Oh, now Sonny’s with who, Emily? Who’s Emily? Jason’s younger sister, and the whole family hates Sonny! [I] used to go and say to the producers, whatnot, “Hey, enough! I cannot keep going into a gang fight with a toothpick. It’s not fair, man!” [They would tell me], “You’re the only one who can do it!” And I’m like, “But can you stop doing it, like, so many times?” It never ended — it was always Sonny’s fault. And then I’d read Soap Digest and nothing would be said to help me out. But that’s all right! It was always like, “I can’t believe he’s with Emily!” And I was like, “Now I’ve gotta fight Soap Digest, too [laughs]?!”
Digest: Maurice, there have been regimes who don’t love being criticized. It’s a very delicate balance for us as the people who report on —
Benard: I get you, I get you. And nobody really knew [how I felt about it], because I didn’t talk about it like I’m talking about it now. I didn’t talk about it so it was what it was. It was tough on me, because of my mental health.
Digest: The last time we had you on the podcast, you were just getting started with the YouTube version of STATE OF MIND. Since then, it has grown tremendously, and you’ve had on some incredible guests for some incredible, raw, real conversations.
Benard: The beauty of STATE OF MIND for me is, that I think everybody knows, is helping people, man. [With] STATE OF MIND, I get to see the comments right away and — aw, man, I’m getting emotional because a lot of people [are] struggling with mental health and God knows I have, this past year … I am so proud of STATE OF MIND, more than anything, I think. Just all about it, the mental health and you guys know I’ve been through hell, so you’ve got to give back. This is my way of giving back.
Digest: I feel that through their conversations with you, [the guest’s] guard is sort of lowered a little and they’re sharing things that we’ve never heard about them before.
Benard: What I do as an interviewer is I will make you feel really comfortable and safe, and one thing I don’t have — [I’m] very insecure about not being smart enough, because I barely graduated from high school. So a couple of people have come in that were so smart that I was thrown … The joke is, for me, yeah, I didn’t need education because I’m an actor. But I didn’t know that I was going to be an interviewer, get me? So, that’s where I wished I had paid attention in school. [But] at least I’m able to make people feel safe where they can talk. Me and Laura Wright just did STATE OF MIND and I was crying. I had tears coming down my face, she was emotional. It was cool … I may come across like this guy who, you know, I’m Sonny, I’m this and that, I’m this actor, I’m this guy, but deep down, I’m that little kid who is so thankful to have anybody come on, you know? … There was a point during the pandemic last year where I was thinking of not going on with it, STATE OF MIND, and I said, you know, “What’s the point now? I’m f—-d up right now and I don’t feel right. I just won’t do it anymore.” And then I got a comment from somebody on Twitter [saying], “You know, it’s great that you do this because it makes us feel we’re not alone.” And I said, “Wow. I can’t stop.”