Soap Opera Digest: Well, well, well, if it isn’t SOD’s Best Couple of 2022! (Hughes breaks into a celebratory dance.) What does it mean to each of you that “Vanna” has been embraced so passionately by fans and critics alike?
Finola Hughes: It’s everything! It’s actually surprising, for me, because I wasn’t thinking about any of that going into this; I literally concentrate on the work and that’s it, I never think about the outcome.
James Patrick Stuart: I think that’s one of the things that Fin and I have in common — to us, the work is its own reward. There were times, maybe two or three years ago, where I would look at Twitter and think, “Fin and I are really doing something special.” Especially when Michelle [Stafford, ex-Nina] left, I thought, “Wow, maybe this is the time. What are the writers waiting for?” I always felt that when Fin and I got together, something really special was happening. It’s almost like we were cooking a dish that we really took our time with, and it’s just really satisfying that people are enjoying it as much as we are.
Hughes: I so agree with that and I think what’s really lovely for us is that the writers wrote for us and for the way we speak. It’s very adult and kind of daring and sexy and smart, and I really like that.
Digest: Certainly in the beginning, it seemed improbable that romance could blossom between these two characters, given how fraught their relationship was. What is your take on how they’ve evolved as a twosome?
Stuart: I love the fantasy of that — of having someone that unattainable, that far away, that out of reach, coming into your life and becoming so important to you. I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a project that’s gone on as long as this storyline has gone on, and therefore you earn the climax, no pun intended.
Hughes: Nice choice of words there, Stuart.
Stuart: I think there was a tipping point that happened organically. It wasn’t in the script, but when Anna saved Charlotte, there was a moment in the police station where Tristan [Rogers, Robert] was in the background on his phone and I just said to Finola, “What if I kiss my hand and touch your boo-boo.”
Hughes: I had a bruise on my head from whatever it was.
Stuart: Yeah, and that was just a moment where suddenly, a seed had been planted.
Hughes: I think so, too. And also, there has been this history where we’ve had to confess things to each other and own up to things within the relationship and I think that resonates with people because you become intimate in a really exposed way — and if the sex is good on top of that, you’re home free! I think that’s what everyone wishes for in a relationship, that you can have that sort of honesty. It was exquisite, I thought, [Script Editor] Elizabeth Korte’s writing before Anna and Valentin ended up in the bedroom, which was, “I’d kill you if my daughter’s life was on the line.” They challenge each other, and I think that’s what keeps it interesting.
Digest: The two of you often work through your scenes in advance over FaceTime. Who initiated that?
Hughes: It was probably me saying, “Are you busy tonight? Do you want to talk over the scenes?” Sometimes at work, things move so fast that you don’t have time to have those discussions.
Stuart: For a while, we would both come in early to run through things in each other’s dressing rooms, but somewhere along the line we must have had a Herculean set of scenes, probably around the whole Peter thing.
Hughes: Yeah, where we thought, “We should probably talk over the weekend.”
Stuart: And she’d make me laugh, like, she’d have some clever idea for an ironic twist on something. We both come from a place where rehearsal is very important; we don’t just show up and wing it. It was just so satisfying and it became so much fun. I would really miss it if she ever said, “Yeah, I’m too busy, we’ll just make it work the day of.”
Digest: In real life, your connection predates GH. What comes to mind for each of you when you think about the James and Finola who met in acting class back in the day?
Hughes: Well, for me, James Patrick was off doing these very fancy movies with Meryl Streep and stuff like that, so I was like, “Oh, okay, that’s who that is.”
Stuart: When I first met Finola, I was in my 20s, so every time she was around, my heart would race.
Hughes: Aw, that’s sweet.
Stuart: There was only one thing on my mind when I was in my 20s! If you had come to me when I was 25 and said, “One day in the far distant future you’ll be working with Fin on such a level that you’ll go home and sigh and think to yourself, ‘Wow, that was a great frickin’ day,’ ” I don’t know that I would have believed you. It’s kind of a “pinch-me” type of thing every day.
Digest: Can you think of a specific day working together where you came home thinking that? (They both nod vigorously.)
Hughes: For me, it was a day when we were shooting really late at night and it all comes out that I’d had this baby [Peter, before he was rewritten to be Alex’s son]. James had tons of dialogue — he was basically telling the story and I was reacting. It went quite well and was very emotional, I think, for both of us. I went home and was like, “That was a good day.” It was a hard day, but it was so interesting. The next day, James said to me, “There’s something that you did when you were sitting in the chair,” and he complimented me. I think I remember what it was. Valentin said something about how tortured he was by the thought that Anna was going to some pub or something, knowing she was meeting Faison there. And I think I did sort of a shrug, like, “Boo-hoo, how sad for you.”
Stuart: Some moments just literally come because you know your character so well and your relationships so well. That’s the stuff that makes my hair stand up on end, when something so natural and clever just happens out of thin air. I really enjoyed that day a lot, too, but I also liked the episode when Valentin was still lying to Anna about Charlotte’s precarious situation with Victor and we were sitting out by the pool. There was an opportunity for him to be honest and on paper, it was just like, “And Valentin lies again.” That’s a classic example of Finola and I saying, “Let’s talk the night before.” We weren’t rewriting it; we were talking about finding what’s going on behind the words and the idea that we created was that he’s lying to her and yet that’s okay in that relationship because she trusts that there’s got to be a legit reason. I just thought that was so cool. The multilayer relationship that was going on in that scene made me really happy. I was really happy we pulled that off.
Hughes: Yeah, we discussed that moment and it was like [as Anna, as if issuing a dare], “Lie to me. Go on, lie to me.”
Stuart: Which ended up being sexy.
Digest: Have there been scenes you’ve shot that you were excited for fans to see?
Stuart: James is always the gauge of that. After a scene, he’ll say, “Fans are gonna like that.” And I’ll be off in my head somewhere, I’ll be replaying a moment [we just shot] thinking, “Should I have done that?” And I’ll be like, “Wait, what?” And he’ll be like, “The fans are going to like that.” And I’m like, “Oh, it worked?!”
Digest: James, what’s an example of a scene that you’ve thought that about?
Stuart: When it came time to do the sex scene, I felt like, “First of all, let’s think about what this means for their relationship and for their characters and this buildup has taken so long, what’s it gonna be?” And this was a conversation where Finola and I were coming up with stuff together. We put a lot of thought into it and I was really thinking, “I hope that the fans get this and I hope that they enjoy it,” because for me, when I was a kid, soaps were about love in the afternoon. There was something kind of nostalgic about it.
Digest: What do each of you think would be the itinerary for the ideal Anna/Valentin Valentine’s Day?
Hughes: Somehow I feel it would be something where they plan something, but a bad guy gets in the way so they have to deal with that and they end up on the edge of a cliff and he happens to have a bottle of champagne in the back of his Jeep and it’s the most amazing, romantic thing ever. Something like that. What do you think, James?
Stuart: I think that there would have to be something international about it. There would be a lot of money spent; a Lear would have to be chartered.
Hughes: Oh, you’re going all out! I just had us dangling off the edge of a cliff, but okay.
Stuart: They would probably end up somewhere where a foreign language would be spoken fluently by both of them. Perhaps Prague at the opera. And there would have to be danger involved — there would have to be some life-threatening moment for them to both get aroused sufficiently!
Digest: Of the two of you, who’s the bigger “Vanna” fan? (Hughes points at Stuart, who cracks up.)
Stuart: Yeah, I’m gonna say me, too! I’m the one who buys the T-shirts.
Hughes: Yeah, he has them made up.
Digest: Lastly, is there anything you want to say directly to the “Vanna” fans?
Hughes: I want to just say, “Thank you so much.” Thank you for digging it, you know? Thank you for getting on board with what we’re doing here.
Stuart: The reason why Finola and I both agree that I’m the bigger “Vanna” fan is that Finola, suspiciously, has been in other supercouples. I have not. This is a first for me. So something tells me that what’s the most likely cause is that Finola is so exceptional. That’s not lost on me.
Hughes (smiles): James.
Stuart: I think we and the fans are all in this together. It’s a mutual admiration society. We are fond of each other and also, we really respect and are thinking of the fans at the same time. So it means a lot that it works for them. Like Finola said at the beginning of the conversation, it’s a delightful surprise — because we would both be doing this even if no one was watching!