This past January, news that GH icon Genie Francis was leaving the show as Laura set off a media — and social media — firestorm. Now, the actress is back in Port Charles, and ready to talk about her controversial exit and much-hailed return.
Soap Opera Digest: We know how the fans felt about you leaving: They were extremely upset, and passionate in vocalizing their support for you. But we didn’t really hear from you at the time. What was that period like for you?
Genie Francis: Oh, goodness. Well, I thought it was really important for me at that time to stay out of it. I was told what was going on by friends and I looked at Twitter and stuff and I couldn’t believe it. It was just amazing that there was that big of a reaction. I felt really loved, that people got that mad and wanted me to be back. I didn’t like seeing people that I care about get put down, at all; that doesn’t make me feel good. But I was really thrilled that there were that many people out there who still cared!
Digest: Were you upset that things went down the way that they did?
Francis: Yeah, I was. I was really disappointed because honestly, I was going along happy as a clam and then, like, the next day, it was like, “Whoa, I’m not going to be working here.” It was so abrupt. I love my job, I was having a good time, and it just turned so fast. I think it did for them, too. I think the show was trying to quickly balance their budget — that’s what they told me happened, and they realized that there wasn’t a choice. And there you have it, I’m back [laughs]!
Off To The Races: The actress was disappointed when Laura’s 2018 quest for mayoral office was cut short.
Digest: I have to tell you how moving I found the hashtag the fans created for you, #GenieIsGH.
Francis: I know! Oh, me too. These are things that, I mean, I did well up with tears. I thought, “Wow. They know, they care, they have watched me for my whole life and they’re still there!” Words don’t adequately express what something like that feels like. Love from strangers is still love and to receive something like that, it’s overwhelming, it’s humbling, it’s a wonderful surprise, and I was just so grateful. I am a very, very lucky person.
Digest: It must have been comforting at that time to feel that love radiating in your direction.
Francis: Oh, my God, yes. Yes! It made me feel a lot better. I became kind of depressed, you know, as you would, and then this happened and I started looking at it and I felt vindicated! I hate to admit it, but I couldn’t stop looking at it. But I also felt that it was very important to stay out of it and not to stir the pot, to let that have its life, and then I’d be able to thank them when the time became appropriate. And I’m thanking them now!
Digest: It felt like there was a lot of momentum for Laura at the time she left, as she had just entered into the mayoral race opposite Ned.
Francis: I was really thrilled when they started the mayor thing, which seemed like it was going to be a real story for me. I had been waiting for that. But what I didn’t realize is that the fans were waiting for that, too — and I don’t think the show realized that the fans were waiting for that, too. So it was sort of this interesting moment where a lot was revealed about how they feel and what they want to see. I don’t think the show knew until this whole thing happened, and then they all knew. I really do think that’s how it all went down. I was really disappointed because I was loving that story, and it was very timely — you see this wave of women coming into politics, and I was just like, “Yes! This is great!” So, yeah, it was disappointing, but not just for me. It was disappointing for the fans, as well.
Digest: So, what set your return in motion?
Francis: What happened was, the outcry went on for quite a long period of time, and a lot of it was really aimed at Frank [Valentini, executive producer]. Some of it, I would read, and my heart would hurt for him. He’s a nice man, he really is, and he has been good to me in the past and I just felt like, “God, I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of that.” So, I felt bad for him, and I called, and when I got him on the phone, I just said, “Look, I want you to know, no matter what happened or how things went down, I see what’s being said on Twitter and I’m sorry. It doesn’t reflect how I feel about you. I’m sure it’s painful, and I’m sorry you’re going through it.” And he was really sweet. He said, “Thank you. It is painful. It does hurt my feelings.” And I said, “Yeah, I get it!” So, really, it started as a nice conversation, and he said, “Would you have lunch with me?” and I said, “Sure!”
Digest: Were you in California at that time?
Francis: Yes, I was in California the whole time. So, Frank and I had lunch, and a few months later, we had a lunch with the writers [Co-Head Writers Shelly Altman and Chris Van Etten], which was fun, and they told me about their ideas. And it sounded good, it sounded like it warranted to actually write me into the story and weave me in more. I felt like, for the first couple of years [after her return to the show in 2013], I was just hanging around peripherally, and it was boring! I mean, I was bored, so the audience had to be. I was happy that they had changed their minds and they wanted to find a way to really give me something to do. It’s a good, full, well-thought-out story that goes for about a year. It’s not like, “Oh, okay, we’re going to do this thing for two weeks and then I’ll be running around carrying my purse from door to door with nothing to do.” They are going to keep her active. They are going to fold her in to more people in Port Charles, which is a huge, huge thing, in my opinion. I love it. I’m getting to work with Nancy [Lee Grahn, Alexis], I worked with Kristina Wagner [Felicia], I worked with Laura Wright [Carly]. There are a lot more people that I am having scenes with, which is great. If you think about it, Laura has been in Port Charles really most of her life, and she knows a lot of people! To see her move around the town as a citizen, it’s good. It’s not like I’m just in that corner where I had scenes with Emme [Rylan, Lulu] about [Lulu’s] problems, and basically, that was it.
Problem Child: Francis is delighted that Laura will have much more to do than provide counsel to daughter Lulu (Emme Rylan).
Digest: I think fans would be curious to know if you had any reservations about agreeing to come back, if there were hard feelings of any sort.
Francis: Right. I did have mixed feelings. Actually, when it got closer to the time of going back, I had sort of a “I want to run” kind of a feeling. I just didn’t want to get hurt again. And I had been off for nine months and had gotten to a point where I was really enjoying being off. It was kind of nice to be free, to sleep until you’re done sleeping and not when the alarm clock wakes you. And I just wondered, “Gee, am I up for it? Am I up to go back to work again?” There was sort of trepidation about it. My worry was that I had completely forgotten how to act: “It’s not going to work! I don’t have it anymore!” But about, oh, six shows in, it started to click and it started to feel comfortable again, and now I am actually looking forward to working because I know there is something to do. I had so much time on the show where I came to work with nothing to do, and that’s just so uncomfortable. I don’t want to be one of those people just sort of hanging around. Those Nurses’ Balls, I was literally all in the background — and I hated it! And I feel very fortunate in that they are trying to [correct that] for me.
Digest: When your return was announced, there was a different kind of fan uproar — the good kind! What did that mean to you, that people were so overjoyed to have you back?
Francis: Well, it’s the same thing, really, isn’t it? It’s knowing that people care. They made it happen. Let’s don’t kid ourselves: They made it happen. I am very fortunate that people loved me enough to help me to get my job back, because it wouldn’t have happened without that public outcry. It wouldn’t have.
Digest: What was actually being back in the building like for you?
Francis: When I first came upstairs to the set, I walked up and to the back of a set that said, “Laura’s Apartment.” And I said, “What?!” Laura didn’t have an apartment — I didn’t have a set for three years! So I walk in and Frank goes, “How do you like the new apartment?” And it is gorgeous, a beautiful set. It makes you feel like you are part of the show when the show gives you a place to live! I was thrilled. I went, “Oh, this feels really good.” Frank was really, really welcoming and warm. He has just been great. Everybody has been. No bad feelings at all from anybody. I just feel good about being back. I was worried about it, I was worried that it wasn’t going to be okay, but I am happy to say, none of that happened. It has been great for me. I’m happy, and as far as I can see, things are going very well. And I’m excited to get my scripts, which is really nice, because I didn’t used to be! I love the fact that I’m flipping through the scripts going, “What’s going to happen, what’s going to happen?”
Digest: I guess the only thing left to ask is, is there anything you would like to say to the readers?
Francis: Thank you, thank you, thank you. I wouldn’t have this lovely return if it hadn’t been for them, and the best way I know how to repay them is to try to tell good story in a way that they would enjoy.
We Are Family: Here’s Francis on her brand-new set with on-screen hubby Jon Lindstrom (Kevin/Ryan) and grandson Nicolas Bechtel (Spencer).
Check out our new podcast, Dishing With Digest!