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ICYMI Gregory Harrison Interview

Gregory Harrison fell in love with movies as a boy growing up on Catalina Island off the California coast, telling Digest, “I knew that eventually I was going to be in Hollywood, I was going to be a working actor, and I was going to spend the rest of my life doing it.” After a stint in the Army, he returned to Catalina and worked as a doorman at a local nightclub, where he and other employees began putting on shows to drum up business. One night, a celebrity patron — Jason Robards — encouraged him to make a stab at acting. “I was just gobsmacked,” Harrison recalled. “And literally the next morning, I got on the boat and went across to the mainland and took a bus up to Hollywood.”

Soap Opera Digest: What role do you consider to be your big break?

Harrison: My biggest break, I think, was CENTENNIAL. It was a 25-hour miniseries in 1979. I was the central role, Levi Zendt, who created the town of Centennial, and was I was surrounded by about 150 of the greatest actors in America. I was a complete unknown, basically. I think I’d had one series that went a few episodes…. I think it gave me some credibility [because] your first success kind of defines you. And then if you ever want to go beyond that kind of definition, it’s usually a battle. So for me, fortunately, my first success, which was CENTENNIAL, defined me as like, “Oh, he’s got some versatility and some skills.” So I was allowed to pursue other kinds of roles throughout my career.

Digest: [That same year] TRAPPER JOHN, M.D. [where he played Gonzo] began as a spin-off of M*A*S*H…. When you started to accrue that kind of fame and visibility, was that exciting, or did you struggle at all with what fame meant to you as an individual?

Harrison: I’ve always struggled with fame. You know, there’s certain perks that come along with it, of course. There’s a lot of deficits, though. I think one of the reasons why I have not battled to try and stay in the A Division as an actor is because I’m not comfortable having people breathing down my neck 24/7. And I really like the way my career has gone because I get to do what I love to do, I get paid pretty darn well for it, but I can also walk down the street and if people recognize me, they don’t get overly excited. They might say something nice, you know? Usually, they just, like, elbow, whoever’s next to them and go, “Is that the guy who sold me the used car or is that the guy on TV? I don’t know.” But I’m in a really good slot right there that I find is a great comfort zone. I’ve been there for 50 years now…. I’ve been blessed you know, with having a great career that’s allowed me to do what I dreamt of, and yet have a real life, a real three-dimensional life — you know, raise a family, live outside of Hollywood. I’m not really fond of the business of Hollywood, or the show business part of Hollywood, but I just love acting.

Digest: Well, let’s dive into where you’ve been hanging your professional hat for the last few years, which is GENERAL HOSPITAL, where you play the role of Gregory Chase, father of, Michael Easton, Finn, and Josh Swickard, Chase. So how did the role come your way?

Harrison: [It was] the first job offered to me after the pandemic [shut down Hollywood production for several months]. My agent called to say, “GENERAL HOSPITAL wants to know if you want to do an arc.” Now, I have to preface this by saying that for 55 years I had been offered soaps, you know? Maybe half a dozen times, I was offered arcs with Susan Lucci [ex-Erica, ALL MY CHILDREN], you know, to play the man of her moment of whatever that year was, and I always said, “Oh, no, no, no.” It scared me so bad. But I heard myself say, “Yes! Tell ’em yes.” It was almost like an out-of-body experience, because I was just desperate to go do what I love to do. And then after I hung up the phone, I went, “Oh, my God, what did I just say yes to?!” You know, “Why did you wait till you were 70-something to test your brain with 30 pages of dialogue a night? What, are you crazy? Are you out of your mind?” I went through terror for a couple of weeks and then I started the show… The terror ended after two or three weeks [and] I’m having the best time! [It’s]really timed out well in my life. I only work two or three days a week, max, and at my age that’s about right, that works for me. I just feel blessed, you know? I’m grateful for it…. It’s funny, I do more homework on one day’s work prep for GENERAL HOSPITAL than I did in my entire high school career! [I] love the process, I love imagining the choices and understanding the author’s intent and I love being able to collaborate with other people and sort of find my spot in this story. “What’s the instrument I’m playing in this orchestra today? And what are the notes that I need to hit in this orchestra today?”

Digest: What is it like working with]the guys who play your on-screen sons, Michael and Josh?

Harrison: Michael is a great guy, a great actor. We have a lot of fun together. He’s a very gentle soul. Michael’s a very gentle man, I find, but a wonderful actor. He really knows what he’s doing. All my work in the beginning was with Michael and he was so complimentary and solid that he took a lot of my fears away. And then Josh — I think Josh actually looks kind of like my son. I think Josh looks a lot like I did at Josh’s age and he’s really adept. He’s too handsome and he works out too much, but he’s really a great guy. I’ve gotten to know him pretty well. He’s got a great family life and I think he doesn’t take himself too seriously, which I love — I love somebody that handsome and that talented doesn’t take themselves so seriously. Very generous, very fun, relaxed. I have a great time with him. And JoJo [Jophielle Love, Violet] is a phenom. I’m not quite sure what to make of JoJo! [She is] a little frighteningly in charge of everyone! I mean, when she shows up, it’s like everyone just kind of goes, “Okay, JoJo is in charge! She’ll tell us how it’s gonna go today!” … She always knows her lines. She’s always there and ready and fun-loving, too! I mean, she loves to have fun and tease and run around. It’s a great energy to have on that set, because you know, there’s a lot of people who have been on the show a long time, while some of us are, you know, of a certain era. And to have that kind of energy is a real breath of fresh air, so I love working with her. She’s easy for me to play a loving grandpa to.

Digest: Well, in the short time that we’ve known Gregory, we know that he and Finn seem to have sort of a similar taste in women. There was of course, Jackie; and Alexis and Finn had a little thing, and now Gregory and Alexis are having some sort of little thing. What’s your take on that?

Harrison [laughs]: I don’t know that I have a real take on it! I will say though, that one of the strangest, funnest, craziest days I’ve ever had on the set was last year, there was that day on the show where we shot all these scenes where I discover that my wife — all in one show — “the night before we got married 30 years ago, you slept with my son and got pregnant by him with my second son, who I am no longer the father of, I am the grandfather of who I thought was my second son!” All in one day’s work! I went home from that day, and I was laughing so hard. I was talking to Randi [Oakes, his wife] and saying, “I have officially joined a soap opera!”

Digest: Is there anything that you would like to say directly to your new fans in the GH audience?

Harrison: Just that I’m thrilled to be a part of all of this now, and thank you for some of the responses I’ve been getting on social media and I hope that I get to continue to perform for you for a long time to come.

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