Kathleen Gati (Obrecht, GH) was a guest on Digest’s podcast, Dishing With Digest, and discussed her surprising Port Charles longevity, finding the levity in her dastardly character and much more.
Soap Opera Digest: It’s so funny to think of how benign it is to, like, mess up someone’s eggs [which Gati’s Taffy did to Rosa Nevin’s Cecily during a homemaking competition when the actress made her soap debut in 1989 on ALL MY CHILDREN], considering all the stuff Obrecht has done — you know, like holding Robin, of all people, hostage.
Kathleen Gati: Yes, I know! That was the beginning of the end, or the beginning of the beginning, actually [of her run as Obrecht]. It was just like two days; they just needed some Swiss-German character to come in and be the head of this clinic and do some bad things and then good-bye. And Ron [Carlivati, then-head writer, and his team], they brought me back. Bless their hearts. I’ve done like 350 episodes in six-and-a-half years and Obrecht seems to not be going anywhere, except sticking around and causing more drama and damage and hopefully making people laugh in between all the bad things!
Kids Today: “We had a great time back then on ALL MY CHILDREN and also have a great time now,” beams Gati of working with Maurice Benard (Sonny, pictured in 2016) in her Pine Valley days (1989-90), when she played Taffy and he played Nico.
Swiss Mischief: Gati was originally slated to appear for only two days in 2012 as the head of the clinic where Robin (Kimberly McCullough) was being held hostage.
Digest: What does that mean to you? I mean, did you ever even think it was going to last this long, since she wasn’t initially slated to be long-term?
Gati: Not at all. I mean, I’ve done some series regular roles and I’ve done recurring and guest roles. This was a guest role! The standard as an actress or an actor is, you go in, you do your job, you leave, and you move on to the next thing. And that’s exactly what I do all the time, because you don’t get caught up. One of the things though, in training — and I’ve coached along the way, too, here and there — you always tell people just do your best. Whatever you do, go in and do it 200 percent, like your life depends on it. This is an important role; if it’s one line, if it’s a million lines, just do your best. And sometimes it pays off and sometimes that’s all they need. So it was really a beautiful thing to find out that they needed more, but I was not expecting it. Every day I get a call, “We need you for another day,” it’s like, “Wow! Great!” I’m so grateful. But it’s a freelance career. I have done a series for one year or two years, and then you float around, and so it’s always different and always changing. You don’t expect more than what you’re offered. This was really a lovely surprise, and it continues to be. Every time I’m still on board, I haven’t been killed yet, I’m still there, I’m still alive — it’s fun! I love the fans, I love the show, I love the actors, the writing, the material and most of all, I love my character. I think, if I may say this, I have the best character. As an actor, you get to do everything in this role. I get to do everything from being comedic and campy and broad to being very sad and miserable and dark. I get to sing, I get to dance. It’s been such a great role that every actor, I think, would drool for this. Most times, if you watch any show on television, it’s kind of a one-dimensional character. You’re good, you’re bad, you come in and say your lines and go home. It’s not that dynamic. But Obrecht is so dynamic and it keeps me entertained. I get bored easily. Obrecht is always doing bad things or good things or crazy things, so it keeps me on my toes. I need that as a person and as an actor.
Digest: For all the terrible things Obrecht does, she is really super-entertaining and funny. Did you always think she was funny? When did you realize she has this comic potential?
Gati: I did not see that. Initially, she was this very dour, tough, cold, heartless woman as the head of this clinic in Switzerland and kidnapping this woman for a couple of years and then putting Robert Scorpio in a coma. I mean, just terribly dark, cold, austere things that I had to do. Honestly, I don’t remember when I got to first do something comedic, but it was such a relief because there’s only so many times — as a villain, I think you don’t last on these shows; you go down, down, down, and then you’re killed off. So you have to do something redeeming. But the writers saw something. The first time they did a karaoke, “Is That All There Is?”, as a song — that was so great, when I put poison in the champagne, hoping Anna would drink it and poor Duke drinks it instead and I’m standing behind them a foot away going, “Is that all there is?” I think maybe that was the turning point, when they went, “She can sing! And oh, she’s funny!” And that was great.
Digest: Well, the writers certainly give you some amazing dialogue. Is there any Obrecht one-liner that stands out to you?
Gati: [When Obrecht delivered Nelle’s baby and said,] “Spread those scrawny legs and push!” Oh, my. So great. I mean some of the lines, some of them are sexual, some of them are harsh and some of them are fun. The writers write brilliantly for me. I’ve just been, like I said, so fortunate and blessed and grateful for the lines. Every time I open a script it’s like, “Ooh, any doozies in this one?”
Digest: Obrecht has done some really beyond-the-pale things. Do you ever worry, “Oh, God, she’s gone too far, I’m going to Pentonville for good?”
Gati: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. In fact, in the recent year, all that stuff with Peter, as Kathleen, I’m going “Oh, this is terrible. This breaks my heart.” I’d like to think I have a decent heart. I don’t want to hurt anybody. I’ve killed a few bugs in my life. I get these scripts and I go, “Oh, that’s terrible. How could she do that? Break his hand and then beat him and then tie him up and torture [him]?” One of the hardest things is when I had to eat in front of him. I’m starving him. I was devastated because again, with my Eastern European background, food was scarce and people were starving. You have to feed people! It’s all about love and food, and here I am starving him and eating a sandwich in front of him. That was probably the darkest and deepest and most hurtful moment I had out of the three months of torturing him or however long it went on. I definitely thought, “This is unforgivable and it worries me. I would never forgive this character. Why would any other audience member do that?” And then it was really interesting, the response from the fans. They were like, “Give it to him! He deserves it!” It just went on and I was like, “Wow, they’re on Obrecht’s side.” I was shocked…. Some of it’s so dark and I go, “Oh, she deserves to go to jail,” and then I’ll see in the next episode she’s going to jail and I’m going, “Good! She needs to!” Again, the fans are like, “No, save her!” and I’m like, “Wow!” I’m always surprised. I guess the audience vicariously lives through these characters and these stories. And Obrecht somehow gets out and causes more trouble. But again, the fans love that. If that’s what they love, that’s what we do! We’re here to make them happy.
Digest: Obrecht just does not like that Anna Devane. Tell us about what it’s been like to spend six years working with Finola Hughes.
Gati: She is fabulous. I mean, we have such a fun time working together. She’s very intense, like me. I’m an intense actor. I don’t make any bones about it. I chew that material up and spit it out. We both are like, “Are you ready?” and we rehearse and we look at each other. It’s very intense. Every time I get to work with her, it’s so much fun. I know she’s gonna bring it and challenge me, and I love that. She challenges the character, my character challenges her character, and then you have dynamics. It’s more interesting to do that than just, “Dr. Finn did it.” “Did he?” “Yes, he did.” “Okay.” And it doesn’t move forward. But with her, our characters are very much head to head, and again, the fans love and support that, so it makes it fun. One of my favorite things this past year was the drunk scene. Obrecht is never drunk, but she knows it’s basically her end. She gets totally drunk and shows up at Anna’s house. We had a blast doing that. Every time we get to do something different and not say the same lines, but we’re challenging each other and going at it. Same thing with Dr. Finn, Michael Easton. These are great actors to work with. They’ve been doing soaps for a long time. They know their stuff. They know how to do it. I’m still always feeling like, “Is this on point?” because it’s a different medium than I’m used to. It is six-and-a-half years [on GH], so I think I know what I’m doing now on the show. I got the hang of it, but it’s always like my character is so campy. I think Roger Howarth [Franco] and my character, we’re the two campy, broad characters. Our characters are all over the place. You never wanna get too broad, but you wanna make sure you serve the character.
Digest: Obrecht has put together that Valentin is deceiving Nina by convincing her that Sasha is her daughter. That’s pretty powerful information. What can you tease about what is coming up for Obrecht now that she’s back in the United States?
Gati: Well, because Obrecht is a survivor, she will do everything that she can. And she’s clever. I love that. I’m not clever. She is so clever. She figures out everything. People are like, “Well, she’s just crazy.” It’s like, nothing about this woman is crazy! She knows exactly what she’s doing and she always has a plan, and if there’s no plan, she has a backup. She’s ready to get on board, to get people on board for what she needs. She’s got a plan and she’s gonna work Valentin. Obrecht will keep you on your toes. There’s no slacking here.