When Kelly Monaco’s 2000-03 run as PORT CHARLES’s Livvie came to an end via the show’s cancellation, GH snapped her up to create the new role of feisty con artist Samantha McCall, who hit the screen on October 1, 2003. She sat down with Digest to reflect on her run.
Soap Opera Digest: This week marks the 15th anniversary of your GH debut. But take me back to 2003, when you got word that PORT CHARLES was ending. What was that like for you?
Kelly Monaco: It was bittersweet. I remember where I was when I got the phone call that PORT CHARLES was being canceled. And mind you, we shot six months on, six months off, so we had already [shot episodes] through October or November or something. It was in the summer when I got the phone call and I was devastated. I loved that show so much. It was my start. I didn’t know if I would ever work again, you know? I was so young still and I was so new to the soap opera business, I wasn’t sure if I had resonated in the soap opera world. But within, I would say, half an hour of finding out that the show had been canceled, I had gotten a call from each of the networks, wanting to pitch me. And ironically, Frank [Valentini, executive producer, then-EP of ONE LIFE TO LIVE] was one of them. My parents were very sick at the time, so was my sister Christine, so my sister Amber, who lives in Florida, flew home at the same time [as me] to take care of the family, and Frank called me at my parents’ house in the Poconos and said, “We would love to have you on ONE LIFE TO LIVE, I think you’re amazing.” This was after a couple of other calls had come in, and I was just blown away that I had maybe made a little mark in the daytime world.
Digest: Did you consider joining a soap other than GH?
Monaco: From the very beginning, even before I got on PORT CHARLES, my favorite soap opera was GENERAL HOSPITAL. Maybe I was biased because my mom watched it when I was young, so it was probably the only one I was familiar with. Well, DAYS OF OUR LIVES, I was familiar with as well because my mom watched that, too. Bo and Hope were like — I died because I wanted to be them! But GENERAL HOSPITAL, to me, was like, “If I am going to do [another soap], this is what I want to do.” Brian Frons was the head of ABC Daytime at the time and, of course, he was on it with Frank trying to get me over [to another ABC show]. I even went and met with the people at ALL MY CHILDREN. But I just said, “It has to be GENERAL HOSPITAL,” so they created the character of Sam for me. And I can’t believe, 15 years later, I’m having this conversation with you and I remain employed with this company, 18 years for me with ABC. There was an overlap, I believe, because PORT CHARLES was still airing by the time I started airing on GENERAL HOSPITAL. I couldn’t have written my story any better, being able to have the privilege of coming to this show and to stay with this network. It’s crazy! I feel blessed and honored and gifted every single day I get in my car and I drive here.
Digest: Why have you stayed? Because I do think you’ve had opportunities to spread your wings, as they say, outside of daytime.
Monaco: I have. I have had opportunities to pursue my career in different directions, but I have stayed with GENERAL HOSPITAL for a few reasons. Mainly, I know a good thing when I see it. I knew I had something really amazing and it doesn’t happen as an actor often in this business. The show and the network has afforded and allotted me the time to go out and do other things when I have a cool opportunity come up. It hasn’t been a problem.
Digest: You never felt like, “I want to be a movie star”?
Monaco: Sure, as an actor I have those feelings. Of course. There are plenty of people where I’m like, “Oh, man, I wish I had her career,” or, “I wish I had done that [role].” But it’s not my journey; it’s not for me. Maybe in the future, I don’t know. I came from very humble beginnings out here in California. I lived in my car for months. I knew what it was like not to be able to scrub a dollar together to get a bowl of Chinese food on Hollywood Boulevard, so I was never gonna let my day job go — and not just because of the pay. Over the years, especially after DANCING WITH THE STARS [she won its first season in 2005], which is when I would say I had the most opportunity to go out [for other projects], I’ve been offered several different shows that were super-successful at the time. I wound up staying with ABC. We did a holding deal and for a couple years I did that. I wound up shooting a couple pilots. But I don’t know if prime-time was really necessarily my thing. I like the pace that we move at here. A lot of our cast are married with kids and they don’t miss out on school functions and their children’s lives. They can be good wives and husbands and mothers and fathers and I like that aspect of this world, of the daytime genre. It’s my family now. Especially after the first, I don’t know, five or six years, not having any family out here and being by myself, I solidified some sort of unit here. I just couldn’t imagine leaving my family, you know?
Digest: Over the last 15 years, we’ve watched Sam go from kind of a lone wolf to someone who is surrounded by a lot of people who love and care about her. It seems like that somewhat mirrors what you’re describing.
Monaco: Yeah, that’s crazy. I actually haven’t put those two together. Sam definitely had a rough and tumble start. Her road is still a little rocky, as it should be. It’s a soap opera! I think once you’re happy you’re doomed — or pregnant with Sonny’s baby! Thank God, I passed that one! I am not kidding when I say that. I was really like, “Oh, my God, this could be my ticket out of here!” But yeah, I guess [Sam’s journey] has mirrored my personal relationships with the show. And it’s not just the actors, or really even with the actors; it’s more our crew, our hair and makeup crew, our producers, our directors, our camera guys, our boom operators … These are people whose faces that I’ve seen every single day, some of them for 18 years. I see my family two or three times a year if I’m lucky. So, yeah, it’s become an extended family. It would make it a lot harder to leave indefinitely, but the show has made it really easy for me to pursue other projects and still maintain my role here.
Digest: Sam’s relationship with Sonny took place very early on, but you understood, even back then, that that had the potential to affect your longevity with the show?
Monaco: Well, especially coming from PORT CHARLES, we were on the same lot, so we all bumped into each other a lot just in the commissary and whatever, and of course, I knew who Maurice [Benard, Sonny] was. At first, I was with Ingo [Rademacher, ex-Jax], and we’ve been friends for a very long time, since 1997, I believe, so it was comfortable when I first came on. But knowing that I was being paired up with Maurice, I, like almost died. I was like, “Oh, my God, it’s Maurice Benard, it’s Sonny Corinthos, holy cow!” But I had no idea how insanely, wickedly wild the fan base was then for this show. It was certainly separate than what I experienced over at PORT CHARLES. They did not like this little hussy coming in and messing with their Sonny and Carly, that is for sure! It really could have been a ticket to take me out of town, but something beautiful happened within that stuff, and I don’t think we would’ve had Jason and Sam if we hadn’t had the Sonny [storyline]. But yes, Sonny and Carly, don’t mess with them! It could have been a really short ride here.
Love ’Em And Leave ’Em? Sam’s early involvement with Sonny (Maurice Benard, pictured in 2004) left Monaco worried about her GH future. She chuckles, “[Fans] did not like this little hussy coming in and messing with their Sonny and Carly, that is for sure!”
Digest: You’ve said that your favorite storyline was the death of Sam’s baby with Sonny.
Monaco: Yeah, I felt the most connected to that storyline, especially then, because it hadn’t been anything that I had dealt with emotionally. Things like that happen in real life. I’m not going to go into detail, but I was in a very similar situation and I don’t know if I ever had an outlet for my feelings and sadness. I didn’t even know what I was doing, really. I wasn’t a trained actor. It was a scary place, a scary Band-Aid to rip off, and I got to rip it off on camera, really. I think so many people connected to that storyline and it really changed the course of who Sam McCall was, not with Jason, not with Sonny, not with anyone, but as herself. I think it was the first time she had been relatable. It goes down as one of my favorite storylines because it was so personal and healing. I knew that there would be many young girls and women who would be able to relate to that story and the loss.
Digest: I think of the discovery that Alexis is Sam’s mother, pulling her into the Davis family and creating “the Davis girls”, as another pivotal moment for the character.
Monaco: Sam didn’t have any ties to this town prior to the writers creating that backstory for her. To be told I was going to be tied to one of the biggest names in daytime [Nancy Lee Grahn, Alexis], and that I’d be tied to the Cassadine family, was like being rewarded in some way. I felt like I had then officially earned a place in Port Charles. And Sam really needed a mother. They didn’t get along at all in the beginning and I think that was appropriate because Sam never had to answer to anyone, never had anyone to give her advice or look up to. I really enjoyed the way those beginning moments and scenes [unfolded]. I think it took years for them to appreciate each other as mother and daughter. But yeah, that was just as important of a storyline in her history as being pregnant with Sonny’s baby or connecting on an emotional level with another character, like a Jason. That meant that I had a foundation in the show.
Digest: There was a period where Sam and Jason were on the rocks and Sam slept with Ric and had a relationship with Lucky. Was that an era you enjoyed?
Monaco: Well, I’ll look at the positive. It was right after me winning DANCING WITH THE STARS and the show was afraid that I was leaving. I think they were setting up storyline for other characters if I had chosen to leave. That’s, I think, the only reason why it was written for Sam to have sex with her stepfather, which, reading it as an actor, I thought did not do justice to the character. It was something she would never, ever do in a million years. But I just rolled with the punches. It led to good stuff with Sam and her mom or whatever. I’m gonna pretend none of that ever happened [laughs]. The Lucky and Sam stuff, though, I loved because I had so much fun with Greg Vaughan [ex-Lucky]. I wasn’t like, “They’re doing this to my character?!” It was cool, because I got to work with Greg.
Lucky Days: The actress enjoyed Sam’s relationship with Lucky because she got to work with her real-life pal Greg Vaughan, pictured in 2007.
Digest: That was yet another scenario that created friction with Elizabeth.
Monaco: Poor Sam and Elizabeth! I mean, they just can’t seem to get on the same page, ever. Our true fans, our diehards, know what great friends Becky [Herbst, Elizabeth] and I are. I could probably not love another actress on our show more than Becky. She could not have been a better friend to me over the past 15 years. She’s been the most solid, loyal, trustworthy, great-secret-keeper girlfriend. She’s like a sister to me. I hate to see the fan wars attack us as people. Go at the characters all you want, but as the actors it just couldn’t be further from the truth.
Friendly Competition: “She could not have been a better friend to me over the past 15 years,” says Monaco of her frequent on-screen rival, Rebecca Herbst (Elizabeth), pictured in 2011.
Digest: When Steve Burton (Jason) left in 2012, were you concerned about what would become of Sam?
Monaco: When Steve left, I didn’t have any other choice but to sort of get on board with whatever they had in store for Sam. I wasn’t scared for my character because she already had so many ties and relationships and I thought it was good to see her grieve and be on her own. You got to see the character take on a different role as a mother, as a woman and as a professional.
Digest: During that period, you were reteamed on GH with your old PC love interest, Michael Easton [Finn; ex-Caleb], first as McBain, then as Silas.
Monaco: I love Michael. Michael is where I started, you know? There’s like an unspoken dialogue that Michael and I have and we’ve always had over the past almost two decades. There is just something really, really safe about that human being that I, Kelly, can just look into his eyes and he can see into my soul and I don’t have to say a word and he can just make me feel like everything’s gonna be okay. I loved getting to work with him again.
The Fang’s All Here: Monaco got her soap start as PC vampire bride Livvie. Later, she would work with Michael Easton (ex-Caleb) on GH, where he now plays Finn.
Digest: A lot of Sam fans who are very protective of the character resent Franco’s continued existence on the canvas. Do you have thoughts on that?
Monaco: We gotta get over it! I mean, Roger’s [Howarth, Franco] getting the wrath of what should have been a little blip played by James Franco [the original Franco]. He’s so good, he’s such a good actor, I wish we could just blink and make that whole thing go away and have none of that stuff ever have happened. I mean, I feel bad for Roger, but I think I’m gonna have to hate him forever! I’m gonna be a sore on his ass for a long time [laughs].
Digest: Over the past 15 years, you’ve become one of the most popular stars in this genre. What does the passion your fans have for you and for Sam mean to you?
Monaco: That means everything. I’m not looking for validation from anyone; I don’t need awards or accolades, I don’t need my boss to come down and pat me on my head. To take the audience on a journey and have them respond in an emotional way — you can hate her or love her, but have some feeling toward it — that’s the cherry on top for me. That’s when I feel like I’m doing my job well.
Digest: Anything you’d like to say to your fans?
Monaco: Just thank you. It’s been an amazing 15 years and I hope that this genre stays around long enough for you to enjoy another 15.
GH’s Billy Miller (Drew) Pays Tribute To Kelly Monaco On Her Anniversary
Mara Levinsky asked me to write a blurb about Kelly’s 15-year anniversary to be used in a caption within the article that she is writing commemorating Kelly’s achievement. I find myself equally honored and bewildered. A caption? I can’t so much as sum up my feelings about Kelly and her work in a 140-character Twitter rant, much less be bright enough to construct some sort of brief brilliance that would do Kelly justice in a caption. So, I’m just going to let ’er rip, as they say — Mara’s allotted editorial space be damned!
Fifteen years??! How is this possible? Did Kelly stroll into the halls of GENERAL HOSPITAL at the tender age of 15? I mean, look at her — she’s gorgeous. She ages — er, matures — flawlessly. However, the past few years as her scene partner and friend has afforded me the insight of a little secret: Kelly’s true splendor lies beneath her striking visage; what makes her an exceptional beauty is her heart. A heart that is open and kind and is incapable of beating an ounce of malice or ill will. She truly cares about this career that started when she took the chance to defy the odds of “making it” and slept in her car so she could afford chasing this crazy dream of entertaining. While struggles such as that have hardened many a performer, Kelly simply stays humble and thankful, clearly appreciating how far she has come.
Kelly is shy and self-deprecating to a fault. She’s not the type to self-promote or point out scenes she might feel went well for her. Instead, she opts to praise her fellow actors around her. I often wonder if she knows just how good she really is. She never “wings it” or “phones it in.” She is always present and raw and real.
Kelly’s commitment is to be admired as one of the hardest workers in the building. She’s always looking to improve. In a medium that demands so many hours of hard work and emotional toll, many of us in soap operas do not want to spend more time offstage to stretch and grow as performers. Kelly continues to go to class, even during heavy work weeks. She will ask to go through scenes over the weekend or during vacation breaks. She has guilt-tripped me into many such study sessions — the scenes, and I, were always better for it. You can find Kelly in her dressing room hours before her call time and she is known to stay many hours after she finishes her day, all because she wants to get it right for the show, for her co-workers, and for the fans.
To act is a privilege not to be taken for granted, especially on a show as iconic as GENERAL HOSPITAL, which has entertained generations of fans. I hope Kelly understands that 15 years is quite a feat and that she is interwoven into the fabric that makes GH so special.
All of us working in any facet of soaps realize how lucky we are to be a part of the magic. There are also a few people whom soaps should feel fortunate to have in the family. Kelly is certainly one of those souls.
Kelly, thank you for being my reel friend and my real friend. Sharing the stage with you has been a highlight in my own career. You always keep me coming back for more. Thank you for being the special person we all love to love.
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