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ICYMI Kelly Monaco (Sam, GH) 20th Anniversary Interview

Kelly Monaco was a breakout star on PORT CHARLES, where she played Livvie Locke from 2000-03 — so much so that when the show was canceled, all three networks vied to hire her on another soap. On October 1, she marked the 20th anniversary of her debut in the role she went with, GH’s Sam McCall. Digest checked in with the actress about her milestone moment — and Sam’s evolution from hustler to heroine. This interview was conducted before the tragic passing of Monaco’s former co-star Billy Miller (ex-Jason/Drew)

Soap Opera Digest: Let’s go back to the end of PC and how GH came about for you.

Kelly Monaco: I remember very specifically that I was at a diner in the Valley when I got the call that PORT CHARLES was being canceled and my heart sunk. I was like, “Oh, my gosh.” I was so new and just getting my feet wet in the soap community, earning [a fan base], establishing a family. I was like, “Okay, well, back to the drawing board! Gonna start auditioning again!” And probably within 30 minutes of finding out the show was canceled, I basically got an offer from every one of the networks. I had the pick of the litter. Frank Valentini [GH’s executive producer, who was then EP of ONE LIFE TO LIVE] was probably the most aggressive one that was seeking me out and called me personally, and I also met with ALL MY CHILDREN, I think for the role of Babe. CBS and NBC were in there, as well. But I was, like, a die-hard GENERAL HOSPITAL fan. That was my dream; I was like, “GENERAL HOSPITAL all the way!” So, I was thrilled when [then-ABC Daytime President] Brian Frons said they would create a role for me. I knew it would be really difficult, because my start date overlapped with me still airing on PORT CHARLES as a vampire, and I didn’t know if I could pull off the audience being able to see me as two different characters on the same network at the same time. I was really scared about that.

Digest: Well, 20 years later, I think it’s quite safe to say you pulled it off! In the beginning, Sam was thrown into the Dead Man’s Hand story with Ingo Rademacher (ex-Jax) and Tony Geary (ex-Luke). Given that you had watched the show and knew what a big deal Tony was, were you intimidated to work with him?

Monaco: You know what? With Tony, he and I immediately had a really special bond. I was never intimidated by him. He took me into his soul. I always learned from him and I value so much the legend that he is and how genuinely gracious and kind he was with his talent and his time and his energy and his spirit with me. We became really good friends and we still communicate to this day. He writes me the most insanely beautifully worded emails, sends cards and random gifts, like a picture he’ll find that spoke to him about me. He was always able to look at me and see a little bit of a scared, damaged girl that I felt [I was inside], but he has always made me see myself with a value I don’t see myself with — like, all of my insecurities that I feel, he doesn’t see any of those things in me, and he constantly reminds me how special I am.

Digest: Wow, what a beautiful quality to find in a friend. So, early on, GH soon Sam into Sonny’s orbit. She got pregnant by him and Jason pretended to be the father, kicking off their love story, which proved to be one of the most successful couplings in the show’s history.

Monaco: With Steve [Burton, ex-Jason], our natural chemistry together as actors translated really well on screen, and everyone — the writers, the producers, the directors and the actors — worked to be able to form that unconditional love that the characters had for each other. I’ve had multiple relationships on the show, but ultimately, in my mind, Sam and Jason were always the end game. In their love for each other, no affairs or other relationships or time apart or whatever could ever have come between them. I felt like they always would have come back to each other and I still feel for the history of the characters. Sam will never love anyone the way she loved Jason and I don’t think Jason will ever love anyone the way he loved Sam.ˆJason was the love of her life.

Digest: In 2006 Sam was tied yet deeper into the canvas when she was revealed to be Alexis’s daughter, which gave her not only a mother but two sisters, Molly and Kristina, as well. Why do you think the audience enjoys the Davis girls so much?

Monaco: Well, I can relate to the Davis girls because I have four sisters; I’m one of all girls. I think it’s a really special bond when you have sisters. There’s a lot of story to be told there that’s so juicy and meaty because it’s relatable, and that’s always what we want on screen; we want to watch something that we can relate to.

Digest: In 2009, Sam and Spinelli opened their detective agency, McCall And Jackal P.I. That combination of characters was a hit, as well.

Monaco: Yeah, those two characters work really well together and them having a P.I. agency was really fun and interesting and intriguing. I love anything that keeps Sam active, and having her in P.I. mode was a way to keep her active without it being, like, the hitman’s girlfriend doing dangerous things. I think she thrives in action and needs to be active. You can be a mother and a bad-ass at the same time! I welcome that and I think the audience wants to see that, too. At the heart of the character, she is a very independent, kick-ass woman.

Digest: Sam and Liz aren’t played much together anymore, but they were enmeshed in story together for a long time, and I think fans would welcome a resurgence of that, as well.

Monaco: Becky [Herbst, Liz] and I talk about this all the time! First of all, I love Becky; I’ve known her for 20 years and she’s one of my closest, best friends. And Elizabeth and Sam have so much to relate to one another about. They’ve been through so much together, so much loss and heartbreak and their children [Jake and Danny] share a father [Jason]. Instead of having them ignore each other, they should come together and get into some shenanigans! They should be an adventure buddy team! I’d love the two of them to go out and be Wonder Woman and Wonder Woman II, you know? Let’s get her out of that nurses’ uniform and let’s go on an adventure [laughs]!

Digest: I’m sold! What stands out to you about working with Billy Miller and playing Sam opposite a different Jason, albeit one who was ultimately revealed to be Drew?

Monaco: Working with Billy was so much fun. I knew him prior to him coming on the show and he brought in a completely different energy. He was really silly. He loved gags and it was really light, and then, when it was time to be serious, it was really serious. I’m sure it was pretty intimidating to come into a role like Jason Morgan and I commend Billy as an actor because that takes a lot of confidence. We worked really hard on our stuff and tried to make the transition feel natural for the audience, and I think we achieved that.

Digest: Nowadays, Sam is in a solid relationship with Dante. What has it been like to work with Dominic Zamprogna (Dante)?

Monaco: Dom is awesome. I love working with him. He’s super-fun, he’s a wonderful actor and he’s got my back no end.

Digest: That she’s now with a cop and not a mobster says a lot about how Sam has evolved over the years. How would you describe how the Sam of today is different from the woman we first met in 2003?

Monaco: Sam came onto the canvas only having herself and her brother, always taking care of someone and never being taken care of. I think the biggest evolution for her is starting from being a really lonely, scared woman and becoming a woman who is still really independent, but is protected by family and friends and love and relationships and loyalty, and she never had that before. Now she has a family and kids. She came in bent and broken, and I feel like there’s a lot of her that’s still broken, but she’s constantly sort of putting the Rubik’s cube together. All the pieces don’t fit perfectly yet, but it’s certainly not broken anymore!

Digest: GH turned 60 this year and you’ve been there for a third of that. What does marking the milestone of 20 years mean to you?

Monaco: It’s wild to me that I’ve been a part of ABC for twenty-something years and GH for 20 years. I was in my early 20s when I started! GH is such a legendary show and I consider it my second home. Every day when I drive to the lot, I am just so honored to be a part of it.