Lisa LoCicero (Olivia, GH) reminisced about her journey through ABC daytime as a guest on Digest’s podcast, Dishing With Digest.
Soap Opera Digest: So you have a very interesting story: You are on GENERAL HOSPITAL and actually were a fan of GH when you were younger. How did you even get into the soap?
Lisa LoCicero: I started watching as a little girl with my grandma…. I was watching ABC soaps as a very young kid. In the summertime, I guess I must have spent the entire day because I would watch LOVING, I would watch, I believe, RYAN’S HOPE, I would watch THE EDGE OF NIGHT, I would watch ALL MY CHILDREN, I would watch ONE LIFE TO LIVE and then, of course, GENERAL HOSPITAL. I remember very distinctly watching the very first episode of LOVING [and] the very first time I was on television was on LOVING. The first [job] was a day player selling Dinah Lee Mayberry a wedding dress [and] then, of course, my first contract role was on LOVING.
Digest: How did you even end up in New York to be in the running for the role of [LOVING’s] Jocelyn?
LoCicero: Well, I moved to New York more or less the day after I graduated high school … I went to The American Academy of Dramatic Arts right after high school and studied there for a couple years and did their repertory theater company for a year or so. And then, you know, you work five jobs at a time and start what we called in those days “pounding the pavement”…. I feel like it’s a miracle that I ever, ever booked a job!
Digest: You were part of this really history-making transition of LOVING morphing into THE CITY [in 1995]. What do you remember about that experience?
LoCicero: I have few regrets in life, but we were so young and idiotic, a lot of the people on that show, we did not see what that was for some of the people that had been [on LOVING for a long time] and the family that is created on a soap opera. We were all just excited, like, “Whoopee! We’re going to be a new show.” And I think we did not have the emotional bandwidth and sensitivity to see that, like, “Oh, right. A serial killer is coming to town and all these people are watching their best friends get encased in plaster and murdered and whatever, so this isn’t party time for all these people.” In retrospect, I can imagine that some of us youngsters were probably incredibly insensitive to the tenor of what was actually going on on that set. If I can make any sort of after-the-fact apologies to anyone that I could have been more sensi- tive to, I would do that. [But] the flip side to that is that it was incredibly exciting. I had been a fan of Morgan Fairchild [ex-Sydney] my entire life…. I know people often say, “Be careful about meeting your heroes,” but I guess I picked good heroes ’cause all of mine have been just really delightful and wonderful. She became a dear friend, and even after THE CITY went off the air and I moved out to California, we kept in touch.
Digest: In 2004, we know that you auditioned to play the recast of Lois on GH.
LoCicero: I knew the character of Lois very well and knew that it would have been hard shoes to step into, but I felt like they knew me and they liked me. I will say, when I saw Lesli Kay [who booked the role] at the test, I was like, “Oh, my God. She’s like a dead ringer for Rena [Sofer, ex-Lois, now B&B’s Quinn]. This might not go my way.” You have those thoughts as an actor. But I do remember that would have been my first time working with Wally [Kurth, Ned]. Wally and I did the screen test. I don’t remember who directed those tests but I got some weird note for the second scene, like, “I want you to smile the entire time you do this scene.” And I was like, “This is not a happy scene, though.” But I tried to do it and I’m sure it looked like some terrible, deadly, like, rictus or something because it certainly didn’t look natural. I definitely walked out that day going, “Well, that one’s not hap- pening for you!” [But] I did an amazing screen test with Michael Easton [ex-John; now Finn, GH] for ONE LIFE TO LIVE, preceding GENERAL HOSPITAL, that’s what the timing was. I flew to New York to do a screen test with Michael Easton for the role of some sidekick cop of his. [The show] made that role recurring, gave it to someone else and then wrote for me the role that I eventually did play, which was Sonia Toledo Santi, which was prob- ably best forgotten in the tomes of soap opera history. I believe that role was voted the worst-written role in the history of daytime television or some damn thing. I think they had to clear the decks on the writing team after the Santi thing! There was a swing for the bleachers and it just didn’t work out for a number of different reasons, maybe not the least of which was me playing Puerto Rican!
Digest: After Sonia came and went, you did try for GH again but as Kate Howard, the role that initially went to Megan Ward.
LoCicero: I remember leaving [the audition] thinking, “Well, something good hap- pened in there….” They said to my agent, “We’re going to go another way with this one but we swear we have something better for her coming up very shortly….” I believe what they had in mind was maybe bringing me back as Brenda, which as we all know would have been literally the biggest disaster. I think even as much as I wanted to be on the show I would have had to say, “That’s a bad idea. I won’t do it.” Do you know what I mean? I mean, you would be an absolute idiot to take that on. No one is Vanessa [Marcil, ex-Brenda] and certainly no one is Vanessa and Maurice [Benard, Sonny]. But [then-Head Writer] Bob [Guza, Jr.] created Olivia for me and wanted to do this “son of Sonny” thing, which I think is what Kate was going to be about origi- nally. They wanted to see more of a rough Brooklyn presence to be the mother of Sonny’s son.
Digest: Were there people you were starstruck by in the beginning?
LoCicero: Well, obviously, Maurice. My first scenes were with Maurice … Certainly walking in that day and going up to that bar set and doing those scenes with Maurice was, like, otherworldly. You can’t not be in it when you’re working with him. You feel what’s coming out of his eyes [and] there’s a reason why he has held people’s attention to the level that he has for this many years in this character. I mean, how many other people canyou say that of? Very, very few…. Finola [Hughes, Anna] now is one of my best friends. But the first time I ran into her there, I was like, “Oh. My. God.” And, of course, Tristan [Rogers, Robert]. I’ve told this story so many times, but he had been prewarned that I was a super-fan [and] he came walking up to me. In my memory, it’s like slow motion, I’m sitting there with my husband, and I’m just hyperventilat- ing, probably snot coming out of my nose. My husband said, “What’s wrong with you? Just say hi.” And he couldn’t have been nicer.
Digest: Tell us about working with Wally [Kurth].
LoCicero: You couldn’t get a better everyday partner. He likes to run lines, he likes to work, he likes to play with stuff, he’s funny, he’s respectful and he’s so talented. The fact that he’s also a singer pushes us into the Nurses’ Ball every year, for better or for worse.
Digest: For better!
LoCicero: Well, it’s definitely fun for me, not necessarily fun for the viewers. He’s a treat. And being part of that world and that storyline is just yet another bucket- list item…. You’re like, “Oh, right. I’m a Quartermaine now. I can sign my pictures ‘Olivia Q!’ ” Like on the day of the wed- ding, I’m walking down the aisle in a wedding dress and Genie Francis [Laura] is looking at me? Like, what? Tell that to yourself when you’re 12!
Digest: What does it mean to you that 2020 marks the 25th anniversary of your daytime debut?
LoCicero: It’s really lovely when I think of it like that. It’s not like the character is always at the top of the totem pole in terms of importance on the canvas, [but] Tristan said to me one time when we were off at a fan event having a drink at the hotel bar, he said, “Listen, kid. You’re not always going to be the front of the storyline. You’re not always going to be at the top of the heap. You learn your lines and you come in and you do your work.” [I] do think that the powers-that-be appreciate — and maybe that comes from the fact that I’ve been watching this all my life — that I never say, “My character would never do this.” What if they did? It’s my job to figure out a way to make it so that she would do it, to justify her doing that thing. As human beings we’re all capable under the right circumstances of just about anything, whether we like it or not. There have been a couple question marks where I’m like, “I don’t know if she would.” I go, “Well, let’s see what happens if she does do it!” That [25-year milestone] is really nice. I look at those numbers and I say, “Good for me.”
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