Maura West is enjoying the calm after the storm. The big May sweeps scenes of Ava getting busted by Sonny and Carly for swapping Morgan’s meds — and the subsequent fire she caused, which left her consigned to the burn unit at General Hospital — are over and done with. The show is on a two-week hiatus, which she’s spending doing what she always does when she’s not working: notching quality time at home with her family.
They’re a close-knit bunch, consisting of the actress, her husband, Scott DeFreitas (ex-Andy, AS THE WORLD TURNS), their four kids, who range in age from 8 to 17, and her son from her first marriage, Ben, who just turned 21 — but never more so than since relocating to California after ATWT, her daytime home since 1995, went off the air in 2010. “We still feel a little bit isolated,” she admits. “Our families are all back East and we miss them, miss that support system that we had. I have a lot of children, and a child with autism, and so travel really becomes a sticky issue. It’s hard in that way, but we’re doing okay because we’re all together. We really are sort of homebodies. We look out for each other and we love each other.”
West is especially savoring her time off because Ben, who just finished his junior year of college, is home now, too. “He missed his flight, of course,” his mom chuckles good-naturedly, “but he’s here!”
If a missed flight is what passes for drama in the actress’s lovingly chaotic household, well, Ava should be so lucky — especially under her current circumstances. Her contribution to Morgan’s death has left her facing jail time, her relationship with daughter Kiki is once again in ruins, and life as she knew it went up in flames when that fire swept through her art gallery warehouse, leaving her with second- and third-degree burns across 50 percent of her body. All in all, Ava’s morale is at an all-time low, which is saying something (see her surviving being shot and falling off a bridge after a jailbreak only to be diagnosed with cancer).
The actress found out about the planned turn in Ava’s fate a few weeks in advance when GH’s executive producer, Frank Valentini, “mentioned it sort of walking down the hall — ‘We’re burning you up,’ ” she recalls. “I was like, ‘What? What?’ But I love those big, dramatic moments, so when I read it, I was just thrilled” — especially because it represented forward movement in the long-percolating pill swap arc. “I wanted that to be wrapped up, really,” she says. “I don’t mind playing the anxiety, the fear of maybe being found out, but the exciting part is when it actually comes out!”
It’s a bonus that Ava’s disfigurement is giving West new notes to play. “I find it really fascinating that [her scars] are her Scarlet Letter,” the actress muses. “She feels like she deserves this for her bad deeds, that this is her fate. Then there’s the idea of this woman who is so visual — she loves art, and if you look at her apartment, her clothes, everything is just so — and now, her own temple is just charred. How the actual vanity of it will affect her I find really interesting, the question of whether she even wants to live ‘like a monster’, as she says. And then there’s this third piece, which I think is pretty human, of telling people to leave her: ‘You don’t have to deal with this. Go away.’ She doesn’t want people to be obligated to be around her.” The lump sum of the trauma, West concludes with a laugh, “makes me feel bad for Ava! I don’t know if anybody else will — and they don’t have to.”
GH’s writers may delight in doling out misery to West’s oft misery-causing character, but only because of their confidence in her ability to make it so eminently watchable. As Co-Head Writer Jean Passanante puts it, “There is literally nothing you can give to Maura West that she is unequal to.” And the actress considers herself fortunate indeed to bring Ava’s travails to life. “It can be hard playing Ava a little bit sometimes,” she offers. “I do think being a woman playing an antagonist can be a little harder. It’s tough for Ava to get a break, you know? She has so few allies. It sometimes feels like there’s just this barrage of people pointing and hating and spitting and bitching at me. Meanwhile, Valentin’s onstage singing Billy Joel! It’s like, wait a minute — he killed Nikolas [laughs]! But I love playing Ava, I really do. There’s so much to her. I was more grown-up when she was created, and we have so much more to us [as we age]. She’s so layered and endlessly fascinating and I love her. I understand her. And I don’t mind [being the] antagonist. We need that or you have no story — and who could be a better one?”
Did You Know?
•GH Director Larry Carpenter directed her first scenes on ATWT in 1995.
•In a 1998 Digest interview — before they were dating — West said of then-ATWT castmate, now-husband Scott DeFreitas, “I’m going to marry him”.
The Rest Is “Grava”?
Ava’s hospitalization is putting her in close proximity to Dr. Griffin Munro, with whom she shared some poignant scenes in April when the characters had a chance encounter at The Floating Rib — leading many savvy viewers to suspect that a romantic pairing is in the offing.
Maura West would welcome working more closely with Griffin’s portrayer, Matt Cohen. “I just kind of like who he is as a human,” she says. “He just has such a good heart and is such a loving human being. I’ve seen him off set and in hair and makeup and whatever and was excited to work with him. In those scenes with the bar, he was someone that she was able to be honest with, even in the slightest, smallest way, and that is a character that she needs. I love working with him. I haven’t, that much; we had a couple of scenes in the hospital, but it hasn’t been that [substantial], and I don’t know if we’re going to have more together. I hope so!”
So does Cohen. “I absolutely love acting with her,” he enthuses. “We’d never really gotten to share any scenes together and when I walked into those bar scenes, there was just all this weird, unspoken chemistry that I don’t think either one of us knew was going to happen. But I felt it and I knew that the fans were going to react. I thanked her at the end of them. I said, ‘Wow, I know those were a minimal couple of scenes, but we were totally connected and into each other’s moments,’ her being this broken woman, Griffin being this man who deals with a lot of broken people and who is broken himself. I think that’s what the viewers picked up on, like, ‘Wow, there’s something weird there,’ and I agree with them. There’s definitely chemistry.”
Just The Facts
Birthday: April 27
Hometown: Springfield, MA
Daytime History: Carly Tenney, AS THE WORLD TURNS (1995-96, 1997-2010); Diane Jenkins, Y&R (2010-11); Ava Jerome, GH (2013-present)
Full House: West has a son, Benjamin (born May 30, 1996), from her first marriage. She married Scott DeFreitas (ex-Andy, ATWT) on January 22, 2000, and they have four children: Joseph (born March 29, 2000), Katherine (born January 9, 2002), Basil (born January 30, 2007) and Birdie (born June 16, 2009).
Trophy Case: West netted two Lead Actress Daytime Emmys for her ATWT work (in 2007 and 2010) and another one, in 2015, for playing Ava.
Great Strides: An avid runner for 16 years, she completed the L.A. Marathon in March.
Contact High: West remains connected to most of her ATWT peers through social media. “We were so close on that show. We are still a big family, we’re just sort of scattered to the wind. I communicate the most with Martha [Byrne, ex-Lily], Michael [Park, ex-Jack] and Colleen [Zenk, ex-Barbara].”
Show Time: West is “heart-broken” that she has yet to catch Park on Broadway in his smash-hit musical, Dear Evan Hansen. “If I were still back East, I would have seen it five times by now. My kids know all the songs; we listen to the soundtrack all the time.”