Roger Howarth Reflects On Reinventing Franco — As Drew.
Last week, life as Franco knew it was wiped out when he became the recipient of Drew’s memory map. “He was the perfect person,” says newly retired Co-Head Writer Shelly Altman about why the writers chose Franco. “He is somebody who has gone through a remarkable change in personality in the past, and finally has evolved as a person he wants to be and a person who is loved by a very good woman. Who more would it affect to suddenly have all of that ripped away from him? It gives us so much story thereafter for so many different characters and it puts Elizabeth in a terrible position. It just seemed too juicy not to squeeze!” A few days of work in to his new Port Charles persona, Roger Howarth gave us the inside scoop on how he feels about his on-screen metamorphosis.
Soap Opera Digest: What was your reaction when you found out that Franco would be the recipient of Drew’s memories?
Roger Howarth: I was thrilled. I think it’s awesome! It’s great story, it’s good soap. It presents a really good obstacle for the Franco/Elizabeth relationship and I think obstacles are really important and in the end, really rewarding. And I like the challenge of figuring out what it would be like to be playing a different part and start all over and explore different relationships from a different point of view. It’s been cool. It’s been a lot of fun.
Digest: Was there anything about that prospect that was intimidating?
Howarth: No. I mean, maybe I shouldn’t say that, but it’s what we do! We pretend to be other people and the fact that I get to be another person is just changing the noun. The actions are still the same: What do we want, what are we doing, where do we come from, where are we going? It’s the same set of puzzles.
Digest: Is it a different day at work for you because you’re kind of starting from scratch?
Howarth: Well, I think that there are some major differences in the two people. Those two people are completely different. Their mind-set is completely different, everything they think about is different, the way they think about things is different, the way they talk is different, the way they stand is different, the way they interrelate to people in general is completely different. And it just so happens that they share an exterior, but they are fundamentally opposite, and so that comes with its challenges. And also, I have developed a set of tools that are no longer useful.
Digest: The Franco-channeling tools?
Howarth: Yeah. Specifically, [Drew] is a person that knows everything that he says before he says it and speaks with authority and is able to speak in complete sentences, and Franco has a very kind of particular patter and pattern to his speech and his thought, and he changes channels mid-sentence, and this other person I think has a sensibility of a different part of America and is more comfortable listening. I made a couple of decisions about who the guy is to make him, I hope, appear differently than [Franco]. And also, this is a guy who is comfortable moving in conflict with other men. He has a particular set of skills and he can communicate as a soldier with other soldiers. When I wasn’t sure what to do, I would figure out, “Well, what did Billy [Miller’s] Drew bring and what does Steve [Burton] bring to Jason?” Those are the people that this guy is more like.
Digest: The audience doesn’t know much about what this iteration of Drew, the pre-getting-Jason’s-memories version of Drew, is like. We have only gotten a few glimpses of him played by Steve in flashbacks.
Howarth: Right, but he is more comfortable being in conflict with the alpha than the current incarnation of Franco, and I think that’s good story. And working with Steve is a pleasure. He was very helpful. He was interested in making it better and including me in the decision-making. It’s nice. It’s cool.
Digest: The day your script called for your character to regain consciousness as a different guy, did you prepare differently and/or more going into work?
Howarth: Yes. This has been a slower process for me. It requires more time to prepare because what I was hoping to achieve was a person who is fluid in his speech, and in order to do that, it required a different level of preparation to be able to speak differently. It’s probably no different than what Kathleen [Gati, Obrecht] does. It’s almost like working in an accent, in a way. And frankly, I blew a bunch of takes the first couple of days. I don’t know if this is appropriate, but this is the truth: I knew what I was being asked to do was out of my comfort zone and so I gave myself permission to be terrible at it. In all the years I’ve done this, I’ve never given myself that permission, and it was really freeing. And maybe the audience will agree and be like, “Yeah, you were! You’re pretty terrible!” But to allow myself to just not have it go well was something that I was always reluctant … Like, I always kind of held on to, “Yeah, yeah, let’s try really hard to make it [good]!” And I just went, “Okay, this is a dare. I’m going to approach it like a dare and see if I can’t [do it], and maybe that might take a couple of extra takes.” People were really patient with me. I got a lot of support there. I’m very grateful.
Digest: When you needed the extra takes, was it because you flubbed a line, or because it wasn’t coming out the way you hoped it would?
Howarth: They were speech-related for me. It had to do with that little stutter, that little hitch, that has been such a crutch [as Franco]. I’m a grown man, and there’s a thing about me when I walk into my parents’ house where I become kind of an adolescent, do you know what I mean? Little things about the way I talk and the way I interrelate with people. It’s almost like that. I’ve been interrelating with that space [at GH] for five, six years now with a certain set of default settings. And they kept kind of popping up a little bit and I kind of had to tell myself, “Oh — this guy doesn’t stand like that; this guy stands like this.”
Digest: When you say you had a lot of support, who were you feeling that from?
Howarth: Oh, high up. The people that will say, “Yeah, let’s try that again.” This is maybe way more than I should say in an interview, but there’s a director I’ve known for a long time, and he speaks in code with me when my performance is going over the top. Instead of just saying, “Roger, that’s awful,” he’ll put his hand on my shoulder to make sure I’m paying attention, and he’ll look me in the eye and he’ll say, “That’s great. Maybe two percent less.” And I got the two percent note, and it made me laugh, because I was like, “Okay, great!” That’s my job, to push it so far that you have to pull me back, and I did. It was most difficult for me to figure out who this guy is in relation to Scotty. I worked a day with Kin [Shriner, Scotty] and I think that Drew would not know what to do with somebody like that. It was like seeing a Martian. He doesn’t interrelate with people like that a lot in his soldier world.
Digest: Do you feel more engaged by trying to figure this stuff out than you maybe would by a more typical day at work?
Howarth: I’d like to say no; I’d hate to think that I wasn’t engaged by what I was doing when I was playing Franco, and I don’t want people to think I was phoning it in. But I will say this: The brain likes new things. So I’m getting chemicals that I haven’t had in a while, you know? There were definitely times when I was nervous to be playing the role of Franco, particularly in a group of people, in a group setting. A Nurses’ Ball or a funeral or a wedding scene or whatever — those bring a certain set of nerves to the performance that are not necessarily part of your everyday, Elizabeth’s brownstone/hub setting, and so those days feel a little different than some other days. I’ve had that kind of anxiety, certainly, this last week.
Digest: You’ll be working more with Tamara Braun (Kim), since Franco now has Drew’s missing memories of his romance with Kim.
Howarth: Yeah. We’re just getting started, so we’ll have to see where it goes, but it definitely begins at a high pitch, because Kim is spinning from the loss of her son and they are two people who really aren’t sure of their place in the world, so you have two emotionally distraught, disturbed humans interrelating. It’s not a neutral, relaxed set of conversations — which is good!
Digest: And of course, the fact that Franco isn’t Franco anymore, at least for now, certainly throws a monkey wrench into “Friz”.
Howarth: Yeah, this is a good story! If she can be tragic, which I think is a good color on that character, and have her go, “Where are you, where are you?” and they fall for one another? Sign me up! Sign me up for any interaction between Franco and Elizabeth. I’m kind of a fan.