ICYMI Tristan Rogers Interview

Soap Opera Digest: You made your GH debut as Robert on December 2, 1980. What was life like for you before GH came along?

Tristan Rogers: I was a builder’s laborer. I had just gotten to the country [from his native Australia] and that’s what I did for a while, and then I worked in a gym as an instructor for a while. The first job my [theatrical agent] sent me out on was GENERAL HOSPITAL, for a two-day role.

Digest: What do you remember about the audition? Rogers: It was very unspectacular. I got in there, the one other person who was in there, I happened to know from Australia. It came my time to do the reading, which wasn’t for Gloria [Monty, then-executive producer], it was for the casting director. They said, “Can you come back tomorrow?” That was a hopeful sign! So, I came back the next day and did a reading with Gloria and we chatted a bit and again they said, “Can you come back tomorrow?” I said, “Sure.” What else was I doing? Came back the next day and there were a whole lot more people there, and one of them was the VP of [ABC] Daytime who was visiting from New York, Jackie Smith. After, they said, “Can you come back tomorrow?” This went on for the whole week! Friday came along and it was one of those really rare occasions in an actor’s life where you know you’ve got the job, but they’re not going to tell you. And sure enough, on the following Monday, my [then-]wife got a call and they said, “Yes, he’s got the job, can he present himself at the studio today for a wardrobe fitting?” And away we went. I don’t think the reading was anything fantastic, but Gloria used to look for people who got along with her personality-wise, and unless you’re a complete butthole, I can get along with you! We hit it off, and [one day on set] I was asked to come into her office and she said, “There’s been a discussion, and we’d like to keep you.” I was dumbfounded.

Digest: And GH just so happened to be the hottest show on television at the time.

Rogers: I didn’t know at the time the importance of GENERAL HOSPITAL; it was just one more job for me. But it was really exciting, to be fresh off the boat and walk into this role. Of course, after that, everywhere I went, people would go, “You’re on GENERAL HOSPITAL? That’s the hottest thing in the country! You’re working with Luke and Laura? Oh, my God!” I had never told anyone that I was [in the U.S.] as an actor, so it was a shock to everybody when I [told my bosses], “I got this role on this show called GENERAL HOSPITAL and I can’t work for you guys anymore.” Their jaws just dropped! It was a big deal, and it just kept on going. It was the gift that kept on giving, so to speak. I got caught up in the GENERAL HOSPITAL tidal wave and just got swept away by it.

Digest: What was that sudden catapult into fame like for you personally?

Rogers: It was a tough adjustment. It was something you would never get in Australia to that degree, because the audience is so much smaller. To be part of something that was a massive phenomenon in the country is very hard to put into words. You literally had very little privacy; everywhere you went, people pointed at you like you were some kind of a whack job! It took a bit of adjusting. It cost me my marriage. The marriage kind of got swept to the side; we led two different lives, so we finished it.

Digest: In your first year on the show, Robert was entangled with Luke and Laura and the Ice Princess adventure on Cassadine Island. What stands out to you about that time?

Rogers: I remember the craziness of it and the intensity of it. Living in L.A., everyone is celebrity-blasé, but when you left town, then you really understood how crazy it was. Going to New York, Philly, Boston, Detroit, any of those places, it was crazy town. You needed to be looked after; you couldn’t just go for a stroll or into a bar or a restaurant. I’d have my meals from room service, because going out wasn’t much of an option, unless you wanted to get mauled. I will say this: I found it extremely amusing for about the first three months, where it was, “Wow, this is cool!” And when I brought my parents over, they were totally blown away. They said, “We’ll talk about this back in Australia, but nobody’s going to believe it.” But after the Luke and Laura wedding, it was all over. The big phenomenon, the big rush, etc., etc. — that wedding was the end of it.

Digest: Speaking of the wedding, what do you remember about sharing the stage with Elizabeth Taylor (ex-Helena)?

Rogers: The very first day she was on set, she walked in like any one of a dozen other people, wearing comfortable clothes, and introduced herself just like anyone would. She said, “Okay — where do I find Rogers?” Turns out, Rogers was in makeup, so she came down, introduced herself, we chatted, and she said, “Look, can we run lines?” I said, “Of course.” She had one of the production offices which had been converted into a dressing room for her and I went in there and she slammed the door shut behind me and she said, “I know all about you.” I went, “My God, my reputation has preceded me already and I haven’t even shaken your hand?” She said, “You are a notorious ad-libber.” I said, “Yeah. Sometimes the script doesn’t add up to what my character is, they’re still trying to figure out how to write for an Australian here.” She said, “Look, there are some lines here that I’m not happy with myself. I need some slick lines.” I said, “Are you serious?” She said, “Yes.” So I gave her a whole lot of stuff to do and come the day of, she never used one single word! So that was that! We stayed good friends all the way through and she invited the entire cast and crew to The Little Foxes, which she was doing [on stage] at the time. That was a great night. We went out a few times together. She was just a fun person to be with.

Digest: Regarding all that ad-libbing, did you feel from the start that you had license to play around with the dialogue?

Rogers: Well, I noticed right from the get-go that the dialogue didn’t always fit the character well. So right on the first day, I said to the director, “You know, this doesn’t work. He wouldn’t say this in these circumstances, and he wouldn’t say that under those circumstances. It’s hard for me to make this work.” Well, I guess he spoke to somebody up in the office and Gloria sent down a note saying, “Change it.” And that was it! Tony [Geary, ex-Luke] had his ideas about how the script would go, too, and we would sit down together and he’d say, “Well, what do you want to say here? Does this work for you?” And I’d say, “Yes, I can make that work.” I mean, I didn’t take stuff and change it unless it needed to be. If I could make it work by changing punctuation, or changing the tone, I would do that and see how it went. And if Gloria didn’t like it, she’d tell you. Quickly! But for the most part, I got away with making my own changes to the dialogue, and that’s pretty much continued to this day.

Digest: What stands out to you about working with Demi Moore during her time as Jackie Templeton?

Rogers: She was a wild child. Totally out of control. She was a fun person to be with. I liked her. I mean, I had no idea she was going to go as far she did. I don’t think anybody did, based on what she was doing on GENERAL HOSPITAL. But she had a quality about her which was interesting and, you know, what can I tell you? History is what history is!

Digest: Let’s talk about Robert’s hugely successful romance with Emma Samms’s Holly Sutton. What do you think made that pairing so magical?

Rogers: It was really quite simple. Well, it was simple to us: We simply brought our off-camera relationship [the actors were a real-life duo at the time] on camera, and we made this couple loving and comedic. We didn’t want it to be like, “Okay, they got together and that’s the end of that.” No. The relationship went forward for about two years, and that was considered to be quite a long time at that stage. But also, the most important thing is that there was a lead-up to it. It wasn’t just, they shook hands, “Hi, I’m Holly Sutton.” “Okay, let’s go to bed together,” which is what it is today. There was a big lead-up before these two even kissed!

Digest: In 1985, GH introduced an ex-wife, Anna, and a daughter, Robin, for Robert.

Rogers: What developed, I can’t take credit for it myself — at least I don’t think I can! — but Finola [Hughes, Anna] and I just got along well together. Well, not always. It wasn’t always easy. And what evolved out of that, and I don’t think it was by design, I think it kind of just happened, [was] that we had little Kimberly [McCullough, ex-Robin] in the middle, and Finola and I at each end and the child became the focal point of our relationship. Everything else kind of fell into place around that. I don’t think it would have worked as well without Kimberly.

Digest: Do you remember your first impression of Finola?

Rogers: Oh, yeah, “Just another haughty Pom!” Pom, that’s an Australian term for a Brit. We did a good reading together and I knew she had the part and I knew that we could do something together, so I said to her at the end of it, “Hey, we’re going to have some fun together.” And we did.

Digest: Did you enjoy working with little Kimberly and having a child on set?

Rogers: Oh, hell yeah. Because she was so smart! She could keep up with you. Fin and I would sit down and say, “Okay, well, let’s stick with the script.” We didn’t want to mess around with her, because she’d come in word-perfect, never anything but. We’d rehearse with her a lot, and always, if we changed something, she’d pick up on it in a second and just move her way through it. She was wonderful! It was terrific, and today, the three of us are still very close. If we haven’t seen each other for a year, doesn’t matter. We run into each other and we pick up a conversation we had 12 months ago.

Digest: You had taken a break prior, but in 1992, you exited and save for a brief 1995 reprisal in ghost form, Robert didn’t return until a short-term stint in 2006. Looking back now, are you glad that you left when you did?

Rogers: I was coming from a place, when I left, which was not a good place. I’d had it. I needed to get away. After I’d gone away, I had children, which changed my perspective on life enormously. I don’t know if becoming a parent and staying on GENERAL HOSPITAL would have worked all that well. I think what worked well is what actually happened: I left and became a full-time parent. I did jobs on the side of course, but going back to GENERAL HOSPITAL was never on my menu. I was done with it. When I came back, it was weird. I didn’t stay for very long, but we’d all changed, the characters had changed and it wasn’t a happy time.

Digest: You returned for another short bit in 2008, the same year you reprised Scorpio on GH: NIGHT SHIFT. Then, when Frank Valentini came aboard as EP in 2012, we began seeing you on the show more regularly — and now, here we are, in 2020, celebrating your 40th. What is your take on why Robert Scorpio is such an iconic character, whose popularity has endured for all this time?

Scorpio: I don’t have a specific answer for this. I’ve got my own way of doing things, and my interpretation isn’t always the way it’s written. I think it took Frank a while to understand that, but now he totally gets it. Scorpio is Scorpio. He’s different from anybody else on the show. He’s sweet when he needs to be, he’s sensitive, he’s loving, and then he can be a total hard-ass. So I guess I’ve been able to do all of those emotions and elements and make them real, make them a part of the character but not the part of the character. Scorpio’s not one thing, he’s many things, and I’ve kept that in mind when I play him. And so basically, the character has evolved to the way he is today. Just with gray hair.

Digest: What does this milestone mean to you?

Rogers: Well, clearly, I’m never going to have a job for this length of time again. To look back and think I’ve been associated with this show for 40 years is pretty incredible, but to try to put that into words is difficult. As someone once said, you can’t dwell on the past; you’re as good as your next show. As long as I can entertain people, I’m doing the right thing. As the years have gone by, I’ve managed to attract an across-the-board demographic across the audience, which is great. To think that from the ’80s to now, 40 years down the line, people still like what I’m doing, that’s really gratifying. You think to yourself, “Yeah, I did the right thing. I’m not sure what I did, but I did the right thing!” I look back on it with a degree of pride.

Digest: As well you should. And it’s not over yet!

Rogers: No. Far from it.