Since Sonny was presumed dead at the tail end of 2020, Maurice Benard has been playing an amnesiac version of the role he first assumed in 1993, one known as Mike.
Benard says he was comfortable with the plot from the beginning. “These days, I say, ‘Don’t tell me story, I don’t need to hear it, I’ll just do it.’ Years ago, it was different; I was all, like, crazy, and I wouldn’t do this, I wouldn’t do that. Now, I pretty much do anything. And when Frank [Valentini, executive producer] first told me about this story, I said, ‘Okay! I’m cool with it.’ ”
A few months into developing this new persona, Benard reports, “I’m into it! I’m having fun. I am having fun playing this kind of subtle difference [between the characters] and I love the two people I work with, Joyce [Guy, Phyllis] and Rif [Hutton, Lenny]. I did some stuff with them yesterday that was really fun. They always bring good actors in and I love that; it makes a big difference. I’m cool with the story, but if these two actors I was working with were not good, it would be a different story.”
In approaching how to portray Mike, Benard notes, “When I play different characters — especially now that I’m older and I think I’ve learned more — it’s always about energy, and also about something physical. So I always keep my hands in my pockets when I play this character. I don’t stand like Sonny. And I wanted to make this character more like me, without that other thing of the darker side, the tough guy side. Now, obviously, you’ve seen that when you piss Mike off, he becomes The Hulk! And that’s fun, because I get to be bigger than Sonny would be, with the anger and craziness. I want to play like there’s an animal inside of me. But the subtlety is that his energy is different, he talks a little different, and he smiles! He smiles a lot more, he laughs. So it’s me; I play a little more me and there’s a difference from Sonny.”
The actor acknowledges that diehard Sonny fans are eager for Mike to get his memories back (“They don’t want anything but Sonny; they’re like, ‘You’re all right doing what you’re doing, the acting’s pretty good, Mike’s all right, but we want Sonny back!’ ”) — and he can relate. “Yesterday, I was like, ‘Damn, I wish I was Sonny!’ But it’s a good change.”
And because his scenes are primarily limited to the Phyllis and Lenny characters, Benard winks, “I have a lot more days off, which I’m fine with — but my wife [Paula] isn’t [laughs]!”