Don Harvey — the Michigan-born actor with a multitude of film (Casualties of War, Eight Men Out) and television (BLUE BLOODS, THE NIGHT OF) credits under his Yale-trained belt — debuted last month in the recast GH role of Tom Baker, the skeevy shutterbug who raped Elizabeth Webber back in 1998. He chatted about his Port Charles experience with Soap Opera Digest.
Soap Opera Digest: I have to say, you drew me in on day one, because you were so believable when Tom was trying to convince Franco that he was redeemed with his, “Thank you for hearing me, thank you for listening” bit!
Don Harvey: In that episode, I felt like I just wanted him to be like a real person who just got out of jail, not like your typical, nasty rapist — a really sensitive guy. What he said was, “I’m a counselor myself now, I’ve been reformed.” When you’re doing a show like GENERAL HOSPITAL, you have to take everything at face value, because you don’t know exactly where it’s going to go. You can’t sit there, like when you’re doing a movie, and say, “Well, I’m saying one thing, but I know that 30 pages later….” You just have to do what’s right in front of you.
Digest: Well, you really made me wonder, is he on the level? Is he not?
Harvey: I always try to do that in my acting, always, try to make the audience believe that what I’m saying is true, because the character may be really cunning, enough that he’s actually lying, but if you’re playing it like he’s lying, you’re just giving it away.
Digest: How did this gig come about for you?
Harvey: My agent is good friends with Mark [Teschner, GH’s casting director]. I had just finished doing a TV show in New York; I was out of town for like six months, working on THE DEUCE with James Franco [ex-Franco, GH] and Maggie Gyllenhaal, an HBO series. He called me less than a week before I got back to town and said, “I don’t know if you’d even be interested in something like this,” and I said, “Why not? Of course I would be interested! I can’t wait!” I got into back town on a Sunday from New York, and Monday, I went to work [as Tom]. It was perfect! It was just wonderful.
Digest: And now you have worked with both actors who have played Franco.
Harvey: Isn’t that incredible? I was with James Franco on the Friday before I met Roger [Howarth, Franco]. It’s so bizarre! I haven’t told that to James Franco yet, but the next time I talk to him, I’m sure I’ll fill him in about what’s going on here. It really does feel pretty amazing to have worked with both of those actors because they’re both great people and I love them. I’m very lucky to be working with the best in the business. [Pause] I should write a book called The Two Francos!
Digest: What did you know about the Tom Baker character going in?
Harvey: Absolutely nothing! I was asking my wife, because she used to watch the show; she was totally into Luke and Laura and all the old characters, but she hadn’t been watching it recently, so she started watching again. When I told her the name of my character, she said, “Oh, my God, you’re Tom Baker?” I said, “Who’s Tom Baker?” and she started telling me what happened and it was just weird, it’s amazing, to think of. I look at Elizabeth and I think she’s somebody’s daughter. She looks like she’s in high school. So if Tom raped her 18 years ago, how does that break down, you know? And she said she’s been on the show for 18 years. That’s pretty amazing, right? It’s amazing to me that I can play a guy old enough to have done that, but she was just a girl when it happened.
Digest: They really threw you into the fire on your first day, which was so dialogue-heavy and so physical with the confrontation between Tom and Franco at Tom’s brother’s house.
Harvey: We did that over two days, and it was still a lot. I spent hours learning those lines because I really wanted to not be nervous at all about whether or not I knew my lines. When I got to the set, it just all unfolded. I felt like I was right in the middle of the action from the moment I got there and everybody was extremely respectful of me. People were coming up to me in the crew and the cast, and especially Roger, and saying, “I’ve seen you in so much really great stuff and I love your work.” It was like, suddenly, immediately, I felt like I was one of the family, which is pretty amazing. It was fun to really get in there with Roger because he’s so great and we’ve had so much fun together.
Digest: Does that include his character locking yours up in a dog crate?!
Harvey: Yes! It was funny; the first time he told me about it, he had kind of a weird smirk on his face and this gleam in his eye. “I’m going to lock you in a dog crate with a shock collar on.” I thought he was kidding! Then I just looked back at him and said, “Oh, game on, baby!” I think we both understood the humor of it, as well as the seriousness of it. I think that’s the whole thing about acting on a soap. You have to realize that there’s a lot of humor there, for people who watch the show a long time; you begin to become a fan of the underlying strangeness of the situations. These actors are so good that they can actually play that. They can be totally serious, but you can tell, underneath, that there is something there, that they are allowed to laugh a little bit. That’s when it gets really crazy! But we did play it very serious. There was a lot of anger. I had to get in touch with my inner angry child who would not be let out of his playpen.
Digest: What has your interaction with Rebecca Herbst (Elizabeth) been like?
Harvey: We were kind of shy around each other. I had such a crush on her and I felt like I wanted that energy to come out when I saw her, like, “She’s so beautiful and I’m sorry for what I did.” But whenever I would talk to her, whether we were in the scene or just on the set or in the green room, I would always feel a little bashful and we would just have the greatest conversations because she would tell me about what was going on and what was happening in the story of Port Charles and I would just get so tickled by it. Her perspective on everything was unique and really drew me into the story, the way she was explaining it.
Digest: You have done a few other soaps in your time, correct?
Harvey: My first job was on RYAN’S HOPE. I was a third-year student at the Yale School of Drama in New Haven, CT, and I already had an agent, who had come up and seen me in a play. Crazy! I went in and auditioned for RYAN’S HOPE and got it and did episodes while I was still at Yale. That whole summer, I played Reggie, the punk-rock car thief who coerced Christian Slater [ex-D.J.] into doing bad things. It was one of his first jobs. And his girlfriend was [played by] Yasmine Bleeth [ex-Ryan]. I kidnapped them and put them in a boiler room with Michael Levin [ex-Jack]. Let me tell you something: I have DVDs of all my episodes, but they’re from old VHS recordings. I would love fresh copies of those, because I would watch them! Heck, yeah! Just priceless stuff. That was my first job and it was great. And I did ANOTHER WORLD and ONE LIFE TO LIVE. And I did something else; I can’t remember what it was, but I’m pretty sure that I worked with Roger before, but we didn’t really talk much because it was just one scene or something.
Digest: Do you remember what you did on AW?
Harvey: I worked with Tom Eplin [ex-Jake] and Ellen Wheeler [ex-Vicky/Marley]. I was Aces, another punk rocker, who was trying to get in with Ellen. We had a whole gang. We kidnapped them, we held them hostage at a beach house, and then Tom came and rescued her. It was right before I went off to do Casualties of War.
Digest: What do you remember about ONE LIFE TO LIVE?
Harvey: I think it was with Blair Underwood. Was he on that show?
Digest: He was indeed, as Bobby Blue, from 1985-86.
Harvey: Bobby Blue! Yes! I had to say “Bobby Blue” a bunch of times! I was there for about a week. His girlfriend, he wanted to marry her, and her father didn’t like him because he thought he was a bad influence. So her father hired me to plant drugs in Bobby Blue’s jacket — which I did [laughs]. It’s a living! Listen, I’ve done just about everything you can do in this business for over 30 years now. It’s crazy; I’m so, so lucky.
Digest: You must have noticed that the production days on a soap go a lot quicker than they used to!
Harvey: This particular process is completely different than any of the other soaps I’ve done. In the past, we would all come in in the morning, at like 7 o’clock in the morning, and everybody would rehearse with the directors for an hour, and then you would wait in your dressing room for hours until they called you to the set to shoot your scenes. The way it works now, you’re called in about an hour before your scene is scheduled to shoot, you rehearse then, and then you shoot it. It’s so much easier and they get so much more done; it’s more efficient. It’s an amazing environment and I respect those actors. It’s an incredible way to make a living and work. To be able to do that every day is so rewarding.