On May 27, Roger Howarth — whose Franco was killed off in March — returned to the show in his latest guise, that of Austin, the doctor who delivered Maxie’s daughter.
The actor admits that playing Austin for the first time was daunting. “I was straight-up terrified, 100 percent,” he reports. “Excited and pleased and grateful — I love what I do and I was glad to get back to it — but there’s a certain amount of nervous energy that showed up. That guy showed up! But I don’t dislike that; I think that kind of excitement and anticipation and level of opening-night, jittery thing that happens is super-fun and when it shows up, I always just think that’s great. I have some tools to regulate that kind of energy, but I’m frequently nervous; coping with the stress of performing and being an actor is part of what comes with [the job].”
Howarth describes himself as still “in the approach” as he wraps his mind around his new character, the third he’s played (the first being his ONE LIFE TO LIVE alter ego, Todd Manning) since he joined the GH ranks in 2012. “Even five or six weeks in [to taping episodes as Austin], there are still things that I don’t know and still things that I’m trying to figure out,” he notes. “But what I do know for certain is that I like him. I hope the audience enjoys him, because there is some great story coming and it’s exciting to me.
“In terms of figuring it out,” he continues, “what’s been really kind of fun is that as soon as I think I have it figured out, I’m reminded that I just don’t. So there’s been some trial and error. I’m learning to juggle and sometimes I drop the ball. But I have a lot of support; [Co-Head Writers] Chris [Van Etten] and Dan [O’Connor] have a lot of great ideas and Frank [Valentini, executive producer] has chimed in with what he needs, and so for me, at the risk of overusing ‘juggling exercises’, I am trying to juggle a lot of different inputs and trying to stay on track and do what’s expected. And it’s been fun. It requires some concentration from me and different parts of my brain that I wasn’t using.”
Part of Howarth’s new assignment is to differentiate Austin from his previous GH roles. While he did change his hair-style before returning to the studio (“It’s the only one that I didn’t already cover with the other two people; it was the only one left. And I may or may not have done it myself”), he points out, “I can’t change the way I look so much. So for this guy to be different, he has to speak differently and walk differently and to be honest, I’ve had mixed success and it’s taken me a bit — I’m still kind of figuring it out. But I really like the process of figuring it out. I’m just really grateful that I’m getting the chance to try.”
As Austin, he finds himself “meeting” characters who were familiar to Franco. Observes Howarth, “In the life of the character I play, they’re all new faces, but it’s a big ask, I think, for Becky [Herbst, Elizabeth] and Michael [Easton, Finn] to have Elizabeth and Finn say, ‘Yeah, I don’t know who this person is.’ But that’s what the ask is.” As for his own approach to these run- ins, he says, “Every time [Austin] is kind of introduced into a new character circle, I feel a little thrown, because I don’t know how the character that I play deals with that particular other character…. Every time he walks into a room and there’s somebody that Austin hasn’t dealt with yet, I’ve got to start over. I get to start over 24 times!”
Prior to Howarth’s reintroduction, fan speculation about who he might play included talk of him reprising Todd — which the actor would have been cool with. “What would I say if I read in a script that Todd was there? I have nothing but incredibly positive things to say about my experience playing Todd and at this point, I would pretty much look forward to it; he’s a great character. That would be super-fun. But I’m glad that it’s not an either/or proposition, because right now I’m really having a lot of fun with what I’m doing.” He’s also aware that a contingent of viewers had hoped that reports of Franco’s death had been greatly exaggerated, and says, “I’m just pleased and amazed and grateful that the work that we all did in the Franco/Elizabeth/ Cameron/Scotty/Liesl universe has such unbelievable support, and I’m really grateful that I got to be a part of something that was really special. I’m really proud of what we all did. I’m thoroughly excited about what’s next, because you just never know. But most of all, I’m touched and amazed at how gracious the fans have been so far.”
That extends to the fans’ support of how he spent a good chunk of his hiatus from GH: He joined Cameo, the celeb video shout-out service, and donated 100 percent of the profits to Feeding America. “It has just been so beautiful, the whole thing,” he reports. “I’m just so grateful for everyone’s support of Feeding America. Together, we have fed hundreds of thousands of people, and it’s just such an awesome kind of coming together of me getting a chance to thank people for their support, and them getting a chance to lend a helping hand to people who might be having a hard time. Who doesn’t want to be a part of that? I am surprised by how much I enjoy it. I’m going to keep doing it! It’s really nice to lend a hand.”
While Cameo kept him busy, Howarth says he looked forward to getting back to work. “I really like the people that I work with. It was lovely to see the crew. I really like what I do, and I’ve been doing it a long time, and it’s really nice for me to be this far into a career and still have a level of enthusiasm where I look forward to getting back to work when I’m away from work. It’s really nice. I’m really lucky.”