This interview was originally published in the February 29, 2000 issue of Soap Opera Digest.
These days, everyone’s talking about the global dominance of Hispanic entertainers — you know, artists like Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin and Carlos Santana. Well, you can add Galen Gering’s (Luis) name to the list. As PASSIONS’s breakout hunk, he’s spearheading the Latin invasion on daytime… and that’s only fitting, given his heritage. “My great-great-grandfather was one of the conquistadors of New Mexico,” says the actor, who dismissed the family tie as “folklore” until he saw it in print. “When I was studying history in ninth grade, there it was in a textbook: Juan Don de Oñate, my mother’s maiden name. Turns out he, in large part, settled Santa Fe.”
Following in grampy’s footsteps, Gering is, in large part settling Harmony in the hearts — and viewing schedules — of NBC fans still hot and bothered from Luis’s last tango with Sheridan. The actor is recognized everywhere. “You can be in this completely anonymous place, have to get there by little mountain roads, this tiny town … and the people there know who you are,” he marvels. “It really catches you off-guard. I was in this little spa outside Santa Fe, and these six half-naked girls came around the corner screaming, ‘Luis! Luis!’ It’s flattering, but, I mean, it’s very strange.” Equally strange was his career’s accidental — yet oh-so Hollywood — kickoff. “A friend of mine was getting a haircut at this salon on Ventura Boulevard called Barron’s, and I went with him,” recalls the L.A. native, who was then a high schooler. “And the owner — he was pretty well-known at the time; he did Sheena Easton’s hair — saw me and said, ‘Would you do an ad for my salon?’” He would, indeed — and the next thing Gering knew, he had a manager and agents and was living alone in New York City, modeling and finishing the 12th grade via correspondence course. “Then the following summer, I had registered at UCLA and was planning on going there, but an agent from Italy called with a week-long job in Africa for like $1,500 a day. And this was for a kid who had no money and didn’t know how he was going to pay for college. So it was like, ‘Okay — I can either go to school, or go to Africa and get paid like a superstar.’”
He chose Africa. “But the U.S. had just bombed Libya when I got there, and we were in Tunisia, and it was totally hostile,” he shudders. “I was the only American there, and we were in this little village that was like something out of Indiana Jones — people were banging on pots and screaming, ‘American!’ and miming that they were going to kill me. I eventually got dragged into this carpet shot by some guy who was trying to save me. It was a nightmare. Then I flew from Tunisia back to Italy. It was 1 in the morning, my first time in Italy, 17 years old and I had [nowhere to stay], so I slept out on the street with all my bags in the pouring rain.”
It was the first of many European adventures for Gering, who spent the next several years in Paris and Milan, walking runways (for Armani and Valentino), making weird commercials. And for a long time, it was a great life. “Modeling was a fantastic vehicle for me to see the world and work with people from different cultures and do all kinds of things that you don’t normally get the opportunity to do if you’re not in the field. But at the same time, I always felt very strange,” he admits. “Because whatever you do, you want recognition. Whether you’re a writer, an actor or a sanitation worker, you want recognition for your work. That’s when I decided I really needed to go back to school.”
Back he went: Two years at NYU, and two at the University of Miami, where he majored in English and film, renovated historic homes, designed furniture and played semi-pro volleyball. He graduated last May at the top of his film school class (perhaps preordained by his “hippie” parents’ decision to name him after the ancient Greek physician Galen, who died at about 201 A.D.) and flew to California to start work on PASSIONS. Accompanying him were his now-fiancée, actress Jenna Hudlett (MIAMI SANDS) and their pets, Wile E. Coyote (a yellow Lab) and Stashe (a three-legged cat).
He arrived on the set with more than 50 commercials under his belt, but practically no other experience (“It’s hard to study acting when you’re living in countries where so few people speak English”). Within days of the show’s debut, the press singled him out as being a bit of an untalented bimbo: Gering himself is the first to admit he was no Brando in the beginning. “I didn’t really feel picked on, but if I was, maybe rightly so,” he says. “I was coming off a really difficult place back then. I moved out here the day I graduated from college, I was working 24/7, my cat lost its leg … it was all very distracting. But, I think I’ve gotten better. I certainly feel a lot more settled.”
Indeed, Harmony feels just like home. “I was in Florida studying writing and film-making, and now here I am back in Los Angeles where I grew up, doing something completely different. And check this out: The salon where I first got discovered was the exact same salon where NBC sent me to get my hair cut before I started the show. And I just thought, ‘God, this is amazing,’ “ Gering laughs. “And then the show turns out to be all about these supernatural things, and you know, it makes you realize there’s just gotta be something going on out there.”
JUST THE FACTS
Born: February 13, 1971
Dream Car: Porsche Carrera convertible
Height: 6 feet, 2 inches
Siblings: One older sister, Charissa
Now Reading: Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance (“It’s a reread, actually.”)
Must-See TV: “None, but I do watch PASSIONS.”
Musical Talent: “I played bass in a band for a while.”
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