This interview was originally published in the May 15, 2001 issue of Soap Opera Digest.
The century was just a shade away from turning when we last interviewed GENERAL HOSPITAL’s Genie Francis for a feature. Asked, along with long-time on-screen partner Anthony Geary (Luke, who was also being profiled) whether they’d follow the Luke and Laura path if given the chance to do it all again, both responded the same way.
I don’t think so.
Cut to nearly a year and a half later, as a solo Francis sits down to chat, and you find out what a difference a new century can make. Energized by a storyline that not only has Laura no longer pining for lost love Luke, but kicking corporate you-know-what as the head of Deception Cosmetics (and looking fabulous while doing it), we couldn’t help but wonder if Francis’s career perspective had changed as of late.
“Would I do it all again?” she muses. “Yeah, I think I probably would.”
Credit in part Francis’s change of heart to her character’s long-awaited one. “I thought it was a much-needed change,” notes the candid actress of Laura’s transformation. “I just couldn’t keep playing the ingénue as I’m approaching 40. It’s not in me. I’d feel like Elvis smashing himself into that silly jumpsuit and shoe-polishing his hair [laughs]. It was time for Laura to grow up. I have to be who I am today, and they are letting me. So I’m very happy.”
And to the “they” — newly installed Executive Producer Jill Farren Phelps and Head Writer Megan McTavish — Francis attributes a great deal. “One of the things that has influenced me greatly — because I was planning to [leave GH] this April — is the fact that we have a new EP who is quite talented; then you follow her with Megan McTavish, who I worked with before [at ALL MY CHILDREN]. All of a sudden, I had to reconsider. These are two intelligent women who are the real deal. They’re going to challenge me, and that’s fun.”
First on the agenda, “Get Laura away from the window,” laughs Francis. “Who wants to watch this woman stare out the window and cry? There are moments of that, but the more interesting part is, ‘No what do I do with my life?’ Rather than play the tragedy, we decided to play a woman rebuilding her life, putting herself first. I like that. It’s good for women to see.”
Had Francis gotten her wish, that rebuilding process would’ve been slightly more complicated. “I just feel [the previous regime] didn’t fully tell the story of a woman in her late 30s being dumped,” she explains. “I was the one who fought for, ‘Well, a woman being dumped at this point in her life could freak out. She could get drunk; she could sleep with a day player [laughs]!’ It’s human to act out. But I was told that fans wouldn’t want to see Laura drunk. I never wanted Laura to be some kind of goody two-shoes, though. She’s an incredible woman, but I don’t think people can relate to her as readily as they can to a person with a lot of flaws. That’s what was most interesting about Laura way back when. She was trying to do the right thing, but couldn’t quite live up to it.’
And as the accomplished actress is the first to admit, the same might be said for herself at different points in her career. “Truthfully, [my career] is a study in all the wrong moves,” she smiles. “I wasn’t making my moves based on my career; I was making them mostly based on my need to work or not to work. And if you want to build a career, that’s not the way to do it.”
Take, for example, Francis’s decision to come back to daytime in the late 1980s. “We had just done NORTH AND SOUTH, my husband and I, and then there was a long time with no work,” she recalls. “We had bought a house, and we needed money. I had the ability to say, ‘Okay, I’ll do it now.’ So the agent I had at that time called NBC, and that’s when [my role on] DAYS OF OUR LIVS came to be. But from that point on, my career was tarnished in a way. It was changed. It was a return to daytime, and the business viewed it in some ways as a step back. That was a wrong move in their eyes.”
But not necessarily so in Francis’s. “I felt like I just wanted to go to work,” she sighs. “But that had quite an impact on my career. That, and also, the producers [of DAYS] not letting me out when another great miniseries came up. I had a nice miniseries career going, but because I was on-contract with them, they wouldn’t let me do it. Once I Was done with DAYS OF OUR LIVES, I was so unhappy that I actually quit acting for a year.”
And did what? “Oh, that’s part of my book,” teases Francis, referring to the autobiography she one day intends to write. “It was interesting, though. But after that, I decided I needed to go back to work. I got called to New York to audition for a play, and then there was the, ‘Oh, by the way, while you’re out there, these people from ALL MY CHILDREN….’ No, wait, it was ONE LIFE TO LIVE.”
Actually, offers came from both soaps, but Francis opted to play AMC’s Ceara. After moving to New York (while Frakes remained in L.A.), Francis was able to pursue her dream of taking to the stage, as well. “It was a time of intense work. Going to classes and working on the soap. Then I got an off-Broadway show called The Baby Dance. I was a put-in, which means you have nine days to learn the play. So I would be at [AMC] learning my scenes, and then I’d pull out my other script and just go back and forth. It was very challenging, but my opening night in that play was my personal best. Whenever I want to feel really good inside, I remember my curtain call that night and how great I felt.”
In fact, after leaving AMC in 1992, Francis pursued theater full-time. “I did a curtain-raiser downtown. But to originate a role was still very hard. I was always in the callbacks, but then not getting it. I read for one casting director, and she said, ‘Wow, you’re really good,’ — like, surprised. They’re always surprised when you’re good because they expect you to be bad [laughs]! If you’re blonde, and you come from the West Coast, and you come from daytime, they expect to meet an idiot. You’re not politically correct.”
Frustrated and ready to move on with her life, Francis opted to flip coasts once again. “I felt like, ‘If I can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em! I’m lonely here. My husband is still in Los Angeles, and I’m really missing him. The next time I come out of one of these damn audition, I want little kids running up to me and saying, “Hi, mom.”’ SO I went home. Again, all the wrong moves! But it was the right move personally. That’s what I’m saying: My choices have been dictated by my personal needs rather than what would be best for my career.” In the end, however, “It worked out for me!” smiles Francis, who not only returned to GH in 1993, but went on to have two children, Jameson, now 6 ½, and Eliza, 4. “Coming back to GH was a difficult choice for me,” she confides. “I think my career would have gone further had I not reacquainted myself with Laura. But I’m sure there’s some reason why I needed to be here. This is like a huge family to me. It’s been a great place to be, lots of love and support in this building. I’m very grateful for that.
“Sometimes, I still feel the tug to move on and let this go,” she allows. “As I get older, I feel that life is short and I should do the other things I really want to do. But when you leave the stage and you know you managed to find something special in a scene that you didn’t know was there … that’s the best part. As long as that aspect is there, I still want to come back and do it again and again.”
JUST THE FACTS
Birthday: May 26
Great Mate: Francis has been married for 13 years to actor/director/producer Jonathan Frnkes, of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION fame. “My husband is my best friend. He’s just an amazing, sweet, kind person. I think I’m infinitely more flawed than he is [laughs].”
On The Jobs: Francis has appeared as GH’s Laura from 1977-82, ’83-84 and 1993-present; DAYS’s Diana from 1987-89; and AMC’s Ceara from 1990-92.
Swatch This: “I love decorating and design. If I’m having a bady day, I go to the fabric store and cut swatches and I feel better [laughs].”
Laugh Track: “If I had one dream job I could have, other than this one, it would be a sitcom.”
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