This interview was originally published in the May 23, 2000 issue of Soap Opera Digest.
After Nearly Nine Years Of Igniting Passion On GH, Wally Kurth Is Not Looking To Burn Up The Silver Screen
When interviewing GENERAL HOSPITAL’s Wally Kurth (Ned) about his career these days, it’s difficult to know which topic to address first. There is, of course, the fact that the engaging actor is coming up on his 13th year in daytime — close to nine of which have been spent portraying GH’s audacious Mr. Ashton. Then there’s the new CD, Freedom, that he and his Kurth & Taylor bandmates released late last year (which is available on their Web site, www.kurthandtaylor.com). And let’s not forget the Kurth & Taylor Foundation, a nonprofit organization that raises money for children’s charities.
But it’s Man On Fire — Kurth’s first screenplay — that truly has him, well, fired up. Man follows a rock star named Jimmy Treeborn (played by Kurth), who ditches his career and takes to the back roads of Montana to face down a painful memory from his past — finding romance and seeking redemption amidst the sumptuous Big Sky landscape. The film is loosely based on a chapter from Kurth’s own childhood. “When my brother [Kevin] was 5 years old, he accidently started a fire that burned down our house,” shares Kurth. “But he never told anyone. It was a secret he held on to for 20 years. My parents never really talked about it and sort of wrote it off as an electric blanket causing the fire.”
While the screenplay (which Kurth is co-producing with brothers Kevin and Brian) differs on several levels from Kevin’s experience, the common thread of burning secrets remains. “My first draft was about secrets and lies,” he notes. “But this [latest] draft is more about a repressed memory and owning who you are. That was the intriguing part: What you’ve done in the past is who you are in the present.”
Ironically, it was the death of Kurth’s brother-in-law, Skip, two years ago that galvanized the actor to start writing the screenplay in the first place. “My sister’s husband was really close to me and all of us boys in the family,” sighs Kurth. “He did of cancer, and it made me realize just how short life is and how I really needed to start pursuing these dreams I’d had for a long time. I wanted to write it for him.”
Though at this point, the closest Man On Fire has come to being realized is the screenplay itself and a stunning eight-and-a-half-minute promotional trailer that Kurth shot to sell the project (part of which can be viewed at www.evolutionpictures.com), the actor plans to begin filming this summer in Montana. As a result, he’ll need to take some time away from GH. “I want to do this movie this summer,” he says. “So, I’ll take time off to do that. I’ve only been off six months in the last 13 years. I need to take a break and do something. You know, get dirty, ride a horse, take off all my clothes, get crazy and go to Montana. It’s low-budget enough that we’ll be one step away from guerrilla filmmaking [laughs]. It’ll be a good time.”
Kurth’s potential leave, of course, comes at a crucial time: The actor’s contract is set to expire in July. “I haven’t made a decision yet,” admits Kurth of whether he plans to re-sign. “I do have a family to support; I’ve got children [daughters Meghann, 14, and Rosabel, 3 ½], so that is a big consideration. Plus, I love my job. I love the family that it is and the work. I also love the fact that I don’t have to look for a job like most actors do. It’s a beautiful thing to have a job like this. As long as I’m artistically satisfied with the movie, the music, the acting….”
As for the acting that involves music, Kurth reveals that he couldn’t be more thrilled about the re-introduction of Ned’s rocker alter ego, Eddie Maine. “I love that they’re bringing back Eddie Maine,” he raves. “My favorite time [on GH] was when [former Head Writer] Claire Labine turned Ned into Eddie Maine, brought in the Lois character and brought in the music element. I really think it turned my character around in the sense that he was such a stuffed shirt in a suit. He got to express more passion. That was the most entertaining for me because I was able to reveal a different part of my personality as well as Ned’s. Plus, having [Kurth & Taylor] on the show [as Eddie’s backup band, the Idle Rich] and, of course, meeting Rena [Sofer, ex-Lois, whom Kurth wed in 1996]. All of that was amazing.”
Despite the fact that Kurth and Sofer recently announced they have separated, the actor continues to speak affectionately about her and reports that the split was amicable. “I really want to respect Rena’s privacy,” he relates. “She’s very protective of it and I want to honor that. We’ve also made an effort to keep the children out of the press and protect their privacy. We are separated, but we’re not planning on getting divorced at this moment. I think we’re both hopeful, but we’re also realistic. We want to make sure that both of us are happy. That’s what we want more than anything else.”
With all that’s going on in his life, Kurth naturally has little free time (“If I’m not working, I’m playing with my children,” he shares). Not that he’s complaining. “I feel like I’m stepping into my passion,” he smiles. “I think that my work on GENERAL HOSPITAL has gotten better because I’ve gotten this passionate outlet. I’m more passionate about my life now than I’ve ever been, so I have more energy. When I think back to the time when I started [on GH], I feel like I’ve really grown up. That has to do with GENERAL HOSPITAL, and it also has to do with my relationships with people and with Rena and my children. The last nine years have been pretty powerful for me.”
JUST THE FACTS
Birthday: July 31
What A Butte: Kurth was born in Billings, Montana.
DAYS Gone By: Kurth portrayed DAYS OF OUR LIVES’s Justin Kiriakis from 1987-91.
In Tune: “Tava [Smiley, Chloe] gave me a copy of Macy Gray’s album, which I really enjoy. New music today is so cool.”
All Four One: “Ingo [Rademacher, Jax], Tava, Nancy [Lee Grahn, Alexis] and myself are all very different. But it’s funny how we can all get in a room and become the same — like goofy, little kids.”
Cruise Control: “I would not want to have Tom Cruise’s career. I’ve got the best job in Hollywood. I get to do my music, I get to act. I’m very happy with it.”