Growing Up on General Hospital

For the last few years, eighteen-year-old Genie Francis has played Laura Webber on the top-rated ABC-TV soap, General Hospital, but for the lovely blonde-haired, blue-eyes actress, it's been a lifetime. Both Genie and Laura have grown up on the show, from receiving their first kiss simulatenously to moving out of their parents' home within the same week of one another. While General Hospital is just the beginning of Genie's career, she hopes to go on to act in everything from comedy to heavy drama. "I hope I don't end up playing the innocent girl next door. I'd like to do something a little juicier," she explains. Her only previous acting experience came when she was fourteen years old. Genie submitted her high school picture to an agent who sent her on an audition for Family, a role she easily secured.

Born the daughter of character actor Ivor Francis, who has guest-starred in numerous TV series like Room 22 and Peyton Place, and his actress-model wife Rosemary, who gave up acting to raise three children, Genie and her family lived in Long Island before they pulled up stakes and moved to Hollywood, where she's been living and working ever since.

Though busy on the set of the ever-changing General Hospital, Genie took a little time to give TVLL's Jane Cantillon this revealing interview.

TVLL: How do you feel about the new "Laura Webber"?

Genie: I like what they've done with the cahracter, and I enjoy playing her much more than before. She's very much a young woman now - and a lot stronger. Laura has become a fighter. But I have always had love for her. When you develop a character, it's like giving birth to a baby. I haven't always liked what she was doing, but I have always liked Laura.

TVLL: Do you see yourself in Laura?

Genie: Laura is a lot closer to me now that she has been before, especially in our independence. Laura and I moved out of our parents' house within the same week of one another. A couple of years ago, Laura and I received our first kiss at the same moment when Scottie and I were doing our love scenes. I'd been pecked before, but this was a real kiss!

TVLL: Has she ever done things you were opposed to?

Genie: She's done a lot of terrible things, but she has never intentionally hurt anyone. Laura doesn't have terrific judgment, though she seems to be growing up and gaining wisdom. I have learned a lot from Laura - there's been a great crossover of knowledge between the two of us.

TVLL: Do you feel you have missed a normal childhood while growing up on the set of General Hospital?

Genie: Yes. I missed those normal teenage years - I was separated from my peer group from the time I was fifteen until I was seventeen, which seems very short, but those are two very important years. I went to school here; I was tutored here. I lost touch with so much because I did not go to high school and my work hours were so long. The show was time consuming and I was totally obsessed with my work. I made General Hospital my whole life for two years.

TVLL: Did your old friends treat you differently?

Genie: They didn't know how to treat me. Some of my old friends remained friends because I saw them on weekends, but the others didn't know how to talk to me. They would wonder if I had changed, whether I would look down on them. To many, I was in such a different world, almost an untouchable. But I don't regret a single thing.

TVLL: Tell me about your family.

Genie: I was born in New Jersey, but we lived in Long Island till I was about six or seven years. Then my father drove us all to California when he decided work out here was better. I have two brothers - one's older than me and one is younger. I also have a sister who is quite a bit older than me who lives in Massachusetts. I remember that I was incredibly proud of my father who became an extremely successful actor when I was only seven or eight years old. I would walk down the street with him and watch the people recognize him. I was so proud to be by his side. He was a regular on Room 222 and Peyton Place at that time, besides being a character actor who was on everything you can imagine. That was a big kick for me.

TVLL: Did your parents encourage you to act?

Genie: No, in fact, my father discouraged me. He didn't want that kind of life for me. He's happy now that I'm successful, and he is very proud of me, but at first he did not want me to get into the business. When I was twelve years old, I had a school picture that I begged my father to give his agent, but at the time I had braces and he couldn't do anything for me. When I was thirteen or fourteen and the braces came off, he told his agent, "She's still bugging me about being an actress. Why don't you send her on a really tough interview to scare her to death? Then we dont' have to deal with this anymore." I only found out about this scheme a short time ago. So they sent me to audition for Family and I won the part. My father's little plan didn't work - I've been working ever since.

TVLL: Do you have vivid memories of your early days on General Hospital?

Genie: I remember being absolutely terrified because I had to go to the studio alone. I had a Nanny than my parents hired as a guardian, but I didn't know her. At that time, before Gloria Monty became our producer, they never stopped the taping and everything was live. I was scared to death and overwhelmed just to make it through. It's funny. I found this old diary that I wrote in during that time. It said, "I have five pages to memorize. How am I ever going to do it?" I had a good laugh over that. Today I have thirty-three pages, but often it gets up to forty or forty-five pages. You can see how things have really changed. Back then mine was really a small part because "Laura" was such a little girl.

TVLL: Did you ever show nervousness?

Genie: No, everyone thought I was cool as a cucumber. Except, of course, the first time I forgot my lines - that was traumatic!

TVLL: What happened?

Genie: It was about ten months into the show. I had a scene with Lesley Charleson who plays "Monica," where "Laura" is asking her for birth control pills. It was the first time I was nervous - I didn't even know what the scene was. I was trying to read the teleprompter, but even that was a blur. No way would they stop the show for me! I glanced at Lesley and she had this look of terror in her eyes. The two of us danced about, ad-libbing and paraphrasing and just sort of rearranging the entire scene. When it was over and they said "clear," we were both shaking so much we hugged, and then just burst into tears. I know the lines, but sometimes a person just freezes up and forgets. Now there isn't as much pressure because they'll stop the tape, but back then, they'd fry you like an egg.

TVLL: What can you see yourself doing after General Hospital?

Genie: I enjoy doing the show, but I would like to explore comedy - something we just started incorporating on the shwo. I'd like to do movies, televsion. I can see myself in a lot of roles. I love heavy drama. I hope I don't end up playing the sweet, innocent girl next door, because that gets boring. I'd like to do something a little juicier. I'll have to fight off that wholesome all-American girl stereotype.

TVLL: Have you been furthering your education?

Genie: I'm going to be taking night courses, but I haven't this semester because my life has been so busy. I just bought a townhouse in Sherman Oaks. Anyway, I plan to take some courses. I'm not sure what I'll be studying, probably General Education. I like psychology, sociology, philosophy - I love to ponder. I could sit and think forever. I'm very cerebral!

TVLL: Are you romantically involved with anyone now?

Genie: No, I would love to get married, but not now. A date on Saturday night will suit me fine! My schedule doesn't allow for much of a social life. It's very closed off. I had a boyfriend I was very much interested in when I was sixteen, but that was it. I just don't have the time.

TVLL: Because your face is so well-known, do you think it creates problems within your relationships?

Genie: So many people think I'm untouchable. A friend said once, "You're like a princes in an Ivory Tower." It's true. People see this person on television and, suddenly, you are on a pedestal. I don't want to be up there. It makes me very unapproachable - especially with guys. If they know me from the show, they know me as "Laura." That just doesn't work out.

TVLL: Would you consider going out with other actors?

Genie: Forget it (laughing)! They are such neurotics. Give me a nice law student or medical student anytime. No actors for me.

TVLL: What do you think of life in Hollywood?

Genie: I feel it's something that must be survived, a state of mind.

TVLL: Do you have any vices?

Genie: Smoking cigarettes and I'm not at all patient!

TVLL: In that case, we'd better end this interview!

by Jane Cantillon