Living Legends

What can you say in a couple of paragraphs about an on-screen pairing so inextricably linked to the genre they helped define that the mere mention of the names Like and Laura garners instant recognition from soap and non-soap viewers alike? Nothing that can't be said better by the two people who brought them to life themselves. GENERAL HOSPITAL'S Anthony Geary and Genie Francis offer exclusive insights into the experiences they've had as soap's first breakout supercouple -- including whether or not they'd do it all again if given the chance...

Digest: Do you remember your first impressions of one another?

Genie Francis: It was exciting to work with him, right from the very first scene, because he was full of surprises.

Anthony Geary: I knew early on that there was something about her that really got to me. I was always looking at Genie as Laura. She had already been on the show, she was already a popular character. It was a bit intimidating.

Francis: You're kidding! [They both start laughing.] That's news to me.

Digest: When did you first realize that Luke and Laura were really taking off?

Francis: I sure didn't know then. I was so young. I was also a little intimidated by Tony because he seemed unpredictable. I was just trying to do the best I could do.

Geary: I was a lot older, but it didn't occur to me, either. I think we were working so hard there for a couple of years while it was sort of brewing in the public consciousness that I feel like Genie and I were almost the last people to know.

Digest: How did you deal with the incredible fame that followed?

Francis: I was overwhelmed; it was difficult. I was far too young for all of that.

Digest: How did you handle it?

Francis: That's my book [laughs].

Geary: I also found it difficult to deal with. It eventually impacted my personal life very negatively. I've got it all worked out now, but it was hard. It was Luke and Laura hyphenated. It still is, but at that point, it was Luke and Laura hyphenated to the exclusion of Tony and Genie.

Digest: What was the most positive experience in your early GH days?

Francis: The work itself. IT was so exciting, it was so much fun. We all knew that we were doing something very new and very different, and that was exciting. We froze the world -- c'mon [laughs]!

Geary: And there was more a felling in those days of collaboration, in terms of the actors and characters and producers. I remember a moment... we had been working really hard. We had finished our work and it was in some hotel or something. We were just lying around in the bed laughing and talking, and they kept telling us to be quiet. And [Former Executive Producer] Gloria [Monty] finally came out to see what was going on and she said, "Kids, go home." And it was really like...

Francis [laughing]:... "But we don't want to go home!"

Geary: Right. There was so much more excitement there than in my life.

Francis: Yeah, me too.

Geary: Boy, you can't get me to hang out too much longer these days [laughs].

Francis: We skip to our cars now [laughs]!

Digest: Why do you think the viewers so embraced Luke and Laura?

Francis: I really can't answer that. I think that is was a phenomenon, and I don't know exactly why. We were just breaking the mold and doing something different.

Geary: I don't think it's wise to be that objective about it. It's kind of like, if you explain it, you turn the magic into a trick.

Digest: After Luke and Laura left in 1984, you both returned -- Tony in 1991, and Genie in 1993. What drew you back?

Geary: I came back as another character, [Bill Eckert], and what drew me back was that Gloria was returning. I hadn't worked in a while and she made me a nice offer of a different character, and I decided that for my life and my bank account, it would be a good idea for me to come back. That did not work. But my experience was very different [from Genie's], because I was already here for two years, kinda numb.

Francis: I was doing ALL MY CHILDREN in New York [playing Ceara from 1990-1992] and I was very happy there. Then Tony came back to daytime and it was okay for the first few months, [but] when I think [ABC] got the idea in their minds that they wanted him to play Luke again, they wouldn't let me continue on ALL MY CHILDREN. Essentially, they pushed me out of a job where producers were happy with me and I was happy, because Luke and Laura makes more money than Ceara. So I was a little resentful. I broke down in tears talking to the [then-] president of [ABC] Daytime. She took me to lunch and said, "Well, you know, dear, we would let you go back to GENERAL HOSPITAL as Laura." I had such resentment about that, that for another year and a half, I wouldn't give it to them. Ultimately, I decided I wanted to go back to L.A. because I wanted to have a baby and I wanted to be with my husband. That's how I came to it. To be very honest, I still question the choice.

Digest: Really?

Francis: That night that it was finalized, I woke up in the middle of the night and I sat in my living room sobbing that I had given up trying to be more that Laura, and I had done it at 31. But I decided to make the best of the situation. The best of it is that I get to work with this fabulous actor and the worst is that there's this stigma attached to being an actor on a daytime serial, especially in L.A. That's what makes me angry. That someone as brilliant as a Tony Geary might not be able to get hired is an appalling thing. That's what I was resisting. The joy of being here is that get to work with this person and we love working together.

Digest: How do you reconcile having transcendent fame that essentially hinders other career opportunities?

Francis: I don't know. For me, it happened when it was 19, so it's been a blessing and a curse. The older I get, the more possible it is for people to accept me as something other than that ingénue, Laura.

Geary: I have reconciled myself to the fact that I am now bigger than Luke in a strange way. There was a time when we were at the height of our attention and nobody ever knew my name. It was always Luke. People know my name now. So as a survivor -- see, I'm going to be 53 at the end of May, so I feel that I'm a survivor in show business -- I've reconciled the fact that this is what I do. There are days when it's incredibly rewarding and there are days when it's so depressing that I could kill myself. That doesn't change. But what has changed is that I'm older, I have more of a life now and I use my work to augment my life instead of using my life to augment my work.

Digest: Was it freeing for you to learn Luke and Laura would be broken up?

Francis: In a way, yes. I don't like to have to live up to or constantly be compared to what I was 20 years ago. I've still got a lot of like and creativity in me and I don't want to just keep trying to re-juice that one, old lemon [laughs].

Geary [deadpans]: And as that one, old lemon.....

Francis [laughing]: Oh, no, no, no!

Geary: I think we both agreed that when we first heard they were going to separate us that it would be a good idea. Luke and Laura have been together for almost 20 years, whether we were on-camera or not. So I think it was necessary in order to redefine us and make us relevant that we separate. We never expected to be separated forever.

Digest: Do a lot of fans still approach you in public? What do they say to you?

Geary: "I've been watching you since before I was born [laughs]," or "My grandmother was diapering me when you were dancing in the disco." And I just say, "Thank you so much. I'd have written you a check not to tell me that."

Francis: You know what I get a lot? "Oh, my God. I love you so much. I used to watch you every day. Are you still on that show [laughs]?" But mostly people are very warm and nice.

Digest: Did revisiting Luke's 1979 rape of Laura give you a chance to deal with issues that hadn't been addressed back then?

Geary: It did me. From Luke's point of view, it was directed as rape, we played the aftermath as rape and then the network got nervous, so we pulled back. Then it wasn't a rape, it was a seduction. So finally, when we did the scenes with Lucky and we used those flashbacks and the same director, Alan Pultz, who had directed the rape originally, used his original notes and directed me that day to recall all of that, I was able to finally put out what I think is Luke's definitive statement: that it was rape, it was ugly, he'd probably never recover. I was grateful that the directors and the writers were interested in what Luke's experience was and didn't try to spin it for audience control. After 20 years, we didn’t' have to do that anymore.

Francis: Yes, absolutely. The way it was explained and handled -- everything felt absolutely true to me.

Digest: What do you consider your greatest achievements at GH?

Francis: I think Laura's moment with the Christmas tree, when I was a little girl. The scenes after the rape when Emily McLaughlin [ex-Jessie] cleaned Laura up. Of the recent things we've done, I'm proud of what I did around Lucky's death.

Geary: My mind doesn't go so much to the work as it goes to having survived it all. I guess that's my theme. It's an achievement to me to have been at the mouth of that came and come back. It was a little hairy there for a while whether I was going to come back at all because I was really spinning pretty fast out of control. So I'm proudest of myself for having settled down. To still be here makes me happy.

Digest: If you could go back and experience this whole thing again, would you?

Geary: Well, being a risk-taker, no.

Francis: I don't think I would, either.

Geary: I would be interested to see where else my life could have gone.

Francis: Me, too.

Geary: I ain't complainin'. I'm quite content. But yeah, I don't think I would.

Digest: How would you feel about the possibility of Luke and Laura reuniting?

Francis: I am thrilled at the idea of the two characters being brought back together. But my worry is, then what? But this is an amazing acting partnership, and I miss it quite a lot. What I really want to is to act with this man, not as Luke and Laura, but in something. I'd like to experiment with this acting chemistry in another story.

Geary: [smiles] I'll go with that. But you know what? I have trouble with the, "Are we apart? Are we back together?" We are always together. Do I want more scenes with Genie, my partner? Yes. Do I need [Luke and Laura's] relationship to get healed and stuck back together? Not necessarily. See, we're not really apart. If you watch us, even if we pass each other in the night, we are together.

Francis: It's true.

Geary: The bond will not be broken.

by Kristin Gallagher