Why Genie Left General Hospital

General Hospital had divorced them, paired them up with other lovers and even killed them off. Yet it still seemed like Luke and Laura's honeymoon would never really be over - until now, that is. Earlier this month, after acting opposite Anthony Geary off and on for a quarter of a century, leading lady Genie Francis quit in a bitter dispute with her soap's brass over what she considers to be their preferential treatment of her co-star. (According to sources, Geary is allowed to take extended vacations, rewrite dialogue and improvise at the drop of a hat; Francis is not.)

In this exclusive interview with TV Guide Online, the 40-year-old veteran of All My Children and Days of Our Lives goes on to reveal that, in fact, she had been debating whether or not to check out of GH for some time - ever since her peers denied her an Emmy nomination for her tour-de-force performance following the "death" of Luke and Laura's son, Lucky (then Jonathan Jackson). So, does she hate Geary? Would she ever come back? What will she do with all her free time? Here, she clears the air once and for all.

TV Guide Online: Okay, let's set the record straight - why did you leave GH?

Genie Francis: I've been feeling the urge to move on for about three years. I was really disappointed when the death of Lucky storyline happened and I worked so hard, and I still couldn't receive an Emmy nomination. I wish I could have bounced back from that better, but that was a really big blow for me. I guess in a way I felt like I gave up a little at that point. I felt like after all these years that I'm kind of invisible there - no matter how hard I try. Even though that may not be the truth, it felt that way. So for three years I really struggled with, 'Should I stay or should I go?' And my kids [Jameson,8, and Elizabeth, 5,] are getting older, and they require more of my time, not less.

That all having been said, what happened was I turned 40 in May, my husband [Star Trek actor-director Jonathan Frakes ] turned 50 in August, and this past summer, we really wanted to do something special. We wanted to take the whole summer off and go and travel. And when I asked for that time off, the [GH] producer gave me kind of a hard time about it.

TVGO: We're talking about executive producer Jill Farren Phelps?

Francis: Yes. She basically said she wasn't sure how much [time] I could have or when I could have it, but I couldn't have it all at one time and that I was not within my legal right to ask for it. Apparently, they put in my last contract that I had to give 120 days notice to get a six-week vacation. I had completely forgotten that it was there, and that made me really angry because I fought all along to have equality with my partner, Tony, and they don't impose that on him for his vacations, but they do impose it on me. I just decided that this wasn't right. I've worked long and hard, and I've fought for equality, and I can't seem to achieve it. And I'm not ever going to turn 40 and my husband's not going to ever turn 50 again. I wanted to live my life without feeling like I was so owned by [ABC] and that I had to beg for every little scrap of time off. It didn't feel right anymore. Life does not go on forever. So I just felt like, as much as I love the show, as much as I love Laura, as much as I love many of the people there, I really essentially needed a longer leash, and they wanted me to have a shorter one. So I just said, "That's it. I can't do it." (Phelps declined to comment for this article.)

TVGO: Do you think this would have happened no matter who was in charge of the show?

Francis: I think that it was coming to this no matter what. I don't think it's Jill's fault. I actually really like Jill, and I think I was just as surprised by it being the last straw as she was. And I know she was surprised by it. I think that she maybe didn't take me seriously enough when I had said I was thinking of leaving. I think perhaps she thought I was crying wolf.

[So], I wrote a letter of resignation, and they never, ever responded to me. They made no effort to put it right. In a way, it feels like it was a mutual choice. I was very sad during the first couple of months; it was very painful. But then this job came up for my husband [directing the English feature Thunderbirds], and he said, "Well, what do you think? What should I do?" I said, "Go ahead and put yourself up for the job! I don't have a job anymore, so we might as well travel." And then he got this wonderful job. So, I've actually been over to London, and I was busy looking for schools to put my children in and apartments to live in, and I found a wonderful spot for the family, and I feel really good about the change this year for every member of my family. It actually works out really good for all of us. So, that having been said, it's almost like it was meant to happen. I know that sounds a bit corny. I do think it's true. I think there is a plan for all of us. I don't think it was Jill's fault. I think Jill was kind of shocked by my letter of resignation and didn't know what to do. And I felt like, "I have to do something to make it seem more official because they're not taking me seriously here." So, in a way, we both kind of collided with each other, and we both kind of made it happen, then we both kind of felt bad. It's very human, isn't it?

TVGO: Did they try anything to get you to change your mind?

Francis: No. They did nothing to get me to change my mind. Even when I pleaded with them to give me some of the summer off... they said, "No. You're going to work all summer." They knew darn well how much I wanted the summer off. It's tough. My husband has a really big career. He took the summer off so that we could do things together, and I never dreamed that it would be my job that would prevent us. And that was probably stupid on my part. They've given me summers off with ease for the past three or four years, so I didn't know why this year it would have been a problem.

TVGO: What was it like playing such a heavy story in your final weeks when part of you clearly resented them for making you stay as long as you did? (After realizing her father drugged her as a child, Laura killed him and went crazy - not necessarily in that order.)

Francis: It was very hard. It was very, very hard. Initially, I felt like I had nothing to give. I felt sort of beaten down. But ultimately, when the really interesting stuff came through - which was at the end when Laura started to have the psychotic break - I love acting so much that the resentment fell away and I just tried to do the best that I could do. I actually had a really fun time on that very last week. I honestly had a good time, and I felt like 25 years later, I'm still learning more about acting. It was very challenging, it was very hard, and it was really fun. I wish they had written for me like that for the past three years, I wouldn't have wanted to go!

We could have worked it out. They could have let me have some summer and I could have come back in the fall, but they didn't want to. They wanted to let me go. Jill told me herself that she thought I needed some time off to see if I really wanted to be [at GH] or not.

TVGO: When do you leave for London?

Francis: Maybe on Friday. It's wild, isn't it? I feel like God gave me a present. God wanted me to have a little fun. And I wished for this! I was driving home in my car... feeling sort of sad and not fulfilled by the show anymore, and I thought to myself, "Well, what do I really want if I could just have anything?" And I wanted to learn and I wanted to travel, and really, that's it. When you get right down to it, life is short and precious, and it's a shame to waste it all in one little studio. It was a wonderful home to me. It was a fabulous place to be while I raised my children, and maybe one day in the future, it will be a great place to be again. But for now, it just wasn't a good place.

TVGO: So, this isn't a permanent farewell?

Francis: I can't really say a permanent goodbye to [GH], because it's just too painful. I don't really know. There would have to be some kind of clarity about equality. There would have to be some resolution for me.

And there would have to be an interesting role to play. There hasn't been for three years now. They took it out of me with the death of Lucky, and then they really didn't know what to do with me after that. And I got really bored, and I think the writers got really bored and didn't know what to do with me. Then [headwriter Bob] Guza - who's so smart - came up with this great, crazy, screw-loose Laura, which I have to say was... really a great way to end. I ended on a totally up note, and that felt good to me.

TVGO: Did your frustration over equality cause any tension between you and Tony?

Francis: There's no tension between me and Tony whatsoever. Tony and I love each other very much, and Tony wants me to be treated just as well as he is. He doesn't want the upper hand - that is not who he is. It's not at all coming from him.

TVGO: Was it hard saying goodbye to him?

Francis: Very. But we didn't say goodbye. I said I would see him in Amsterdam. He's going to show me his apartment [there]. And I said he could buzz over and see my flat in London. I'm actually going to try and find us a little job on [the U.K. soap] Eastenders. (Laughing.) It's not impossible. They do hire Americans. Listen, if Tony and I had a chance to work together like that, it would be indeed a gift, and we would jump on it.

TVGO: Who should GH pair him with now that you're gone?

Francis: I think he should work with Nancy Grahn (Alexis). Absolutely. I liked him and Nancy together before, and I think Nancy is a fabulous actress. She's very bright, very focused, and she's unpredictable - and he needs that. She also has a really good sense of humor and that's a big part of working with Tony. I think he and Nancy would be quite good together.

TVGO: Let's suppose they get married a year or two from now. Will you tune in?

Francis: I probably would not tune in for that, I must admit. (Laughing) That would be hard. But I would wish him well in my heart.

by Michael Ausiello