Nancy Lee Grahn: Woman Extraordinaire

This Thing of Theirs
General Hospital
Photo Gallery
Message Board
Contact Me

This Thing of Theirs
Together, even when their characters are not, GENERAL HOSPITAL'S Maurice Benard (Sonny) and Nancy Lee Grahn (Alexis) are actors who genuinely love working with each other. Here, they offer a glimpse at a real-life connection that exceeds even their potent on-screen chemistry, as these respected thesps expound on a ton of topics - including why Benard hardly minds when Grahn compares him to a dog named Barney.
Digest: Do you remeber your first scenes together?
Maurice Benard: Uh... no.
Nancy Lee Grahn: I'm afraid I can't recall myslef.
Benard: You know why I don't? It was because it was way long ago...
Grahn: ... and I was a nothin' burger on the show, so he paid no attention to me. And he made me call him Mr. Bernard.
Benard (laughs): No, it's just that there were scenes where she'd come in, say some legal terms and leave, basically.
Digest: Did you know each other's work or reputations before you started?
Benard: I thought she was wonderful, especially having to say all those big words. [Grahn snorts] I'm afraid of big words.
Grahn: I'd been visualizing working with the big tamale way back when because I was a great admirer of his. He's Mr. Cool. I thoroughly enjoy working with him.
Benard: We get each other. It just kind of flows. I mean, she talks too much, but...
Grahn (laughs): He's constantly going, "They agreed with you. Why do you keep talking?" He keeps me grounded, and I keep him from being too serious.
Benard: Yeah, and it's good. She helps me with the comedy side of anything, which is not really what I love to do. And her timing is as good as it gets. It helps my timing.
Digest: Do you remeber when you first felt like things clicked on-screen?
Benard: I know when. There was a scene after they blew up Sonny's penthouse and made it into a sardine can. I remember the day because it was one of the first days that I worked in that sardine can and I thought, "Okay, I guess this is what it has come to."
Grahn: He was feeling vulnerable because they made his set smaller.
Benard: Right.
Grahn: And you know what happens to actors when they make their sets smaller. [Bernard laughs]
Benard: We had scenes where... it was the first time Alexis opened up and talked about her mother. Somebody got choked or something.., I don't know.
Grahn: You know, the old, "My mother's throat got slit by Helena..."
Benard: And after seeing that show, I said, "Okay, this could be something," because we listened and talked to each other. She broke down, and it affected me. I was like, "Right on. This is cool."
Grahn: For me, it was when Sonny was sitting in [Alexis's] apartment, and I had a five-page monologue and then passed out.
Benard (grins): Oh yeah!
Grahn: And his reaction... he had no words to say,  but from his expression - that was how somebody would react if someone were doing that. I like the dynamic. They are opposites. Alexis is the law, Sonny is the breaker of the law. They're both the masters of control.
Benard: Yeah, in different ways.
Grahn: We demonstrate it differently. But the balance of the two of us feels right. It makes it really fun. I go to work happy, and I leave happy. And, it's exciting for me to work with the biggest soap actor...
Benard: Aww, shut up [laughs].
Digest: Sonny's softer, funnier side has been allowed to come out. Do you like that?
Benard: I like it if it's coming out of real situations and circumstances. I like it if I still do it and the other stuff. To me, it's the best of both worlds. I wouldn't like it if I just played comedy, no matter how good I think she is. I like to shout.
Grahn: And break things.
Benard: And break things.
Grahn: And I like to roll my eyes when he does that.
Benard: Exactly. So for me, it's fantastic.
Digest: How do your acting styles compare?
Benard: The joke is she's from the Sandy Meisner School, and I'm from the Actor's Studio.
Grahn: [His] is very Method and the other is very instinctual - listening and responding, asking why. He goes strictly by feeling and has the sensory of an animal. He's the most honest person I have ever met in my life. I love that most about him. But I get more cerebral because I have a bit of a writer in me.
Benard: A bit?
Grahn: He's also more reasonable than I am. I thought it would be the other way around, but it's not.
Digest: Why do you say that?
Grahn: Well, because quite frankly, there are certain men in daytime who can say, "I don't want to do this," and everyone goes, "How can we make you happy?" And I can say, "I don't want to do this," and they go, "Will you stop being such a bitch?" [Benard bursts out laughing] That still exists. I'm not getting on a soap box about it. But the truth is, he doesn't make a fuss. He is a good picker and chooser of battles. He doesn't make a fuss unless it deserves a fuss. And I don't make a fuss either, but I'll whine.
Benard: It's funny because Jill [Farren Phelps, executive producer] comes out and gives me a look, and we both laugh.
Grahn: And every time she passes me, she goes, "You're fired [laughs]." But you know what? It works the other way, too. He gets nutty over little thnigs. What about the times that somebody talked on the set?
Benard: Oh, that's different.
Grahn: Which never bothers me.
Benard: If I'm acting in a scene and I hear people talking, that can get me. If people talk, I just think it's disrespectful.
Grahn: Or when people ask you to speak up. They don't do it again after the first time!
Benard: No. I've gone off on that so much that I think it's over with. When I started, I was with [former Executive Producer] Wendy Riche and [Consulting Producer/Director] Shelley Curtis and they offered me [this role] and I said, "All right. But there's a few things that, just don't tell me to talk faster or louder." So the first day, I'll never forget, I had these big scenes - I mean big monologues. I'm doing them and then [I hear] over the intercom [in a booming voice], "Could you talk louder, please?" First day - I took a pause. That was that. Months later, directors who didn't know me, they'd tell me that and I'd go off.
Grahn: "Nooo! Don't say that [laughs]!" 
Benard: That's the only thing that pisses me off. Now, if you ask me to sit in a cabin and walk around looking at turtles...
Digest: If you're referring to Angel's cabin, you were looking at loons.
Grahn: Yup. Loons. You were lookin' at loons! It's just when you do anything without reason.
Benard: And I'm not big on comedy with Sonny. I remember doing a scene with Anthony Geary [Luke], who's wonderful with comedy, but with me...That's why you don't see me singing at the Nurses' Ball.
Grahn: Now that would be funny! You could sing, "When Sonny gets blue."
Benard: Yeah, right.
Digest: Were you surprised at how people responded to Sonny and Alexis right away?
Benard: I was surprised, but there are so many different types of fans out there.
Grahn: Yeah. I always kind of put myself in the place of the audience, going, "If I were watching this, what would I think?" It feels like we're participating and the audience is participating. So, I like what they like.
Digest: And many wanted romance.
Benard: It was like real life. I care a lot about Nancy as a friend. Sonny cares about Alexis that way. Deep caring.
Grahn: Plus, you think I'm beautiful and sexy and sometimes find yourself not being able to resist me. But you resist that feeling.
Benard: It's not that Sonny didn't want to have some fun with Alexis, but...
Grahn: Hey you pig! What do you mean, "Have some fun with her?" You shallow tamale.
Benard: I'm talking about Sonny now.
Grahn: Is that considered a racial slur if I call you a tamale?
Benard: Nah, it's actually good.
Digest: Do you go over your scenes together beforehand?
Grahn: I like the spontaneity, personally.
Benard: I do my s--- at home. I don't like to rehearse unless I'm working with someone new, and I think it'll better the scene.
Grahn: Sometimes we'll just run the lines. But we don't plan anything out.
Benard: But I believe, and it's proven, that once you get in the groove and you work with somebody who's good, there's no need. You just go up and you've got it.
Grahn: It's like a marriage at this point. We've been working together every day. We finish each other's sentences. But I also have a terrible habit of, if the scene doesn't interest me, I can learn my lines going up the stairs [to the studio]. And you don't know the difference.
Digest: Do you improvise?
Benard: She does, but that's cool.
Grahn: I like it when people do that to me. He doesn't improvise, he'll just pick something up and throw it.
Benard: Oh, I'll break something.
Grahn: He'll break something that's not supposed to be in the scene, or he'll slam my door. He tries to scare me to death, but I laugh in his face.
Digest: Was there ever a time when you couldn't stop laughing on-set?
Benard: We laugh a lot, but only in scenes with Steve Burton [Jason]. When I looked at his Chia-Pet hair, I could not stop laughing. With her, we've never gotten in trouble.
Grahn: Strangely enough, I think they like us here. They think we're fun. Whenever we're on set, everybody comes over.
Benard: We're always screwing around.
Digest: What is it about the dynamic of Sonny and Alexis that makes them so appealing?
Benard: Ah, I don't want to answer that.
[Ingo Rademacher, Jax, who's been sitting quietly in the room, pipes up]
Ingo Rademacher: I'll answer that!
Benard: Ingo will answer it.
Rademacher: I think it's interesting because Alexis is such a sophisticated lady, who's not like any of the other women he's ever dated. All of the chicks who he's dated were always younger and needed help.
Grahn: Okay, you were going strong until that younger part.
Rademacher: No, she's a successful, sophisticated, rich woman.
Benard: He's right.
Rademacher: She's a sophisticated lady, as opposed to...
Grahn: ... the slutty tramps Sonny's dated before [laughs]? Thank you. Spoken like a true ex-husband.
Digest: How would you feel if they said that you couldn't work together anymore?
Grahn: "I quit [laughs]...Ned?"
Benard: It would be disappointing because we have fun.
Grahn: But you'd be slightly relieved.
Benard: Yeah, because she talks a lot...
Digest: What do you like best about each other?
Benard: She's very honest... funny. It's like we've known each other for a long time. There's nothing I can't say to her. And there's nothing she can't say to me.
Grahn: That really is true. In fact, there are many things that I only say to him that I wouldn't say to anyone else. And I know that I can trust him implicitly; if I ask him not to say anything, he won't. He's going to take this the wrong way, but he reminds me of my dog, Barney [laughs].
Benard: Oh, your dog, Barney, man. I like that dog.
Grahn: Barney... he's loyal, he's smart.
Benard: If you tell me not to say something, I won't. If you don't tell me I might.
Grahn: You're like a puppy.
Digest: And he has a wet nose.
Grahn: And he has a wet nose!
Benard: Yeah, it's kind of wet.
Grahn: He is just as sweet as they come. And doesn't it sound wrong to say that he is sweet? But he really is.
Benard: I like to be like a dog.
Grahn: I love my dog, Barney [laughs].
- Kristen Gallagher

Return to