Maurice Benard Interview: "General Hospital" Icon Pens "Love Story About Mental Health"
Image attributed to Maurice Benard
Maurice Benard, the longtime star of ABC’s daytime drama General Hospital (Michael "Sonny" Corinthos, Jr.), is a two-time Emmy Award-winning film and television actor, a member of the prestigious Actors Studio and an advocate for mental health awareness. His memoir, Nothing General About It: How Love (and Lithium) Saved Me On and Off General Hospital, is released April 7, 2020.
Benard was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 22 and has since become a spokesperson for treatment of the disorder with Mental Health America. He lives in California with his wife, Paula, with whom he proudly raised three daughters and a son-who is already following in his father’s footsteps as an actor.
"I just want people to know that there’s hope and to never give up when it comes to mental illness and when it comes to the person you love."
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Maurice, how are you during these strange times?
Maurice Benard: I’m good. I’m good. Well, you know, it’s not great. But we’ve got to get through it, right?
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Being bi-polar, how are you coping with the pandemic?
Maurice Benard: It’s more like a family affair now. I can tell you that (laughs). But it’s not easy. I just talked to someone right now, my doctor, about anxiety. That’s what happens during a crisis like this.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Why did you want to write a memoir at this time in your life?
Maurice Benard: Well, it was no particular time. Two years ago, I decided to write it. One thing led to another, and here we are, which is amazing that in these times, my book is coming out.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You truly had some horrible times in the mental hospital. Do you look back now and wonder how you made it through that?
Maurice Benard: Yeah, completely. I don’t know how I made it through except for the grace of God and just putting one foot in front of the other. If you stay stagnant, you’re in trouble, so you have to kind of keep moving. You know what I mean?
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Yes, and that’s commendable that you kept going. When you were in the hospital, you had visions of Jesus, and religion seems to have played a part in your life at one time or another. Are you or your family religious today?
Maurice Benard: My mom’s incredibly religious. She’s Catholic and so is my dad. My brother’s not. I do believe in God one hundred percent, but I just don’t follow … I don’t go to church as much as I would like. But I’m a Christian. I’m not Catholic.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Your mom has been diagnosed as having depression and anxiety?
Maurice Benard: She went to the psychiatrist, and I’m not sure if she was diagnosed, but the beautiful part was that she told me that she didn’t want to feel this way anymore. Then she started going to the psychiatrist.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I remember the Sonny/Morgan, father/son bi-polar storyline. So the disorder is hereditary?
Maurice Benard: Yes, I think it is hereditary. That’s part of what it is from your mother or your father. And I can probably say that my mom obviously had some sort of disorder.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: While you were growing up?
Maurice Benard: Yeah. But my mom never said anything until actually a year ago when she finally realized it, and I believed that she had something.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: After high school, you did some modeling, and many times modeling transitions into acting. But what actually made you really want to become an actor?
Maurice Benard: Modeling wasn’t going to happen because I’m way too short (laughs). And even though I lied about my height, it wasn’t going to happen. So the next transition was acting. Once I got into acting, it seemed to work. Not that I was a good actor in the beginning because I wasn’t. I was actually pretty bad, but I knew I had something inside, like a passion about it, and I wasn’t going to give up.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Maurice, I’ve been a fan of those dimples since you played Nico Kelly on All My Children in the late 1980s.
Maurice Benard: (laughs)
Smashing Interviews Magazine: That was your first major television role. Who took you under their wing and showed you the ropes as an an actor?
Maurice Benard: You know, I really didn’t have anybody to do that. I did that for people on General Hospital. But I didn’t have anybody on All My Children to take me under their wing. I just kind of did it on my own.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I think you were about to quit acting when the producers of General Hospital called. But it still wasn’t smooth sailing for you when you joined the cast.
Maurice Benard: Yeah. The first few weeks on the show, I had another breakdown, and it was tough. It was very tough. I threatened to kill my wife. It wasn’t … it wasn’t pretty at all.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You wrote about Kin Shriner having OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). Was he able to help you?
Maurice Benard: No, because Kin and I weren’t all that close until the last couple of years. I didn’t even know he had OCD. We always make fun of each other on the set, and I’d make fun of his hair, and we’d make fun of whatever. But I didn’t know he had OCD until I went to lunch with him, and he told me. That’s when we became close friends.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You were right to make fun of his hair, by the way …
Maurice Benard: (laughs)
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Laura Wright (Carly) and Steve Burton (Jason) knew about your bi-polar disorder. How did they help you?
Maurice Benard: Steve and Laura, during my bouts of anxiety or depression or anything, have always had my back, and that’s just the way it has been. If I say to them, “I don’t want to talk today," they’re like cool, cool, cool. They’ve just been really great. Really great.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Sonny’s bi-polar storyline must’ve been so emotional for you to do because it really hit home.
Maurice Benard: Yes. The bi-polar storyline was difficult because it went on too long. Then my wife had to call General Hospital and say, “Cut it.” I remember one time being on the set, and I was hearing mom and dad talking on the set, and they weren’t there. I said, “I’ve got to end this one.”
Smashing Interviews Magazine: The voices and the hallucinations must be so frightening. What would you say is the worst part of this disorder?
Maurice Benard: I think the worst part is either depression and maybe anxiety that happens, and your mind can’t stop racing. That’s probably the worst part. I mean, look, in the the hospital, obviously, there’s nothing worse than being tied down to a bed.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: In your opinion, has the stigma of bi-polar disorder been reduced over the years?
Maurice Benard: I think it has because I think people know what bi-polar is. I think mental health has gotten more popular today, right? Whereas before, it was like, “Oh, you’ll get over it. Just go take a pill, and you’ll be fine.” But now, I think it’s a bit different. But there is still a stigma because I don’t think mental health is treated as serious as it should be when there’s 450 million people all over the world that suffer from mental illness.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: General Hospital just celebrated its 57thanniversary. What are your two top favorite Sonny storylines?
Maurice Benard: My two favorite storylines would be the Alzheimer’s storyline that’s happening right now, which is probably the best acting I’ve ever done and probably the AIDS storyline.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: The AIDS storyline featuring characters Stone Cates (Michael Sutton) and Robin Scorpio (Kimberly McCullough)?
Maurice Benard: Yeah.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Max Gail, who portrays Sonny’s dad Mike Corbin, is such a versatile actor, and you two share some chemistry.
Maurice Benard: I’ve not felt that kind of chemistry in a long time.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Well, the coronavirus pandemic has halted production at General Hospital. When were you told to report back to work?
Maurice Benard: April 30. How long do you think it’s going to last?
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I’m hoping for everyone’s sake that it’s over in the very near future. Is your son still interested in acting?
Maurice Benard: Oh, yeah. He’s still acting. It’s hard for him since he’s only 15. He’s at that age where they hire 18-year-olds.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What’s coming up for Sonny?
Maurice Benard: Oh, whatever you’re seeing with Mike, you’ll see what’s coming up (laughs). It’s exciting. It’s really good. I can’t wait.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Is there a story behind Buddy the goat?
Maurice Benard: (laughs). Buddy the goat is just Buddy the goat. That guy’s like a dog or something. He’s not a goat. It’s amazing. I got him when he was little, and we bonded, and we’ve been great together. He bit my ear once on Instagram, and that was the beginning.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Is it true that he doesn’t like Steve Burton?
Maurice Benard: (laughs) Maybe he doesn’t, I don’t know. That’s funny as hell. That would be funny as hell if that were true.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: How long have you worked with mental health organizations?
Maurice Benard: I’ve been doing that for over 30 years now. Whatever they want me to do, I’ll do. That’s just the way it’s been for 30 years, and I won’t say “No.” It’s very important to me. To help them is very important.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: It was so refreshing to read in your book about a true love story that actually means “for better or worse.” What is that special thing you and your wife have that has kept you together through the really bad times of your illness?
Maurice Benard: We both know that we have each other’s backs. There’s a deep love there. We’ve known each other over 30 years. And we’re always communicating. There’s always trust. My wife’s never let me down. Ever.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What do you want readers to learn from your story, Maurice?
Maurice Benard: It’s a book about mental health. It’s a love story about mental health. I just want people to know that there’s hope and to never give up when it comes to mental illness and when it comes to the person you love. Hey, that was nice (laughs).
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