Interview: Maurice Benard Opens Up About His Memoir, Being Bipolar, Finding Joy & Learning From Sonny
General Hospital actor gets personal about melting down behind the scenes…
For nearly 30 years, Maurice Benard has been known best as General Hospital’s Sonny Corinthos, the mobster with a moral conscience, a role that’s earned him two Daytime Emmys. But fans also know something else about Benard – that he’s struggled with bipolarism since his 20s – and that has also become part of Sonny’s ongoing mythos. Now, Benard has written a memoir about both his history in the soaps (he also played All My Children’s Nico) and how he learned to live with being bipolar in Nothing General About It: How Love (and Lithium) Saved Me On and Off General Hospital which can be purchased on Amazon. He spoke with Soaps.com about Sonny’s unique heritage, melting down behind the scenes, and finding joy.
Soaps.com: What’s it like in quarantine?
Maurice Benard: Not my favorite thing at all. But you gotta make do with what you got, know what I mean?
Soaps.com: I assume everyone’s in the house with you – your wife Paula, your four kids….
Benard: That’s the best thing about it, but it can get to you after a while.
Incorporating personal experiences into Sonny
Soaps.com: What’s kept you continually interested in playing Sonny, even after 27 years?
Benard: I just like the character. He’s cool, unpredictable. Dark, but he’s a good guy. When I started playing him, I wanted to turn a bad guy into a good guy, and it just became fun. I always said unless I was bored I wouldn’t leave, and it’s never gotten boring. And the last two or three years I’ve been able to do other things – movies, TV movies – so that keeps me alive. Otherwise, I get bored.
Soaps.com: It’s always tickled me that Sonny has a Greek surname but acts like he’s in the Mafia – and has been ably played by someone with Hispanic heritage. How American can you get?
Benard: Right, I know! When I first started playing Sonny, I didn’t know if he was half-Greek or half-Cuban or what, I just played him Italian and now everybody thinks he’s Italian. [Sonny is in fact of Greek, Irish and Cuban descent.]
Soaps.com: Your own experiences with being bipolar have been incorporated into Sonny. What’s the benefit of being able to play your mental struggles on camera – and what are some of the drawbacks?
Benard: The benefit is I don’t even have to method act. It’s pretty much written right there for you. The drawback is that sometimes stuff can get to you. A storyline can be two or three months [long] and at the end you might start hearing your mom and dad on the set talking.
Soaps.com: That happened to you early on, even though they weren’t there, correct?
Benard: I’d taken it a bit too far. So my wife called the producers and said, “You have to cut the story short” and I went home and had a panic attack. I got through it.
Soaps.com: Are you a fan of Homeland? On that show, Claire Danes has played a bipolar lead character for eight seasons.
Benard: Yeah, I watched that show just to see her. She draws on so much emotion, but she’s done her research. One of my favorite portrayals of bipolarism was Richard Gere in Mr. Jones; he was absolutely phenomenal. He got the energy, the fast talking, the emotions. I would have given him an Academy Award.
Reasons for writing memoir and reaction to its completion
Soaps.com: Bipolarism is a major focus of your new memoir. Why write about that now?
Benard: People have been saying I should write a book for years, and I decided to do it. It was hard work, but well worth it. What really hit me was the audio book. I did the audio book, and it was like I was reading somebody else’s book – but I was also living in every moment, because that’s the kind of actor I am. By the end I was crying and I said, “Wow, this is intense.”
Soaps.com: What have you learned from Sonny over the years?
Benard: That it’s OK to be a family man, and a good thing to be loyal and protective of your family. Also, it’s not good to be so wound up. Two years ago – I can’t exactly tell you why it happened – something changed in me and I learned how to find joy. I’ve always had this thing in my gut that wasn’t the greatest thing, and I think that’s what made me sometimes angry. But when I found joy, I was like, “Wow, this is amazing.” I just felt like what normal people feel.
Soaps.com: When you were first starting out in acting, what did success look like to you? What does it look like now?
Benard: In my head, I wanted to do movies [early on]. Then my career went a different way, which is fine because General Hospital has been like a family to me. I think success now is where I’m at. I’ve been doing this for a long time. I have a great family, a great wife, a home. I’m good.
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