As far as daytime soap operas and their dramas go, General Hospital is the gold standard: the second-longest American soap opera still in production, since 1963, and the third-longest-running drama in American television history (after Guiding Light and As the World Turns). Hospital visitors/stars William deVry (Julian Jerome), Donnell Turner (Curtis Ashford), Robert Palmer Watkins (Dillon Quartermaine), and Maura West (Ava Jerome) are the subject of much fan adoration. On Saturday, they’ll give back.
They’ll stop by Helium Comedy Club for a Q&A and fan meet-and-greet to benefit the Sandy Rollman Ovarian Cancer Foundation, an organization that helps women battling ovarian cancer and their families. “The idea to have a [General Hospital] fan event in Philadelphia came from a patient who watched the show every day while receiving her chemotherapy treatments,” says Robin Cohen, Rollman’s CEO and oncology nurse. “The actors help to raise awareness, and that awareness drives the research.”
Watkins and deVry jumped on the phone during the 44th Daytime Emmy Awards weekend to talk about their soap and the Philadelphia charity event.
Since you two are here for a Mother’s Day event, was your mom the sort to watch soap operas? Did they help you get the legacy of the show?
Robert Palmer Watkins: It’s funny you ask that because my mom is sitting next to me. She flew in for the Emmys.
RPW: Yup, she was familiar with the General Hospital storyline even if she didn’t check in daily. Everybody was. She knew the iconic actors like Anthony Geary. She knew the Quartermaines, of which I am one. My grandmother, though, was the huge soap watcher. In terms of acting, however, the soap world is new to me. I had to bone up on the history and all of the storylines, such as that of my "family." There’s 50-plus years to catch up on. Playing a Quartermaine is iconic. Still, my character is different than their norm — an actor/writer looking for work. That’s fun.
William deVry: My mom never watched daytime. In fact, she only watched her first soap when I did Port Charles and All My Children and The Bold & the Beautiful a few years back. Just mine. And now GH. She’s faithful now, at least that’s what she says. My character, when he was in the witness-protection program, was “Derrick Wells” until he got outed, so now he’s “Julian Jerome” again.
What’s the biggest deal working the soaps from working other acting gigs?
RPW: Soaps are done much faster than other work. The cameras are set in place. We get one rehearsal. We deal with a lot more material, sometimes up to three episodes a day, and you’re shooting wide-angles, close-ups, everything all at once. Its kind of nice, actually. In fact, I called Will, since we have the same manager, because I was freaking out. I never had to learn so many lines so fast.
WdV: It’s a muscle, man, you have to get used to it. In prime time, you have time to develop a character and its histories, what-ifs, and such. In daytime, you have to make choices and gather objectives faster.
Will, you’ve worked with the Sandy Rollman foundation in the past. Rob, you’re new. How did you get involved?
WdV: You do enough charity work and fund-raisers that you begin to like and feel committed to. I love visiting new cities like Philly. Robin Cohen is a great gal, the charity is worthwhile, and we don’t get enough opportunity to pay it forward. I don’t want to feel selfish and narcissistic as an actor, which is easy to feel, so it’s nice to get out of your own head and give back.
RPW: Yes, that [laughs]. That’s all true. It’s nice to feel as if you’re doing some good.
Do you have rabid soap fans?
WdV: Many of the same fans go to many of the same events. It’s a nice tight-knit group, like a family. You can relax more, catch up, not be so "on" the whole time.
RPW: It’s like a family-reunion homecoming, its own little club. Plus, it’s inspiring to see that people are still watching you every day in a world where there’s a million other distractions, be it electronic, political, or otherwise. I just hope you don’t have to do any stand-up comedy, since it’s at a comedy club.