March 3, 2006
Perils and Promises of the Recasting Couch
Recently, I got into a conversation with a few of the Eye on Soaps writers about the pros and cons of recasting and whether or not certain characters were above recasting.
This is a subject to which I have given a great deal of consideration and honestly, there was a time when I was against the recasting of any character. I wanted to preserve my mental image of each character as it was. Change is bad. We fear change.
Fortunately (at least I consider it fortunate), as I have grown older, I have become less resistant to new experiences and more open minded about such things as a new person trying on a role, even one that is well established in the form of another actor. (I thought it would be the other way around and I would close up more as the years passed).
The decision to which I arrived was the following and I hold it out as a basic truism of soaps that rises above personal preference and individual actor loyalty: The story must progress and all decisions about recasting, writing off characters, bringing back actors, etc, must be regarded solely and explicitly in terms of what is best for the story.
In short, tell me a story. Make it viable and reverent to pertinent history. If the story is played out, there is no reason to recast, no reason to bring back original actors unless they are of benefit to a truly ass kicking story that is planned. If it is blatantly odd that a character is NOT on canvas and if the continuity and flow of the story is disrupted because that character is not around and IF the original actor is unable or unwilling to return, for the love of God, recast!
So let's talk about recasts and bring backs:
The Robert Scorpio story was played out. It ended with a giant blast on a yacht. Tristan Rogers was available. A great story (in my opinion anyway, one of the best "sweeps" stories we've had in forever) was created in which he would play an integral part and it worked for him to come back. He has ties in town and the fan support for the character was through the roof. Therefore, it makes sense for him to come back again and his return really worked.
In my opinion, it would have been extremely ludicrous for Janine Walsh to not come to Courtney's funeral. Janine not only showed up, but did so played by Delane Matthews, the original actress. That was a treat. It made sense.
When Lesley was brought back from the clinic in Switzerland during the prime time episode of GH, it was Denise Alexander, the original veteran actress and it worked. It was a joy to see her, even though she got her hair dyed while she was in the hospital.
When the original actors can return, it is heart-melting, but when they cannot and the story must be told, it is essential that a recast at least be tried to tie up loose ends and further the story to a reasonable conclusion.
Emily could not stay away at Paralysis Camp forever and Amber Tamblyn was soaring to success in both prime time and in movies. There was little chance that she would return. A recast had to happen because there was too much story to tell.
General Hospital and Vanessa Marcil went to the trouble to resurrect a long dead Brenda Barrett. Brenda's story was told and she was well grieved by many. A lot of mystique and cloak and dagger stuff surrounded the discovery that Brenda was actually alive and not only did we get Brenda back, but gained a lovely Ted King to play the Alcazar brothers. After her disastrous reunion with Jax, Brenda abruptly *went away* to Europe. It would make sense for Brenda to return since she has so many connections in Port Charles, but will it happen? Vanessa Marcil is doing exceptionally well in prime time and I don't expect will return, however she has affirmed that if anyone else ever plays Brenda, she most certainly will ever come back. In short, the character is basically being held hostage, as is any story we might get about Brenda that could occur onscreen. Very few characters shake things up in Port Charles the way Brenda does, but unless someone blinks in the stand-off, we get no more Brenda story. Potential story suffers, the fans suffer, but essential fur is continually stroked back down into its smooth-lying position.
V Ardanowski and Simon Prentiss have been on a year long cruise around the world for seven years now.
Jeff Webber is almost never mentioned, even though Elizabeth and he are daughter and father. He was an integral part of the GH landscape for years. His daughter has lost a baby, had a few weddings, graduated from nursing school, been brutally raped, thought she lost her finacee in a horrific fire, was shot, was in a car accident, went blind for a while (didn't she?) and no mother or father has ever shown up. Steve Hardy, Jeff's father, DIED and Jeff never showed up. Jeff's brother, Rick, was murdered and Jeff never showed up. It makes no sense. C'mon and recast for a little bit. Tell us who Elizabeth's mother is. Show us a little familial interest in the Perils of Elizabeth! It doesn't have to be McGuyver! Just give us a Jeff Webber!! (OK, it'd be cool if it was McGuyver, but I'm OK if it's not!)
Stefan and Stavros are supposedly dead. Sure, it would be fun if they turned out to only be Cassadine Dead, but by being presumed dead, their absence makes sense.
Many GH stories could be accented well by a return of Laura Spencer. Seeing her now and then as *some actress* wearing a blonde wig doesn't really cut it. Can you imagine the drama if Laura came back, whole and healthy, but Luke chose to remain with Tracy? Can you imagine if Laura and Robert hooked up, renewing Laura's spirit of adventure? If Nikolas followed up on the bitterness he displayed at Courtney's funeral and went all Stavrosy, only to have Laura return and just kick his ass over it? What about Laura with a grandchild now? Laura taking over Courtney's foundation to help children in whatever way it was helping children? But because fans consider Laura beyond recasting and the powers that be and Genie Francis do not get along, the story lags and lags and lags.
If it doesn't make sense for a character to be gone, recast, recast, recast! It is more important to me that the story be told than that the original face of the character be preserved.
If we did not open our minds to recasts, think of all of the wonderful actors we would have missed:
All of these actors were recasts into an existing character. It's not always worse. Sometimes, it's a lot better. To my mind, those recasts listed above are the ones who actually made the character.
Not so, to my mind, with Laura Wright. I was not particularly a fan of the character of Carly, primarily because right around the time she was seducing Tony out from under Bobby, I learned that my husband of many, many years was having an affair and leaving me and his children to be with the other woman. The story hit way too close to home for me and I heavily resented Carly for it. I did not really come around to appreciation Carly until she lost the baby she had with Sonny. (Good lord, that man has lost 3 children so far!) When she was recast, it took me a while to get into the swing of Tamara Braun, who handled the character in an entirely different way, but ultimately, it worked for me. I barely got used to Jennifer Bransford before she was gone, but I liked her because she brought the edge back to Carly that had been missing through the Tamara Braun years. For me, Laura Wright is just not falling into the Carly slot in my head.
Mostly, it is that she is just too uptown to play Carly as far as I am concerned. Carly's key element was that the girl is just plain trailer trash. Sarah Brown could get that head going and flare those nostrils and there was not an ounce of 5th Avenue in her. She was down and dirty and had no problem rolling in the mud to get things done. Laura Wright, no matter how much she tries to bring out the hard core tough girl, always looks like she just left her "coming out" dance as a debutante. She's too prep, too sauve, too smooth and too polished to be the Carly I knew. Let's face it. Sarah Brown had trailer trash rage down to an artform.
I hate the nudge we get to "let an actor find their feet and make the character their own." They should not make the character their own. The character is not theirs, it's ours. The character should grow and develop in keeping with their onscreen experiences and NOT because someone else is playing them.
Sometimes, as with Laura Wright as Carly, recasts ultimately do not work for me I did not care for J. Robin Miller being recast into the role of Lydia Karenin for the same reasons in reverse. Jessica Ferrarone nailed the look of nasty chic that Lydia should have and J. Robin was just too peppy and birdlike to pull it off. Coltin Scott did not carry nearly the regality into the role of Nikolas Cassadine as Tyler Christopher did at that time. Remember when our dear Robin Richards was let go and Danica Stewart was cast as Maxie Jones? Agh. Jed Allen was just too young to play Edward Quartermaine... period. Lesli Kaye just never really caught the Lois groove. It's not that any of those people are lacking as actors; it was just bad casting. Sometimes it hits and sometimes it doesn't. The thing is, if the story is good, it doesn't hurt to try.
Anything for the story.
By whatever miracle, perhaps something as simple as the Dr Phil "How's that workin' for ya?" approach, the powers that be at GH seem to have pulled a reversal from the relentless pursuit of the coveted 18- whatever (not me) - year old demographic and instead are pursuing the viewers who left in disgust in the past several years. They are bringing back fan favorites (the real ones, not the fat cat perceived ones), giving the veterans the dignity of screen time and actually working to write interesting stories, some of which (*gasp*) do not revolve around Sonny. The emphasis is moving back to the hospital being the "hub" of the show with many of the key players actually having jobs at the hospital!
Did they read my wish list? It sure seems that way. Regardless, I am enjoying GH more than I have in years. I am part of the demographic they are trying so hard to win back; I just never left. My patience has paid off nicely. :)
Two quick points:
Didn't the comment Carly made about, "We would be watching THE OSCARS, THIS SUNDAY ON ABC!! if Courtney wasn't dead." just crack you up? Way to plug your own crap, ABC. Pfft.
Talk about attention to detail! I can verify that Mother's Day absolutely WAS on May 11th in 1980 because I also had a baby on that day. Fortunately, mine was a son, so I don't have to worry about Sam showing up and screaming in my face and slapping the shit out of me.