I’m awesome. I wrote a book. It’s got little to do with movies. Download and read “Thank You, Goodnight” right HERE for free.
I used to watch Days of Our Lives in college.
I don’t know how it happened or why I didn’t question my masculinity when I did find myself wondering whether Billie and Bo would ever end up together, whether Stefano could be done away with completely and why Diedre Hall ignited my Cougar Complex in such a randy way.
The fact is, though, that soap operas fill a niche within television and some of these serials have been launching pads for many A-list stars. Enough derision has been tossed in the way of many a reality show but programs like Days or General Hospital are largely devoid of criticism in many critics’ circles.
The pleasure was all mine when I talked to Brandon Barash, actor on General Hospital, the longest running serial on ABC and which also celebrates its 45th year as it churns through 2008. The series also nabbed its record making 10th Daytime Emmy for best Best Drama and snagged a lead actor award for Anthony Geary. What’s more about Brandon, and why I agreed to do the interview, is that his is a story of what it’s like to be a literal working actor. The amount, the sheer volume of learning his lines, performing incessantly, keeping his character focused and consistent, being present for every aspect of what he needs to do, is the very thing those who aspire to be an actor should listen to and take to heart.
He comes across as someone just thankful to be working in an industry where there are more willing bodies than there are parts to give. I won’t steal any of Brandon’s thunder but this is a story that’s worth reading and appreciating from the standpoint that there is more to life in LA for an actor than just those who have only a few pages’ of lines to remember; that’s just a day’s work for him.
CHRISTOPHER STIPP: I’ve been going over your resume and you have a lot of episodes of General Hospital under your belt.
BRANDON BARASH: It’s been a busy couple months.
CS: How long does that represent?
BARASH: 80 some odd episodes.
I think 80 some odd episodes was up to a week or so ago and it’s funny you mentioned that because the other day I realized that it’s got to be close to 100 episodes which is just wacky. In the last 6 months, I’ve taped 100 episodes of this TV show.
CS: One of the reasons I wanted to do this was that I really wanted to get a good feel for the pace you work under– it just has to be maddening.
BARASH: Oh yeah. It’s very intense. Actually, before I called you I was sitting here running my script for tomorrow which is some I think 10 scenes and some 20 pages of solid dialogue and that starts tomorrow. I’m lucky enough to have the day off today but yesterday and the day before that and the day before that it’s the same everyday. You do anywhere from 2 to 10 scenes a day which is 4 – 20 some odd pages and you have to do your homework the night before and show up game day ready to play.
CS: How is that for you as an actor? Day one, when you were given the script, did you have any idea that it would be as intense a schedule that you could get used to?
BARASH: Well, I met with the writers before hand and thankfully, they warned me. They said we are going to start you out slowly but then we’re just going to run you into the ground. So I told them to bring it and they definitely brought it and it’s good. I’ve used the term so many times but it’s really actor’s boot camp. You get paid to do it and that’s the best thing. I get up everyday, I get to go play, I get to hone my craft and if I have an off day one day I can show up the next day and do a better job.
CS: It’s got to be liberating from a craft standpoint to, like you said, be able to refine or do other things, because there is always tomorrow.
BARASH: Actually, it’s so liberating – takes the pressure off of everything. Every good athlete has a bad game. Babe Ruth didn’t hit a home run every game, Kobe Bryant doesn’t lead by 30 points and win every game – it’s a bout showing up, trusting yourself and if you have a bad day, you get to do it again the next. It’s not so much you have a bad day, but you have another crack at it.
CS: For schedule sake, what’s the average day to shoot an hour long episode, what kind of production schedule are you looking at?
BARASH: Production schedule for the entire day can go anywhere from 10 to 14 sometimes 16 – 18 hour days.
BARASH: It’s a really rigorous schedule and we go at a grueling pace but I feel really lucky to be on the acting side of it because we have our makeup artists, our lighting grips and everybody–they are there the whole day, they don’t get to leave. We get to just show up, do our thing and go home but the flip side of that is we go home and spend several hours working on our stuff for the next day. So it’s pretty grueling.
CS: Talk to me about the actual soap – General Hospital has been a staple in American culture. I was in college, hooked on Days of Our Lives for reasons unknown, I don’t know why, but once you get into one of these things you can’t help but keep returning and returning again. Sometimes the plot lines are absurd, but what initially drew you to the idea of getting yourself hooked up or connected with a soap opera?
BARASH: I never thought I would be and, of course, there are all these untrue stigmas that go along with soap operas and soap acting, but what drew me to this one in particular…I have auditioned a couple times beforehand…but what drew me to this was my manager called me one day and told me, “We have the most perfect part for you. This young, brooding, intense but good underneath kind of guy.” And, “Are you interested?” I said, “Absolutely!” So I went in and met with them and literally not even an hour after I left the office I found out I got it and I couldn’t have been happier. I always felt that playing a part like this that has so many layers and so much going on – the surface of this guy, Johnny is really the tip of the iceberg. It’s really an honor to play him.
CS: And explain your character a little bit and how you fit into the grand plot line.
BARASH: Well, you have Johnny, who is the lead character of the show. He’s the Port Charles Mob Boss and I’m the son of the Manhattan Mob Boss but I’m kind of like the interim Mob Boss at the same time because my father is in the hospital injured and incapacitated. So that’s how I fit in. And of course I (Johnny) have a history with Luke and Laura’s daughter, Lulu. We have an off and on relationship since I’ve been on the show.
CS: You talked about that soap stigma – I’m curious what void to soap operas fill in the grand landscape of television because they’ve been around for decades. What draws people – from what you’ve heard and now you are hip-deep in it, why are people so hungry for these things?
BARASH: Well it’s definitely interesting. Our show has been around for 45 years so they definitely got quite a following and I honestly don’t know what the big draw is. I wish I could tap into the psyche of our two and a half million fans or how many we have, what draws them in everyday but I think the biggest thing is when people connect with a show or a character they see a trace of themselves or they see who they want to be or who they’ve always fantasized about being with and I think that’s a lot of the big draw is we have a lot of great people on our show who are extremely talented and they bring to life these characters that – it’s definitely intriguing to fans to be a fly on the wall everyday.
CS: And being a part of this, does it ever prohibit you from your other work like film?
BARASH: Yes, there are some contractual restrictions but I am allowed to do movies, which is great and I am allowed to do ABC TV shows but I’m not allowed to take off too long to do those but they do allow me one a year. I can do a movie once a year.
CS: Has your film work been limited just to TEN INCH HERO?
BARASH: No. I did that…that was a tiny, tiny part – I did that and I did a film formerly called INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY which is now known as DARK MIND staring Chris Masterson and Lyndsy Fonseca – I actually played her boyfriend and I also did a pretty terrible film called CRASH LANDING.
CS: What made it so terrible?
BARASH: I’m not afraid to say this because he was just a monster – the director was incredibly abusive to the crew and the cast and I’m not one to make waves but I’m not afraid to say it from the moment we all showed up on set he was yelling every obscenity in the book and he was just abusive and it was an awful experience.
CS: What happens with that? How do you deal with that? You get a job and at the end of the day the people I’ve talked to, actors what have you, they say it’s fun work but it’s a job. How do you deal with someone that you literally have to put on a good face for someone who is trying to whip you?
BARASH: At the end of the day, like you said, it is a job and you have to be able to separate yourself from it. Millions of people go to work everyday and have bosses they can’t stand and they just have to put their pride aside and focus on just doing the job and as long as you can do that, you are in good hands.
CS: And the directors on General Hospital, how does, in your opinion, the actual technical stuff of directing, people say blocking and what have you, is it done by just a core group of people, directors on set?
BARASH: We basically have about 4-5 directors that rotate. They are the anthisis of the person I just described to work with. They come to work with great ideas, they arrive on time, prepared and at the same time they are not stubborn and set in their ways and they definitely take suggestions from the actors. We’ll talk before a scene, what do you see for this scene? Do you have any input? It’s really nice because their job is to direct us and tell us what to do and where to go but at the same time we are allowed to give input. It’s really nice. It’s a group effort.
CS: You said before that if you have input you give input, but do you have these things down to a science or is there a lot of room to really play with the format?
BARASH: Well, I think it’s a little bit of both. It’s definitely down to a science and if there wasn’t a format then there would just be mayhem everyday. But, at the same time you have to have the perfect marriage of the science and then also mixing it up. You have to mix it up or else the fans are going to lose interest. And, as an actor if I’m not going to work every day and creating life behind this character it gets stale, it gets boring and it shows on the screen.
CS: How do you do that from week to week - trying to make the character your own? Do the writers share with you? Usually when you go in to make a movie, you have a beginning, a middle and an end. But with a soap opera….
BARASH: Absolutely. We don’t know that but the writers do a great job in writing the characters but at the end of the day I think it’s up the actor to lift those words off the page and lift the character off the page and lift the character into a real living being and I think its up to us as actors to really read the text and not just the lines. To be able to read what’s going on behind the lines can bring these characters to life. The analogy I like to use is the words…it’s just the tip of the iceberg. You see this little piece of ice floating on top of the water but what you don’t see is this mass underneath the water that’s holding up the whole thing. And that’s kind of like the character. What we say and what we say as people in everyday life is just the tip of the iceberg when in fact there’s a lot of stuff going on underneath.
CS: Do you ever get anything back from the writers and say now this is getting a little obnoxious? Some of these plot lines can get a little insane.
BARASH: I can’t. I’ve been lucky enough and am very happy with my story line. I’m not doing anything too absurd. I’m not possessed by the devil yet.
I’ve seen on some other soaps that things can get a bit absurd but I think the big part of what draws the fans in is the silly circumstances these characters find themselves in. Like I said I’ve been very lucky in that the story line has been a lot of fun to bring to life.
CS: And the brand – the General Hospital brand has been around for a long, long time.
BARASH: It has. I just got back today – we celebrated our 45th anniversary or birthday, whatever you want to call it, on set and because we are filming that episode today. Like you said, General Hospital has been a staple in American culture this last half century which is just crazy to imagine that I’ve been a part of it. It’s awesome.
CS: I’ve noticed a lot of “A” list actors who got their start from soap operas. Is it like what you alluded to earlier that this is an actor’s boot camp, that it really does something to an actors or actress to take this seriously.
BARASH: Absolutely. It’s definitely that. You show up to work one day and you have 20 pages you have to eek out. You’ve got to give it your all. Pour your heart and soul into it. Then you have to go home and learn 25 pages for the next day and it’s very easy for us to fall into habits and just get by. But it’s another thing to really be hungry and make those strong choices and make your character stand out and really read between the lines and find that life underneath the water that I was talking about earlier. And I think that if you have that hunger to become a better artist and to constantly be honing your craft then absolutely - that’s what makes great actors because they teach you to work under the gun, make your choices and commit.
CS: How picky can you be with other roles that you find – has this opened some doors for you? Are people asking for you to come read a script or try out for their film based on what you’ve done on HOSPITAL?
BARASH: Absolutely. It’s opened all sorts of doors and I can be very picky with what I do now. I have to be incredibly selective because I can only do one movie a year so I’m going to be sure that that movie is going to serve me in my career in the best way possible. It’s a nice position to be in to turn things down.
CS: Of course.
BARASH: We should all be so lucky.
CS: Looking back – taking stock of today and where you want to go tomorrow what is it that you hopes your next steps are beyond what you are doing today?
BARASH: Looking back before today, before I finished college I made myself a 30 year goal. That 30 year goal (I guess I will be 52) but my 30 year goal is to be able to write, direct star in my own films and I’d love to score some of those films and then if I want go onto Broadway and do a play for a few months. That’s the kind of career I want to have and live without regret and I know that if I keep working hard and take a step in that direction every day, I will achieve that.
I’m envisioning that that’s what I want to do with my life, that’s what I want to be and at the same time not getting overwhelmed with that big goal and breaking it down into basically little sections and not looking at the big picture. Basically, today is a new day what do I need to do today to get to my goal. That’s what it is about for me.
One Response to “Trailer Park: Brandon Barash”
Leave a Reply