She’s been hailed as one of the best actors to ever grace the medium.

When Sarah Brown joined General Hospital in 1996 as one of the most memorable and expertly written vixens in recent history, Carly Benson, the fierce newcomer became an overnight sensation.

Winning three well-deserved Emmy Awards in 1997, 1998 and 2000, and gracing more soap magazine covers than she can count, Brown paved the way for a new type of soap star.

Unbelievably talented, unapologetically outspoken, and a proud single mother, Brown signalled a new chapter in soap opera celebrity by capturing the imagination of viewers across the world with her incomparable acting prowess.

Unfortunately, Brown opted to depart the series five years later to pursue the bright lights of Hollywood.

It was a smart move. Predictably, the former soap goddess immediately found success. She starred on such shows like Crossing Jordan, Strong Medicine, The Sopranos, and Without A Trace.

Proving there are no small roles, just small actors, the force of nature briefly returned to soaps on As The World Turns where she played Julia Morrisey Larrabee for eight months.

Later, in 2004, Brown played the lead role of Kate Vignatti in the TV-movie The Perfect Husband: The Laci Peterson Story before briefly becoming a regular on Cold Case in 2005.

After guest-starring gigs on Monk, The Closer, and K-Ville, soap pundits were pleasantly surprised to learn last year that the Eureka, Calif. native agreed to return to the show that launched her career.

In one of the most unusual moves in soap-casting history, it was decided that Brown would not return in her signature role of Carly Corinthos (she was already being played by successful recast Laura Wright), but in a new role: kick-ass lady mobster Claudia Zacchara.

Ad campaigns trumpeted the 33-year-old stunner’s return as the second coming, but unfortunately the writers’ strike interfered with the ill-conceived character’s journey.

Because of her topsy-turvy year and the recession, Brown re-signed for one more year with the medical sudser to flesh out her new role and put food on the table for her 10-year-old daughter, Jordan.

TVGuide.ca recently checked in with one of our biggest acting idols and favourite soap stars to gossip about everything from Guiding Light’s cancellation, the Emmys, and whether or not she and Maurice Benard can recapture the magic they shared as Carly and Sonny.

TVG: How are you? We haven’t seen each other since the 2008 Daytime Emmy Awards where you left me speechless with your super-hot, gluten-free body. A lot of my friends are celiacs.
Sarah Brown: I’m great, thanks. Yes, my body has completely changed. I was looking through old YouTube clips the other day, and even I can’t believe how much I’ve physically changed. I could see that something was wrong with me in pictures, but I didn’t know what. I kept asking: “What’s wrong with my face? It’s not supposed to be that big! I’m not supposed to look like my brother!”

TVG: I think most people are celiacs. Wheat isn’t your body’s friend — especially when you add sugar to that mix.
SB: One in 100 people are celiacs. It’s hard for me to digest that — literally! [Laughs] Dude — I was so ill. My doctor thought I had an immune-deficiency disorder at one point; you know, the bubble-man syndrome. At one point, I couldn’t get out of bed. Once, I almost passed out at the wheel after dropping my daughter off at school because I had just eaten a breakfast full of wheat. It was an intense experience. Today, that never happens. When people see me today, they think I’ve had liposuction!

TVG: It’s hard to live a gluten-free existence out there, huh?
SB: Yes, because everything has gluten. Even Starbucks’ almonds have gluten.

TVG: And soy sauce!
SB: There’s this social perception that you are being difficult if you have any special dietary requests and needs. It’s unfortunate because we all need to worry about what goes in our body.

TVG: And what comes out!
SB: [Laughs] You’re bad. It would be nice if there were more restaurants that catered to the celiac community.

TVG: Well, if you are ever in Toronto come by Big Mamma’s Boy. I live right next door to one of the best gluten-free restaurants in Canada.
SB: In L.A., I only have three or four places to patronize. Or, I make all my own food.

TVG: With the recession, you’d think someone would realize the need for a chain of gluten-free restaurants.
SB: You would. One day, I hope.

TVG: Since your show seemingly centres around a hospital, wouldn’t it make sense if GH made Claudia gluten-intolerant?
SB: What a great question! Wouldn’t it though? Come on, people! I’m so glad that you asked me that question, because I ask the-powers-that-be to write that story for Claudia. Of course, it’s out of my control, but I have expressed to the writers and producers how difficult it is for me to live in a gluten world. [Emotionally] I really wish they would show how hard it is for an Italian woman like Claudia to deal with a health issue that comes into conflict with her [nutritional] culture.

TVG: When I turn away bread in a restaurant, they look at me like it’s a crime against humanity!
SB: I know! And I must pay for it! There’s a prejudice out there regarding any food intolerance. I wish I could order gluten-free bread or ice cream.

TVG: Let’s talk about GH. There are "two Carlys" on the show, but I don’t feel like my favourite bitch is on the canvas anymore. Yes, Laura Wright is doing a fine job as Carly 4.0, but to me, Carly, who remains one of my all-time favourite soap roles, is a different character now. Do you still think of yourself as Carly or a variation of the two roles?
SB: You think it’s hard for you, buddy, it’s hard for my co-stars and co-workers! To be honest, I don’t understand it because I do not identify with the character of Carly anymore. Like you said, and I concur, Carly is one of the most iconic roles in soap history, but I feel like it all happened to someone else.

I was a lot younger back then when I played the role. Today, I’m not attached to the part or the results of it. I was working out my own personal dynamics in the role as a young person, and today, I’m no longer that person. In a way, as I grew, Carly died. Carly was a great, fun roller-coaster, but she was never me. I feel Laura Wright is an excellent actress and she’s Carly now. When GH was recasting the role, a soap magazine asked me who I thought should take over the role of Carly, and I gave them two names: Laura and Maura West [Carly, As The World Turns].

TVG: Because the show recast the role so many times, I think Carly’s power has been diluted.
SB: So you don’t see me as Claudia?

TVG: Hell, you can play anyone because you’re an authentic actor. You could play Sonny Corinthos if you wanted to…
SB: [Laughs hysterically] That’s the best quote of all time!

TVG: When you first came on, fans and critics all had high hopes because ABC promoted you as Lucky Santangelo from Jackie Collins' Lucky Chances.
SB: I thought that, too.

TVG: And yes, it’s not all Guza’s fault because he was striking at the time. I think it was a huge error to pair you romantically with Maurice Benard initally and then spin off the two characters into different galaxies.
SB: Yes, I agree. They threw me in and pulled me out, so to speak. One of the reasons I re-signed with the show is because I wanted to learn more about Claudia. What’s the meat and potatoes of this character? Sometimes, in daytime, it takes forever to learn the bible of a character. With so many writers, it takes a while to get your feet situated. Soaps aren’t like a David Mamet play because there is no beginning, middle or end. One day, you’ll learn a new beat in your character’s history, which changes your whole viewpoint as an actor of the character you play. Then, another writer will write you a scene and they don’t account for that history, so as a soap actor it’s a tricky process to stay true to the character you play. Claudia is still a mystery to me.

TVG: Remind me again — did Bob create Carly or was that Claire Labine?
SB: Bob Guza created my character but he left the show three weeks later. At that point, I think Carly was supposed to be a six-month role, but my character really took off when I embraced the dark. The new writers responded to that and the character took off. That’s what made Carly interesting is that she was dark, and viewers related to a woman who was hurt and acting out. Carly proved that everyone deserves to be forgiven. As for Claudia, I don’t know who she is at this point. It’s confusing.

TVG: And now she’s desperate to get preggers so Sonny won’t kill her for shooting his child, Michael.
SB: No, it’s not going there. I refuse to play a needy woman who relies on a pregnancy to save her life. Trust me — it won’t go there. Like you said, it’s not why I signed on to this show again. And I don’t think Bob sees that kind of desperation in Claudia or myself. It’s not a road either of us are interested in travelling down. It’s also not what I do well. I like to think Claudia and I are a little more dimensional than that. Look, she ran the mafia in Italy with her uncle Rudy. She’s one of the guys. In many ways, she flourishes more in a man’s world than the men do. I bet she’s one hell of a poker player.
General Hospital, ABC

TVG: I think Sonny should be scared of Claudia, not the other way around.
SB: Yes. Who wants to see a needy girl sit there, desperate for love from a man? There must be more dynamics in this relationship. Having said that, I think Bob is going to bring that to the table soon. Trust me, there will be.

General Hospital, ABC TVG: Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” should be Claudia’s theme song. You must be happy that GH is investing in its future by building a new nurses’ hub and purchasing HD cameras.
SB: Considering GL was cancelled, I have to literally give props to GH for building this gorgeous new hospital set full of flat screens. It’s beyond any of our expectations. There are offices, elevators, and beautiful furniture. As an actor, your surroundings are important and, believe it or not, your environment does affect your performance. We have HD cameras and monitors now, which will be rough to adjust to for a few weeks, but it’ll be worth it in the end.
TVG: How do you feel about GH’s timeslot competitor being cancelled?
SB: GL tried something new but they ended up cancelled. They put these lights on cameras and went out into the woods with their actors, and audiences didn’t respond. It wasn’t a plan for success. After I watched a few weeks of GL, I wasn’t a fan of their production model. I love all those actors, and I’m a huge fan of the show, so I’m very sad about the cancellation.

TVG: We like to joke in the press that Laura Wright [ex-Cassie, GL] is the smartest woman in daytime because she jumped ship at the first sign of trouble.
SB: I haven’t watched the show in a couple of years, because after seeing what they were doing, I couldn’t watch. Listen, I had high hopes because I’m very supportive of new media in daytime. And I still think soaps need to explore new media by using relevant new technologies, but in this case, it didn’t work out. As for GH, I’m thrilled they’re spending money and I think it’s going to pay off for us in the end.

TVG: You’ve seen daytime radically change since joining the industry in 1996. Was it depressing to come back last year?
SB: When I left GH, I could already see the decline, which is one of the reasons I left the business. I needed to spread my wings. In the 1980s, 30 million viewers watched Luke and Laura wed, but when I was on GH we were lucky to attract five to eight million viewers. It was dismal. I looked around and said, “soaps aren’t going to be here in 10 years,” and I need to leave to ensure I have something else in my career to rely on. Ten years later, I’m happy to report I was wrong. I’m excited that the industry is still breathing. I hope GH can be a model for the rest of the business.

TVG: Let’s go back to Carly for a second…
SB: No, we can’t talk about Carly!

TVG: Shoot, I’m sorry, I’m always calling Claudia, Carly. GH just had to pick a character name that begins with a C!
SB: Listen, I’ve received scripts with Carly’s name on it instead of Claudia! Everyone makes that mistake on GH, too. You’re not the only one!

TVG: Do you think Claudia loves Sonny, and vice versa?
SB: No. I think it’s very complicated. Their relationship right now is very sick and twisted. Only the two of them can share what they share. I think once Claudia has his baby, perhaps love will blossom, but right now, I don’t think there’s a lot of love there. I don’t think Claudia would behave this way if she was in love with Sonny. I’m holding out hope that they will fall in love and fans will see that journey on camera.

TVG: Do you know that fans love the sizzling chemistry between you and Brandon Barash [Johnny]? Some viewers hope GH undoes them as brother and sister.
SB: Ewww! That’s so Flowers in the Attic. Disgusting! [Laughs] I wouldn’t play that story. Well, maybe if Bob wrote a great story, but I think Johnny would have to die and come back as a different character. I doubt Bob Guza would do something that creepy. I’m very close to my real brother, and I couldn’t imagine even if they weren’t related that they could start a romantic or sexual relationship because they still grew up as siblings.
General Hospital, ABC
TVG: [Joking] If Brandon was my brother, I would make out with him! Are they undoing the fact that Claudia hired a hit man who accidentally shot Michael?
SB: I’ve heard that rumour, but I don’t think they are going to change history. It was a stupid move on Claudia’s part. She was an accessory to his shooting, for sure. Sonny has to gauge it from that place. And also realize that Claudia feels very guilty over her actions.

TVG: Do you think Sonny could ever forgive Claudia for setting this all in motion? He’s not a very forgiving person.
SB: No, he’s not! It will take a lot of legroom. I was worried that GH couldn’t get Claudia out of this predicament. I’m interested in seeing how Sonny will forgive her. Apparently, when I wasn’t around, Ric did some heinous things like put out a cigarette on a pregnant woman or something! In soaps, it’s possible for a writer to dig you out of a hole. Look at Rick Hearst — he won an Emmy for that storyline, too!

TVG: Sonny shot a pregnant Carly in the head while she was giving birth to his child, Morgan, so the hyprocrite should be more forgiving. After all, if he doesn’t want his children shot, he should leave the mob.
SB: [Shocked] No, he did not! Really? Oh my God. I didn’t know that. So maybe Sonny will forgive Claudia then.

TVG: I was a big Jason and Carly fan. I love your chemistry with Steve Burton. Would you dig a Sonny-Claudia-Jason love triangle? At the moment, Jason’s without a love interest.
SB: Sure. If Steve’s into it, I’d totally be into it. I’m really there to support Maurice [Benard] and Steve. I’m not there to re-invent the wheel.

TVG: It’s dangerous to come between the show’s biggest super-couple, Jason and Sonny. They need to have sex already!
SB: [Laughs] Everyone says that! That’s so funny. They are each other’s true loves. Steve and Maurice joke about Sonny and Jason’s love every day on the set. Steve will tease Maurice and call him “Batman.”

TVG: You’re pre-nominated for a lead actress Emmy along with Laura — what did you submit?
SB: I asked my fans to give me suggestions because they watch every day. I ended up going with my trial scenes. I wasn’t sure if it was my best work, but I remember the trial was one of the only days I really connected with the material last year. I wasn’t crazy about all the scenes, but I loved the end of the episode when Claudia interacts with Ric.

TVG: What do you think about The CW airing the Emmys eight months into the new calendar year?
SB: Wow — I’m shocked! [Laughs] I think it’s terrible. It’s too bad. I don’t mind the CW airing the telecast, but I think it’s far too late to air them at the end of August. I liked it when the Emmys were held in New York. It was so exciting to see thousands of people lining up the streets of New York for miles to see us crazy soap stars. It was so much fun. Sadly, it’s not that way anymore, but I don’t mind the ceremony being more intimate and smaller, either.

TVG: If you’re nominated this year, you’ll be one of those rare actors who have been nominated in all three acting categories: Lead, younger and supporting. And if you win, you’ll have an Emmy for each category!
SB: That’d be cool. God, that made me sound so old, even though I’m still young. That’s what happens when you start acting early! But I would love to have an Emmy in each category. I have two younger lead actresses, and one supporting actress. I’d love to be in that club.

TVG: Where do you keep your Emmys?
SB: On my mantle. I’m not one of those actors who puts them in storage, and breaks them! They mean a lot to me. They represent hard work and years I’m really proud of. I have those three beauties on top of my fireplace with a picture of the daughter I love, along with my Soap Opera Digest Awards. The Emmys are beginning to fade, but I like that because it reminds you that success isn’t always what it seems.

TVG: Does your 10-year-old daughter grasp what you do for a living?
SB: Boy, I am sounding old now! But I had Jordan at 23, and I knew it’d be awesome to be 33 and have a 10-year-old. And it is. She gets it now. She knows she can benefit from Mom’s job in that crazy way only a child can.

TVG: Does she have any show business aspirations? She was born with great DNA.
SB: Actually, someone approached her the other day from Disney to try out for the new season of Zack & Cody, which is one of her favourite shows. It made her day, but I’m not supportive of the idea of Jordan working as an actor. I want her to focus on school. I don’t think she has any real aspirations right now to act. She’s always been very shy, so we’ll see. Her father, Shuki Levy, is an amazing singer. He has an amazing falsetto. She could go into music one day, too. Of course, I hope she decides to go into medicine or law, as most mothers hope.

TVG: Which actors do you admire in soaps, in film and prime-time TV?
SB: Hands down, Tom Pelphrey [ex-Jonathan, GL] is my favourite soap actor.

TVG: I pray each night that GH casts him as Dante.
SB: You and me both! Don’t even talk to me about that because I’ve harassed Tom, Bob Guza and anyone who would listen to hire him. The idea that I could one day work with Tom on daytime TV would make my career. He’s a great freaking actor. The kid is the real deal. I admire him a lot. I also love Kim Zimmer [Reva, GL] a lot. I miss working with all my World Turns co-stars. I’d love to work with Ricky Paull Goldin [Jake, AMC] — how much fun would that be? I wish we could all jump around networks to work on each other’s shows. In prime time, I love Michael Chiklis because he’s so raw. And I like Nip/Tuck’s Julian McMahon. In film, I’ve always admired Ed Norton. And of course, Meryl Streep has taught me so much, just by watching her unbelievable, incredible performances.

TVG: I’m sure you’ve had that same effect on many actors. I’ve always considered you one of the Top 5 best actresses in soap history. I hate when soaps hire hair models.
SB: It’s counterproductive to not hire trained actors. If ratings are going down and down, the acting has to be there. There are no excuses anymore. I’m really behind improving the writing and acting in daytime. If an actor isn’t pulling his or her own weight on a soap, it’s time to recast. We don’t need hair models on daytime. I’m with you on that.

TVG: Have you decided yet if you’ll re-sign with GH when your contract expires later this year?
SB: I haven’t decided yet. If it’s painful to go into work no matter what your job is; I believe then it’s time to leave. So far, I don’t feel that way about GH. With the economy the way it is, as a single mother, I can’t complain because I’m working. But having said that, I need to be inspired creatively — that’s very important to me.

TVG: And to us.

 

 

 

 

 

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Nelson Branco is a Toronto freelance entertainment journalist, who regularly contributes to Hello! Canada, The National Post, The Los Angeles Times' theenvelope.com, TV Guide USA, tvguide.com, Inside Entertainment, OUT, and fab magazine, along with spearheading the soap coverage for TVGuide.ca's popular daytime TV hub. After graduating from Ryerson University in 1997, he moved from Toronto to New York in 1998 to take on the roles as senior news editor at Soap Opera Update. Branco first freelanced for Soap Opera Weekly as an intern in 1994, and after leaving Soap Update to help create and launch Bauer Publishing's In Touch Weekly in 2003, Branco continued to freelance occasionally for its sister publication, Soaps In Depth. Most recently, he helped create and launch Canada's first celebrity magazine, Weekly Scoop in 2005 as its news and entertainment director. Branco is also a contributor to a new TV show titled Planet Soap to air in Canada and America.