‘General Hospital’ Star Nancy Lee Grahn on Her 25 Years (and Counting!) in Port Charles

Nancy Lee Grahn
ABC/Craig Sjodin

A quarter-century ago, General Hospital scored a casting coup by hiring fan favorite Nancy Lee Grahn, a Daytime Emmy winner for her run as Julia Capwell on Santa Barbara, to play attorney Alexis Davis, the illegitimate daughter of Mikkos Cassadine (John Colicos).

Over the years, Grahn’s been in myriad storylines both in the courtroom and in the bedroom, as Alexis has defended many GH characters and romanced several as well. The pairing with Alexis and the late Julian (Will deVry) was a particular hit with viewers.

Grahn recently chatted with TV Insider to talk about an Alexis-centric episode (set to air Thursday, April 8), why she checked into GH to begin with, “Julexis”, and more!

What brought you back to daytime 25 years ago?

Nancy Lee Grahn: After Santa Barbara ended, I was working. I recurred on Murder One and was doing other shows. But when you’re not a regular, you have to keep looking for that next job. I wanted a baby. My daughter Kate was the reason I wanted to do GH. I called and asked if they wanted me. [Laughs] They said, “Not really, but we’ll take you anyway.”

Did you know the significance of being cast as a Cassadine in relation to the show’s history?

Yes. I grew up watching GH. I knew all about the Cassadines and the freezing of the world. I’d joke, “My father almost froze the world. What has yours done?” I knew GH was where I belonged even though, at the time, there were a lot of other soaps on the air. The point was to have Kate and to raise her. GH put her through college. I couldn’t have imagined it working out better.

ABC/ Michael Yada

Some think that being a lead on a primetime show is “better,” but not if you’re a mom. In daytime, people look out for one another. If I needed to be somewhere for Kate, the show would fix it. If I needed to be at her school, I was there.

What were your thoughts on being cast as another lawyer?

I have a thing [in real-life] for fairness, freedom, justice, and liberty. I love that I get to play a lawyer because I don’t think I could ever be a lawyer. The passion is there, but you need a “left brain” to be an attorney.

Helena [Constance Towers] having killed Alexis’ mother with a dagger was such a dark backstory. What’s it like working with Constance?

That woman is the epitome of grace. She defines the word. We’re very close. [Laughs] My dad was in love with her, but my mom was OK with that.

How did you feel when the show revealed that Sam [Kelly Monaco] was Alexis’ long-lost daughter?

It was great. It’s a great addition. It provided us with a great story. Yes, on soaps, there’s always a child that comes out of nowhere, but they layered it all so nicely when it was done. I love the scenes when Alexis is with all three of her daughters — Sam, Kristina [Lexi Ainsworth], and Molly [Haley Pullos]. Each character is so well-defined. The scenes are textured and layered. Each one of us is specific and unique. Everyone in a real-life — that isn’t a Stepford family — can relate. It’s the complexity that makes it believable.

Ron Tom / © ABC / courtesy: Everett Collection

In recent months, Alexis has started drinking again and she doesn’t hesitate to tell anyone exactly what she thinks.

It’s my favorite part of my character. She just doesn’t have [an expletive] to give anymore. She can say whatever she wants and do whatever she wants. There’s tremendous freedom in that. There are repercussions [Laughs], but while you’re doing it, it feels really good!

Alexis has had her share of leading men but the audience seemed to respond the most to Julian.

I thought their pairing was absolutely awesome. Here came a man who thinks that she is so hot. There was so much chemistry between them. The sex was so important, and big and desperate and dangerous and crazy. They were at an age where, typically, TV shows and soaps don’t play that. It was a great message to send. Will, bless his heart…when he looked at me, he was totally in it. He was hot and sexy, and he acted like he was hot and sexy for me. Some of the audience is my age and they dug it.

They never quite came back after he held a dagger to her — and not just any dagger, the one that killed her mother.

I play a woman who has a moral compass, which is not to say that she’s not extremely flawed. But to be abused and almost killed and then find a way to take that guy back? I felt a lot of women out there would take that personally in a very bad way. I was all for [the show] having it not have been really Julian. [Laughs] They pass out brain tumors here — give him one!

Nancy Lee Grahn GH

ABC/Todd Wawrychuk

Can you preview this special episode as Alexis prepares to be incarcerated at Pentonville?

This goes deeper than [a standard anniversary episode]. They did a very good job of making more it more than being just about my 25th anniversary. There’s something very poignant that happens at the end that will be very relatable. It serves the emotional well-being of the audience. Everybody will be able to relate to what happens. [Viewers] will see that you don’t get to skip over parts of your life and not deal with them. You can, but then you end up faking a lot of your life.

The care that was given to this particular show by Frank [Valentini, executive producer], the writers, and Phideaux [Xavier, director] was enormous. They let me be a part of the process. Again, this episode is not a story about Alexis. It’s about everybody. I like that.

In this episode, Alexis will touch base with people in her life including Finn [Michael Easton]. Their romance never really got off the ground.

Michael is stellar. He’s a deep-thinker. I really appreciate him. I appreciate James [Patrick Stuart, who plays Valentin], too. They’re similar. They’re curious, good actors. I love working with them. I think that audiences pick up on relationships that you have with people who are similar to you. Michael certainly falls into that category for me. Alexis and Finn’s friendship is deep as ours is in real life. We appreciate and respect each other.

ABC/Craig Sjodin

How have you kept Alexis consistent over the years, as there have been numerous regimes during your tenure?

There are good days and bad days. It’s really been about my self-growth and not about the other people. I’ve always felt supported. I totally love the writers we have now, Chris [Van Etten] and Dan [O’Connor]. They’re good human beings and that really matters. They respect the character. I’ve been very lucky.

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