DAYTIMERS, October 1981
THE BAD GUY ISN'T WHAT HE SEEMS TO BE (thank heaven)
It's not just fun and games when you're dealing in international intrigue. The participants definitely play for keeps.
Two players--General Hospital's "Luke Spencer" (Tony Geary) and "Robert Scorpio" (Tristan Rogers)--have indulged in double crosses galore, yet have become friendly enemies.
It all started when adventuress "Alexandria Quartermaine" (Renee Anderson) used her family's considerable fortune to buy a formula for manufacturing imitation diamonds. When he learned of the formula's existence, "Anthony Cassidine" "Andre Landzatt), owner of the richest diamond mines in South Africa, knew he'd be ruined and set out to stop anyone who tried to produce the imitation diamonds.
To protect her investment, "Alex" hid the formula in a base of a statue called The Ice Princess. She also hired "Luke" as a troubleshooter, to keep her out of harm's way and to find the statue when it was stolen. He's been successful at both assignments.
Arriving on the scene was the suave "Scorpio," working as a double agent for the "Cassidine" gang and for "Alex." He and "Luke" tangled immediately. "Robert has a way with a gun and wouldn't hesitate to pull the trigger. "Luke," on the other hand, uses strategy to his advantage and has won most of his skirmishes with "Scorpio."
In a clever (Laura here--Twilight Zone music starts) Mission: Impossible-type caper (involving such disparate items as a mummy case and a dumbwaiter), "Luke" managed to make The Ice Princess vanish at a charity auction.
"Luke" and "Scorpio" find themselves cast as romantic rivals as well. Both men are drawn irrevocably to luscious "Laura Baldwin" (Genie Francis), who, while madly in love with "Luke," has to admit she's also attracted to "Scorpio."
The further complicate the two men's lives, a delightfully dangerous adversary has entered the picture: "Victor Cassidine" (Thaao Penghlis). With this new attractive antagonist, "Luke" and "Scorpio" have been forced to create an unholy alliance to outwit "Victor" to stay alive!
Off-camera, Tony Geary, who created the role of "Luke," is more than staying alive--he's thriving! The head honcho of GH's acting company is so secure in his position that he has no need to hog the spotlight nor fear competition.
On the contrary, Tony actually welcomes the inclusion of new romantic leading men into storylines--first, Tristan Rogers, and now, Thaao Penghlis--in order to make for stronger, more action-packed scenes.
In fact, everybody benefits from Tony's point of view--his fellow actors--but, most importantly, the fans. They get to revel in the delights of three of daytime's most dynamic young men, and they're all on one show!
Darkly handsome Thaao Penghlis ("Victor Cassidine," General Hospital) may be a bachelor of long standing, but he is very much a family man; his roots deeply embedded in the warmth of centuries-old familial values and traditions.
Born on the Greek isle of Kastellorizon, near Turkey, Thaao's family migrated to Australia when he was six. "You see," the actor says in that deep, cultured, continental voice, "Greece is a poor country. It's been up and down for so many years, especially since the junta. Australia was a frontier--just the way America made itself attractive to the settlers in the early days--and the country encouraged not only Greeks but all foreigners to migrate there. The poor became the labor force. They worked so hard--seven days a week--and they became incredible business people and have done very well, financially. There's now a population of 700,000 Greeks on the island."
As a young man, Thaao served with the diplomatic corps, working with Greek immigrants seeking Australian citizenship. He trained for three years to become the vice-consulate to Greece. Suddenly Thaao became "sick and tired" that everything in his life was Greek related, and he took a year's leave of absence from the diplomatic corps and worked for the United Nations.
"I was the black sheep of the family for a while, because I was the first to leave home," explains Thaao. "I arrived in America with $180 in my pocket. Not knowing what I was going to do. I didn't have any family to support me. What has happened to me here--I've done all on my own.
In New York, Thaao met director Milton Katselas, who inspired him to pursue an acting career. "I worked with Chinese art and English antiques to support myself while I went to drama school at night."
Thaao worked as Katselas' assistant for four years, moving to California with the director, where he set up shop at the Beverly Hills Playhouse. Thaao helped Katselas direct a number of shows and appeared in the West Coast production of Jockeys, which was transferred to Broadway. Film director John Avildsen saw Thaao in the play and cast him in Slow Dancing in the Big City and key roles in The Bell Jar and Ken Russell's Altered States followed.
With those kinds of credits, Thaao's been asked if daytime drama might not be considered a come-down of sorts. The actor doesn't see it that way at all. "It's an area I've not touched before. I know some people don't think soaps are good--that, at best, they're done better in New York. Well, that's just an opinion. I've got to be guided by my own intuition. Any time I doubt, I just take a look at my life and realize I'm more ahead than I've ever been, and I've always trusted my intuition.
"My career may not be as fast rising as some Americans' have been, but then, they're not around any more either. I feel very solid now. I want to be a film actor. I realized that after working with Ken Russell. I also do a lot of theater. I've worked with Victor Buono. An enormous actor--a great talent. He's such a scene stealer! But I learned how to be still with him, which helped me to perform.
"When this role on GH came along, I felt that it combined a lot of things I've done in my life. I've studied Chinese and English 18th Century art. That gave me a kind of worldliness. Also, having been a vice-consulate, plus the theater training, the role felt right.
"Working with (GH producer) Gloria Monty is marvelous. She's hard on actors, but she truly loves them."
Thaao has been in this country for ten years. "I was engaged when I left. My engagement was arranged. I knew the girl for a long time. The way I was brought up, your family name is the first priority. My sister's and my brother's marriages were also arranged, but they're very happy. Somehow you learn to love each other--perhaps because the people involved were brought together by the same set of ethics, rather than having to adjust to values that are foreign to them. You also seem to make a greater go of the marriage, instead of what we're experiencing today. If something doesn't work out, we can be so abrupt with our marriages and end them."
Thaao remains unmarried. "I had a relationship that lasted for 18 months. But it's very hard--if one is as dedicated to a profession as I am.
"I get lonely," he freely admits. "I don't have relationships at times. We all think we have to have relationships--as if that was the only way it was supposed to be."
The actor has some decidedly firm views on love and marriage. "It is my belief--and this is my Greek background--maybe it's chauvinistic of me--but I can't do it any other way. I've got to establish what I'm about first, so that my belief in myself is strong. I don't want to marry some lady and then find out she has to support me because we have children or something. I want to make sure that I have the money first and that I'm secure as far as my work and where I'm going with it.
"I have been a professional actor for five years. You make so much, but then you have to re-invest it in your career. I believe in being comfortable before I'm going to put a wife and children into such a situation. I don't want my wife working. I believe the children should be with the mother. I like the family way of life. We turned out quite well, my family in Australia. We were rather healthy in our attitudes.
"When I came here, I had to make certain adjustments to this country's values. I've been fortunate here, really. To be so free about everything I've done. To express myself the way I have. Much more so than it was--or would have been--at home. The island wasn't as developed when I left. Here, they may not respect the actor unless he's made it--made a buck or made a name for himself. But here, at least, you can be anything you want to be.
"An actor must exude life, and you have so many experiences to draw upon in this country. That is, if you want to experience them. If you truly want to be great--and I believe we can all be great, because that's in us. There are so many things to relate to, to stimulate us so that we can be great artists. The trouble is, we shortchange ourselves constantly because we're insecure until we finally to people and say, 'Yes, I made it, and I, therefore, have gained your respect.' "
Thaao smiles fondly. "I went back to Australia for a three-week visit. I waited until I'd had some success, of course. Because they all thought I would probably not make it, although they wished success for me. I remember en route I stopped off in Honolulu to make sure I was rested and relaxed--I wanted to look the best I could. When I arrived, it was overhwelming to see all those people--45 first cousins--and all that emotion. It's like they saw some part of them gone and come back again.
"It was so warm and so wonderful. All the relatives brought food. See, food is very important to us--it's part of the festivities of life. It's very enriching. That's why when we bring food to your house, it's an exciting thing. It's like giving a part of ourselves to you.
"In this country, I could never understand how people could talk at the table while they were eating. I've always thought eating food was something very special, your stomach should have time to digest the food. I thought people talking with their mouths full was very crass."
It must have been quite an adjustment coming from a continental, close-knit family background to the bright lights of Hollywood. "Well, it was tough. I was known for my loud mouth--but I got into trouble a couple of times. I've learned."
Thaao laughs. "But on that trip to Australia, driving home in the car, it was like making a six-year adjustment within a split second. I was continuing with my life there as if I had never gone away. I was right there. I thought I had forgotten it all, yet I was speaking full Greek within an hour. I fell right into it. The men stayed in one room, the women in another. That kind of life. But by the time the evening was over, everybody was together, including the children, because it was such a celebration.
"It's incredible to hear someone say, 'I can't stand children.' My God, I think, how can you not stand life? Those two entities--children and older people--are the two extremes of life, and we're somewhere in the middle. If you understand those two elements, you have a better understanding of life--you can see the whole thing.
"I remember when I left Australia to return to America. I got so emotional. Everyone was crying. It was a chain reaction--the aunts would look at my mother and begin weeping all over again. Then, I would start crying too!
"I found the readjustment when I came back to America a big one. The love was so overpowering at home. I was very fortunate to have that great love.
"Alexander the Great showed this kind of family feeling to his army; that's the way he kept them together. As soon as he split up the family situation and divided the empire, the whole thing collapsed. That's why the Greeks are so much into keeping marriages amongst Greeks, because they want to keep it together, it's so much more powerful that way."
Thaao believes his gifts as an actor are leading the way toward teaching. "I think we're going toward mass communication, and it's going to be even broader than it's ever been before. Some of us are being trained to teach, to communicate information--not just about America, but the world, what audiences will need to know about life. That's why the state of marriage is breaking up, and the individual is being more developed, because the individual has to stand up to life's problems.
"That's when the movie screen will become even more important. People always go to the movie theater to escape--which I think is wrong--it's good to support the things from which we're going to learn something, which will make us feel better about ourselves.
"People will go to the theater because a particular person up there on the screen has the charisma of a leader; that's traditionally where we've found our heroes. They help make people know about themselves.
"That kind of communication--the metaphysical side of it--will make us understand more about who we are as individuals, rather than as a family. It's strange--my being so interested in this phenomena--coming from such a strong family background.
"We, as actors, have a great responsibility. That's why some actors refuse to do violent scenes, because, instinctively, they believe they've got something better to say to people to educate them.
"Actors make choices, because they need the money or for whatever reasons. Those moves have to be made; they reflect where they're at in society. Sometimes if you wait a little longer, something important comes along to help you communicate.
"I really feel that it's important that people relax and realize there's such a potential out there. They don't need drugs to stimulate themselves. People are taking such an easy way out. They don't feel like there's more. That's why the drug situation is so strong.
"Because that's what the family was for--you had your mother and father and sisters and brothers to talk to, to help you along. Today, it's very hard. You're by yourself. You don't have your religion to fall back on. Because that hasn't particularly helped a lot of people. It's only confused them. All of a sudden you feel alone. So drugs have become a comfort.
"As actors, I feel we haven't even touched the message that we're going to give society. That's why the actor has to be so well-trained, to do the job properly. We have such an enormous responsibility to get where we're going."
SOAP OPERA DIGEST, November 24, 1981
From a section about the new GH actors
"My Life has been one of fate--bumping into people at the right time."
Thaao Penghlis has swiftly become the resident Renaissance man of GENERAL HOSPITAL. A gifted student of Chinese art, drama, foreign diplomacy, fashion and cooking, Thaao finds these abilities the perfect mix for his character, Victor Cassidine, the Onassis-esque authority on world politics who also happens to be young, handsome and incredibly wealthy. As Thaao himself puts it, "Everything I've done in my life goes into this man."
It wasn't always so. Several years ago, Thaao was working in Australian immigration when he discovered the man whose papers he was processing had worked with Scotland yard as a psychic investigator. "He told me that I would be leaving Australia. I would receive a free trip to America on August 29th and upon my arrival, I would begin an acting career. Several nights later, Thaao attended a party where--lo and behold--he was invited to accompany a friend to America, free of charge, on August 29th. "I seized the opportunity but found upon arrival, that I hated New York. So I returned to Australia and went back to visit this man, who angrily told me that I was destined to be an actor in the United States and that within nine days I'd receive a ticket back to the States on Pan Am. And damned if within nine days I didn't receive a ticket from some friends in New York. Needless to say the ticket was for Pan Am." Thaao chuckles lightly, almost amused by the circumstances. "I've never really believed in psychics, but my life has been one of fate, bumping into people at the right time."
Raised in a strict Greek family, Thaao moved to Australia and then New York, where he began his acting career by appearing in several plays and by serving as assistant to famed acting coach Milton Katselas. Eventually Thaao made the move to Los Angeles and developed a chameleon approach to his acting which has thus far helped him steer clear of being typecast at the "dark European type." In SLOW DANCING IN THE BIG CITY, he played a bitchy choreographer ("In my research I discovered that choreographers have no humor. They don't have time and they don't care because they're aiming for perfection."), and in ALTERED STATES he played the Spanish-speaking PH.D. who guided leading man William Hurt to the outlands of ancient Mexico in search of the dawn of man.
Sound heavy? Well, Thaao Penghlis is a heavy kind of guy. He's an extremely intelligent, articulate and intense man who's lived a lifetime of experience in his still-young life and is willing to take on new experiences--including soap operas.
"A lot of my friends urged me not to do a soap, but so far it's been a great experience because I've never had to concentrate on so many elements in a split second as I have here."
A self-confessed health nut, Thaao enjoys good health and good food. He's expecially fond of cooking--when there's an appreciative audience for his food-as-art masterpieces. ("There's nothing worse than cooking for two days and then watching your guests gobble down your cuisine like it was hamburger.")
He's a fascinating young man and although it's obvious he'll be moving on to bigger and better things, for the moment Thaao Penghlis is bringing a touch of international class to America's favorite soap.