You can’t talk about soaps without talking about Genie Francis. The ‘GH’ icon spoke with HL about the Luke and Laura phenomenon, Laura’s evolution, and what keeps her coming back to Port Charles.
Whenever you think of soap operas, it’s impossible not to think of Genie Francis. Since 1977, the General Hospital legend has played the one and only Laura Spencer. Genie, along with the show, skyrocketed to global fame when Luke and Laura became a supercouple and married in 1981. Luke and Laura’s wedding was watched by over 30 million viewers and remains the most-watched hour in daytime history.
Genie has witnessed Laura’s incredible evolution since she stepped into the role in 1977. From the Ice Princess saga to Laura’s psychotic break to becoming the mayor of Port Charles, the character has had quite a life. Genie spoke with HollywoodLife EXCLUSIVELY ahead of ABC’s The Story of Soaps special, airing May 19 at 9 p.m., about everything from Luke and Laura to “coming home” to Port Charles again. Genie also talked about creating a “mature Laura” during her latest stint on the show. Read our full Q&A below.
General Hospital really took off in the 1980s with the Luke and Laura storyline. When did you know that you were part of a phenomenon?
Genie Francis: I think when they photographed us for the cover of Newsweek. That’s when it kind of struck me. It wasn’t a soap opera magazine. It wasn’t even a television magazine necessarily. It was a news magazine. Gloria Monty, who was producing the show, was really excited about it. That was the moment where we realized that we had arrived.
Luke and Laura definitely were the genesis of the supercouple and really changed the game when it came to TV couples. What’s it been like for you to be a part of something that fans have been so invested in for over 40 years?
Genie Francis: I think that fans had fallen in love with couples prior to that Luke and Laura coupling and other ones after. For some reason, our coupling and the story of us on the run became so captivating to young people, the people my age at the time. Gloria Monty had that in mind, by the way. She had that in mind from the time I had just turned 15 when she took me and my dad out to dinner. She talked to my dad and she said, “I want to push Genie to the front. Because of our time slot, the kids are home from school. This is going to change Genie’s life. I just wanted to run it past you and make sure it’s okay.” She was going to try to capture my peer group. She had that plan. She knew what she wanted to do, and she was going to use my character to help to make that happen. She really had an idea and executed it and it totally worked more than she ever thought it would, more than anyone ever thought it would. It became a phenomenon. People ask me all the time: what does it feel like to have done that and all those sorts of things? Honestly, I don’t think about it. It was such a big, strange moment in life. I almost don’t like to revisit it that much in my memory. It was just too big.
You’ve left the show and come back a number of times. What keeps you coming back to the character of Laura?
Genie Francis: I like coming home. It’s a good feeling. That’s my home. That’s where it started, and it feels good to come back and revisit that character. It feels good to be there.
Laura has gone through such an evolution from the very beginning. What’s that been like for you to be able to keep telling her story and witness that evolution from Laura being a teenager to the matriarch of Port Charles?
Genie Francis: I have enjoyed this stint coming back this time with Frank [Valentini]. I was thrilled that he was willing to establish Laura on her own because it was Luke and Laura for so long. I didn’t know that they would be interested in keeping that character around just on her own, and I like that he was willing to keep her around. Not only that, but I think this time around, these past five years that I’ve been with the show, they really did manage to flip it around and allow Laura to grow up and create a mature Laura. She’s strong and independent and doesn’t need to be saved. When I was a teenager, Laura was the one who was constantly tied to the railroad tracks waiting for somebody to come save her, so this is really such a great full circle. I’m really happy with that.
I have loved watching Laura and Kevin’s relationship evolve. You and Jon Lindstrom have such great chemistry. Was there ever a moment that you thought that fans wouldn’t be on board with Laura moving on in a different relationship that wasn’t Luke and Laura?
Genie Francis: Yes, I was. I was worried about it. But I was actually shocked that they took to the Kevin/Laura thing so quickly and so fully without looking back. That really surprised me a lot. I feel fortunate that’s the way it went. I was very worried that they would not be able to see her in any other way. I felt like it’s okay if she’s alone, too. It’s alright to be alone and focus on her relationships with her children and things like that, but I’m glad that it worked out the way it did.
Do you feel like there’s anything left to explore with Laura?
Genie Francis: There are still a few untapped areas. I don’t feel like I’m burning to tell any of them. But there are some untapped areas, surprisingly. We never really dealt with who her father is or where her father is. She never had her natural father around. She doesn’t know anything about him. There’s that and she was a teenage runaway. There’s all this other stuff about her younger life. The character of Laura was on that show before me. There was a young girl named Stacey Baldwin, who played the character. It was Denise Alexander’s story of her baby being switched at birth. There was a show about that [Switched at Birth]. That [storyline] was how we got Laura.
General Hospital is nearing 60 years old. Where do you see the future of soaps going from here?
Genie Francis: Well, I’m hoping that they continue to grow and evolve. It goes way back to the radio and keeps evolving and reflecting who we are. I think we’ll always want to have that reflection, and I would hope that it continues to do so.