Chic, intimidating, and icy are three words that could be used to describe fashionista Kate Howard when she's running the show at Crimson.
The woman now playing the high-school love of Sonny Corinthos (Maurice Benard) is chic (she has a dancer's body so she can wear anything), funny, and warm - those three words best describe the woman who plays Kate, Kelly Sullivan. As you may recall, Kate was originally portrayed by the lovely Megan Ward
Sullivan's taping schedule delayed our interview a bit. When we finally talked, she told me that she had a meeting with Ron Carlivati, the new head writer, "and it was awesome."
Sonny Corinthos: An Extended High School Stay
"Awesome." A young person's word, spoken by a young, lively woman. Despite the maturity Sullivan brings to Kate, Sonny Corinthos' high school sweetheart, Sullivan herself is 14 years and 11 months younger than Maurice Benard. If Kate and Sonny were in school together, Kate was either a genius who skipped grammar school, or Sonny was the village idiot and had to repeat every grade. Only in the world of soaps.
"I think one of the first times someone said Kate Howard and Sonny Corinthos were in high school together, I said, 'Well, you know, we have to embrace it,' Sullivan says. "I've always been like 18 going on 40. I'm an old soul, my friends are always much older than I am. I feel like it helped me." And though the face says one thing, Sullivan's acting and demeanor say another, making Sonny and Kate believable as ex-teen sweethearts.
A Life in the Theater
Before playing Kate, Sullivan had another existence on the opposite coast, living the life of a theater person. A trained dancer and singer originally from the state of Washington, Sullivan eventually wound up in New York City, where she found work on Broadway and in musicals throughout the country. And we're not talking flops -- you know, shows that opened on Thursday and were gone by the weekend. She appeared in Contact for three years at the Lincoln Center Theater, Bells are Ringing, and as the sexy Inga in Young Frankenstein on Broadway. In Bells are Ringing, Sullivan is listed as the Swing. If you're not familiar with the term, the Swing has to know every single dancer's choreography in case someone is out and she has to step into their position. It's a lot of responsibility.
Performing Around the Country
Outside of New York, Sullivan appeared in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, as Marion in Robin and the 7 Hoods, as Hope Harcourt, the second lead, in Anything Goes, Pam in The Full Monty, and Clair in On the Town. And she gained experience in front of the camera, too, in the musical film The Producers, several non-musical films, and the TV show Law and Order: Criminal Intent.
Leaving New York and onto General Hospital
It's no small thing to be a working performer in New York City (take it from one who was also a performer in New York City) so the obvious question is, why move to Los Angeles? Sullivan answers, "I lived in New York for 12 years, and the last 2-1/2 years, I was feeling a pull to come out here and do film and TV on a bigger scale. New York will always be heart and my soul. I'm a very loyal Giants and Yankees fan. I came out to LA because I felt this is my path."
The audition for General Hospital occurred in May of 2011, and Sullivan was not familiar with the character of Kate Howard. "I got my audition material, and I was so excited - I loved the material. Lots of Connie came out! I met with Mark Teschner, and he called me back a couple of weeks later to read for Jill Farren Phelps.
"Then I had another callback, this time for a chemistry read with Maurice Benard. I showed up at 10:15 for a 10:30 audition, and there were about eight other women waiting. I went in first. Maurice was standing there, and there were ten other people watching the audition, including Garin Wolf. It was so much fun. I remember thinking it would be a dream come true if it happened. Maurice and I clicked. I got into the elevator thinking that it had gone great."
Cleaning Products and a Parking Ticket
After Sullivan's audition, it was time to get back to the real world. "I went to Target because I had to get groceries and cleaning material. They called me during the Lysol or the 409, about an hour and a half later, saying I was hired. I just walked around target in a fog and I ended up with a parking ticket. I thought it was the best ticket I could ever get." When she started taping a couple of weeks later, "I was so excited to play the character. Garin [head writer] told me what he wanted to do with her -- juicy! Seven months later, and it's starting to get gritty."
Looking back on the new Kate's first entrance, she was stunning in an elegant suit as she stepped off of an elevator while having a frosty conversation on her cell phone. Sullivan recalls, "It was a surreal moment. I was just standing in the elevator with the doors closed and I said, "It's on, rock and roll. I loved that first day. I'll never forget it."
That day, her hair was up-swept, possibly to give her an older, more sophisticated look. It's a look Sullivan often wears on General Hospital. With her hair down, her look is softer. Sullivan gave me the impression that Los Angeles tends to age women a little faster than, say, they do Harrison Ford. [For more on this phenomenon, check this out.]
Casting Differences, New York vs. L.A.
"I moved out to L.A.," Sullivan recalls, "and I said, 'I guess I'm a young mom.' I'm like, that's how they fly out here in La-La land. So when I went into read for Kate Howard, I was on the young side. They were just looking for a certain quality, and they asked a lot of questions. Kate's hair coming down was when Kate felt vulnerable, when she feels she can drop her guard with Sonny. Now it's becoming something about her unraveling."
Hair up, hair down, Sullivan is loving her time with the show. "Between Laura, Nancy, Carolyn, Lisa, even Little Miss Julie [Berman] whom I call Jules, Jen Lilley -- they are all so down to earth and amazingly supportive. We have so much fun. From day one, I felt like I was in an awesome environment. Coming from theater, you get into a show and see everyone six days a week, and it becomes such a family. It's so cool. So I was happy when I walked into GH and felt like it was a family. There's not one 'drama' person in the whole show."
Unlike Jen Lilley, who has been dealing with fan hatred since she took over as Maxie, Sullivan has found the fans there for her, though Megan Ward as Kate was certainly popular. "The character of Kate Howard had a lot of fans. A beautiful actress created the character, and Megan and Sonny had amazing chemistry. We're going in a different direction. I just do my job and be as truthful as I can. These fans are the best fans ever. They've been very gracious, and I feel such love and support. And the fans are the bread and butter."
Right, but here's the million-dollar question. Is all this family stuff and love going to continue? Or will General Hospital soon be a thing of the past? Of course, the network executives haven't told the cast anything. Why should they? It's only their jobs. Sullivan says, "I was talking with Maurice about that. There's a certain date - in April or around May sweeps...they're trying to get the ratings up."
The Future of Kelly Sullivan and General Hospital
Sullivan continues on the subject of General Hospital as it goes forward: "It's a really exciting time on the show because right now, as we're filming, a lot of the stories are peaking. There's a lot of drama and a lot of forward movement that wasn't happening. Now it's all building, the stories are climaxing. It's hopefully going to resonate and be exciting to watch." She adds, "ABC now only has General Hospital. Now we're sort of the wild card. It's cool because people are going to treasure it a little more. All I can say to the fans is, keep the faith and keep watching."
Cool (meaning great). Well, even my generation said that. Awesome (meaning fabulous). I understand the new word for cool, fabulous, so awesome it's unbelievable is 'sick'. Get out! Though the Urban Dictionary says "sick" now replaces cool, I think I'll stick with this: Kelly Sullivan is cool and awesome. Here's wishing her continued success and a long, long run on General Hospital.