Last Friday, January 30, 2009, on General Hospital, a nurse summoned Dr. Patrick Drake to the phone, telling him, "It's Agent Rayner." Though she looked very serious behind the nurses' station, Heather Hudson, the actress who played that nurse, is a vivacious and funny young woman who normally excels at quirkier roles. Friday was her third stint with a GH-related show; she appeared twice on Night Shift. Because of her experiences on Night Shift, she jumped at the opportunity to appear on GH. "They're a great group," Hudson says. "I got to work with Jason [Thompson] and some of the other folks on Night Shift."
The young actress has been pursuing her craft professionally for six years and is just beginning her seventh. "I did a lot of theater-type stuff as a kid - performing, cheerleading, or drill team," Hudson says. "I came out here from Cleveland, Ohio, and started doing production work while I was studying with my acting teacher. I've been doing films and voiceovers, and I'm just starting to get into TV stuff. Right now, with my voice coach, I'm studying so I can go into animation work. I've done a lot of comedy improv and a Tennessee Williams play, Hello from Bertha."
Hudson has a very distinctive speaking voice which serves her well in voiceovers. To her credit, she didn't do what actors call "steal focus" by using that voice on GH, but one more appropriate for a nurse standing next to an orderly who's about to keel over from exposure to a biotoxin.
Hudson auditioned for Gwen Hillier, the head of atmosphere (also called extras or background) and Under Fives - those background people with under five lines - casting on GH, back in June of 2008. "I got the part on Night Shift," she recalls, "and they brought me back for the second to last episode. Then in December, she called me for this role on GH."
This means that she's been "established" as a presence at General Hospital and could be called in by Hiller from time to time. For a young actress just starting out, it's great to be known and liked by a casting director who will continue to use you. Some casting directors work in films and go from project to project, and others work on TV shows, which can mean steadier work.
In these days of soap opera cost-cutting, many shows have cut the number of extras, day players, and "under fives" (actors who have under five lines) they use. Hudson remembers "There were five of us who had 'under fives' as interns on Night Shift when I did it."
The Hospital Crisis
What's it like to be in the midst of a big story like the "hospital crisis?" "It's pretty quick," she acknowledges. "I don't think I ever saw anything go past two or possibly three takes maybe. There's something about the community there - the GH crew and actors are in great communication. They have a flow. And they're very supportive of each other. That was a long day and a hard day. They had a lot of issues technically - that blood in the OR, and the scene in surgery - that can really drag a set down. People can get tired. There were something like thirty-plus scenes, and they had to break down the technical stuff. A very long day. This crew, this cast, they went with it without blinking.
"We were halfway through the day by the time my scene came. What I noticed was that even toward the end of the day, everyone's energy was still up. It was, 'Okay, we're going to keep moving.' They go for it, and they do it in only a couple of takes. I've been in movies where they do a zillion takes, and it's always getting messed up. The biggest thing I'm noticing is when there's a community already built, the whole process happens naturally and more easily." And what's it like when you're not part of the regular group? "It's kind of like a family there, but very accommodating to a new person coming in. And Jason Thompson (Patrick Drake) whom I worked with on both GH and Night Shift, is just super. When we were on Night Shift, he told some of us that for weeks after he joined the show, the parking attendants kept taking his car where the extras parked. He didn't want to act like some egomaniacal star, so he never said anything. They didn't realize until some time later that he was one of the regular stars of the show. He didn't want to make a scene." Since she got to call him to the phone, they had some interaction on GH as well. "He's a very real, down to earth guy. You know, there are some shows that you go to where people don't acknowledge you. You never know how it's going to be. On General Hospital, they're good people. I keep hearing that whenever I tell people what show I was on. I feel blessed that I've been able to work with them as often as I have."
Hudson is actually a fan of GH and admits, "When I watch the show, I love the Spinelli-Maxie scenes, so it was exciting to see Bradford Anderson. I love the way he speaks. I didn't get to talk with him, but I did get to see him interacting with other actors. He is just as funny in person and very cool."
Like Anderson, Hudson is very young, and right now, she's enjoying Los Angeles and feels: "I accidentally end up in the right place at the right time. I do my studying and my work and things happen. To meet with Gwen and do Night Shift and GH, and to know they're such great people, I feel like it's happening exactly as it is supposed to happen." We wish her much success, and more time on General Hospital!