Soaps In Depth: It Ain't Over Till It's Over (June, 1998)

It Ain't Over Till It's Over -- As Maurice Benard winds up his return trip to PC, he looks back at Sonny and Brenda's last kiss--and hints that it isn't really the last

When mobster Sonny Corinthos came out of hiding and returned to PC on business last month, he was risking more than life and limb. His heart was on the line, too.

The tough guy had no intention of coming face to face with his one true love--the woman he cared for so deeply that, for the sake of her safety, he left her standing at the altar. But no sooner had the AWOL bridegroom touched down in town again than she was looking up at him, her big brown eyes glistening with tears, with unanswered questions. And at that moment, a gasp was heard around the world.

This was the episode for which the audience of GH had been waiting for nearly a year: Sonny and Brenda, face to face, no punches pulled. Finally, she was given the opportunity to tell him how badly he had hurt her, and he was forced to confess the reason that he did--and so the lovers took their chances, gloriously. Despite a buildup that made the promotion of Godzilla seem puny by comparison, the bittersweet reunion of GH's most passionate couple didn't disappoint. And at least one man wasn't surprised: Maurice Benard.

Here, as the two-time Daytime Emmy Award-nominated actor prepares to hoist anchor and set sail out of PC, he reveals to SID why he never doubted that even after Sonny burned Brenda, the duo's dynamic still would set the screen on fire. Plus, he tells how the Emmy victory of friend Steve Burton (for his work as Sonny's ward, Jason) made him feel a part of the winners' circle himself; the truth about the rumor that he's joining NYPD Blue; and why it might be a little bit premature for Sonny's old flame to start signing check, "Mrs. Jacks."

Striking A Match

In the nine months prior to Benard's GH homecoming, his main communication with leading lady Vanessa Marcil was through their respective answering machines. Still, he never worried that their on-screen chemistry might have lessened. "Once it's there, it's always there," he says. "It's been that way since Vanessa and I first worked together, so I didn't think that would change."

Was Benard ever right: The interplay between him and Marcil still raises temperatures higher than El Nino. But, though he subscribes to the old Boy Scott motto of "Be prepared"--he and Burton even used to get together and run lines the night before taping--Benard and Marcil didn't do anything special to gear up for the scene in which Sonny and Brenda laid eyes on each other for the first time since their aborted wedding. At least, they didn't mean to do anything out of the ordinary. "We didn't try to avoid each other beforehand," he notes. "It just happened naturally.

"We did talk a little bit," he adds. "But we didn't rehearse all that much. We rarely ever did. We'd just do it, which is a little scary, but it actually turns out better that way."

Fanning The Flame

Benard knew that by returning as Sonny, even for a short term, he was opening himself up to having his vast, vocal legion of admirers begin beseeching him anew to come back permanently. But by being upfront from the start about the fact that this would be a limited run--operative word: limited--he has been able to avoid breaking any hearts (besides Brenda's, at least). "Everybody's been really cool about it," he offers. "They know that I'm going to go away again and do some other things, so nobody's been negative about it."

Benard always has been as loyal to his supporters as they have been to him--and that's pretty damn devoted. In fact, even though he will have been off GH again for weeks by the time the show's annual fan club weekend rolls around next month, he will be making himself accessible to his devotees. "I love the fans--they're the best, the best," he insists. "I don't know if I'll be able to do the big event, but I do have my own little thing I'm doing." (it gives details if you want tickets right here.)

Passing the Baton

As beholden to GH's audience as Benard feels, he passed on appearing at this year's Daytime Emmys. He even declined to submit himself for consideration for a nomination because he didn't feel that Sonny's storyline prior to the return of headwriter Bob Guza had afforded him material meaty enough to go for the gold. But the 1997 Outstanding Supporting Actor contender still had a vested interest in the proceedings. His GH sidekick Burton, had been bumped up from contention in the Younger Actor category to vie for the Supporting Actor trophy. Yet when Burton's name was called as the winner, Benard wasn't tuned in! "I was in Seattle [to tape a talk-show appearance], and I watched the last 45 minutes," he relates, "so I didn't et to see Steve or anybody win. By the time I turned it on, everybody from GH was losing. So I only heard that Steve and Jonathan Jackson won. Then I talked to Steve the next morning."

Burton historically has credited Benard with being a mentor, so naturally the apprentice took time out of his 15 second acceptance speech to acknowledge the master. "Steve didn't tell me that," Benard reveals, "but I heard that he had thanked me. He's always bee great to me, so I kind of figured he might have [mentioned me in his speech]."

In fact, as the man Burton calls "a great influence on me as an actor and in my life," Benard is able to enjoy a special sense of pride in his colleague's achievement. "It's second best to winning," Benard says. "Believe me, I know what it's like to lose. So the fact that Steve won makes me feel like I contributed in some little bit of a way." Making His Mark

Now that Benard is winding up his return engagement in PC, the city's favorite son is looking forward to making his mark in another town: Hollywood. He doesn't want to go into specifics yet about the pending movie deal that could put his name in lights--"There's still a lot of coulds," he notes--but he is eager to set the record straight about reports that he is awaiting a meeting with Steven Bochco, the head honcho of NYPD Blue. Although the cop show is losing its top gun, Jimmy Smits, it isn't gaining GH's ace in the hole. "That's all rumors," insists Benard. "I wish I was having a meeting with Bochco.

"But supposedly, he's not looking for my type. He's looking for a woman, I think, or an Anglo guy. Whatever, he's looking for it's not me, unfortunately."

Setting The Stage

As Benard focuses his attention on his post-GH career, he hasn't begun to think of himself as above or even merely beyond the soap. On the contrary, he was delighted with the juicy material that headwriter Guza dished out to him this go-round and maintains that if he is available, he would be glad to come back for a brief stint again...and again. "As long as [Guza] keeps going with that kind of writing," he promises, "I'll keep coming back for a little bit here and there."

So, even though by the time that Benard makes his latest last appearance on GH, Sonny's comeback will have allowed Brenda to close his chapter of her life--and begun moving forward with plans to open a wedding album with jax--neither she nor viewers should believe for an instant that her ex is gone for good. "As long as they want me," concludes Benard, "I'll be back."

--Charlie Mason