Daniel Benzali

Some of you saw it coming. A lot of you didn't. Whatever the case, last Friday's General Hospital cliffhanger couldn't have been more delicious! Theo Hoffman, the cranky hypochondriac who is suing the hospital for malpractice, was revealed to be the Balkan! This international crime lord — played by the terrific Daniel Benzali of Murder One fame — seems to be seeking revenge on supermodel Brenda Barrett for the death of his son and now he's secretly wormed his way onto her legal team. It's fabulously creepy! TV Guide Magazine had an exclusive chat with Benzali, who gave us a tantalizing hint of doom to come.

TV Guide Magazine: It's so great seeing you on GH! How did you wind up on the soap? Don't you live in London?
Benzali: I have indeed been living there and though I split my time between the U.K. and the U.S. I had no concrete plans to come back to the States until the offer came from GH. It was a total surprise out of the blue and it was all wrapped up rather quickly. I had a few questions, and that was that. I've never done a daytime soap opera so I thought, "Let's go have some fun!" And it is fun. A lot of fun! I just love the character. He has so many dimensions.

TV Guide Magazine: And accents! This Balkan guy is quite theatrical. Is he a frustrated stage star?
Benzali: [Laughs] We actually created a bit of a back story for the character and decided he probably did have some stage experience in the past in some limited way. He's very good with accents. As Theo, he's British. As the Balkan, he has sort of a New York street accent. And then there's even a third accent coming up. I loved Theo's introduction to the show as a hospital patient — it was way out there.

TV Guide Magazine: Was all that hypochondria just part of his game?
Benzali: Not completely. [Laughs] One can be both a villain and a hypochondriac. He exaggerated it at the hospital, but it's not all fake.

TV Guide Magazine: Does he continue the malpractice suit?
Benzali: At this point the lawsuit is going forward but that might change...but those changes could be temporary.

TV Guide Magazine: During the big reveal episode, your character suddenly showed up to work with Diane and Alexis on their law cases, presenting himself as Theo Hoffman "from the New York office." That could be easily checked. Wouldn't he get caught? Or did the Balkan bump off some real lawyer named Theo Hoffman and steal his identity?
Benzali: No, my character actually worked in the New York office, just as he says! He established himself with the people there for a while in order to make that part of his ruse legitimate. In fact, you'll see that Diane follows up and checks him out and it appears that Theo is who he says he is. He's really laid the groundwork here.

TV Guide Magazine: Damn this guy is thorough! Scarily so. So then Theo Hoffman is the Balkan's real name?
Benzali: Yes, it is. Oh, you mean his real real name? [Long pause] Not exactly. And that's all I can say right now!

TV Guide Magazine: You're now playing a Theo. You famously played a Teddy on Murder One. Coincidence or homage?
Benzali: I think perhaps [GH head writer] Bob Guza did do it as a little tribute. Yes, I believe so.

TV Guide Magazine: How are you liking the work itself? Is the crazy pace of soaps a bit daunting?
Benzali: I have been treated wonderfully by everybody. They are all so welcoming! I actually like the pace a lot. It's very fast and unlike anything I've done before. The idea of my doing 20 pages of script in a day is very funny to me — good funny — because it would take days to shoot that much in prime time and weeks to do that in a movie. It's a challenge that might scare some actors, because the workload can look very daunting on the page. But when it comes time to shoot, everything is remarkably in place. They're ready. I'm ready. It's a very good system and an exciting process and there is a wonderful energy on the set. And, despite the speed, nothing is compromised as far as quality and creativity. There is a lot of attention to detail, and that's been the biggest and happiest surprise to me.

TV Guide Magazine: What's next for the Balkan? Will we get under this guy's skin?
Benzali: What I liked about playing all that subterfuge in the hospital with Robin is that it provided such a contrast to the real character and his goals and feelings. We just shot some scenes where we will see some very strong emotions come to the surface with him — really relatable emotions concerning his family.

TV Guide Magazine: So we might actually begin to understand him or, jeez, even like him?
Benzali: The best villains are always the most real ones, the ones who are most complicated.

TV Guide Magazine: And the best ones don't tend to die on soaps, or if they do they don't stay dead for long. Are you prepared for this to be a recurring gig that could go on for years?
Benzali: Oh, yes indeed! [Laughs] I am ready for it!

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