It's been 21 years since Knots Landing went off the air but it's still paying off for Donna Mills. The actress, who played cul-de-sac baddie Abby Ewing on the long-running primetime soap, has joined ABC's General Hospital as yet another ritzy firestarter, Madeline Reeves. Mills hit the air March 14 for a story arc scheduled to run about two months.
"But, as far as we're concerned, she can stay as long as she wants," says GH head writer Ron Carlivati. "Knots is my favorite TV show ever and, growing up, I was obsessed with Donna. Still am! When I was envisioning Madeline — a glamorous, high-powered bitch on wheels — it suddenly came to me: 'Oh, my God, she's Abby Ewing!'"
The job brings Mills full circle. "I started out in daytime soaps, doing The Secret Storm and Love is a Many Splendored Thing in New York back in the '60s — and, boy, have things changed!" the actress says. "Soaps always moved fast, but not like this. We used to have a full, calm day to prepare for each episode and get it on its feet. GH is like a runaway train! They do nine episodes a week! On Knots we shot, oh, maybe 10 pages a day at most — and that was a really heavy day for us. On GH, they're shooting 150 a day, every day. To tell you the truth, I'm kind of in shock."
Still, this new role came at the perfect time because Mills' only child, Chloe, recently went off to college. "Now I'm dealing with empty-nest syndrome," she says. "When I was young, I was so driven as an actress. I didn't want to be anywhere but on a TV or film set and thought any actor who claimed otherwise was lying. But once I became a mom I was, like, 'Wow, this is what life is really about! This is the good part!' I have been consumed with motherhood."
So much so that Mills has accepted only random guest shots during the last few years. "Just a Cold Case here or a Nip/Tuck there," she says. "As any parent knows, you spend nearly two decades readying your child to fly and then, when it happens, you go, 'Oh, gee...now what? My baby's gone but I'm still here.' I'm missing my daughter terribly, so it really helps to have GH to keep my mind busy."
Carlivati says he's already planned a second arc involving Mills' character "but we're waiting to see how she feels about staying with us until we commit to it. The story possibilities seem endless." And how. Madeline is the mom of much-discussed but never-seen coma victim Nina Clay, which means she's doing battle with Nina's husband, Silas (Michael Easton), who stands to inherit Nina's many millions. Madeline believes Silas administered the drugs that put Nina into that coma 20 years ago, and so does Madeline's son, Port Charles cop Nathan West (Ryan Paevey).
"There are so many great twists and turns to this story," says Mills. "As I read the scripts, I keep going, 'Really? Really?' Madeline believes Silas married Nina for her money and family name. He didn't want a wife, he wanted a scholarship fund. Now he's a successful doctor and doesn't need [the money]." But Madeline sure does. "She is feeling kind of paranoid," notes Mills. "Her husband died and left her and her son absolutely nothing. All the money went to Nina. So now it's Madeline's mission to get Silas to give up that inheritance."
Though Madeline may be low on dough, she still has her rich-lady problems. "She's very happy that Nathan has chosen to avenge his sister and that he's trying to pin it on Silas, but she doesn't like that he became a cop in order to do it," Mills says. "Madeline considers police work a very lowly, undignified profession. It's so beneath her stature!" Adds the star: "She's very complicated. Very screwed up. And I can't wait to unravel the mystery as to why her husband left her without a cent."
Then again, is Dad really dead? After all, this is GH where fatalities are rarely a permanent thing. "You never know what might happen," teases Carlivati with a laugh. "Madeline's husband might come walking through the door one day, played by William Devane! Who doesn't want to see Abby and Greg back together again?"